Feature Interview

Francois Van Coke: A Musical Midas

South Africa’s King of Rock, Francois van Coke, has had quite a year so far. From releasing his beautifully crafted debut solo album, to launching a range of craft beers with Fokofpolisiekar to being involved in the initial triumph of the Blood Brothers show – its been massive. And like a true Midas from the Northern Suburbs, everything he touches instantly turns to gold.

But being this successful comes at a price as Francois told me over an early morning phone call in between rehearsal and shooting a new music video. “It’s gone really well, but I’m so busy that I don’t really get time to enjoy it that much” he admits. “But I’m really so happy that people are relating to the songs on my solo album.” Writing and producing this album was another stressful task as he explains, “It was quite a stressful year before this one writing it and it was stressful releasing it, very stressful for me but at the end of the day it’s just music.”

Well, what is “just music” to him is a lifestyle, an obsession and at times a borderline religion for others. I don’t know if there has ever been a more worshipped South African musician than Francois Van Coke, no one else automatically springs to mind. From day one with Fokof, to Van Coke Kartel and now his solo mission, he has been an unofficial mouthpiece and an inspiration for this generation, but he admits that it gets a bit weird at times, specifically when people tattoo his face on themselves. “I’m very freaked out about that. I mean, I’ve got lyrics tattooed on me from people I like, like Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen and I really dig those lines, so I feel flattered and I’m very stoked that people feel that way about lines. But I don’t know about my face being on someone, but it’s a massive compliment I think.”

The demographic of his fandom has changed massively this year though, and while two years ago the quintessential Francois-aanhanger was probably a drunk oke with “Ek skyn/ ek skynheilig” on his bicep, today it includes old tannies and Afrikaans ooms, all thanks to one collaboration with his female counterpart, Karen Zoid. ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ is easily one of the biggest tracks of the year, but what is most surprising about how well it has been received is how it broadened the scope in terms of his fans. In the early 2000s when Fokof was making headlines every weekend, thousands of Afrikaans, middle-aged religious folk were massively offended by pretty much every move he made. Today, those same people are sharing the ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ music video on Facebook and singing along to every line.

The song kick-started the launch of his solo album in a way I doubt anyone involved expected. I asked Francois if he thought the album would have done as well as it had if it weren’t for that collaboration and with a slight giggle he replied, “No I don’t think so” before adding, “Things just worked out perfectly. Things have to align somehow. I also don’t think the response would have been as good if I didn’t put the video out on the day of release. All of those things aligned in the right way to work out the way it did, and I’m happy that it worked out the way it did.” But “worked out” is a gross understatement given the string of sold out ‘Dubbelspel’ shows featuring both Karen and Frannie across the country. Everywhere you turn their names are up in lights, and a part of me thinks they could have just released that one track and simply toured that, to the same response.

If you are lucky enough to be at Koppi this weekend, you’ll get to see that song performed as Karen makes an appearance in Francois’ set, Sunday night on the James Philip’s stage. “It’s the first time I’m playing the solo album at Koppi so I’m very excited for that. I think we’ll probably play the album from top to bottom, in the order that it’s on the album. Karen will join me for ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’, Laudo will be there to join for ‘Die Skip’ and I’m gonna do ‘Skynheilig’ with a choir which is going to be pretty cool. It’s like an unprofessional choir called ‘Seunskoor vir mans en vrouens’,” he laughs.

“I love Oppikoppi and I was in love with that Top Bar for the first ten years that I went to Oppikoppi. I try not to spend so much time there these days, trying to stay out of trouble. I’ve got lots of good and some freaky memories of Oppikoppi. I almost fucked up a couple of shows because I partied too hard, but I’ve also played some of my favourite shows of my career there. I freaking love that place,” he reflects.

As anyone who has ever been to the festival knows, there are certain essentials you simply cannot do without and for Francois they could not be any simpler: “If you’re a girl take wet wipes. If you’re a guy take booze.”

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Don’t miss Francois on James Phillips Sunday at 22:00.

Francois Van Coke