My usual Monday morning ritual involves a slight hangover (I’m being modest), a couple of cups of coffee, a cigarette, and tentatively opening my laptop to a healthy pile of admin.
This particular Monday, Day 4 on lockdown, felt excitingly different because right on top of my list of to-dos was: listen to Van Pletzen’s unreleased album, Love & Legehness before your interview.
While I wasn’t too familiar with Van Pletzen’s music, what I had been exposed to convinced me that our chat was going to be all kinds of legehness.
He’s sitting at home in Joburg — a sweet spot with a garden, two cats, and space enough for him to set up his temporary lockdown studio — when he answers the phone and his Joburg-tainted Englikaans accent makes me laugh. And reminds me of home.
“It’s not Englikaans, it’s Mengels… Mengels is whatever you need to use in order to express yourself,” he corrects me. I humbly accept guidance from the gees police.
I took in every second of the incredibly well-produced 15-track banger of an album, so I waste no time in cross-questioning him. He starts, “We wanted to make a big album in every way, like a groot album… a kak groot album,” he laughs. “Also track one, which is called ‘Kak Groot’ is kinda like the promise — It’s the first thing you hear and it’s the promise that you are in for a groot ride.” His sales pitch has me in stitches.
Van Pletzen confesses that what frustrates him most about most Afrikaans music is its inability to be relevant on an international party stage, and he’s not wrong.
But with Afrikaans a firm feature on the album, I ask what they’ve done differently to avoid being relegated to the “locals only” market. His response is case-in-point, “You know, it’s a very careful balance between love and legehness and grootness. We wanted to do something honest, we didn’t want to shed our personalities to make music. So [the album is] what we’re like. It’s almost like English pop music for Afrikaans people.”
One of the tracks on the album — featuring Dutch rapper Tim Beumers — is called “Golden Punani” so I can’t resist asking him what his mother thinks of their music. He laughs when he tells me, “She actually loves it. [The family] all have quite a strong sense of humour, so they love it.” He’s beaming with pride when he adds, “They say it kinda reminds them of the stuff they were listening to in the 80s, which to me is a very groot compliment.”
When Van Pletzen isn’t donning a Hawaiian shirt for a day-time performance or Nax [Matthieu Auriacombe] isn’t flashing his nipples on stage, they work together in a studio, which is actually how the duo met. Nax was working as Van Pletzen’s studio assistant and after a long couple of weeks of hard graft, they’d earned themselves some down time, a beer, and a friendly conversation.
This conversation got them into studio, making music for fun, as opposed to meeting their usual corporate briefs. “I said to Nax, ‘Imagine Afrikaans music that’s all about the legehness, smoking a joint, you know, just how you’d be in your day-to-day life,” and that’s how “Zaberfluten”, “Eiland Styl” and subsequently their whole career was born.
“Just so you know, we weren’t even full masters in the art of legehness yet at that point. We didn’t even have an idea yet for what we were getting ourselves into,” he confesses and I can barely hear him for how loudly I’m cackling.
Since their very first performance that just so happened to be at 2017’s Oppikoppi, alongside Early B, they’ve featured him in many of their tracks and videos. This album is no different – Early B appears on three of the 15 tracks. Other collabs include Biggy, legendary Dutch rapper Tim Beumers, and pop singer-songwriter Janie Bay.
I point out that every one of the collaborations makes sense, except Janie Bay, and he agrees, “Ja, that was a strange one actually, but the whole idea with this album, because it’s 15 tracks, we wanted to explore all corners of the legehness… and that includes more ballad, intimacy vibes.” He explains how Bay had been in studio to work on her own album when he asked her to track some scratch vocals for their then demo of “Vir Ewig”.
She started singing and both he and Nax instantly agreed that the track could only exist with Bay’s vocals on it. “It wasn’t a planned thing or anything but it worked out well and it brings a nice balance to the album as well.”
As someone blessed with the gift of the gab, I offer him the floor for some parting words for the fans, and he doesn’t miss a beat as he breaks into his most suiwer Mengels: “I would like to deel the volgende gedagtes with all the English people daar buite, that Afrikaans can be legeh. Afrikaans can be groot. But Afrikaans, most importantly, can be kak groot so don’t be bang to luister.”