CAPE TOWN, South Africa (GlossyNews) — Having been an astronaut, toymaker, and motivational speaker, Ninja boasts an unusually long resume for a white man. He was making his rounds through the slums of Cape Town, South Africa, where he worked for the liquor company Jagermeister by distributing its contaminated byproducts to disadvantaged minorities in an effort to cut down on waste management costs, when a chance encounter inspired him to start the rave-rap trio Die Antwoord.
“I saw this Coloured street performer,” he said during our interview last week in the trophy room of his country estate, a relic of his British colonialist ancestors’ diamond mining slave empire, “so I stopped the lorry and got out to hand him a bottle. The inhabitants of the area, dirty as they are, can be quite fascinating. He was rapping in the unscripted free style, and, in my excitement to capture the moment for later anthropological study, I switched on the audio recorder concealed in my sport jacket pocket.”
That unnamed (and unremunerated) rapper is the source of most of the songs on Die Antwoord’s album, $O$, which they drew on exclusively for that night’s show at the Cape Town club Purple Turtle. Ninja and I were driven there in his chauffeured Escalade, and soon he was backstage changing from his usual outfit of Dockers and safari shirt into a white sweat suit covered with cartoons – the most prominent featuring a well endowed, masturbating Caspar the Friendly Ghost. Die Antwoord’s other singer, Yo-landi Visser, took off her pink sundress to get into a stage uniform of white tank top and tightfitting gold vinyl pants, the final touch being a freakish wig that made her look like the alien from Predator.
Ninja put on some Puma sneakers, which he secretly hates but wears during performances as part of a lucrative endorsement deal with the shoe company, and the two vocalists bounced onto stage, where they frenetically writhed in front of DJ Hi-Tek’s turntables while he kept the beat, their rail-thin figures a stark contrast to his flabby frame.
Die Antwoord are known for messing with their fans’ heads, sending conflicting signals that can easily be misinterpreted. As they played “Super Evil,” which is about the South African white supremacist leader Eugene Terre’Blanche, a few people scattered among the crowd responded with a Nazi salute.
The joke was on them. As they saluted, Die Antwoord’s official photographer, Sean Metelerkamp, surreptitiously took their pictures from a darkened corner. He would later superimpose photographs of Negroid phalluses over their faces to represent the act of fellatio. The result is slated for an exhibition at the Cape Town Museum of Modern Art. But the creativity doesn’t end there. Ninja plans to use security footage of reactions from the museum patrons for a multimedia project on homophobia.
They ended the set with “Beat Boy,” which describes a range of sexual fantasies that cannot be realized without serious bodily harm. A couple verses into the ten-minute song, Ninja and Visser started acting out some of the few lyrics that conform to the bounds of reality, with Visser stripping nude and getting down on all fours while Ninja secured her in handcuffs, ankle cuffs, and a steel collar connected by a leash to the ceiling. As Ninja rapped about how “weird feelings make you forget about what you believing,” Visser bared her teeth and snarled at the adoring fans.
What came next is a particularly controversial part of their routine, calling to mind racist blackface performances from the early Twentieth century. Ninja dropped his pants and poured a bottle of chocolate syrup over his crotch, which, after lifting Visser by her hair to a kneeling position, he used to smear the sticky stuff around her face, eyes, and neck. That seemed to calm her.
After the show, I asked college student Aseeda Whitguilt what she thought of the act. “The contrast of the dark syrup on their light skin was beautiful,” she said. “It’s all about integration and free love, with everybody getting fucked, into one person.”
One of the older fans, Raptsum Blax, had a different perspective. “Reminds me of my days on the force,” he said with a wistful look in his eyes.
No matter how far off these people were, at least they enjoyed the show. Any objective observer could see that what Ninja and Visser were really trying to do was gain the attention of the American media by reenacting a scene between Thomas Jefferson and his sex slave Sally Hemings.
I had the opportunity to question Visser about these conflicting interpretations when I caught up with her backstage, where, having already stripped off her costume, she was clad only in a pair of white panties that had a large black dollar sign emblazoned across the front.
“Everybody seems to have a different understanding of your music,” I said. “No one can agree on what it is that you’re trying to do out there. Do you ever worry that you’re not getting a consistent message across to your audience?”
“Whatever, man,” she said while wiping chocolate off her face with a damp paper towel. “People think they know me, but they don’t know shit.”