The Gendered Sound of South Africa: Karen Zoid and the Performance of Nationalism in the New South Africa

By Hammond, Nicol | Yearbook for Traditional Music, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Gendered Sound of South Africa: Karen Zoid and the Performance of Nationalism in the New South Africa


Hammond, Nicol, Yearbook for Traditional Music


Introduction: How Karen Zoid became the voice of a generation

In 2002, less than a year after releasing her first album, Afrikaans rocker Karen Zoid gained a level of notoriety then unheard of among Afrikaans female musicians. She achieved this when she enacted the overtly masculine rock ritual that Aerosmith's Joe Perry has labelled "the ultimate statement of anarchy" (Perry, quoted in Christensen 2004): she smashed her guitar. While frequently interpreted as an attention-getting strategy (which it undeniably was), Karen Zoid's performance was also an act of political positioning, locating her within the already passé tropes of international rock, but also on the margins of the Afrikaans music industry. It also, ironically, allowed her to appropriate some of the rock "authenticity" connected with this display of overt masculinity, despite the fact that her performance can be read as a deliberate (perhaps even camp) parody of this masculinity. This is because, as I will argue in this article, Zoid's legitimacy as the "voice of her generation" and a vocalizing representative of New South African1 identity has hung precariously off her performed masculinity, despite her destabilization of this image through a variety of queer performances.2 In this article, I will examine the interlinked history of South African music (with a focus on Afrikaans rock) and national identification that has created a normative masculinity in post-apartheid South Africa (1994-present). I will present Karen Zoid's performance style as an example of resistance to this norm, paying particular attention to the vocal characteristics of gendered South African sound as a site of normativity and resistance. Finally, I will consider the extent to which, in order to enact this resistance, Zoid has been obliged to perform the gendered national norm or has been interpreted in normative terms in order that audiences are able to comprehend her national identifications. By these means I aim to make visible the normally hidden gender bias that undermines South Africa's apparently representative post-apartheid nationalism.

Gendered nationalisms

By now the notion that nationalisms everywhere are inherently masculine and misogynist has become something of a truism. Nations rely on the exercise of internalized systems of power (the Lacanian "Law of the Father" or Foucauldian "panopticon") and externalized violence or threats of violence. This violence is glamorized and justified by the promotion of militarism and its association with the masculine archetype, which dictates male behaviour and polices female social and sexual being. Jacklyn Cock (1991) has written about the function of ideas about naturalized sex roles and the nuclear family as a model for the nation-state in promoting and supporting militarism in late apartheid South Africa. Ann McClintock (1995), furthermore, has examined the historical precedents for these attitudes that originated in Victorian England and served to sustain the British colonial system in South Africa (and elsewhere). Judith Butler and Gayatri Spivak have taken this analysis of the gendered character of nationalism even further to explain how the exercise of state power both leads to the violent exclusion of minorities and the stringent policing of what should, according to the authors, be private aspects of behaviour. In particular, they refer to a notion of nationalism defined in terms of homogeneity-that is, primarily, but not exclusively, nationalism based on ethnic definitions (Butler and Spivak 2007:30-32). Extending Butler and Spivak's argument, I would suggest that the state has frequently been able to intervene in people's sex lives, not just by determining who can and can't marry, but by institutionalizing marriage in the first place. Furthermore by restricting the movement of people, often on the basis of ethnicity, the state controls the physical proximity of people to one another, thus managing and often restricting transnational or interethnic sexual relations.

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