Not just ‘quite a white ou’

2013-03-21 13:02

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Craig ‘Makhosi’ Charnock has always felt a connection to African cultures and people.

Compelled to teach his adopted language, isiXhosa, he took a different approach – music.

Dressed in casual shorts, a shirt and a cap with a big backpack hanging from his shoulders, Craig Charnock looks like a “typical” white bloke.

But looks are deceptive. Craig has been a thwasa (sangoma trainee) and speaks isiXhosa like a mother-tongue speaker.

Despite having no business training, and no qualification to study or teach isiXhosa, he owns a popular isiXhosa language school called UBuntu Bridge in Claremont, Cape Town.

He feels that learning an African language is a basic sign of respect for people.

Craig says his interest in isiXhosa came from growing up with isiXhosa nannies.

“They still work for my family,” he says. “I still have loving relationships with my nannies, two of them are uMaDlamini (clan name).”

He’s always felt at home when visiting the townships.

“People there often treated me and accepted me as a black guy, often expecting me to know everything just because I had been a thwasa and spoke Xhosa with a nice sound. I often had to remind people ‘ndingumlungu’ (‘I’m a white man’),” he laughs.

Craig isn’t content just to teach other people isiXhosa.

Performing as Quite a White Ou (a play on words for kwaito), he’s hoping his hilarious homegrown songs will inspire people to take up isiXhosa.

“Songs help people learn,” he says. “Look at Johnny Clegg – few white people know what he is singing about, but they all sing along like crazy anyway.”

He plans to mix English and isiXhosa with more carefully designed teaching methods to solidify them.

The inspiration was drawn largely from his experiences of being a “whitey” learning isiXhosa, and straddling two worlds.

“I lived in the white, wealthy, English world and often visited the black, often poor, Xhosa world,” he says.

“My songs are an excuse for all the things about me that are still so white – for example, not dancing or singing very well, wearing shorts in the villages, not being nearly as forward with the ladies.

“I also drew inspiration from white people and some of their stereotypical behaviour and habits, even their fears and insecurities.”

Craig’s first music video, Ndingumlungu took YouTube by storm.

The lyrics were inspired by an eight-day walk along the Wild Coast in 2010, with his cousin and two friends, from Port Edward to Port St Johns.

Craig shared his lyrics with a producer friend, Fletcher Beadon, who later compiled the beats.

They fine-tuned the song and, three months later, Craig conceptualised and produced the video in his spare time.

It consists of hilarious scenes that provide insight into everyday South African life.

“The white gogo in the video is a real granny who is learning Xhosa at the age of 82,” he says.

“She’s an inspiration to show that you are never too old to learn. The black guy in a suit represents the “black diamond” stereotype who no longer catches taxis.”

Craig says the tennis scene was just a chance to play on what he sees as a quintessentially English sport, while the railway tracks are intended as a cheesy, classic hip-hop backdrop.

“I’m not really a musician or trying to be a pop star,” he says.

“I’m just having fun while trying to inspire and to teach Xhosa creatively. We also invite people to look beyond stereotypes. I call the rugby players in the video the “Bollyjocks” because they are rugby jocks doing Bollywood-style backup dancer parts. It’s really playing with stereotypes: the typical buff rugby jock, but here camping it up and having fun.”

With four more tracks in various stages of completion and interesting music videos up his sleeve, Craig is very committed to his cause.

“Xhosa is very phonetic and I find the grammar to be consistent and logical. It’s much easier to learn than English. It often surprises me that white people don’t make more effort with African languages. They will love it and it will change their world.”

• For more information about UBuntu Bridge, visit www.learnxhosa.co.za

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