Movie Review: Parow to Parowfest – The Jack Parow Story

Zander Tyler better known as Jack Parow is a rapper, who has become one with South African pop culture. Easily recognisable thanks to his oversized caps, facial hair and loud outfits, he’s one of the few Afrikaans music artists to crack the international scene. Having amassed a significant following in South Africa, his boundless energy, style and music has won fans in the Netherlands too! In Parow to Parowfest, directed by Charlene Brouwer, we get an inside look at the Afrikaans rapper’s origins and enduring music career.

Starting just hours before his Dutch music festival appearance, this dynamic music documentary rewinds to Tyler’s childhood to find out how and where it all began. Through old photos, interviews with family, journalists and peers within the South African alternative music industry, we get an honest and insightful account of the Jack Parow dynasty. Contrasting the concert preparation footage against this entertaining deep dive into Parow’s story, Parow to Parowfest is energetic, informative, succinct and insightful.

Born in Parow, his open-minded suburban upbringing turned him to rap after hearing a Snoop Dog track on his first CD player. Getting an overview from a candid Parow about his rap origins, first groups and turning points is special. Just like his cap, he’s out there and not trying to hide. While the Jack Parow persona is larger-than-life, it’s simply an embellishment of Tyler who is just trying soak up every moment of this whirlwind dream. Talking about his upbringing, his big breaks and deciding to quit the 9-5 life… it’s a wonderful testament to diligence, focus, talent and timing.

Fokofpolisiekar, Die Heuwels Fantasties and Valiant Swart chime in with their sentiment and memories of Parow. Each having collaborated with the rapper, there’s a special kinship and this authenticity means they can tell it like it is. The best talking head is without a doubt, Danie Marais, whose unique insights and knowledge is incomparable. Speaking with authority and getting to the heart of things, he offers some excellent analysis and context for the art and music of Jack Parow.

Having risen to fame in the same era of Fokofpolisiekar, Die Heuwels Fantasties and Die Antwoord, there’s a similar counter-cultural bond. Inheriting a legacy identity, coupled with the disillusionment of being an Afrikaner in post-Apartheid South Africa, youth were seeking an outlet. Before this new generation, the movement had already begun on the back of Voelvry, Oppikoppi and musicians like Anton Goosen and David Kramer. Grappling with political turmoil, society’s disdain, a sense of dislocation and unable to shed one’s cultural identity, pent-up frustration led to artistic and creative endeavor. Channeling some of this anger into rock music became a way that bands like Fokofpolisiekar managed to harness the darkness, which resonated with a generation of equally disillusioned youth. Following closely in their wake was the music of Afrikaans rapper, Jack Parow.

Jack Parow

“Dis Yves Saint Laurent… en ja, ek’s cooler.”

Coming from a similar place, Parow’s rap music is more accessible thanks to his circus appeal. While Parow’s lyrics are punctuated by coarse language, there’s no denying their slam poetry edge. The rapper will openly admit to not knowing how to play a chord, but has a way with words and treats his whole explosion of style as a creative expression and artistic feat. Rewriting the rules in terms of what it means to be Afrikaans, Parow’s rebellious spirit and self-parody likability has made him a recognisable icon. As Marais says, Parow has a wholesome and Trompie-like feel in spite of his coarse language and over-the-top attitude.

Being in-the-moment in his role as Jack Parow, authentic as a regular guy behind-the-scenes and giving 130% at his live concerts, you can’t fault his dedication, passion and collective talents as an artist. Parow to Parowfest represents the man behind the music, giving us a comprehensive overview of his influences and his career. Taken from the perspective of Zander Tyler at his breakthrough international concert, we’re given a retrospective of the story up until now. Even though the “Zef” scene isn’t what it used to be, it’s fascinating to see how some of biggest names from the era have managed to reinvent themselves. Parow’s nostalgic mix of art and music is a subculture of its own, giving him a timeless feel only dated by inside jokes and the novelty of your first encounter.

The rockumentary format isn’t anything new but serves its purpose. It would have been interesting to see the film getting the same bombastic, boundless and creative treatment as his music videos but Parow to Parowfest is more contemplative and safer. Having said that, it’s peppered with the kind of coarse language we’ve come to expect from the rapper and the anti-establishment attitude is echoed through a number of symbols. Satanism has had a longstanding association with heavy metal, which is why it’s jarring to see the odd pentagram, upside down crucifix or Satan t-shirt. You’d expect this from Die Antwoord who openly flaunt symbology for shock value. It’s just surprising to see this in a Jack Parow documentary, especially for an artist defending a tabloid frenzy 2012 performance in Newcastle where the audience took exception to his bad language.

The conservative Afrikaner church, much like in the States, has a history of taking a stand against progressive music artists to the point of cliche. This has led to additional free press and word-of-mouth campaigns when an artist like Marilyn Manson arrives in town. This particular generation of local musicians has faced similar discrimination, so it would make sense that they’d be weary or even dismissive of “Bible-bashers”. Being so openly integrated into this music documentary, you have to wonder if it’s another attempt at stoking wider publicity or something more subversive.

Parow to Parowfest is a blast of fun, from how Jack Parow chose his name and how his cap became a thing to trying to siphon his essence and examining his impact on breaking Afrikaner stereotypes. Trying to gather the same flippant tone of Parow’s career, music videos and concert footage underscore his South African pop culture explosion, while interviewees expound on his cultural impact and gifts. The documentary comes in just under 60 minutes, tends towards a safe doccie format and makes some questionable choices, but there’s no denying Parow’s viral quality and down-to-earth nature.

The bottom line: Upbeat