The 15-minute Interview: White girls can jump

2013-04-28 06:00

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Catarina Aimée Dahms is a musician from Joburg who is setting the European underground ablaze as Cata Pirata, a pirate of the new school. Charl Blignaut called her up

You’ve probably never heard of Cata Pirata, but I bet you won’t have that problem by the end of the year.

The Joburg-born rapper, experimental film maker, visual artist and vocalist with the “Afrofuturistic-tropibass” band Skip&Die is busy carving a name for herself in Europe.

She’s based in Amsterdam but she’ll soon be heading home with the rest of the band to launch their debut album, Riots in the Jungle.

According to their website , Cata and Crypto Jori wrote the tracks “while travelling through South Africa’s Soweto, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Gugulethu, collaborating along the way with some of SA’s most inspiring music makers on the rise.

The album portrays their experience of blazing sun, dusty roads, township shacks, cockroaches, riots, skulls, bones and lovebirds. It contains songs in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, Spanish and Portuguese”.

The new-age diva says her work has been shaped by “assembling the fragments of diverse cultural traditions and influences”. She calls her videos “transmedia mash-ups”.

After scouring her websites, I get hold of her over the phone. She’s on a tour bus leaving Italy and heading for Paris.

The line is bad, so if she’s misquoted, shoot me.

Who are you!? Your new song’s in Spanish for God’s sake, with a kwela vibe.

[Laughs] I speak Spanish.

[With a camp expression] She speaks Spanish.

I used to live in Buenos Aires.

Anti-Capitalista. It has this political title but it’s a poppy little thing. I love it. You rap in friggin’ Spanish. I remember when Debbie Harry rapped in French. I died.

The thing is, I wanted to make it a good vibe. Happy, not aggressive. I did it intentionally. I want to spread love and good vibes in order to help bring a change in consciousness.

You made the video?

I make all the videos. So at the moment in my life I’m getting to do everything that I love doing most.

Is the album out?

We released it in Europe in October last year. In Amsterdam. Since then we’ve been touring Europe non-stop.

How full are the venues?

The thing that’s really helped is that our videos are on MTV Europe.

The fan base is growing. It’s so surprising to arrive in a small Italian town and there are people there who know the songs.

We’ve done a lot of radio interviews. Also, we’re signed to a Belgian/French label that’s working really hard for us.

Without them we’d never have reached so much of Europe.

What do your fans look like?If it’s anything like the mix in your music it must be a helluva sight.

It is! We have fans that are seven years old writing love letters full of stickers with glitter on.

They love the individualism, I bet. Thanks Gaga.

And then we’ll get, like in Austria, a man in his 80s who’ll come up afterwards and say he has two music experience that are the best of his life – seeing Pink Floyd in their heyday and us tonight. And the artists and fashion people, hip-hop heads.

There was love from a lot of Caribbeans in Antilles. Black people in Paris.

The whole point is to bring everyone together and have an amazing party. Old, young, black, white.

You worked with Sibot?

We see Spoek Mathambo at lot at festivals in Europe. We did the track Muti Murder with Sibot.

Hmm... Dunno, hey, feels a bit like tapping into black culture without being inside it. It’s the only track I thought may be a bit… sensational.

For me it’s not that at all. I don’t see it as a black or white thing. I see it as a cultural thing. It’s so restricting, like what you just said. You don’t even know me and already you’ve formed an opinion.

I find the politics on the rest of the tracks much more interesting. Are you going for a message?

The songs do have messages. We see what’s going on and it comes out in the writing.

The video for Jungle Riot uses footage from the Marikana massacre?

And other uprisings, some a long time ago. There’s also some footage I shot in South Africa.

Do you tell journalists your age?

I was born in 1983. I’m 29.

Do your parents approve of your hairstyle. I mean, your lifestyle.

[Laughs] It’s my parents who gave me my creative juices. They’re both film makers. My dad’s a director, my mom’s a producer. Both are active around social issues.

You went to school in Joburg?

St Catherine’s in Parkview. We left South Africa in 1991 because my parents were having political difficulties.

They didn’t see how anything was going to change. They sold everything they owned and we moved to the Azores.


They opened a world map and said they need to find a place somewhere that’s equally close to Europe, Africa and America.

Now you live in Amsterdam. Of course you also speak Dutch, I noticed.

We moved to Holland because it was more open-minded. I spent four years at high school there.

Then I moved to Ibiza and lived there for a few years. It was pretty interesting. It was where my love of performance started. I decided to study in Buenos Aires.

How did you pay the rent?

I was a burlesque dancer.

[Long silence]

Cata, I feel sometimes I don’t tell you I love you often enough.

It’s true! We did these huge shows with choreographers and set designers and the works.

What were you studying?

Law. I wanted to work for the UN. But later I realised I’d rather break all the laws and do something good with my life. I did a Masters in visual performance in England.

Skip&Die? Is it mainly a Dutch band?

I started the band. It’s … South African, Dutch, German-Argentinian, Italian-Dutch and … German-Dutch.

What’s the goal?

Never to be restricted from personal growth as a band. We are interested in a lot of different things between us. I grew up influenced by grunge and hip-hop. But I also adore Bowie and house music.

When do you come home to South Africa?

Well, we’re releasing in 31 countries but South Africa is a really big deal for me.

I want to go back and do it right, festivals and shows, working with the South African artists we’ve collaborated with.

South Africa is actually number one on my to-do list.

I look forward. And I’d never heard of you before. Bruce Sterling told me about you on the Twitter, that’s when I first heard your name.

Wow. Bruce Sterling? I’m blown away. I’m a major sci-fi geek – authors like him and William Gibson have inspired me so much. Shown me I can create different worlds. The easiest way to do it is with yourself. Creating different characters.


Yes, but also just at its most basic, I want to spread love.

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