Zack: When I started my involvement in working with OGAE Rest of the World and ESC United, I did not realize how much of a business Eurovision was in South Africa. Yet, I am sure that there are many readers that like myself did not know this until recently.
For this reason, I wanted to chat with OGAE Rest of the World president, Roy, about the Eurovision industry in South Africa. That way, our readers could learn about why OGAE Rest of the World and ESC United want to help provide exposure to the many South African artists that have covered Eurovision songs.
Afrikaans is not a language known by many outside of the continent of Afrika? Can you tell us a bit about the language?
Afrikaans is one of the official languages of South Africa. In South African, there are 11 official languages: English, Afrikaans and 9 black languages like Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana, etc.
Afrikaans originated from the Dutch language, correct?
Yes, as a matter of fact, many Dutch people think Afrikaans sound to them like kids talking before they start school and learn proper Dutch. I find it probably one of the easiest languages to learn, and many of my friends in Europe have learned it easily, such as my friends in Greece and France. It is easy to sing in as well, with maybe the exception of rock. But all other genres work well in Afrikaans, especially the pop songs from Europe and German schlager.
So how does South Africa and Eurovision tie in together?
Covering songs in AFRIKAANS started way before my time and it was really big in the 70s. Decibel Music started it and got many great EUROPEAN hits covered in Afrikaans, especially from Germany. Eurovision songs from the 70s were also heavily covered, notably big hits in the form of Monaco 1971 and Luxembourg 1972 and 1973. Also several songs by UDO JURGENS were covered. He himself covered some of his own hits in AFRIKAANS. France 1976 for example was covered by the same group in Afrikaans and English and sold very well.
So how much of the Afrikaans market is Eurovision-related?
EUROVISION covers make up about 10% of the Afrikaans market. There is also a more than 50% market in EUROVISION RELATED covers; this refers to songs with a EUROVISION connection but not an actual entry. It mainly has to do with songs written by composers who have done EUROVISION entries. Ralph Siegel only wrote 21 Eurovision entries but over 100 of his songs have been covered here – they are all regarded as EUROVISION related. One artist made a full CD of 12 songs composed by UGO JURGENS but none of his actual entries.
Is there any negative attitudes towards the Afrikaans market?
Some SOUTH AFRICAN RADIO STATIONS for some reason think it is awful to cover songs in AFRIKAANS, yet they do not say anything when Celine Dion covers a song or Westlife or Josh Groban. So a lot of artists resort to cheating by omitting the actual composers or say it is unknown or even go as far as claim the songs are theirs just to get radio play and often it still fails.
What are some of the most successful Afrikaans covers?
It is difficult to say since SOUTH AFRICA does not have CD singles. In fact, almost since 1995, charts reflects sales of an album and the euro cover is sometimes just one of the songs on it. So you never know if the public bought the CD for that song or for another song. It is easier if the Eurovision cover is also the title of the CD or if that is the song used for the video. But from CD sales, the most popular are:
1 – IN A MOMENT LIKE THIS. In ENGLISH, the cover by JAY and LIANIE MAY (both very well known singers) sold 120 000 copies. It appears on Jay’s solo CD, Lianie’s solo CD and their duet CD. Each CD went at least platinum (40 000 copies).
2 – ICELAND 1991 – NINA (Bles Bridges – every LP or CD he released went double platinum and that was 100 000 copies at least.)
3 – GERMANY 1985 – FUR ALLE (in Afrikaans known as LIEF VIR ALLES HIER by ANDRE SCHWARTZ)
4 – SWEDEN 2006 – INVINICBLE (known here as ‘n Ewigheid)
5 – GERMANY 1982 -EIN BISSCHIEN FRIEDEN (this may probably be the biggest song as there are so many versions – 10 or so and all have sold well. But of course, when you have so many versions, it takes sales away from an artist had there just been one version of the song. There are also 3 different titles, yet the lyrics are identical – NIE LANK GELEDE, HIER IN MY DROOM and NET SOOS ‘N WILGER)
6 – LUXEMBOURG 1972 – APRES TOI (once again, here are at least 3 different covers in AFRIKAANS but unlike Ein Bisschien Frieden were all have the same lyric, these 3 all have different Afrikaans lyrics).
When did you come into the picture?
In 1995, after I came back from Dublin and my first accredited Eurovision, I went to BMG and said I got these great songs like Sweden’s SE PA MEJ by Jan Johanson. They covered it in English and later in Afrikaans. In 1999, I came back with Sweden’s winner TAKE ME TO YOUR HEAVEN and Patricia Lewis recorded it and the Swedish composers liked her so much, they invited her to Stockholm where she did a full CD with them, singing in English. Around 1999, I would start contacting certain artists who I knew were planning a new CD and would play them some Eurovision entries and say maybe record one or two. Later, it became so big that I would often spend days playing songs to potential artists. Of course, I concentrated on the songs I like, as I wanted them covered. Also, as there were not enough actual EUROVISION songs, I started also playing selection songs and Eurovision related songs. Some artists had their entire CDs filled with songs they got from me. DOMINEC made a CD with 15 songs, all actual EUROVISION covers and all 15 from different countries. When I got into the act in 1995, only around 30 euro songs were done. Now it is over 300. It even became bigger after 2004 when the semi finals were introduced and there were more songs to choose from.
How does the translation process work?
When artists picked the songs they liked, the lyrics were then written – either by themselves or other lyric writers. Once the AFRIKAANS lyrics were finished, we would translate the meaning in ENGLISH. Then, I would forward them by mail to the original composers for approval. Some, especially the Swedish composers, are very fast and Thomas G:son often approves a song in a day. We had one or two composers who said no. One composer was very difficult on one song, a Norwegian selection song from the 90s. This composer said we did not write lyrics close to the original song. But this was because we did not understand NORWEGIAN, so we wrote new lyrics to the melody. After 7 or so months, the composer finally approved. Normally the original composers get all the royalties, with a once-off cash payment to the person who wrote the Afrikaans lyrics.
Do you remember any songs that were particularly difficult to translate?
If the song was originally in ENGLISH, it is rather easy to do AFRIKAANS lyrics. I myself did the lyrics to 3 songs. For example, Malta’s VERTIGO was so easy to do. It is an almost direct translation and it works so well in AFRIKAANS. When the song was in a foreign language only, it was more difficult and we tried to write new lyrics without thinking of the original song. I think one of the most difficult was Serbia’s 2012 song.
There have been covers by South African artists that have not been in Afrikaans, but rather English or even Spanish. Is there a reason an artist may choose not to record a song in Afrikaans?
IN A MOMENT LIKE THIS by JAY and LIANE was in ENGLISH because Thomas G:son already gave permission for the AFRIKAANS version to someone else. But for logistic reasons, the CD was late in coming out and so Jay and Lianie hit the shelves first and then the Afrikaans version sold less than 10 000 copies. Janita Claassen recorded Non ho l’eta in Italian, Anneli van Rooyen recorded a French entry in French as they wanted to show to their fans they were able to sing in other languages as well. CANDY BENSON sings well in SPANISH, having had a Spanish boyfriend. So she did several Eurovision covers in SPANISH where she and her boyfriend wrote the lyrics. Tobi Jooste did Norway 2010 in Italian after I said it would sound great in Italian. We had someone from OGAE ITALY, Alberto Flego, write the Italian lyrics. Cole van Dais and Marc Rantelli did Georgia 2008 in 4 languages and one part is in Zulu.
What songs from 2012 have been or will be recorded?
Many 2012 songs have been covered already. Jan Mattys van Lill covered Belarus for me as a present for my birthday in March (since I liked the song so much) and I took it to Baku for the group. Cole van Dais recorded Azerbaijam 2012 – she went with me to the Azerbaijan embassy where I was the first person to get a visa in South Africa and the ambassador mentioned it would be nice if we do that as a present to the Azerbaijan singer. Tiaan Grundling did Russia 2012 as we wanted this to be sung at the celebration of South Africa’s independence day in April, Ruan de Waal did Norway 2012. These cover versions were all taken to Baku and handed to the singers. On my return, Steve D did UK 2012 to hand to ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK who toured South Africa after Eurovision. A new ABBA type group, CORTINA, did Cyprus 2012 and Greece 2012. Tanya V did Sweden 2012 and Michelle Kuyper is busy with Macedonia 2012. Pieter Kotze has just recorded Serbia 2012.
What songs do you see as potential hit remakes from 2013?
Only 9 songs of 2013 are known and it is difficult to say. I think DENMARK has a great potential, also ICELAND. I like the SWISS song also and it suits the AFRIKAANS market. Belarus and Ukraine may also be liked. I first have to pitch the songs to someone and they have to like it enough to record. Some are very difficult. One artist liked UK 2007 and it is still not covered, as he just is not happy with the lyrics. Sometimes a song is in such demand, for example Cyprus 2012, that I may soon have two more covers of it.
Where can fans, particularly those not in South Africa, find the Afrikaans covers?
This is a little difficult and I encourage the ARTISTS themselves to make it available through iTunes or Amazon. I often have Eurovision fans coming to South Africa and while here, they purchase the covers. One year, UWE from Germany was here and we spent an entire day in the CD shops and he left with 41 or so CDs.
How about YouTube?
I myself am not so much into videos so I do not follow it so closely but many are available, especially the big hits like:
IN A MOMENT LIKE THIS – JAY & LIANIE MAY (Denmark 2010)
EK VAL VIR JOU – SNOTKOP & MONIQUE STEYN (Finland 2009)
MY HART HET KLAAR BESLUIT – DAVID FOURIE & MONIQUE STEYN (Azerbaijan 2011)
EK KAN WEER IN LIEFDE GLO – HEINZ WINCKLER (Denmark 2009)
LA VOIX – JOU STEM – ROMANZ & NIANELL (Sweden 2009)
As Eurovision continues, what do you hope the Afrikaans covers can provide to the international community?
Eurovision is a way for most of us to hear songs in languages OTHER than ENGLISH (or our native language). At Eurovision, I heard my first Polish song, my first Norwegian song, my first Danish song, my first Estonian song, etc. Then the language rule changed, and now there are too many ENGLISH songs. I have covers in Chinese, Korean and several exotic languages and I love that. Afrikaans is a NON-EUROVISION language so almost every cover is unique as only people here can do it. I think the AFRIKAANS covers are now in 3rd place in regards to the most covers of Eurovision songs. I of course would love it to be first. And my dream is to have at least one cover from every year from 1980 onwards. There are still 2 years without any cover. The year with the most covers is 2006; over 20 of the entries of that year have been covered.
What can you tell us about the presence of Afrikaans music this year in Malmo?
With the establishment of OGAE REST OF THE WORLD in 2006, I have come every year to EUROVISION with a compilation CD called EUROVISION WE SING YOUR SONGS – usually 15 to 20 euro covers in AFRIKAANS on it. The aim each year is to get the winner of the previous year covered and several others. I like to have a variety. There are never two songs by the same country on a compilation and also never two songs by the same artist. Every year, artists are invited to submit songs before 28 February for consideration on that year’ compilation. Only 50 copies of EACH compilation are made. For Oslo, we had no less than 5 compilations. For Malmo, we will have 3. I am now busy deciding on the songs for the 3 Malmo compilations and artists have until 28 FEBRUARY to submit something.
The 3 compilations are:
1 – EUROVISION – WE SING YOUR SONGS (so 15 to 20 actual covers of Eurovision songs in Afrikaans)
2 – BEST OF MELODIFESTIVALEN (18 or so covers in Afrikaans of songs from MELODIFESTIVALEN – after all, we will be in Sweden this year)
3 – HIGHLIGHTING SWEDISH COMPOSERS (18 or so songs composed by Swedish composers in Afrikaans – some will be songs Swedish composers have written for other countries or just big Swedish hits covered here like ABBA songs other than Waterloo, their Eurovision entry)
Last question, what are your personal favorite covers?
Thanks Zack for allowing me to talk in such detail about the covering of Eurovision songs in Afrikaans, but it is my great passion. I can just say that almost every one is special to me but my top 3 are
NINA – BLES BRIDGES (Iceland 1991)
MAMA AFRIKA – STEVEN STERLING (France 1993)
NIE LANK GELEDE – BLES BRIDGES (Germany 1982)