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4 Dec, 2013

Bitter on the Radio

Pretoria-based three-piece hip hop band Bittereinder (http://www.bittereinder.com/) came onto the scene about three years ago with little else but dope music and a staunch commitment to represent the Afrikaans language and culture in a manner they saw fit. It was also a cathartic process in which the trio of Jaco van der Merwe (vocals), Peach van Pletzen (production), and Louis Minaar (visuals) sought to confront some of the more contentious bones of the past. A few awards later, and they're still at it, with their second full-length album Dink Dans Masjien, they've expanded that vision and included more people in the mix, collaborating with everyone from Desomond and the Tutu's Shane Durrant to The Buckfever Underground's Toast Coetzer. We hooked up with frontman Jaco to talk about the benefits of being played on the radio, amongst other things.

Axecess: When the group came out came out, Peach gave an interview where he said that you guys aren't probably going to do this for long. But it's been three years now, and it looks like you're growing stronger. What's the state of affairs?

Jaco van der Merwe: It's still our second thing. All of us have full-time jobs, but there's certainly a growth curve. People are noticing [us] a bit more; we did one or two cross-over songs with a little bit of English in it [so that] radio stations like 5FM could pick it up. In South Africa when you're making niche/alternative music, then you take anything you can get - every platform that spreads our music to more listeners, we're happy with that. We don't care what the platform is.

So radio is important then.

Ja, definitely! Since that "Kwaad naas" song with Shane Durrant, got on the charts and our second single got playlisted, every time we play those songs at live shows where we haven't been before people come to the dance floor. We definitely notice the effects of a big radio station, so we're grateful for how they've helped us, especially because they're not that well-known for playing Afrikaans music.

Does that mean that an element of conformity comes into your music somehow?

A lot of people will accuse you of selling out, but it's actually ridiculous! If you think about how many people there are who listen to alternative music in South Africa, it's a small amount. Most people are listening to mainstream house or mainstream sokkie-sokkie or Parlotones. So when you're making something slightly more alternative and then someone wants to help you, why would you say no?! You need every platform you can [get]. People can talk, we don't mind, but they should try being an artist who's making something a little bit left-field and see how it feels. You reach a ceiling, there's a ceiling in South Africa.

In Europe it's a whole different ball-game because of the festival circuit. There are festivals in every country; the whole summer season is just festivals. So there are so many bands out there, so many more platforms, so many more clubs. In Pretoria, where we're from, at one given time there are two or three venues maximum that are playing bands. People can accuse us of whatever they want, but at the end of the day we're happy when more ears are hearing our music.

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