Hunter Kennedy: Asking questions in his voice

A voice of authenticity rolls over Table Mountain, in between the cliffs and trails illuminating hidden thoughts of anger and confusion.

It flows with the rivers to the Drakensberg, over the forgotten valleys of Kwazulu-Natal angling towards answers to the big questions. It stretches beyond the vast and peaceful Karoo as it moves to the streets of Pretoria and is bellowed by the youth on campuses.

“Dit is nutteloos / Daar is geen antwoorde daar buite nie / Maar ek’s nog lank nie klaar getwyfel nie/ Te veel dae van vaal wees en vrae vra / Te veel dae van passief bly en stil staan.”

Ever since their inception and rapidly dramatic rise to the proverbial top Fokofpolisiekar have been credited as a ‘voice of a generation.’ Speaking to fuckload of Afrikaners with feelings of disillusionment and confusion. What was and is most apparent about the voice behind the voice of a generation, Hunter Kennedy, lyricist and guitarist for both Fokofpoliskar and Die Heuwels Fantasies, is that he has this innate ability to ask questions to himself, to us and to the so-called powers that be about the important nagging issues. The issues that become thoughts that follow you around at night, that keep you awake and force you to address and ponder them. He asks open-minded questions to a seemingly conservative society and his true accomplishment is getting us to ask them too.

Sitting in a bar in Stellenbosch enjoying a beer, well maybe more than one, we discuss this very thing. Hunter has for long been absent on social media and even seems to shy away from the limelight during band interviews. “I am not really fond of the limelight,” he says to me as he sips on a golden craft beer.

However, in the past few months Hunter has been on his own journey. He re-opened his social media accounts last year and for the first time Hunter Kennedy fans had the opportunity to gain insight into his life. Something only social media really allows. “Hier kom ‘n wille ding,” was one of the comments by an Instagram user as Hunter posted his first post.  There were many of a similar nature. “How do you live up to that?” Hunter shyly asks.

From an outsider’s perspective it certainly appeared, maybe presumptuously so, that Hunter was venturing into new territory, where his voice would be rising to the fore, singing his own songs, and we were invited along for the ride.

It was no surprise then, that he started writing for Netwerk24 as a columnist in “Die Student” section, aimed at students across the country. In his debut column he continues with the trend of asking tough questions, in this case whether Democracy really is the best option. His insight is astonishing and true to the brilliant literary giant he has become. “I wasn’t saying that Democracy is not the best option, I was asking whether [or not it is the best option],” he explains when I question his motives.

What surprises me most about Hunter is his willingness to engage. He inserted his email address in the opening line and asked people to discuss the topics with him, open to feedback. “I studied art for a while at Stellenbosch and there you learn to deal with critique, I think that’s where I learned how to accept both positive and negative feedback.”

We chat about the world, about the past, about everything from conspiracies to world of digital music marketing, and then I bring up the burning question. “I love your new song with Roof, Jy hoef nie huis toe te gaan nie,” I say. “So, it seems you’re planning on solo work, solo music hopefully?” Without hesitation he thanks me for the compliment and then says, “I’m taking it slowly.”

The song has already gained momentum and is unlike anything we’ve heard from him. The music video is a tongue in cheek production made up of viral gifs.

After the beers I accompany him to a gig in a church hall. Kan jy ironie spel? He joins Riku and Jackie Latti as well as Churchil Naude on stage. I’ve only ever heard Hunter sing as he backs up Francois van Coke or Pierre Greeff. His voice surprises me. It is raspy and direct. Like a Tom Waits that can sing.

He belts out his song for his daughter Maria, debuted at Kirstenbosch by Fokof, with a sincerity that cuts to the heart. But it is when he sings “Klein Tambotieboom”, a song he wrote for Die Heuwels Fantasties, that you get a true insight into the real Hunter Kennedy. Someone with a deep understanding of society and his environment within it. Someone with an unmistakable intellect and the ability to ask these questions about the world. I once saw him on a talk show explaining how we are products of our environment not the other way around. That is true.

But with people like Hunter asking questions, whether they are right or not, the products of our environment might just be a little bit better off than we were.

 “As die donker my kom haal / En die here my nie soek nie / As die osoonlaag vergaan / En in ‘n kandelaar van sterre val / Begrawe my hart op Klein Tambotieboom / En strooi my as oor die Bosveldhorison / Jy het nie ‘n graad nie/ En jy het nie ‘n kredietkaart nodig nie/ Om in die agterplaas soos ‘n kind te baljaar / En die verte in van ‘n krans af te staar.”

Feature photo by Liam Lynch.