The Social Commentary behind Die Antwoord’s “Evil Boy”

It’s no secret that I’m particular fond of foreign music. I find myself drawn to genres of music in other regions of the world that I would not enjoy produced in the states.

One song in particular that drew my attention is the song “Evil Boy” by the South African Zef group Die Antwoord (Afrikaans: “The Answer“). The song is written in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa and has a sound similar to American hip hop.

Admittedly, what drew me to the song originally was the total WTF/NSFW nature of the video associated with the song. Dark, grungy and incredibly phallic symbolism is used throughout the entire video. Watching the video for the first time, with no lyrics or context is very confusing. Which is what led me to dig around deeper.

The lyrics have pieces of social commentary about adolescent circumcision within Xhosa tribes as well as a shout out to AIDS awareness campaign from 2002, to encourage condom use across Africa and even a word play joke on the armed wing of the African National Congress.

Before saying much more, I’ll let you watch the video for yourself, pay special attention to the period of 1m24s to 2m10s. This section is sung in Xhosa by Wanga:

 

On first pass, you’re probably very confused and upset that I didn’t mention NSFW about a dozen times. If you read the english lyrics in the section of the video I mentioned, it may on first glance sound as anti-homosexual commentary. However, as the band has explained, these lyrics are in regards to Wanga’s personal experience with his tribe’s ritual circumcision:

So, the story behind this video and song (or part of the story — there’s so much going on!) is that Wanga felt that he was being coerced into a form of ritual circumcision by his community. It’s sort of taken for granted within his ethnic group that you must do this, so much so that if you are a young man and you do not participate, you are ostracized, as the band explained to me.

The thinking, and this is communicated very directly to the young men, is that if you don’t participate, you’re gay. You’re effeminate. You’re not a real man. You never mature from being a boy to being a man.

He struggled with all of this in real life: with what it meant for his personal and cultural identity. And he came to a point where he was like, you know what? Fuck you all. The fact that I won’t consent to having my penis sliced with an unsterilized knife, out in the bush, and risk infection or worse– that doesn’t mean “I’m gay,” as you say. I reject this tradition. If that’s what being a man is, fuck it, I don’t want to be a man. I’ll be an “evil boy for life,” even if it means I am ostracized from my community.

You might have chosen different lyrics, but dude, it’s not our story or our culture or our world experience at all.

It’s his.

It’s gone into more explanation about the environment of ritual circumcision:

We’re not talking about the same thing as what happens in Western countries, with babies in a sterile hospital environment… we’re talking about boys in their late teens going off into the bush with an unsterilized knife and a blanket, no anesthesia, etc. The ritual apparently results in some number of casualties, infections, and permanent (unintended) injury to the teen males who go through the tradition, and some of the kids who are now more urbanized, with access to other ways of thinking, want to opt out. That’s what Wanga’s lyrics are about.

This ritual circumcision is performed in unsanitary conditions, often with the same knives that has caused the spread of STDs and HIV.  Post initiative deaths are extremely high and there is great social stigma associated with the ritual.  There is much attention (but still not enough) towards the practice of female genital mutilation, yet very little attention has been turned to the practice of adolescent ritual circumcision.   

 
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