Words by: Nadya Domingo | Photos by: Stephen McGill –
Sweat glistened on Ninja’s tattooed chest, which puffs in and out from Die Antwoord’s (Afrikaans for “The Answer”) exhausting performance at Sound Academy in Toronto last night as part of the Sonar Festival. But he isn’t tired. He flashes a dark grimace to the audience, and lifts the microphone to his face. “When you say South Africa, the first things that come to mind is yup: racism, apartheid and crime,” says Ninja as he flashes his middle finger. Die Antwoord’s surprising inclusion of “Diz Iz Why I’m Hot (Zef Remix)” slipped in allusions to South Africa, which hardly got a mention in their set. Die Antwoord was focused on Toronto.
It started with fellow South African artist Leon Botha’s eyes. They stared solemnly at the audience from a giant floor to ceiling screen on the stage. An eerie noise of a didgeridoo filled the venue, slowly turning into the cries of an unknown monster. But the focus is on Botha’s eyes. The audience will never get to see him in person. The man, known as the face of the Enter the Ninja music video, died in 2011 after a stroke.
The South African rap-rave duo has described their live experience as a “mind fuck,” which seems fitting as they open with their crude song “Fok Julie Naaiers.” But Die Antwoord’s show is deserving of much more than that. Their performance proved that they are meant to be heard and seen live. People will understand Die Antwoord if they see their story unfold before their eyes. No matter how offensive or strange, Die Antwoord’s music is impossible to not love when you actually see the passion and anger in Ninja and Yolandi’s eyes.
Yolandi Vi$$er is impossible to ignore. She teetered on the edge of the stage, standing with her back to the crowd telling them to “smack that” at the end of “Rich Bitch.” Though the audience adored Yolandi, the loveliest part of the Die Antwoord show is that it didn’t belong to either Ninja or Yolandi. The two danced circles around each other, jumped into the audience, and gestured to their friend, DJ Hi-Tek. They created the perfect set list that told a story — opening with the memory of Botha, and closing the circle with “Enter the Ninja.” Die Antwoord weren’t in their own little world, but rather recreated a “zef” (common) world for themselves and their fans to be a part of.
It was an hour of shocking magnificence. Die Antwoord are the type of band that alludes the offensive and strange — but their show has an undeniable and heartwarming sense of unity.
It ended with “Never Le Nkemise.” Yolandi and Ninja stood on speakers surrounding DJ Hi-Tek, punching the air perfectly with his amazing beat. Ninja gyrated without flaw. Yolandi whipped her bleach blonde hair effortlessly. As the song faded, Die Antwoord stepped down from their places and stood side by side on the stage. Together, they knelt to the audience.