David Kramer (born 27 June 1951) is a South African singer, songwriter, playwright and director, most notable for his musicals about the Cape Coloured communities, and for his early opposition to apartheid.
Kramer was born in Worcester, South Africa to a furniture merchant and a hairdresser, and spent his formative years in Worcester. His brother, John Kramer, became an artist known for his oil-on-canvas portrayal of cafés, stores and houses standing in the sharp sunlight of sleepy towns. The Kramer family name (originally Karabelnik) was adopted by his grandfather who arrived in South Africa from Lithuania in 1899, and made a living as a salesman (walking from farm to farm selling goods).
During Kramer's stay in Worcester he had some music lessons with the classical composer Cromwell Everson. He played in a South African band called The Creeps in the 1960s, and then travelled to England in 1971 to study textile design at Leeds University on a bursary.
He began his music career in the mid-1970s, singing at folk clubs and campus concerts in South Africa. David pioneered the use of Cape Afrikaans and South African English in his lyrics, often using both languages in the same song. He focused on small town South Africa and employed a gritty realism and dark satire to tell his stories and describe his characters.
In his stage performances he portrayed himself as a rural everyman who traveled the dusty roads of small town South Africa with an old bicycle and a cheap guitar. He sang in the Boland patois of his youth and told stories and sang songs in both languages.
His first album BAKGAT! issued by Mountain Records was released in 1980, and was immediately banned in its entirety by the SABC because it was considered too political and vulgar for the South African ear. Despite initial setbacks, he went on to be awarded 11 gold and one platinum record for sales of his albums.
His follow-up album, Die Verhaal van Blokkies Joubert, a portrait of a has-been Springbok rugby player, rocketed him into the public eye and produced the singles Blokkies Joubert and Die Royal Hotel both of which topped singles charts on various South African Radio stations. The album reached number 11 on the South African LP charts.
His only other singles chart success was with Stoksielalleen from the Kwaai album, however he did chart with Delicious Monster, Hanepootpad and Kwaai in the albums charts. All 6 of his albums released on the Mountain label were awarded gold or platinum status.
In 1983, David was contracted by Volkswagen South Africa, to link his idiosyncratic South African image to their Microbus (simply called a "Kombi"). This was the beginning of a television and print campaign that won the hearts of South Africans. The campaign made David Kramer into a household name and was to continue for the next thirteen years - probably the longest running celebrity endorsement this country has seen. With his trademark red veldskoen shoes, bicycle and guitar, he became a household name as the face of the SA Volkswagen Microbus advertisements.
Kramer and Taliep Petersen first met in the mid-’70s at a folk concert staged by Des and Dawn Lindberg at the University of Cape Town. In 1986 he collaborated with Petersen on the highly acclaimed stage musical District Six, a politically influenced musical telling the story of the people of District Six in Cape Town, South Africa that were forcibly removed from the area during apartheid. It was produced by the Baxter Theatre and his wife, Renaye Kramer, and opened in April 1987.
It was also with Petersen that he created Fairyland and Kat & the Kings all to critical acclaim, the latter having successful runs on Broadway and in London's West End. His enduring friendship with Taliep led to a work relationship based upon mutual respect that lasted until Taliep's murder in 2006. As a tribute to his long partnership with Petersen, and to honor his memory, a production called the Kramer Petersen Songbook was staged at the Baxter Theater and ran to sold out houses from the very first performance.
In December 2007, David was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Literature (Honoris Causa) by the University of Cape Town. In 2001, David Kramer launched a show called Karoo Kitaar Blues, presenting the eccentric guitar styles of the Karoo - the unique finger-picking and tunings of a marginalised people who live in remote villages and outposts of the semi-desert areas of South Africa.
A quasi-documentary, the show aimed to tell the story and document a long forgotten and almost-lost part of South Africa's musical heritage, and features unknown musicians and instruments from the Northern Cape hinterland. As a direct result, one of these "forgotten" artists, Hannes Coetzee became an overnight YouTube sensation and was invited to participate in a teaching workshop for Slide and Steel Guitar in Port Townsend, WA. David Kramer has been an enduring figure on South Africa's music scene. His most recent work songs are mostly stories about ordinary life in South Africa.
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