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Koos Kombuis — ‘I had no idea that there were people who didn’t love art’

Koos Kombuis — ‘I had no idea that there were people who didn’t love art’
Musician Koos Kombuis during an interview on May 08, 2017 in Somerset West, South Africa. Kombuis says he’s happy about the movie ‘Johnny is nie dood nie’. (Photo by Gallo Images / Beeld / Jaco Marais)

Koos Kombuis began exploring and living his creativity as a kid, and can’t imagine it being different.

Koos Kombuis is a musician, writer and artist who’s been a legend especially in Afrikaans circles for three decades. These days he’s also a columnist for publications such as Daily Maverick and Netwerk24, among others. 

When did you first identify as a creative artist?

At the age of about three or four, I taught myself to read and write by studying the outsides of cereal boxes while I ate my breakfast in the mornings. I remember surrounding myself with a barrier of cereal boxes so that I did not have to look at my family members.

My parents kept the books they didn’t read in the bottom shelves of their bookcases and stocked the top shelves with crime paperbacks. The only books I could reach were the ones on the lower shelves. As luck would have it, those shelves contained lots of old Afrikaans poetry and short story volumes. At the age of about five, I was intimately acquainted with the work of Eugene Marais, Langenhoven and AD Keet.

What branch of art most stimulates you?

As a kid, I wrote poetry, I drew cartoons and I “published” my own handwritten newspaper. I also ran a solo “radio station” from underneath a couch in the lounge, from where I broadcast imaginary rugby matches which the Springboks always won. And, of course, I drew tons of pictures.

I was fascinated by all forms of creative expression, in different mediums, since a very young age.   

Which artists have significantly inspired you, and why?

My teenage years were spent listening to rock music. The Beatles were a massive influence. My life was changed by the philosophies of John Lennon and the spirituality of George Harrison.

As I grew older, I discovered the poetry of Breyten Breytenbach. In time, I would marry my love of Afrikaans poetry with my interest in rock music, and so the idea – which was quite novel at the time – of Afrikaans pop music was born.

Koos Kombuis

Koos Kombuis. (Photo: Ezetna Olivier)

What, to you, is art’s most important function?

I had no idea, as a child, that there were people in this world who were not creative, or who didn’t love art. That had always been, in my eyes, the most important way of communicating.

My identity, as a young adult, was grounded in alternative culture and youth protest. I simply could not comprehend why my parents wanted to force me to learn stuff like maths, or why they wanted me to take a job in the Post Office.

Without creativity, and without the communication I experience with my creative friends, life in this country would have been too lonely to bear.

Local creatives – in any medium – who excite you?

At the moment, the creative people in South Africa give me much more hope than any of the politicians. I love the fact that acts like the Ndlovu Youth Choir achieved such international success.

And, yes, I admit it, I am proud of the role our generation and I played in the explosion of recent Afrikaans music (even though a lot of that music is crap). It’s a good thing that we saw a proliferation of Afrikaans arts festivals during the past few decades.

South Africa, as a whole, has a host of extremely innovative people who are all, in their own way, through whatever mediums, be it hip-hop or visual art or literature, trying to express the love they feel for this country. This generation of South African artists may still change the world.  

Which works –  in literature, music or visual art – do you return to again and again, and why?

I love Damon Galgut. I love some of the books written by Etienne van Heerden. I read more than just local writers, though – I return, again and again, to the novels of Haruki Murakami. I have read every single book by Douglas Adams.

And I follow a lot of international artists on Instagram, some of them not so well known. Recently, I took up climate change as a new cause. I only realise now that, in doing this, I was probably influenced, more than anything else, by the art of Isaac Cordal.

What are your thoughts regarding the AI revolution?

The AI revolution fills me with conflicted emotions, a mixture of enthusiasm and terror. We have developed such super methods of communicating with one another, of obtaining facts, etc, but in between the mad clatter of information being exchanged, many of us seem to be losing track of true communication. We are forgetting how to really get close to one another as human beings.

Any project you are unveiling or wrapping up?

I have just completed a climate change diary, which took me two years to write. It contains, among loads of other stuff, some writing that was published in Daily Maverick as columns. The book is called The Death of History, and it is now being published by Naledi Publishers. DM

Mick Raubenheimer is a freelance arts writer.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.

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