"It's like wearing stilettos with a track suit, it takes guts." said Yo-Landi, explaining her interpretation of Zef fashion. "It's the ultimate South African style." Yo-Landi Vi$$er and lead vocalist Ninja (real name Waddy Jones) are the self-proclaimed Zef enthusiasts and masterminds behind the musical exploits of South African rap-rave crew Die Antwoord
. Their obscene Afrikaans-laced raps are often paired with surreal imagery, like a music-video shot of Yo-Landi in a Pokémon costume exhaling butterflies. This deliciously futuristic new breed of kitsch is known as Zef: an ability to embrace both "white trash" novelties and gangster rap from the 80s and 90s era by successfully combining it into a singular modality. It takes a convergence of styles, and makes them feel both comforting and unexplored. You can almost recognize a sense of familiarity within the styling, but the pairings are too controversially mind-blowing and unlikely to have occurred naturally from any one entity, let alone an entire progression. In South Africa, however, that's exactly what happened.
Zef is the nasty, freaky, gleefully trashy underbelly of post-partheid white South African culture. Perhaps the most recognized band to fully embrace this identity is Die Antwoord, who single-handedly launched their futuristic sound and questionable fashion choices into the forefront of the Zef scene. Yo-Landi's iconic platinum locks appear to have been cut with a weed-wacker, creating a strangely evolved interpretation of the classic white-trash mullet. She is consistently seen showing off her tiny frame in metallic gold boy shorts and Pikachu tees, while her counterpart Ninja proudly showcases his montage of prison style tattoos and gold front teeth in nearly every photograph captured of him. In an interesting twist, the duo was featured in Alexander Wang's Spring 2012 T campaign video
, and again brought a chunk of media spotlight to his recent Spring 2013 show
by sitting front-row alongside Busta Rhymes, with Yo-Landi wearing a netted facial mask and Ninja sporting a 'ZEF' beanie and black hybrid jacket.
Zef is not without controversy, however, and the pair's eccentric taste has done more than raise a few eyebrows. Critics of the style suggest Die Antwoord appropriated the distinctive gangster style of the "coloreds", a term referring to South Africans of mixed racial origins. In an article written by the New York Times, "How dare a white band hit the jackpot by imitating a community whose own musicians were still largely stuck in apartheid-created slums?" A veritable pundit on such cultural matters, Rustum Kozain purported Die Antwoord as "Basically Blackface."
To individuals with this perspective of Die Antwoord's culture-blending persona, there are a couple of other key factors to consider. While the black majority of South Africa achieved political liberation in 1994, it was the whites who experienced their own form of liberation, through the power of creative expression in the form of the arts. The freedom to openly express or identify with their own sociopolitical viewpoints occurring in their own communities was and still is an entirely new privilege. Under white rule, Afrikaans art was heavily sponsored by the government and presented a rigid image of Afrikaners as upstanding Christians — a natural ruling class. After apartheid fell, white artists were free to explore a wider range of personas. Waddy Jones has sculpted, in Ninja, a persona of what embracing different cultural identities in South Africa might mean. The context in which Die Antwoord uses Zef is through the freedom of their own art form, and obviously many individuals do not yet appreciate South Africa's new found concept regarding artistic liberties.
Yo-Landi and Ninja refer to Zef as the ultimate style in both music and fashion, as well as an emerging South African subculture resulting from the apartheid being abolished. It is a healthy (if not radical) approach of taking both black and white kitsch from the early 80's and 90's, and having the freedom to express such a pairing through artistic expression and self-identification. Die Antwoord is creative without being aggressive, like Manson or Ramstein, and this is a key factor that is lacking from the American rap scene. fASHLIN appreciates that they are not only making fun of the industry, but of the rap listeners and of themselves. If anything, Die Antwoord's self proclaimed Zef mentality is the start towards a merger between any sort of racial divide in South Africa through a distinct appreciation of generic pop-culture and stereotypes. Now that the humanitarian rights of black Africans have been reinstated, any previously taboo subject matter should be open for creative discussion, especially the lighthearted topics relating to personal style and cultural tastes. Controversial or not, the ambiguous Zef mindset simply embraces a distinct flavor from both sides of the racial coin.