This is Parowdise

This is Parowdise

Will the real Jack Parow please stand up? By Lauren Shapiro

I walk into the bar at Cape Town’s Southern Sun Waterfront hotel and there he is, unmissable in an RVCA leopard-print vest and zebra-striped Puma takkies. Jack Parow’s style – which he describes as ‘caravan-park chic’ – is bright and bold, much like his persona. Over Bloody Marys, we chat about what has made him a South African trend icon.

He laughs when I ask him if his signature long-peaked caps are to protect him from sunburn. ‘Nee, I play mostly at night, so they don’t help much for the sun. It’s more an image thing. It’s meant to be funny, an exaggeration, like a cartoon character. I’m into toys and cartoons and fun stuff,’ he grins beneath his famous handlebar moustache. This, he says, he keeps in excellent shape by regularly submerging it in booze. ‘You, see,’ he says, stroking it, ‘it’s always lekker soft.’

Larger than life, Parow is the brainchild of the more retiring Zander Tyler from – you guessed it – Parow, in Cape Town. ‘I’m actually quite shy,’ admits the 34-year-old, who says that he gets inspiration for his songs from the people and places around him. ‘I’m the guy who sits in the back of the bar, quietly observing.’

The result is a brand of music he’s titled Gevaarlike Romantiese Afrikaans Rap (Dangerous Romantic Afrikaans Rap).

Global mogul

Parow’s self-titled debut album, released in 2010, went platinum within its first year. He’s given hundreds of live performances, and he receives 800 to 900 tweets and Facebook messages a day from his hundreds of thousands of fans (and, in case you were wondering, he tries to respond personally to as many as he can).

‘Who is your target audience?’ I ask him. He leans in to me. ‘That’s the weird thing, hey,’ he confides. ‘I don’t really have one. I’m so happy about that. I grew up surrounded by people of all ages and cultures, and so I don’t relate to any particular group as such. It thrills me that my audience comes from across the spectrum.’

Back in the noughties, there was no existing market for the Afrikaans rap genre, so Parow had to create his own. He ‘just decided to go out and go for it and hope it would work’. Clearly, it did. And not just in South Africa.

It wasn’t long before Parow (or at least Tyler) began collecting stamps in his passport. In 2010, he was invited to Belgium for the Pukkelpop music festival, and since then he has completed four successful tours of Europe, playing to packed stadiums in several countries. This year alone, he has performed in the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Dubai.

While there’s some linguistic overlap in the Benelux countries and a fair expat community in others, Parow is gaining a global fan base on his own merit. He doesn’t adjust his act to reduce Afrikaans, slang, or his heavy Belville accent. ‘I just gooi it as it is,’ he explains. ‘People feel the vibe. That’s what makes it real. It’s like that with music – it can transcend language and cultural barriers.’

Homeboy

Despite his international accomplishments, Parow is definitely a proudly South African homeboy. ‘I love this place,’ he confirms (only another Saffer would correctly interpret his shaking head as an affirmation). To him, national pride is not just about celebrating Braai Day (which he in any case feels should be every day), but about ‘focusing on the positive stuff happening in our amazing country. We need to overcome all the negative and concentrate on the good.’

When I question his political views, Parow replies, ‘Man, it’s such a crazy space. Everyone must just have more brandy and Coke together, and stop fighting.’ Then, an expression of inspiration comes over his face and he begins hatching a plan to carry a portable braai into the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

I quickly steer the conversation back to music. The industry in this country is moving in an exciting direction, Parow asserts: ‘Artists are no longer trying to sound like American bands. Now, we’re trying to sound South African, and it’s great. We’re making a bigger presence for ourselves, not just at home, but in world music.’ Spoken like someone who knows.

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It’s not just his unique sound that makes Parow such a success. His online videos are tremendously popular, garnering millions of views and around 13 000 subscribers to his YouTube channel. The reason is that they’re so darned fun – witty, with a good dash of irreverence gooi-ed in.

In his latest video, ‘Army of One’, Parow plays Jan Bont in a spy spoof that had me giggling aloud. ‘It was epic!’ says Parow of the filming stunts that included hanging on top of a moving van and skydiving (on a wind machine, but don’t tell anyone).

‘Kattenkwaad’ – another new single, performed with Dutch artists De Kraaien – was shot entirely in front of a green screen. ‘I had no idea what it was going to look like in the end,’ Parow admits (hint: it’s colourful). That’s just how he rolls.

Speaking of rolling, if five minutes of Parow isn’t enough for you, you’re in luck. This July his travel series Dis Hoe Ons Rol will premiere on kykNET, following him and his friend, veteran traveller Hardus van Deventer, riding across South Africa on their Harleys, interviewing locals as they go.

DoppelgÄnger

We’ve been talking Jack Parow, but of course I must enquire about Zander Tyler. How much of Parow is Parow-dy and how much is authentically Tyler?

‘It’s all me,’ he smiles. ‘Parow is just an exaggeration of some of my traits. Zander is more my sober personality; Parow is my drunken personality.’ That said, he never drinks before he performs. ‘So, when you meet someone, how do you introduce yourself?’

‘It depends,’ he replies. ‘During the day, probably Zander. After a few drinks, Jack.’ The two share a birthday, he says (22 February), but have separate bank accounts. Sometimes, they steal things from each other’s wardrobes. Occasionally, they even disagree. ‘But that’s when I’ve said something controversial on social media, and I use Parow as a scapegoat,’ he admits.

The Bloody Mary is going to my head. I ask if there’s anything he takes seriously. ‘No, not really,’ he laughs. ‘Even the serious stuff you need to take with a pinch of sugar. That’s what makes life sweet.’ And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a rap.

Photography: Allister Christie
April/May 2016

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