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What is Zef and Who is Die Antwoord? Understanding the Musical Rap Movement and Culture of South Africa

Updated on September 1, 2012

"It's associated with people who soup their cars up and rock gold and shit. Zef is, you're poor but you're fancy. You're poor but you're sexy, you've got style." -Yo-Landi Vi$$er

Zef-Side | Source

With the recent soar in popularity of Die Antwoord, many people have been wondering: what exactly is "Zef"? Yo-Landi Vi$$er, quoted above, has been self-described as "Zef", sporting a partly shaved hair style, a foul mouth, and fashion style all her own. Along with her co-front man, Ninja, Yo-Landi Vi$$er is a crusader in the "Zef" music industry, bringing "Zef" to American audiences with her band, Die Antwoord. But now that we have "Zef", we want to know what it is!

Through research I have found "Zef" to have two origin stories. One is that "Zef" derives from an Afrikaans word which means "common". The other story is that the term "Zef" is a contraction of "Ford Zephyr". In the 1970s, there was a trend in working class people to own Ford Zephyrs because of their affordability. The Ford Zephyr is also known for its quintessential "Ahh-Ooh-Gah" horn. The higher and elite classes of South Africa named Ford Zephyr owners "Zefs" for use as a derogatory term.

Recently, the white, lower-class of South Africa has decided to reclaim the term "Zef" as an emblem of pride. The "Zef" counter-culture embraces its poor roots with parody. They accept and love what and who they are and where they come from, and go over-the-top to create a message about classism.

The definition of "Zef" in the music world is a lot looser. It is widely associated with hip-hop and rap, while utilizing elements of rave music. Because this genre is so new, it is very hard to describe exactly what "Zef" music should be. The main requirement of "Zef" is that the songs are sung in both English and Afrikaans. Although "Zef" was definitely born from rap and hip-hop, it has formed into a new genre that breaks ground.

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Die Antwoord mixes rave\techno beats and backtracks with hip hop and rap lyrics and song structure to create a very different style of rap. Almost every song on their album Ten$ion has a head-nodding beat that makes you want to smoke a blunt and roll around in an Impala. Honestly, I’ve never heard a rapper exactly like Yo-Landi Vi$$er, her high-pitched vocals and South African accent definitely make her stand out from the crowd; but there is also a certain appeal to Ninja. Ninja’s vocal pitch is similar to Eminem’s (slightly nasal-y and full of attitude), and I have to say, I have a soft spot for that sound. What is extremely appealing about Die Antwoord’s music is that it often changes the tempo and the beat to give a “hype” feeling that works really well for this genre (listen to “I Fink U Freaky” and pay attention to Ninja’s rap for a great example of this). Both Vi$$er and Ninja’s voices are extremely dissonant, but in a good way. They clash well together. The producer responsible for the beats is called DJ Hi-Tek who, as I said before, creates rave beats and sometimes incorporates Dubstep and even African drum beats. “In the song “Fatty Boom Boom” they begin the song with and maintain throughout a great high tempo African drum beat.

If you’re a fan of hip-hop, I would suggest giving Die Antwoord a listen. Their mixture of techno and rap, vocal pitches, accents, and lyrics make them a one-of-a-kind band right now. Make sure to check out YouTube for their music videos-- they’re bizarre and oddly funny.

Buy Ten$ion on Amazon


Ten$ion by Die Antwoord on CD


Baby's On Fire (Official Music Video) by Die Antwoord


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