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Captain of his own destiny

 The Big Issue South Africa 22 November 2019

Zander Tyler, better known as Jack Parow, has managed to do what few before him have — take Afrikaans rap mainstream. But how did some ou from the wrong side of the boerewors curtain pull off such a feat and, in the process, become a household name almost overnight? Melany Bendix met up with him to find out about the method behind this madness. (1731 Words) - By Melany Bendix

The BI South Africa_jack_parow

Jack Parow. Photo: Gerhard Muller

Zander Tyler once got beaten up something nasty when he went surfing, all because his car had a CY number plate.

Having grown up with a couple of the deep South's rougher surf crews, I can vouch that this isn't some wild tale. And I doubt he's exaggerating even a tiny bit. That's because Tyler's the type of guy us snobby southern suburbs kids used to call "rock spiders", the kind who didn't stand a chance of getting lucky if they crashed one of our school discos because they may as well have had "northern suburbs" tattooed on their foreheads. It was that obvious, even without the CY number plate.

Now, with every kid from Constantia to Kommetjie wishing they had the ordentlik [real] northern suburbs zef style that Tyler's stage character personifies, this is one rock spider who's definitely having the last lag.

"Yah, you southern suburbs people have always been flippin' snobby," he chuckles.  "But it's cool that English people think we are cool all of a sudden. That's what Cooler as ekke [the hit single off his first solo album of the same name] is all about."

The yawning divide between the cultures of Cape Town's northern and southern suburbs - separated by our own imaginary Berlin Wall, the "boerewors curtain" - is something all Capetonians know about. Heck, even Joburg's got its own north/south divide. And that's what makes Jack Parow's music so flippin' cool; all South Africans can relate to the lyrics and, even better, use it to laugh at ourselves.

Likewise, his latest single I Miss, off the new album entitled Jack Parow, has been a hit because all South African kids from the 1980s who listen to it can relate to missing the days of the A-Team, Thundercats, kaalvoet rugby, Looney Tunes, Kentucky, Egoli and Ballade Vir 'n Enkeling. The lyrics transport you back in time to those bad lumo and legging days, when we were so starved for entertainment that we'd lap up any B-grade shows that managed to slide past the apartheid censors. Hell, we'd even watch the test pattern, Crime Stop or Riaan-pickled-in-formaldahyde-Cruywagen read the news. That's how desperate we were.

But I digress. The point is Jack Parow's appeal - novelty aside - lies in the fact that he's quintessentially South African, Venter-trailer style, and he owns it. That and he's all about the fun; whether it's poking fun at himself, Sea Point trendsetters who drink Peroni like Dirty Skirts lead singer Jeremy de Tolly, or just messing around with his pants hanging down MC Hammer style, having a good time.

"That's the problem with a lot of South African rappers, they go all heavy into politics and stuff, and South Africa is so bombarded by politics the whole time that when you go out you just want to party - you don't want to hear about everything that's wrong. So I stay away from all that heavy shit," says Tyler, who we'll call Parow from now on to avoid confusion.

"So that's like my message, to just have fun. Obviously there's some deeper stuff [in the lyrics], but it'll be about myself, not anyone or anything else, and I keep it light," says the guy who's styled his stage persona on cartoons.

"I've always loved cartoons, and have always wanted to be like a cartoon character," he explains of how his gaudy outfits and trademark extra long peak caps came about. "Me and my friend Richard De Jager were talking about my look, how I was always wearing vests, shorts and a cap, and he was like, 'No, f***k, that's boring, why don't we do something cool and make it [the peak cap] long.' That's how it actually started."

And the name, in case you haven't guessed already, is a tongue-in-cheek take on Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow character in Pirates of the Caribbean. "I'm like the Pirate of the Caravan Park," laughs Parow.

King of kitsch, a cash-cow brand

But what started out as Parow and his chommies having a bit of fun has developed into a cash-cow brand, one that he's being smart enough to coin.

"I'm launching a label called Parowphernalia, which is going to be like all caps, and clothes and jewellery," he says, pointing to his knuckle-busting gold-plated ring, "wife-beater" vest and newly made groot krokodil cap [see cover] to demonstrate the type of class pieces his line will produce.

There may even be a Jack Parow doll in the mix, hopefully one with a wobbly head that can be plucked on the dashboard, right under the dangling fluffy dice. "I'd dig to have a toy of myself," he says excitedly, "that would be the flippin' best!"

The Parow brand's also taking him outside of South Africa's borders. Just days after our interview, Belville's King of Kitsch left for the States to meet "with a bunch of people that are interested in me there". This was around the same time as his new album launched in Australia, and he'll be touring Holland, Belgium, France, Germany and Norway in November to coincide with the launch of the album in these countries.

But do they get Jack Parow over there? Can they even understand the lyrics?

"Actually they do. At the moment my stuff is doing really well in Belgium and Holland - my song [Cooler as ekke] is number four on their MTV and I Miss is doing really well in the States. I think that, even though we have very different cultures, even though they don't understand all of it, they still like it because the world is pretty much the same."

"Actually, I don't know why they like it," he says, descending into laughter before grabbing another banana and eating it almost whole, "but they do, and that's kiff."

Flowing smoothly from the mother tongue

It's apparent Parow's not over-analysing his sudden boom of success, he's just riding the wave and digging it. And that's basically how he got here in the first place; he's the poster boy for striking it lucky by simply being himself, having fun and following his passion.

Parow, who has "been rapping, like, forever", has been in a few rap crews over the last decade, including The Clenched Fist, a Mitchell's Plain based crew, and Die Donkermag, a crew he formed with a couple of the guys from Cape rap stalwarts Brasse Vannie Kaap. Plus he's collaborated with Afrikaans rockers Die Heuwels Fantasties and Max Normal, Waddy Jones' previous incarnation before he became Ninja and formed Die Antwoord with Yo-Landi Vi$$er.

Parow was once even a member of Die Antwoord: "I was part of that crew when they  first started, but then I rather wanted to do my own thing because I've been like rapping with crews for a while and it was time to do my own thing."

Doing his own thing included embracing being Afrikaans and hailing from the mean streets of Bellville. "I rapped in English for three years, and I never liked it that much. I never felt like I was being myself.  Then I wrote my first song in Afrikaans and it was just so easy; it was lekker."

Unlike some of his contemporaries who are now rapping in Afrikaans because it adds more zef to the mix, it's clear this is no act; Parow's dik Afrikaans. When he says "like", which he does often, he pronounces it "laaik", in a thick, guttural accent that you just can't fake. When he vloeks, which he also does often, you know this is the real deal.

And that's the way Parow likes it, just being himself. Throughout the interview he chain-smokes, swears, chows bananas and cookies - together - and laughs, a lot, while not so surreptitiously checking out the gorgeous model we've got to be his pirate wench for the shoot.

But just how did Parow go from being the relatively obscure pimp-daddy of the northern suburbs to getting heavy radio play on mainstream stations and shelf space in top music stores?

Rolling with his interweb army

After finding his own Afrikaans rap style, developing his cartoony character and making solid connections on the rap/hip-hop scene, it all started coming together a year and a half ago, thanks in no small part to the world wide web - or the "interweb" as Parow calls it.

The Pirate of the Caravan Park's been pretty savvy when it comes to using the interweb's free resources, like YouTube, where his video for Cooler as Ekke has had over a million hits. Couple this with his Facebook fanpage of more than 93 000 members and his Twitter following of close to 10 000, and Parow's got himself a captivated audience to release tunes to, which is exactly what he's been doing.

Shortly before he released his new album, Parow started posting tracks on his website for free download. He then released 600 ice cream-shaped flash discs titled Roomys, so that by the time the album was released people already knew the tracks and were all amped up to buy the full album, which they did. The second Jack Parow album sold over 500 copies in Musica alone on the first day of its release, and has already clocked 40 000 copies, double that of his first album Cooler as Ekke. Not massive on a global scale, but numbers not to be sniffed at in the South African market.

"I never thought anyone would buy Afrikaans rap music, so I just put it on the net to get it out there, and it worked," he says. "Thanks to the interweb, now I roll with a f***ing army!"


Originally published by The Big Issue South Africa ©

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