Janie Bay talks her latest stripped-down release, modernising Afrikaans music, and its place on a global scale

In 2014, Mother City-hailing musician Janie Bay packed up her bags and left her home town, Strand in pursuit of a music career up north in Gauteng, where the scene seemed greener.

“There was a bigger scene with more opportunities,” she starts, “So the initial move was really good to start things off in my career.”

Six years later, she and her boyfriend are packing up house and home in preparation for a reverse-trek back down to Western Cape. She explains, “Everything is changing, and we don’t know when we’ll be doing live gigs again. So we’re moving to Somerset West because we’ll be doing some other work within web development and video editing,” the way the of the new world.

“But obviously we’ll still be doing music in the capacity we can, I will always carry on doing music,” she reassures.

Bay and her brother started out playing in punk tribute bands, a proud standout moment being their tribute to American punk-rock legends, NoFX: “We rehearsed for months ‘cause we wanted to get it right, it was like a NoFX medley, like a 20-minute medley that just carried on, where we just pasted songs together. And it was at Purple Turtle and the turnout was really good.”

Emerging from her underground phase, she went completely in the other direction with the release of her debut independent album as a singer and songwriter under the name Janie Bay.

Bay’s music had started placing on radio, but in order to take it on the road, she teamed up with her brother to start their acoustic duo, Janie & the Beard. Their combination of stripped down originals and covers saw them very quickly opening for acts like Seventh Son, AKing, and Francois van Coke, and even cracking the OppiKoppi lineup in 2012.

She’s always been business-minded and with a career built on English repertoire, her move to creating Afrikaans music was strategic, at least at first. She explains, “When Hunter Kennedy (Fokofpolisiekar, Die Heuwels Fantasties) and I did “Wag Vir Jou” it was kind of like let’s do an Afrikaans song and see what happens, and that song’s streams surpassed the whole album’s streams altogether.”

And Bay has been conquering the Afrikaans pop scene since, collaborating with some of contemporary Afrikaans’ finest — “Veilig” featuring Jack Parow, “Vir Ewig” featuring Van Pletzen, “Die Heelal” featuring Early B and, my personal favourite, “Sterre Brand” featuring Jan Bloukaas — subsequently doing the Lord’s and putting Afrikaans music on the international map.

One of the comments on her video for “Die Heelal” reads: “Loving Janie Bay and Early B here in the US, even if I don’t know what they’re singing!”

“If the internationals can enjoy what we’re doing in Afrikaans that must mean that we’re putting stuff out that’s moving with the times,” she reasons, “And that is something that has been very important to me and to guys like Early B and Heuwels and Van Pletzen, to move forward with the rest of the world.”

Confident enough in her relatively newly-honed talent for writing in Afrikaans to go it solo, Bay’s latest video release for her single “Jammer” was also her last musical act performed in the old world, recorded a week before lockdown, filmed only a day prior.

“So I pretty much wrote the song, melody and lyrics in my head and then I went to the guitar and I just started putting the chords with it. And I usually bounce my stuff off Hunter because I love the way that he writes, and he’s got a way of making Afrikaans music sound cool, and he didn’t really have anything to change or add,” she says proudly.

“It was just important to really do what was right for the song, and this sort of song both lyrically and feel-wise, it really needs true emotion and feel in it,” she explains of the rushed recording and filming process. She continues, “It was emotionally tough because I needed to tap into a certain place. For us to write music, as artists and songwriters, is therapeutic, dealing with things that we go through, but at the same time it can hopefully also be therapeuatic for the rest of the world.” 

With some of the koolste kinders in the South African scene on her team, Bay’s mission is to continue pushing Afrikaans music higher up the international charts and, much like Van Pletzen, the senseis of the Art of Legehness, to make Afrikaans kak groot.