Channel24’s Herman Eloff sat down with Afrikaans singer Karen Zoid to talk about her new album and how she disrupted her work process to create something new.
Cape Town - The soundtrack to my varsity days is undoubtedly filled with songs from Karen Zoid. Meisie Wat Haar Potlood Kou was constantly on repeat in my red Citi Golf as I drove up and down Potchefstroom’s iconic oak tree lane.
Memories of my youth are stuffed with Karen’s voice singing in the background. She was there in the hot summer days when we were resting under the shade of Lovers Lane and there when we were dancing in Bourbon Street with Gummiberry juice in our hands.
But today – the day after my 33rd birthday - I’m sitting across from Karen in the stylish lounge of the One & Only hotel in Cape Town with its gigantic glass windows looking out over Table Mountain. We’re here to talk about Karen’s brand new Afrikaans album, Op Die Oomblik – Deel Een which has topped the charts on iTunes since its release early last month.
Karen looks cool and collected as she puts her sunglasses atop her head, pushing back her flowing blonde hair. There’s a maturity and confidence surrounding her that’s different from the rebel Zoid I remember from the Afrikaners is Plesierig days. She’s calm and assertive. She’s grown and changed over the years and it’s looking good on her.
In fact growth and change are two major themes that emerge in her latest work and in our short but powerful conversation over a cup of coffee.
On disrupting the process
“The album was a creative exercise to disrupt,” she says.
“To disrupt the work process that I’ve been used to for so long. You get stuck in a rut. I wanted to really disrupt my process. I gave myself a very specific time span to do this in. I set a deadline.
“We locked ourselves in a room for a week and wrote. We weren’t leaving that room until it was done. It’s different if you do it this way. We had good coffee and a decent lunch every day and we worked. We knew what our goal was. The studio was booked before we even had anything to record.
“The songs aren’t unedited, but it’s less curated than usual,” Karen explains.
The new EP consists of six brand new Afrikaans tunes, as well as a bonus track – a live recording of Giant Mistake with Parlotones frontman, Kahn Morbee. This is the first release of three different chapters in Zoid’s songbook.
On her writing
“Writing for me is a desire. It’s difficult to explain. I guess it’s similar to people who are very athletic and get extremely frustrated when they aren’t being active. The same thing happens to me when I can’t write.
“I’m also an extrovert and writing is a way for me to look inward more often. It’s a way for me to connect with myself again. It’s a way to understand myself again. I wanted to allow the creativity to be part of the way this album unfolds. I didn’t want it to be forced. On the internet these days everything is curated from our Facebook posts to our Instagram photos. So I wanted to move away from that. I wanted to experience and feel the work.”
On the internet
“The internet did change everything. It changed systems and forced us to take a new approach to everything we do. It’s almost like when a fire breaks out on Table Mountain. Our first reaction is shock and fear. But every few years there needs to be a fire to ensure regrowth. It’s part of nature. There needs to be destruction in the ecosystem to encourage something new. To sprout new beginnings.
“Yes I use the internet and it has its challenges. But it’s the time we’re living in. We have to embrace it. Just like that fire the internet forced me to adapt in my own career. You have to figure out how you’re going to make it work for yourself. There are many ways to do that.
“We’re also living in a time when anyone can put anything on the internet. To stand out among the masses you need to put your heart and soul into it. You have to put your very best out there and then people will take notice.”
On capturing moments
“A visual element I really wanted as part of the album was time-lapses. It shows that moments pass by quickly. So be who you are when you are there. Because it’s just a waste if you’re not. So you’ll see a lot of that specifically on the visual album and the short film, which airs on kykNET and Showmax.
“It was also so much fun to make. Going on missions to capture these moments were great. An hour of time is just a few seconds on screen. But it’s beautiful to watch and like a form of meditation actually.
“It also allowed me to change my process. I didn’t have to follow a certain recipe or guideline. I could change things around. I could really go back and embrace the process of creating this album. Creating the work is just as important as the final product. Because what’s the use of doing it if you aren’t getting something from the experience?"
On finding meaning
“I don’t want to escape from my life. I’m happiest when I’m creating something. A life without meaning is nothing. It’s not about money or power. It’s about finding meaning in your life. When you have that you’ll be able to survive anything and push through the worst.
“That is the most important thing for me right now. Hopefully I can share that message through my music and impart that knowledge onto someone else. Or at least onto my own child. Having meaning makes you happy. It’s a beautiful thing and a pity that you only learn it so late in life.
“I’m in a place in my life where I’m extremely happy. At age 39 I’m blessed to say I’m still in the game and making music. I feel like I’m just going to go for it. I want to be like Johnny Clegg. I also want to be 60 and still tour with my music. I still want to be around then. Making things. It feels like I’m only just getting a second breath. I only know now who I really am,” Karen ends our interview.
(Photos: Anelia Loubser)