Jitsenic are one of many interesting collaborations that are happening at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival this year. Blues legends Dan Patlansky and Albert Frost are yet another and then pianist Afrika Mkhize has joined forces with Swiss musicians for a trip into the love of beautiful music.
HOUT Bay’s community hall in Hangberg has the best view out of any community hall in South Africa. Normally, community halls are centred within the dregs of the mighty unwashed; places where only the bold and economically disenfranchised dare to venture.
But Hangberg’s community hall is perched on a hill that overlooks the Bay that is Hout and across that famous bay rises Cape mountains that are constantly at war and play with the mist, the sun and the rain.
The community itself also has one of the best views in the country, probably much to the irritation of the previously advantaged who have eyed those scattered, dilapidated houses with much envy.
On Youth Day a large number of children from Hangberg gathered at this venue to watch a talent competition. The highlight was hip hopper Jitsvinger who was asked to perform and judge the competition.
The lanky young man, complete with a comb in his afro, was fascinating to watch. Off stage he comes across as an intellectual nerd, yet someone who is also wily and cynical because of the state of the world. On stage he lights up the entire hall. He is authoritative, dynamic. He commands the attention of the young children with his very fast Afrikaans rapping, his energy at once all-giving and all- consuming. Every child is watching, dancing, listening to his every word.
That was Jitsvinger the performer.
“When I started out I was just playing with words,” he explains afterwards. “It was just a few friends of mine and we would stand around at lunch break and recite groups like Prophets of Da City and we gathered a large audience.
“Now I am more socially aware. I often wonder why there isn’t enough exposure for this vernacular called Afrikaans. I want hip hop to become a platform that is educating both young and old, to help inform their world views.”
A few days later I attended a rehearsal of Jitsenic’s, which consists of Jitsvinger and producer and DJ, Arsenic. This time I found myself in a house which is part of a neat suburb in the middle of Cape Town. The suburb is so quiet that it is hard to imagine that in one of the houses is a recording studio.
Jitsvinger has a guitar and Arsenic is on a computer and a 303 (synthesiser). All the music is going straight into their headphones and is playing quietly on the outside. They take notes as they rehearse, Arsenic on the computer, Jitsvinger in a book. As I watch them go back and forth between the music, it’s amusing to note that every other rapper I know makes notes on his cellphone or tablet, yet Meneer Jitsvinger prefers a book and a pen. Quaint.
The rehearsal is for the Standard Bank National Arts Festival. Jitsenic have taken Capetonian classic jazz and mixed it with hip hop to great effect.
Die aandvoel twee duisend en X! Jitsvinger whispers into the mic.
Later on Arsenic bemoans the state of hip hop: “It’s about 40 years old, but it is still seen as immature.”
When asked about the project for Grahamstown, Jitsvinger explains: “We are sampling from as early as the ’50s. Maybe it’s reinventing music like hip hop does.”
Arsenic picks up: “It’s the fusion of jazz and hip hop which isn’t anything new, except that we are drawing from our Cape jazz heritage. That is the primary sound that has influenced our journey. It is relevant to a younger audience due to hip hop and it is also nostalgia for an older audience.”
“Yeah, we grew up listening to lang arm, but we never liked it because it was our parents’ music,” adds Jitsvinger. “Now our peeps will hear it and I think they will smile when we play it. Maybe disco killed lang arm.”
Jitsenic say they have sampled musicians like Bobby Hendricks and their music is a tribute to people like Errol Dyers.
Jitsenic is re-interpreting and deconstructing their music. They want to keep the music of their childhood alive and sampling the music is a modern way of doing this.
Kids should be more educated about South African music, they say.