15 questions for Riku Lätti


15 questions for Riku Lätti

Meet the #hashtagless writer, singer, filmmaker and songwriter. LAUREEN ROSSOUW talked to him.


1. Where does your Finnish name and surname come from?

My father says it means “from Latvia". My grandfather, the first Riku Lätti, was born in Russia and grew up in Estonia, where his father was a type of teacher/atheist preacher and band leader.

Due to the severe oppression of people in the Baltic republics by the Russians, their father sent my grandfather and his brothers out of the country and my grandfather landed in South Africa in 1929, bought a bicycle in Stellenbosch for £1, cycled east for six days and bought a piece of land in the Langkloof. There, isolated in the mountains, he farmed with flowers and played the piano.

2. Has Victor S Wolf died? Or is he busy somewhere else?

Victor S Wolf is pretty much alive and kicking. He's my alter ego who sings all the English songs I write. At the end of last year, Victor S Wolf released America First, which is a bit of an alternative rock history overview of the “nation of violence" that comprises America's history. And earlier this year, Victor released A mess of everything, which is basically about the death of truth in the age of alternative facts.

There are still quite a few new Victor S songs on the way this year, which I will finish as soon as I find time for them. Feel free to check rikulatti.co.za for much more Victor S Wolf music and lyrics.

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3. What kind of music do you listen to? 

I am absolutely obsessed with the work of Jacob Collier. I find him beyond genius. He is a great inspiration as a multi-instrumentalist, and if I remember correctly it was Hans Zimmer who described him as the Mozart of our time. I think he's right. Then I can never keep The Beatles out of the picture. Also the Beatles separately after The Beatles: Paul McCartney is great, George Harrison, especially with the Traveling Wilburys. John Lennon, of course. Brit bands in general, as well as Bach and singer-songwriters, are my staples. I'm probably too close to be objective, but locally my favourite songwriter is Bacchus Nel. He is a poetic genius and his harmonies and rhythms are great. I reckon Nardus du Plooy from Die Kaalkop Waaheid is also in the class of the big five Afrikaans songwriters like Koos Kombuis, Koos Doep and Johannes Kerkorrel.

4. What do you get up for every morning?

Usually I'm spurred on by an idea that preys on my mind. Something I simply have to write down before I forget. A poem or a lyric or a story idea. Often, before the sun is up, I make coffee and write while the house is at its quietest.

5. Do you like listening to podcasts? If so, which can you recommend?

Oh yes, I'm currently on a Bart Ehrman fix. He is a scholar of the New Testament. Very thorough and his knowledge of scriptures and history of the time is amazing. Crazy about him. I also like Timeline and PBS documentaries. Not strictly speaking podcasts, but they fulfil the same role for me. Then I'm a huge fan of Rachel Maddow. For musicians, I can highly recommend Open Studio.


6. What work are you most proud of?

For me, the last thing I did is always the best, so it will be Ontwaak deur ons. It's a documentary/art film about and with the poetry of NP van Wyk Louw, which I made with my soulmate Gideon Breytenbach (co-director, director of photography, cameraman, editor). It will soon be broadcast on kykNET. We also recorded the compositions and readings to release separately as an album.

I hope and trust that the compositions will still be popular long after they have decomposed underground.

7. What else do you still want to do?

My wife, Jackie, and I have written an Afrikaans Rock Cabaret (ARC), Die Pop aan die Toutjie, which I would like to film as well as see on the stage. (The ARC has already been built, we're just waiting for the rain. If there are people who might be interested in making the rain happen, please let us know.)

I also wrote a kind of Afrikaans Monty Python movie that I want to film. Then Gideon and I are planning a TV series which will hopefully become a reality soon.

I have written my life philosophy, which I would like to publish.

In future I would love to travel to ancient wonders around the world to make a film along the lines of Baraka. But as (Jan) Rabie says: “Keep on moving and making a noise" is my goal until the end: write music, stories and poems, make movies and plant trees.

8. Would you ever be able to work and live in another country?

Yes, for sure. Why not? Part of my life dream/philosophy is that there should be no borders on earth. I'm actually a bit anti-nationalist: as much as I love South Africa, I love the other places in the world that I've been lucky enough to visit. I love Australia and would easily live there. Also Europe, even if it is cold, and America. Fortunately, I can take my work with me wherever I go.

9. Is there a book you would recommend to everyone?

One book for everyone? It will be The Liberation of Mankind by Hendrik Willem Van Loon.

For Afrikaans speakers: Etienne Leroux's Onse Hymie is the book that made me laugh the loudest. It is my favourite Afrikaans book.

10. What is your primary goal with Die Wasgoedlyn?

To collect as many original creations as possible of all kinds and from all places and hang them on the line for all to enjoy.

11. How do you see the future  of Afrikaans?

Much brighter than the future of the sum total of all its speakers. Afrikaans is a living thing and every living thing is actually something in the making. So Afrikaans is going to outlive us all and be continued until there are no more speakers one day, because there will be no people left one day. When I imagine that future without humanity, I feel it will all be worth it. Just as life itself is worth it, despite its end.


12. What frustrates you the most in our country?

The exalted collective egos of groups who think they or their gods are better than others.

13. And about yourself?

My absent-mindedness. Sometimes I seem to have so much going on that I can't pay decent attention to anything. Then I get frustrated and upset. I have to go swimming in the sea or work in the garden to clear my head, then start all over again. One thing at a time.

14. What do you fear?

My biggest fear is irrational leadership. But even that is relative. In my philosophy of life, I wrote a poem called doomed to perfection and the poem ends when one day God looks at the earth where the people are waging war and  thinks to herself: “Isn't it a cosy campfire?” That's to say, we are nature and we cannot break nature, even if we turn nature into something we cannot live in. I don't even fear death. Maybe the suffering (if there is any) a little bit (even it is slightly irrational — don't sweat pain that may never even be), but not death itself. I suspect it's just blissful silence and no suffering, hardship or anything to be afraid of.

15. And what do you look forward to?

Again, the next thing we're going to do. Short term: this weekend's performance with Akkedis. Medium term: our next performance with Die Kaappunters. (To understand why: here is a recording of a previous performance where Willem Möller and Conrad Jamneck recorded and tended the sound so beautifully). Long term: that first time we get to see our next film. It's an incredibly nice feeling to see the bigger picture for the first time as if with new eyes.

♦ VWB ♦

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