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F.A.K. Songs and Other Struggle Anthems

 

REVIEWS OF F.A.K. SONGS AND OTHER STRUGGLE ANTHEMS IN CAPE TOWN  — SEPTEMBER 2010

 

Bambi still has teeth, and she's cracking nuts

– Marianne Thamm, Sunday Times, 12 September 2010 

 

Bambi Kellermann, Evita Bezuidenhout's younger sister, exists in a much darker, edgier world than her globetrotting, politically influential sibling.

She's our very own Lotte Lenya, the famous hooker-turned-songstress who met, collaborated with and married composer Kurt Weill in 1921. The Marxist poet Bertolt Brecht completed this holy trinity of German cabaret.

Bambi is our world-weary survivor of the currents of history. She's a returned exile, a widow whose former husband, Joachim von Kellermann, was a Nazi sympathiser. She, too, is a former stripper, showgirl and hooker who now runs a brothel in Paarl, and she's HIV-positive.

Over the years, Bambi has circled the limelight, popping up here and there, demonstrating how to use condoms and have safe sex. But her creator, Pieter-Dirk Uys, has finally found a space and theatrical vehicle that allows her to blossom fully.

The beautiful, downtown Fugard Theatre, with its shades of brown, ochre and grey, is the perfect backdrop for FAK Songs and Other Struggle Anthems, a cabaret in the true sense of the word and a production that restores this much-abused genre back to its dark, decadent, disturbing, sarcastic and satirical essence.

Bambi's Bokkie Band, with musical arrangements (with many a South African flourish) by the hugely talented Godfrey Johnson, also on piano, Hilton Schilder on percussion, Rayelle Goodman on violin, Mac McKenzie on guitar and Heather Roth on flute and sax, take us through an eclectic range of music from the traditional repertoire of Afrikaans volksliedjies (given a vigorous and contemporary satirical working over) to the stirring and atonal, jagged anthems of Weill, Brecht and Stephen Sondheim.

Uys occupies the stage for close to two hours, a consummate showman. He understands completely the language of the theatre, threading a bit of Bambi's personal history with political and social commentary and much mad wit and pathos.

There are chill winds blowing about our young democracy. All of these are vital for cabaret to retain its bite. So while Bambi Kellermann still has teeth, as the African saying goes, she's cracking nuts.

 

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Rapier wit slaughters SA's sacred cows

– Astrid Stark, Cape Times, 13 September 2010

 

It’s dirty, offensive and very, very funny.  Bambi Kellermann is at it again as she unleashes her satirical tongue on our apathetic stance on the exploding AIDS epidemic and the bad old Apartheid days which are still detectable as a bad smell lingering in the dark corners of our society.

 

Bambi is a former stripper — she loved her job — and sex worker.  Today she runs a wine cellar, otherwise known as a brothel, in Paarl.

 

She tells a gritty story of her life as the wife of a Nazi officer and hanging out with the likes of Josef Mengele; drawing powerful comparisons between the Nazi regime and our own phenomenally successful Apartheid campaign.

 

Bambi goes so far as to compare our slack attitude towards AIDS to the murder of millions of Jews, warning us that in a few years we will have a genocide of sorts on our hands when we finally wake from our self-inflicted stupor. 

 

Bambi, like her sister Evita Bezuidenhout, is one of our National Treasures but that’s where the similarity ends.

 

Whereas Evita is a graceful Dame and an upstanding citizen, Bambi’s past is littered with drunken orgies in seedy hotels.  Bambi’s husband’s ashes sits inside a cocktail shaker on the piano as she, with dry humour, recalls their abusive relationship.

 

She finally ends up with a scraping of his ash under one of her blood red nails which she blows in to the audience in answer to his endless requests for blow jobs.  Pieter-Dirk Uys’ Bambi slaughters sacred cows with her sharp wit and bombastic personality.  Bambi’s story is told through songs and narration in English, Afrikaans and German.

 

The F.A.K Songbook, Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge, gets ripped to pieces, re-arranged, and spiced up with bloodthirsty vulgarity and embarrassingly true lyrics containing all the sad sordidness and joy of the human condition.

 

The song, Ou Tante Koba,  is turned into a tale of female abuse when Tante Koba is born legless in Witbank and her husband uses her to sweep the floors — among other things.

 

The innocent, Wat Maak Oom Kalie Daar?  becomes the anthem of a man that abuses all creatures great and small.  Underneath the thin veneer of vulgarity lies Pieter-Dirk Uys’ scathing social commentary on the perpetual abuse of children and women in our country.

 

Between giggles and gags Bambi pauses and addresses the audience, “Speak to your children.  If you don’t, someone else will. And you will lose them.

 

Bambi tartly says that she only goes to Europe to top up her anti-retrovirals and that she considers herself lucky to be able to use her voyager miles to this effect.  What of the millions in South Africa that can’t afford this? The current strikes are not helping matters either, Bambi reflects.

 

Kurt Weill’s Mac the Knife becomes a sartorial dedication to the infamous Jackie Selebi as Bambi snarls, “Jackie’s back in town…”

 

A beautiful tribute to Marlene Dietrich transforms Bambi into a mournful cabaret singer.

 

Godfrey Johnson’s musical direction and arrangements tightens Bambi’s angst, sadness and cracking humour into a tight and brilliant performance piece.

 

He should be writing scores for Tim Burton films. He actually makes Hansie Slim and Hoe Ry die Boere sound like a warped blend of Adams family anthems and a saucy drag show routine. It is brilliant and he peaks as he simultaneously assaults the keyboard and piano with his flying fingers.

  

The Bokkie band adds to the intimacy and live feel of the performance.  Mac Mackenzie’s arrangement and performance of D Major Ghoema feels fresh and exciting.

 

Notable is the violin of Rayelle Goodman under the strict direction of Godfrey Johnson.  Her performance is quirky and expressive. 

 

Bambi carries a PG10 restriction and is sure to shock prudent theatre goers, Nazi supporters, women beaters, AIDS denialists, and the apathetic man on the street.

 

Bambi is a gift from Pieter-Dirk Uys that we should treasure while we still have her with us.

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***** Kabaret: F.A.K. Songs and Other Struggle Anthems   

– Mariana Malan, Die Burger, 3 September 2010

 

Bambi Kellerman slaan jou met ’n ystervuis wat slinks in ’n ­fluweelhandskoen versteek is.

 

Sy weet presies wat kabaret is en wat dit behoort te doen. En dis nie net omdat sy ’n nag van passie en sonde in die geselskap van Kurt Weill en Bertolt Brecht deur­gebring het nie.

 

Die Bokkie Band berei die verhoog vir haar voor met ’n keurspel van “Sarie Marais”, “Siembamba”, “Afrikaners, ­landgenote” en “Wielie Walie”, bykans onherkenbaar verwerk.

 

Bambi stap op die verhoog met haar blonde kapsel en fladderende wimpers. Daar is net so ’n effense steier in haar stappie. Sy sing liedjies uit die FAK-sangbundel en verduidelik aan die gehoor dat dit die liedjies is waarmee Afrikanerkinders oor die jare opgegroei het.

 

Hierdie Afrikanerkind ken ander lirieke. Oom Kalie raak ’n pedofiel, bobbejaan klim nie die berg nie, maar neem plase af, en Hansie Slim raak ’n rakker met ’n vreemde missie.

 

Die een helfte van die gehoor is geamuseerd. Hulle ken die oorspronklike liedjies; die ander helfte lyk effens verleë. Hulle ken nóg die liedjies nóg die taal waarin dit gesing word. Al gaan van die spitsvondighede verlore, is daar steeds die lyf en hande, wimpers en pruilmondjie wat praat.

 

As Bambi selfsugtig was, sou sy nie die Bokkie Band van die verhoog af gejaag het nie. Hulle steel heel dikwels die kollig.

 

Godfrey Johnson se verwerkings bring ’n simfoniese klank na die eenvoudigste deuntjies. Hy het ’n indrukwekkende viertal musikante saam met hom op die ver­hoog: Heather Roth (saxofoon en fluit), Rayelle Goodman (viool), Mac McKenzie (kitaar) en Hilton Schilder (perkussie). As bonus is een van McKenzie (komponis van die Goema-simfonie no.1) se kort komposisies ook gespeel.

 

Afgesien van die FAK-sangbundel, kry die gehoor ’n aanbod van Weill en Sondheim, ’n huldeblyk aan Marlene Dietrich. Tussendeur praat Bambi oor haar lewe, lewer skerp kommentaar op ’n paar relevante kwessies (soos sekswerkers wat ’n vakbond moet kry, maar dan dalk ook mag staak), en sy gesels met haar man se as in die martini-skommelaar op die klavier.

 

By tye beweeg jy op die rand van trane. Die vertolking van die ouwêreldse treffers, die hande, die ouer lyf en die lewenswysheid oorrompel jou. Wanneer Bambi aan die einde gestroop voor jou staan, loop dit vrylik.

 

Dit is alles en nog meer as wat ’n kabaret behoort te bied.

 

Tot 18 September by die Athol Fugard teater in Kaapstad te sien.

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**** A thin veneer of pleasantries   

– Theresa Smith, Cape Argus, 7 September 2010

 

You will never see Bambi Kellerman and Evita Bezuidenhout on stage together because the sisters can't stand each other. Clearly, since they are both Pieter-Dirk Uys' alter egos, it's never going to happen. It is, however, a convenient excuse, and even better ruse, for Bambi to sing her own version of Stephen's Sondheim's Send in the Clowns. Complete with picture of her sister in hand.

 

Bambi is a much darker version of Evita, more of an obvious lush - you can't tell whether she really buys into her own crap or not.

 

With this cabaret Bambi re-interprets all those Afrikaans ditties our music teachers taught us out of the FAK Sangbundel through the styles, and songs, of Kurt Weill, Bertold Brecht and Sondheim (in English, Afrikaans and German).

 

As usual Uys is spot on with his impersonations, whether Marlene Dietrich or just some teenager singing about a paedophile (oh yes, he does) and goodness knows he still has the legs to be wearing high heels.

 

So when she first saunters on to the stage to sing "oh, show me the way to the next whiskey bar" it's not The Doors you're thinking of, or even Weill for that matter, but that old auntie who is always such a hoot at parties.

 

But then she starts talking. Bambi tells us her life story, of how she left the country of apartheid only to end up married to a Nazi. Even when she's making you laugh at her jokes about the difficulty in dealing with her husband's friends being persona non grata, she's working up to a serious point.

 

Most of the spotliedjies already had some serious sexual innuendo to them, but when you add Bambi's deliberate twisting nature, you're going to cringe and nod knowingly at the same time.

 

So "Hansie slim, berg wou klim" takes a trip via match fixing in cricket and Pirate Jenny from the Three Penny Opera takes on as much of a political overtone as it did when Nina Simone performed |it 1964.

 

Kudos to Godfrey Johnson for his musical direction which creates an elegant counterpoint to the satirical content. The beautiful aural experience becomes an unsettling contradiction to the ugly story Bambi is telling.

 

Eventually Bambi draws a link between the rot just present below the surface in both the Weimar Republic in 1930s Germany, and old school Afrikaner nationalism typified by Voortrekker camps and contemporary South African society.

 

When joking that "we have the best government money can by" gets the biggest applause of the evening, you can see the audience is loving the political satirical undertone. Yet, you have to wonder when Bambi sings "where have all the people gone, a long time ago, no-one spoke" whether Uys is getting through to anyone.

 

Like his other alter-ego Evita, Bambi is trying to get people off their collective behinds, talking about how HIV and Aids affects us and, more importantly, do something about it. There's an increasingly almost nasty air to the content, masked well by the gorgeous sounds.

 

It's not for the squeamish, but perhaps that's exactly who should be seeing it.

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PDU on cue with rich tribute to classic local songs

– Peter Tromp, The Next 48 Hours, 10 September 2010

 

The state of discomfiture is one I feel isn’t valued, or embraced enough in the theatre. By this I don’t mean we should be sitting on spikes instead of comfy chairs, or have our eyes pegged open like in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ or anything.

 

I have spoken to theatre practitioners on various occasions and many of them have used the word “bourgeois” to describe their art.

 

They might be talking about the act of theatregoing in this country and how, generally, theatre tickets can be pretty expensive, which immediately limits its primary audience to those in the upper social brackets.

 

It can of course also refer to mollycoddling your audience, pandering to their tastes and sensitivities and not really challenging their boundaries.

 

Which brings me neatly to one of our most acclaimed if divisive artists.

 

We might think we have come to know what to expect from Pieter-Dirk Uys (henceforth to be referred to as PDU for the remainder of this review), but anyone leaving the theatre after this “cabaret” is likely to walk away feeling fulfilled and perplexed in almost equal measure.

 

As this show is labelled a cabaret, attendees might be forgiven for expecting an evening’s worth of light-hearted entertainment, perhaps hoping as well that the artist will have left his incendiary politicized views at the door for once.

 

PDU though, not unlike Bono, that other social crusader of world renown, hardly misses an opportunity to impart his ruminations on the state of our union.

 

As such, he rather inverts what the term cabaret has come to mean to us in recent times, playing with our expectations all the while.

 

This might irritate some people, who might not want to be concerned with the unlimited amount of niggles in our fragile republic on a Saturday night out, but to me, PDU mixes the political so well with his enchanting personas, in this case Evita’s sister Bambi Kellermann, that his shows always have a bit of the hardcore edge.

 

I just love it when he gets the audience to squirm a bit by hitting them where it is likely to hurt the most. He knows we long to be entertained, and he does provide that, in spades and with consummate class, but he isn’t out to pat anyone on the back. He is in the business of challenging value systems, not confirming them.

 

Perhaps the only gripe that I have with this otherwise sublime marriage of musicianship, characterization and textured showmanship is the artist’s jab at critics in this country, but perhaps that’s just prodding me where it hurts, exposing my own sensitivity.

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PDU as Bambi in culture-focused cabaret

Satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys takes to The Fugard stage as Bambi Kellerman — the estranged baby sister of much-loved tannie Evita Bezuidenhout.

– Fiona Gordon, artslink.co.za, 15 September 2010

 

In purple sparkles and pointy stilettos (and that’s just outfit number one!), she bats her lashes at the gallery and tells how a hairdresser born in Bethlehem in the (Orange) Free State came to travel the world and become friends with the likes of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. Ms Kellerman is no Mimi Coertse, but she can certainly hold a tune and keep a rhythm, and supported by her ‘Bokkie Band’, sings classics such as ‘Mac the Knife’, and Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’.

 

With many flicks of her wrists, and lots of personality(ies), she attaches a set of false nails, and tells how she "travelled the world with her husband, trying to find a place to throw him off a cliff". With modern and historical political references peppering the text — from stories told in the You magazine and Die Son, to rumblings about a sex workers’ union; from mentions of FW to the latest on "Zille, de Lil-le en hulle", because after all, don’t we have the "best government money can buy?" — she takes us back to those days of the Afrikaner Bond with songs from the FAK Sangbundel — ‘Daar kom die Alibama’, ‘Jan Pierewiet’, and ‘Bobbejaan Klim die Berg’, amongst others.

 

As always, with culture-specific performance, there are many references which pass right over those from not within the fold, but these stories and songs of historical South Africa paint a picture of a time not so far away, and sometimes too easily forgotten. As Ms Kellerman encourages us to consider the future, and in doing so beware not to throw the baby out with that proverbial political bathwater, it is her position as a ‘German’ that allows her to take the liberty of drawing some sober parallels between the deaths of millions of Jews at the hands of a Nazi Germany, and Aids-related deaths in South Africa, as she talks frankly about being wealthy and well-connected enough to cope with Aids.

 

Perhaps it was the not-so-comfortable seats, but it felt too long. While the history and banter provides a precursory context for the Aids discussion, there is perhaps rather enough material here for two shows, exploring different sides of what it means to live in contemporary South Africa. Ms Kellerman gives a middle finger to propriety and encourages her audience to ‘talk to your children!’, but Pieter-Dirk Uys remains a consummate performer, who is able to draw and hold an audience, no matter how uncomfortable the subject matter.

 

Musical direction and arrangements: Godfrey Johnson

Bokkie Band musicians: Heather Roth on flute and sax, Rayelle Goodman on violin, Mac McKenzie on guitar and Hilton Schilder on percussion.

F.A.K Songs and Other Struggle Anthems is at The Fugard Theatre until 18 September 2010. Seating is unreserved and tickets are R90 – R120. Bookings via 021 461 4554.

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