Cape Town - An ex-teacher and a once homeless poet are the driving force behind controversial rap group Dookoom, who sparked cries of hate speech with their track Larney Jou P***.
The group have been accused of instigating violence following the release of a black-and-white video showing farmworkers burning their bosses’ land to rebel against working conditions.
AfriForum’s deputy chief executive Ernst Roets slammed the song as “extremely racist” and “degrading towards white people in general”.
Dookoom’s founding member says this could not be further from the truth, and that it was a white man who inspired the dark nature of the group.
“I have nothing against white people,” says rapper Isaac Mutant, born Isaac Williams.
“In fact, it was white people who made me realise I could do this thing, make music and become successful.”
Mutant says white rapper Ninja (real name Watkin Tudor Jones) of Die Antwoord was crucial to his development.
It would also be Die Antwoord who would give Isaac his big break, featuring him on their debut album $O$.
“Ninja showed me that you have to become a villain,” says Isaac, who has several face piercings.
“People love a villain and they will listen to what he has to say. Positive rappers preach all the time about ‘don’t do drugs’ and ‘stay in school’, but people stop listening to that after a while. You have to go to an extreme to get people’s attention. Once you have it, then you can say what you need to because then they will listen.”
And it seems the world is listening to Dookoom.
They have had media interest from Belgium, Sweden, France, the US and even Japan.
And they have signed with French label, IOT Records, with a possible European tour early next year.
“I think the South African music scene is still too touchy, too uptight to touch something so different like us,” says Mutant.
For now the group will look to the European market to gain more exposure.
Conquering Europe is a far cry from the streets of Lentegeur, where Mutant and his partner found themselves eight years ago, after the death of his mother and a fractious family feud.
“That’s when I became a man,” he says. “I would sleep in a park just two blocks away from where I used to live with my family. Can you imagine how that felt? I had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. I became depressed, angry, and I blamed the world.”
After a month on the streets he found a home among the impoverished residents of Heinz Park and slowly began piecing his life back together.
“They’re proud of me here,” he says as he guides the Cape Argus team through the sandy, wind-blown streets of Heinz Park.
The tiny, run-down houses are on narrow, winding roads pocked with dilapidated wendy houses and shacks.
“I will never leave this place behind. But at the same time you have to hate it here, the way people live here in the ghetto. I don’t know what it is about the ghetto, but the people here all look grey, like they’ve lost their sheen. Maybe it is because they have to grind all the time just to get a piece of bread and electricity.”
As our team passes the Ubushwa play park, a grassy oasis in the drab area, Mutant points out that it is 11am and the gates are locked, forcing children to play in the streets.
“This park is not ours,” he says. “It belongs to the city, it is a token. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people here don’t chop it down because they feel insulted.”
Mutant, however, insists that violence will not bring about any positive change in this country.
“I don’t believe in violence,” he says. “It never solved anything. It’s the same with Larney Jou P***. They (AfriForum) say we are instigating violence, but we are just showing the frustration and anger the workers feel.”
The rapper says he is sick of people blaming their poor quality of life on the legacy of apartheid.
“Coloured people say the government does nothing for them, but each one must take responsibility for himself.
“A coloured ou will rather go buy himself a beer than use that money to improve his situation.”
Mutant’s ever-present sidekick and fellow Dookoom member, DJ Roach, nods in agreement.
Roach, born Mario Pieters, is a product of Hewat Teacher Training College and has also worked in local government administration under the ANC and DA.
The 41-year-old Athlone resident and former choir singer says he has seen little improvement in the lives of Cape Flats families over the past two decades.
“I was about six years old when I saw my first murder in Lavender Hill. They chopped this ou up with an axe.”
“Nothing much has changed in areas like that over the years.
“And it is not like the government is doing anything about it, so we as artists have a responsibility to these neighbourhoods where we come from.
“Now that we have the platform following the attention we got after the release of Larney Jou P***, we can show the world what is happening right here.”
Mutant echoes his sentiment.
“Ja, it is so seldom someone makes it out of the ghetto, now people will see why.”