A.K.A Ralph Rabie

One of four children, it was evident from a young age that young Ralph John Rabie was drawn to music. His mother recalled how as a very young boy he would listen to the music of the well-known American Country and Western singer, Jim Reeves.

He grew up in various towns on the platteland of South Africa because his father, who worked for a parastatal company, was obliged to move often as a result of his job.

Because of his obvious musical talent, the family bought an organ for him to use. He quickly learned to play just about any melody on the organ, including classical music. According to his family, people would be amazed when the young prodigy would pile telephone directories on top of a chair in order to reach the keyboard. Soon he learned to play the Wedding March by heart and began playing at weddings by the age of eleven.

Johannes Kerkorrel and friends pictured on the last day of school outside Sasolburg High.  Used with the kind permission of Dr. Wes Ingram.

Johannes Kerkorrel and friends pictured on the last day of school outside Sasolburg High. Used with the kind permission of Dr. Wes Ingram.

Rabie went to Sasolburg High School, he would play the guitar for a group of close friends and confided in them that he dreamed of one day becoming a famous singer. His friends would laugh this off because they could not see how a boy from such a backwater town as Kragbron (where Rabie’s family lived at that time) could ever become a famous musician.

Johannes Kerkorrel and two friends celebrating the last day of high school.  Used with kind permission of Dr. Wes Ingram.

Johannes Kerkorrel and two friends celebrating the last day of high school. Used with the kind permission of Dr. Wes Ingram.

After school, Rabie studied journalism at the University of Potchefstroom. At university he started performing at restaurants and other venues.

In 1980, Rabie married Anne Grobler, who was also a student at Potchefstroom University.

The couple moved to Cape Town where Rabie worked as a reporter. Anne gave birth to a baby boy who the couple named Reuben.

Anne and Ralph’s relationship was put under severe pressure as Rabie began to focus on his music career.  Because Rabie was also working nights as a reporter, he hardly saw Anne, at times they would pass one another in the passageway as she was leaving for work and he was returning.  Because of his increased involvement in music, Rabie was hanging out with a crowd who were involved in drug taking and of whom Anne did not approve. Eventually the couple agreed to separate.
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Rabie had accepted a role as a reporter in Johannesburg and whilst there, he started to focus on his musical career in earnest.

He workshopped a cabaret with some other journalist friends and on the 7th December 1986 the cabaret was performed for a group of invited guests at the infamous Black Sun Theatre.

Shortly after this performance, Rabie moved into a flat in the Johannesburg suburb of Hillbrow. It was whilst living in Hillbrow that Rabie and André Letoit (who would later change his name to Koos Kombuis) started performing in concerts together. Rabie and Letoit would regularly appear at the Black Sun Theatre on Friday evenings and their shows became quite popular.

Eventually Rabie quit his job as a reporter and formed the Gereformeerde Blues Band (the Reformed Blues Band).

The first (and only) album by Die Gereformeerde Blues Band was called “Eet Kreef!” (Eat Crayfish!).

In 1989, Kerkorrel, the Gereformeerde Blues Band, Koos Kombuis and James Phillips set off on the Voëlvry tour which visited all the major Afrikaans universities in South Africa (a fair few of these institutions did not allow the musicians to perform on their campuses).

White South African parents as well as the Nationalist government, watched in disbelief as the tour incited a violent reaction in young Afrikaners, who made it quite clear that they were no longer prepared to support apartheid and rejected the notion of the conscription of white boys into the army to defend the policies of the white minority government.

Because his career as a journalist had made him familiar with how the media operated, Kerkorrel became the spokesman for the musicians.  As a result, he attracted the attention of the South African security police and was placed under surveillance.

The uproar that the tour caused in the Afrikaner community and the knock-on effect that this had on the Nationalist government, has been likened by Koos Kombuis to a tiny stone that ultimately felled the mighty apartheid government, which was already stumbling as a result of sanctions and the ongoing armed struggle put in place by the ANC and other black liberation organisations.

In 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison and four years later the first democratic election was held in South Africa.

Johannes Kerkorrel was invited by Nelson Mandela to sing at his inauguration when he became the President of South Africa.
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  1 comment for “A.K.A Ralph Rabie

  1. Coen Havenga
    December 24, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    My gedig, ter erkenning aan die tydlose musiek en lirieke van Ralph Rabie

    Foltering onder die Afrika son ~

    “Ek het jare lank na ‘n pad
    uit die dorp gesoek“

    En in die Botriviervallei
    het hy dit gekry
    daar waar flenter velle bleek
    fladder aan weerbarstige takke
    uit ‘n wattelboom afgebreek ~
    rou geskeur uit mense vlees,
    wat weerklank vind in bloedbesmette gees.

    “Toe die wêreld hier nog jonk was“
    was sy oerwoud reeds
    donker, koud en stil,
    onheilspellend en morbied ~
    die oë wat loer slu en kil
    asof deur die dood ontbied.

    “En die horison wyd en oop“
    helaas is syne vallend teruggerem.
    Altyd stywer, smorend die koord
    wat wurgend brose nek omklem ~
    woordelose gille wat smeek
    uit ‘n gees wat stuk-stuk skerwe breek.

    Wanhoop, bitter braak gevoelens krenkend
    vasgeketting deur spraakloosheid,
    maal kolkend, tydloos tuimelend
    in ‘n doolhof van opgekroptheid,
    ‘n toekoms vol gate.

    “Kom ons drink op die een wat sy drome oorleef“
    al smekend en soekend,
    vind dan ontvlugting
    van donker geeste dwalend
    en bring salige berusting,
    want eensklaps is dit weg ~
    behalwe ‘n liggaam wat dans in die wind.

    “Want daar is meer as een soort liefde
    daar is meer as een soort droom
    daar is die soort wat jou gevange hou
    en die soort wat jou bevry“

    CAH ©

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