David Kramer: powerful masks

Sometimes you meet a someone who can put your thoughts into words; who can articulate those vague opinions that have been bouncing around your head for years. The great South African musician, composer and songwriter David Kramer came to speak to our students today, and I kept wanting to stand up and shout “listen to him! LISTEN to what he is saying!”.

He is also very difficult to draw!

I’ve seen David a number of times, on stage and off. His dignified style sits strangely with his remembered larger than life stage presence. But beneath the quiet exterior there is a razor sharp wit and a calm confidence.

He spoke about the birth of the “Kramer persona”, the slicked back hair, “paper bag” pants and red velskoene that we remember from “Bakgat” and “Delicious Monster”.

This South African clown was created as an antidote to Americanisation. It was born from a realisation that he did not belong in that world. And though there was a need to escape from the suffocating community that he grew up in, it was by returning to his roots that he found the visual language that made him unique.

He describes the moment when he – a long haired hippy at the time – emerged from the bath with slicked back wet hair and saw an echo of his father in his reflection. This is how his father wore his hair, this was how he wore his shirt, these are the most South African of shoes, these pants are as unlike jeans as possible… and this costume became a powerful mask that allowed him to express pride and to poke fun.

He spoke about the source of inspiration. An artist, he explained, has only this duty: to observe as closely and keenly that which surrounds them. Real life. That which makes their situation unique. To listen to the stories of the people surrounding you. To see the excitement, the power, the perfection of this moment that you are in. And then to share this with an audience. “Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone is fascinating!”

He spoke about the strange situation we have in South Africa, where we make the most amazing advertisements, but cannot tell our own stories in other media. Why is that? He wondered whether the young people he was speaking to, were aware of the world surrounding them. “Don’t let technology come between you and your world. Get out there. Observe!”

He warned them of overly ambitious projects. So you want to make that epic movie? A movie that will require huge film crews, budgets, catering, special effects, actors… stop speaking about that dream project, and do something small. Something that will actually happen. A short movie. A poem. A drawing. Something that you can control yourself and that will not just stay a dream. And then do it again. And again. “I look back on my work and I go – did I do all that?”

Such a strange mix of humility, pride and wry humor. An inspiration.

If you are curious about David Kramer’s music, you can listen to it at his site, http://www.davidkramer.co.za/

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Jesse
    May 20, 2008 @ 22:52:18

    Great post and good advice – I wish I’d been at the talk too!

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