There are a few things about music preferences that we know right off the bat… Music tastes evolve, it differs from person to person, it brings people together as much as it separates them, and it is something definitive that one knows about oneself. I’ve long since wondered what exactly it is that shapes our taste and with this piece I’ll attempt to understand both my own evolution and music taste evolution in a broader sense.
The formative years
I was born in 1991 in the Free State, to a very Afrikaans family. Back then, Afrikaans hits like Boesmanland by Worsie Visser became very popular. My dad still has a VHS tape of me, around four years old, bellowing out the lyrics to this song. The Free State, which is arguably less liberal than its southern counterparts, was not as heavily influenced by the well-known Voelvry movement of the late 1980s and the music my parents listened to was quite wholesome.
By 1995, every living Free Stater had Leon Schuster’s World Cup CD (yes, remember CDs?!). I vividly remember destroying my aunt’s bedroom by jumping on her bed to the lyrics of Hie’ kommie bokke. My brother and I would take a walk on Saturday afternoons to the corner shop and hear different tracks of this album sounding from all the houses we passed, together with the smell of braaivleis.
In these early years, our parents’ music rubbed off on us completely. My dad drove a black Honda, and I’ll never forget him putting on Boney M while telling us that he was banned from listening to it when he was younger. He had Neil Diamond tapes, and Midnight Oil tapes, while my mother had ABBA tapes and Vicky Leandros tapes. My very first music memories most definitely come from my parents.
The School Years
By the time I was well into Primary School, devices such as Walkmans, MP3 players and iPods had become extremely popular. Up until this point, everyone had a disc player (mine was an aqua colour) and was starting to look at upgrading. I was twelve when I was hospitalised with meningitis and had to spend a few weeks in bed.
During this time, my dad bought me a Walkman (one of those that could take a CD), together with a Dana Winner CD. I still know the lyrics of Dreams Made To Last Forever by heart, and it still reminds me of the evenings in the hospital after my parents had left.
It was around the early 2000s when the boyband Westlife released their second studio album, Coast to Coast. At about the same time, my school decided that our school concert theme would be ‘Teenage Dreams’ performed to the soundtrack of Westlife’s Uptown Girl and I have a dream. I wore a pink sequined top (à la Britney Spears) and danced with a boy whose name I think was JayDee. And yes, it was as cringey as it sounds.
The thing is that we were starting to get smarter, and we quickly started navigating sites like Napster to download our own music to load on our brand new MP3 players. This was around the time that Blackberries also became very popular in South Africa. Whenever you listened to a song, it would appear as your status and your friends would know what you were listening to; this is where I definitely got most of my music during that time.
I attended an all-girls high school and as you can imagine, as a teen, a lot of your music comes from your crush du jour. I only really had one real love all throughout high school, and when I think of him I think of the one song that he continually played for me. Whenever I would phone him (on his landline, of course) he would be sitting in the computer room with Hey There, Delilah playing in the background.
Another big influence on me, music-wise, was the now deceased MK Channel on DSTv. Every day after school, my brother and I would rush home to switch on the TV and head to MK. Here, we discovered bands such as Lukraakketaar, Fokofpolisiekar, eF-eL, Glaskas, Heuwels Fantasties and more. Once, I actually presented an MK Skole Top Tien programme with my classmates. I had to introduce aKING’s The Dance and since then I’ve just fallen in love with their music. One year, our annual ball’s theme was Piekniek oppi Maan (Picnic on the Moon) like the Zinkplaat song; it was awesome.
To me, films and theatre are also big influencers on my music taste. I remember the first time I saw Moulin Rouge and then listened to Lady Marmalade about a million times. My mother once took me to see The Sound of Music live. Steve Hofmeyer played the lead role and I used to hum Sixteen going on Seventeen all the time. But probably the biggest influence on me to this day still is the Twilight Saga. I’ll wait for a second while you judge me… The soundtrack to these films introduced me to some of my favourite artists, like Bon Iver, Iron & Wine, Paramore, Muse, St. Vincent, Christina Perri, Florence and the Machine, Vampire Weekend and more.
A few iconic series have also formed part of my taste repertoire; from the incredibly popular Supernatural, I got a lot of my golden oldies fixes. A firm favourite is Long, long way from home by Foreigner, as well as Night Moves by Bob Seger, House of the Rising Sun by Animals and Wheel in the Sky by Journey. And who can mention a series soundtrack without talking about One Tree Hill? Wakey Wakey’s Almost Everything literally got me through some of the toughest breakups.
As soon as you hit varsity, everything becomes a bit of a blur for the first few years or so, and only thereafter can you reflect on the moments that influenced your music tastes. In my first year, I was infatuated with the guy that lived next door. He loved classical rock, drinking tequila and not going to class.
Every weekend he would post ‘Vrydag in die Vrystaat’ (Friday in the Free State) to his Facebook profile and we’d know that there was a big party coming up. I desperately wanted to seem as cool as I thought he was, so I wore knee-high boots, pleather (we’re still in the Free State, remember) and learned all the lyrics to You shook me all night long by ACDC. We all used to hang out at a bar called Wild Boar, where they played If I ever leave this world alive by Flogging Molly at midnight for no apparent reason other than that they wanted to. As you can imagine, we had a lot of farm parties in the Free State. Music at these events could range from the classic Summer of 69 by Brian Adams, to Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO.
I majored in Afrikaans / Dutch and French at the University of the Free State, which involved immersing myself in the French, Dutch and even Belgian cultures. And through this, I came to love artists such as Edith Piaf, Francoise Hardy and Jacques Brel. To me, La vie en rose by Edith Piaf is still one of the most emotive songs I’ve ever heard and to this day it drives me to tears.
My mother then passed away in early 2014, and I ventured through several stages of remembrance of which her music was one. A favourite of hers, and one of mine, too, till this day is Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. Totally other side of the spectrum, she also loved Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down and Massachusetts by The Bee Gees, both of which are still some of my favourite go-tos when I’m homesick.
Overall it does seem that music tastes seem to settle in your late twenties. From the first few lyrics or chords of a song, I can more or less tell whether I’ll like the song or not. I know that I’ll never like trance or house music, but that I do like EDM when I’m working out. I have a soft spot for Afrikaans music, and I’m almost always captured by the nostalgia of classic rock. I know that this may seem like a very Slumdog Millionaire-esque way of determining where my music taste comes from, but music is, and always will be, a very personal journey.
We’ve also recently had a look at where style comes from which you can have a look at, here.