Opinion Review

Ingrid Jonker: Die Kind Is Nog Jonger

Tribute albums ordinarily pay homage to a specific genre, period, or musician through instrumental or cover versions of a select set of tracks or single records. Yet as an ode to the life and words of Ingrid Jonker, “Die Kind Is Nog Jonger” (The Child Is Still Younger), serves its function as a tribute album in a manner exempt from the norm.

Jonker’s poignant writing has heralded her as an acclaimed and beloved figure in local and international circles. She is considered the darling of South African poetry and has maintained an inspirational status through her past advocacy and personal concern for artistic expression free from convention. “Die Kind Is Nog Jonger” reflects this notion of freedom in relation to artistry as a highly diverse product of collaboration and experimentation. The project developed into a musical dedication of sorts motivated by her daughter, Simone, following the fiftieth commemoration of Jonker’s untimely death in July last year. The album is conceptualised as an extension of Jonker herself in an effort to preserve her legacy in a medium other than the literary alone.

It is compiled as a double-disk set featuring thirty-six disparate artists and three-dozen accompanying tracks divided midway across the two disks. Each track offers a unique interpretation of one of Jonker’s poems, scaling across genres and methods of performance in a continual flux. Every melody, pattern of intonation, and individual lyricism is thus an adaptation of her writing as each poem determines the direction in which a track’s subsequent layers will unravel. The album’s list of contributors’ ranges from the unfamiliar or contemporary to the widely commended, structuring an inclusivity of sound that delves in both the old and the new. Expatriates, stalwarts of the industry, and emerging artists alike then coalesce within this anthology of distinct compositions through their central concern of capturing the life and spirit of Jonker’s literary iconicity.

Genres intersect one another as folk-inspired to electronic, classical, or acoustic instrumentation hosts the delivery of her words in cleanly sung, artificially altered, or spoken form. Certain tracks such as ‘Drawing’ performed by The Sighs of Monsters and ‘Summer (For Simone)’ by Rambling Bones offers English-sung renditions of Jonker’s writing. The greater bulk of adapted poems on each disk are gentle in variation, relying on the live instrumentation of a piano, harmonica, or the soft picking of guitar strings to attain a predominantly acoustic setting. Terminatyrx’s version of ‘Ontvlugting’ (Escape) and Francois Breytenbach Blom’s ‘Die Kind’ (The Child) conversely deliver their adaptations in a progressive manner indicative of industrial and symphonic metal sub-genres.

An ominous thread of sound weaves its way intermittently throughout the collection. Instances of isolated piano melodies, manipulated vocal effects, or dissonant chord structures all present an eerie and foreboding quality inherent to the album. It mirrors the tragic nature of Jonker’s writing itself and the circumstances that lead to her passing. Ambient ocean noises also appear in several tracks on both disks, augmenting the album’s relation to spaces of the sea. ‘Ingrid,’ written and performed by Stefan Strydom featuring Gert Vlok Nel, details this relation in lyrical form by describing how Jonker took her own life as “she danced into the sea.” The track, as opposed to its subject matter, is joyfully sung as it celebrates instead of lamenting how she enigmatically left “her words in the wind”.

A crowd funding campaign successfully assisted the project’s fruition, demonstrating the relevancy and timeless capacity of Jonker’s work. Simone and her husband, Ernesto Garcia Marques, together with Paul Blom ensured that this tribute preserved her mother’s poeticism beyond the literary. It also challenges preconceived perceptions of Afrikaans music often mistakenly characterised as a single genre through the record’s experimentation alone. Jazz tones and downtempo or reggae-like rhythms are all included in the collection, capturing the haunting dimensions of Jonker’s appeal in an unconstrained approach. The result is an arrangement released as an item equally diverse and melodic, transcending convention in its fluid and reinvigorated use of one of South Africa’s most celebrated poets.

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Download the album on CD Baby.