The Voëlvry Tour

The Voëlvry tour was sponsored by Shifty records and the Vrye Weekblad newspaper. The official announcement of the tour including the tour dates appeared in the 10th March 1989 edition of the newspaper, under the heading “Die boere ruk op!” which could be interpreted to mean The Boers revolt!

The artists that would be touring were the Gereformeerde Blues Band, Andre Letoit (as Koos Kombuis was then known) and Bernoldus Niemand and his band die Swart Gevaar (the Black Danger).

The tour had been preceded by an event called “Die Eerste Alternatiewe Afrikaanse Rockfees” (The first alternative afrikaans rock festival), which took place on the 25th March 1988 at the Pool Club in Johannesburg in front of a crowd of about 600 people. Artists who performed at this concert included Bernoldus Niemand, Koos Kombuis, Die Gereformeerde Blues Band, The Genuines, Koos, die Kêrels and Wat is die nuus. Some have suggested that this event, since it received much media attention can be viewed as the start of the alternative Afrikaans music movement.

Dirk Uys managed the Voëlvry tour and booked the venues. Not wanting to “preach to the converted” he booked shows in conservative towns, where he hoped the sentiments that were being espoused by the musicians would result in a change in the mindset of the audiences.

Kerkorrel and Uys recognised the importance of rock and roll in trying to impart their anti-government sentiments to an audience.

Kerkorrel was perhaps referencing a famous statement by Lou Reed who said, “I’ve always believed that there’s an amazing number of things you can do through a rock ‘n roll song, and that you can do serious writing in a rock song if you can somehow do it without losing the beat. The things I’ve written about wouldn’t be considered a big deal if they appeared in a book or a movie”, when he was later quoted as saying, “It was when we plugged in our guitars that the shit really started happening!”.

The Nationalist government had a decade earlier, recognised that music was an ideological weapon and reportedly developed an anti-riot disco music machine after the 1976 uprising in Soweto. It was envisioned that the disco music machine would be driven into troubled areas and the rioting populace would be blasted with disco music in an effort to placate them.

One of the towns that the Voëlvry tour visited was George, which was the electorate of PW Botha. After the show in George all four of the Combis that were being used as tour buses, had their tyres punctured. Dirk Uys believed that the security police were responsible for this as well as a stink bomb that was set off at the venue.

The stage for the Voëlvry concerts featured a life size plastic “Kewpie” doll that hung from the ceiling. Numerous kitsch symbols of South Africa were also featured, these included a plastic crayfish and a Protea flower encrusted with fake jewels. On the keyboards stood a frightened-looking Springbok, the emblem of the national rugby team. A sunflower was attached to the microphone and the backdrop was a huge painting of a burning Ox Wagon.

An article in the Vrye Weekblad included humorous biographical sketches of the musicians that would be on tour. Dirk Uys was referred to as Dee Dee Uys and was described as an economist and pipe maker. According to his sketch Kerkorrel had lived in every small town in South Africa and had been faced with the choice of following a career in either rugby or rock ‘n roll, luckily for Naas Botha , he chose music.

All the musicians that were involved in the tour used aliases. The Gereformeerde Blues Band was made up of (apart from Kerkorrel), Hanepoot (Jannie) van Tonder on drums, Piet Pers (Pete Purple – real name Gary Herselman) on bass guitar and Braai Nylon (BBQ Nylon – real name Willem Moller, later also known as Mr. Volume) on guitar. The only female musician on the tour was Karla Marie (real name – Tonia Selley), who was described as a “show waddy waddy girl”.

It did not take long for authorities to act and within a week of the tour being announced, various institutions took action to ban the musicians from visiting their campuses. Rabie’s old alma mater, the University of Potchefstroom was one of the first to ban any performances. The Student Representative Council supported the decision and a spokesman noted that the content of the concert was not consistent with the Christian values of the school. Furthermore, it was believed that the musicians made fun of religion, Afrikaner cultural values and used foul language and thus the SRC felt that the ban was justified.

Letoit was not permitted to perform at the Randse Afrikaanse University because of an old ban against him that was in place at that campus. The Vaaldriehoek Technikon banned the tour because authorities there believed that the performance did not meet the “educational standards of the Technikon’s cultural program”. Furthermore it was believed that the performances would not be “culturally uplifting” and might in fact be found to be offensive by some students. When pressed for more details regarding the decision, the acting Rector stated that he “did not want to provide details, but that someone had provided a report about the contents of the program ”. The University of the Orange Free State also prevented the musicians from visiting its campus, since this institution only allowed concerts to take place during its annual Rag Festival or during Intervarsity.

Even the so-called “liberal” Stellenbosch University prevented the Voëlvry musicians from performing on that campus. Undeterred, Kerkorrel and the others played a gig at a hotel just outside of Stellenbosch.

By the end of the tour there was a lot of acrimony between the musicians. Most of the takings from the concerts had been stolen. Exhaustion and heavy drinking took their toll and the group started bickering amongst themselves.

The Gereformeerde Blues Band did another tour of South Africa, before breaking up. Most of the musicians who had been part of Voëlvry attempted to forge solo careers at the end of the tour.

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