Music is one of those time travelling devices such as taste and scent. You smell White Satin perfume and you’re transported back to when you’re twelve and your grandmother waits for the taxi out on the front stoep with your cousin who has to whistle at the driver, Ivan Davids, who always complains that your grandmother married the wrong Ivan and asks for less money than the other customers because he still has a crush, and you know that no matter how skraps her pension is, she’ll bring you a chocolate and yogurt and apples, maybe even a 2l Coke, because that’s what grandmothers do.
You’re also comforted by the Afrikaans that plays on the radio in the taxi because it’s the way you speak the language, without fanciness and pretence. The Afrikaans where both males and females are “he” because you’ve always inherently known about gender non conformity, although you did not have the right nomenclature. In those taxis you know that you don’t have to give directions because you say to the jum’ boy “second tree” and he replies with, “oh, Aunty Poppie’s house, the house next to the tree were the girl who was skinny is now fat after the abortion, where the house is extended after the road accident fund moneys”.
You hear Boney M on the radio and you’re back on the lawn in the yard of your childhood home in the military base where all the houses are eerily similar in style and colour and the only excitement comes from someone’s father coming home drunk from the tavern and causes ructions, and it’s Christmas and you’re swimming in your plastic swimming pool and eating watermelon and you’re happy because Mary’s boychild Jesus Christ was born on Christmas day.
I’ve never been inclined to answer to the question what kind of music do you like? That’s simply because who the hell knows what kind of music they like or what person they are on that day and in that specific moment. As if days and moments and people are not fluid. As if instruments and notes and tones and pitches and genres do not intertwine and overlap in the same way in which sounds turn to words bearing and conveying meaning.
So, that’s music, it’s kind of like languages in South Africa that are never pure, because let’s be honest, every dog in every township or village or suburb understands the word voetsek, and people and experiences and the memories of those: never pure, never homogenous, never static.
When I heard the Country Conquerers’ song, I was taken right back home. In our household, Sanna is the name we would assign to people when we are being obscure so that children or unwanted ears would not hear our gossip. Koppies en pierings het ore. “Sanna was weer hier om brood te kom vra” or “ Nee ou Sanna smaak hom mos so, elke week by die casino om te loop dowwel. Hy weet net hoe om te kom vra of dit goed gaan as hy weet dit word hier gebonus”.
Sanna particularly likes coming to our house during festive season with some or other sad story about how her children do not have shoes for Christmas or how the gammon is on special at Shoprite. But everyone knows Sanna does not have children and could not even boil an egg. And Sanna, much like in the song, has multiple lovers, a true love child who does not give a damn about social constructions and self-made morality. I loved the ways in which the song captured someone we can all relate to: someone who is not pure, not homogenous, never static.
My brother is a self-taught musician. Despite being raised by a rugby-loving soldier, who used to say while we were growing up, that there are only two sexes, men who play rugby and women. I still commend his bravery, leaning outside of my father’s confines to be who he really is because I never thought that that was particularly stereotypical or sexist, I thought that was the way of the world. That women do not drive. That Afrikaans should be spoken “properly” (Of course, with English, if you are for is, it is completely understandable). Xhouboe besigheid, ek sê jou.
As for me, the only instrument I play is the second fiddle.
It’s through my brother that I now know what middle c, majors and minors, d flats and whatever else he rambles on about, are. And it’s through his longing to create music that tells stories, not just through lyrics but through rejecting the construction of genres, through making instruments that tell tales of our ancestry, from calabash and bamboos and animal skin and reeds. It’s through my brother that I started questioning why people have genres, why ghoema and reggae and country and rock and roll should be classified as such. Why we should have gender conformity. Or standardised languages, none of it ever encompasses the messiness of everyday life.
My brother plays the guitar and the piano and bought them by illegally selling coals and hookah flavoured cigarettes since high school. And I am proud of his hustle, no matter what government thinks is allowed or not. While other teenagers were out getting drunk and high and groping on underdeveloped breasts and doing broekskoot in dark corners at house parties, my brother and YouTube were having serious conversations about fingering and trilling and caressing. He thoroughly believed that keys would open doors, piano keys that is.
I remember his first paying gig at a pub and grill in Kimberley. Many local poets and musicians were crowded into a little corner of the bar on the bad side of town. We stole my father’s car, neither of us having a license or believing in the institutionalisation of skills and parked where we were sure no parallel parking would be required. And that night my brother mixed country music that took me back to coming home from school to the scent of cobra potpourri polish and sourdough bread in the oven, with the beats of kwaito that reminded me of the kasi vibe in my grandmother’s township, of drinking brown bottle beers while sitting on crates and playing dominoes, where Sabina comes into the yard and asks for all the “leë empties” to sell back for the next dop plan.
Sanna, I think, speaks to many of our true selves. We all have someone inside of us who wants to break free from societal barriers. Free from the confines that tell us what to like, how to like what we like and how to remember what we wish to remember. Sanna reminds us that we are free but that people will not like it because they’re bitter about their own bondage. Sanna reminds us that we, like the music, are fluid beings, always evolving, intertwining, learning how to exist as messy beings in a messy world.