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Francois Van Coke: It’s a team effort

Van Coke chats his new EP, Early B and how he hates being called adult contemporary, ahead of his biggest solo show to date.

13 Jul 2018 / Opinion / written by Tecla Ciolfi / Pic by Andre Badenhorst

Like most legendary musicians, there never seems to be a dull moment when it comes to the evolution of Francois Van Coke and I like that because it keeps me interested and curious to see what his next move or milestone will be.

In between craft beers, a hella cute baby and a third album on the horizon, Van Coke’s joined forces with AMP Events to throw probably the biggest event of his solo career – Francois Van Coke en Vriende. And jissus fok does the guy have a lot of friends.

But because a spectacle at the 8 500-odd seater Sun Arena in Pretoria just won’t cut it, Van Coke decided to throw a four-track EP into the mix to get everyone excited for what’s to come, as one does. The “En Vriende EP” features usual suspects Die Heuwels Fantasties, Jack Parow and Laudo Liebenberg as well as the latest addition to the gang, Early B Music.

“He is young, confident and humble at the same time. I think he is not just an important voice in hip-hop, but also an important voice in Afrikaans,” Van Coke enthuses over Early B and I wholeheartedly agree. The Ghoema award-winning Port Elizabeth native shines in his own right as a sharp lyricist and spirited performer, and his collaboration with Van Pletzen proves that he’s an asset to any project that he lends a hand to.

“Early B had a tune that he wanted me to feature on,” Van Coke explains when I ask how the more-experimental ‘Altyd Lief Vir Jou’ came about. “I really loved his raps, but didn’t really feel the music. I then got Richard Onraet to write new music for it and I rewrote his chorus. I loved it so much that I asked Early B if I could put it on my EP.”

But with the upcoming show in mind, the way in which Van Coke approached the construction of each song was underpinned by the notion that they would all be showcased on the stage at Sun Arena. “I definitely thought about the live environment when we wrote the EP. On my previous two albums the biggest tunes are ballads and because they are kind of hits, I need to play them live. So, I wanted to write pumping tunes that would kick ass live. The track with Early B is interesting that it turned into what it is, it goes from quiet to super loud, metal even. I can’t wait to play it live.” I predict Jedd Kossew’s solo to be a proper face-melter on the night.

The collaboration with Die Heuwels Fantasies, ‘Ek Lewe, Ek Belowe’, is also sure to be a real highpoint wherever it features on the setlist. Originally intended to be on Van Coke’s second album “Hierdie Is Die Lewe”, but getting cut because it was “a little bit jokey and lighthearted”, it’s now the track off the current EP that resonates the most lyrically with Van Coke. “It’s about living in the suburbs and it’s sad and funny at the same time. I am joking about my neighbours, but also taking the piss out of myself and my friends that have moved back to suburbia,” Van Coke smirks.

I allude to him dipping his toe into adult contemporary waters and he’s not having any of it – “I hate being called adult contemporary.”

Oops.

“But I get what you are saying.”

Phew.

“I think my first solo album and mostly ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ was the reason for that. It is my biggest song and I guess in style it is pretty much country-ish adult contemporary. That song changed it, because everybody listened to it. Kids, grandparents, punks, metal heads, whatever – and I heard very little negative about the song,” he explains. I’m in awe because I’m not sure if he’s aware how many frontmen would kill to have made that seamless transition from manic rock idol to revered solo champion, while simultaneously managing to win over younger fans.

“It was just one of those cross-over tunes that happened by accident,” he shrugs when I ask him if there’s a secret to this continued success. “It was not meant to do that, myself and Karen [Zoid] just wrote a very honest love song and it resonated with loads of people. I feel very privileged to be in the position I am in and Fokofpolisiekar being very active again too. I also try to be honest about who I am. I am getting older and because of that I can’t sound like I did when I was 23. I think my fans appreciate the honesty and that I try to stay relevant to what is happening in the world around us.”

Van Coke recently wrote an open letter to his younger self, which was one of the more insightful and eloquent pieces I’ve read lately, and it made me wonder what, as a kid, his biggest misconception was about growing older.

“I thought older people knew stuff we didn’t know as kids, now I realise no-one has the answers. The older people still don’t know.”

No they don’t.

But at least now they have his music to identify with.

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Download or stream “En Vriende”.