Sêr Review: The winner takes it all

Kleinsêr, we are told by our HKs in first year, is important. Absurd as it may seem, sêr culture – the costumes, the choreography and the earth-shattering musical performances – can grasp the human soul and move us to experience emotions we didn’t think were even possible.

Sêr is part of Stellenbosch University’s identity. It is woven into our evolution and we are led to understand it as one of the most important events in our undergraduate lives.

Eendrag and Osler were announced as the winners at the Kleinsêr 2017 finals. PHOTO: Christina Pitt


“I just feel like sêr culture has gotten to a point where everyone has forgotten the purpose. The purpose was to make beautiful music. That’s why when you listen to the music, it’s not authentic. The music is music to try and win,” said Huis Francie’s Lebo Mohlala.

Sêr is more about personal growth and the cultivation of lifelong friendships than it is about winning. Eventually, the Youtube performance videos, which you would eagerly show to anyone who mentioned sêr, will become embarrassing footnotes in your university career. But the rush of being on stage with your friends is something that will never leave you.

Despite our somewhat scathing reviews, MatieMedia has the utmost respect for the performers who have dedicated an entire year of their lives to this art form.

So, without further ado, MatieMedia presents its last review of the Kuko Kleinsêr 2017 finals which took place last night.

The winners for the ladies are:
1st: Osler
2nd: Sonop
3rd: Metanoia Dames

Osler took home the trophy after a fierce fight to the finish line. PHOTO: Christina Pitt


The winners for the men are:
1st: Eendrag
2nd: Wilgenhof
3rd: Hippokrates Men

Eendrag won the competition for a second time in a row. PHOTO: Christina Pitt


Osler’s performance was lush in talent and sentiment, and deservedly won the competition. According to sêr coach, Duval Geddie, “Everything must heal, let it be glorious” was the group’s motto this year, and glorious it was. Sara Finestone, the group’s powerhouse alto, has a chrome-plated voice which soared effortlessly in Fleurie’s Breathe. Finestone says she is grateful to have made it to finals, after a controversial decision not to select the ladies for semi-finals was made by the judges last year. “We wanted to come back and give Stellenbosch something to be proud of,” she said.

It’s a tale as old as time: a sêr group comes from nowhere with a set so perfectly formed, it seems impossible that they could improve on it. Sonop reached their peak in semi-finals and stayed there. This consistency could be seen as a strength, but it can also be construed as boring. Their affinity for the uncool side of the 70s and 80s music era, Afternoon Delight and It’s Raining Men, is refreshing. Other groups focused more on contemporary popular music. Sonop, on the other hand, rather sought out glimpses of pop (Cupid’s Chokehold) – snatches of a lovely tune or an ebullient beat – and assembled them into short, sleek arrangements. For all of their peplum-perfect packaging – Sonop is not a sêr especially rich in emotional depth or apparent meaning.

Metanoia Dames
The opening medley, which consisted of pop songs, seemed at odds with their overarching message of female empowerment. It must also be noted that the pairing of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face and struggle anthem, Senzeni na?, could be viewed as a lack of understanding and cultural sensitivity. Metanoia soloist, Tegan Snyman, explained that the soloists chosen to sing the song were not offended by the arrangement. “We, as a group, hated the prescribed song. But, we thought that by putting Poker Face above it (to contrast the lyrics of the prescribed), followed by Senzeni na? translating to “what have we done?”, still seemed appropriate to the girls,” said Snyman.  The message that was intended to be relayed was that “no matter what a woman does, the expectations are exhausting and suffocating”. The former champs produced a performance that can be assessed as a smart and entertaining post-feminist grand jete. “I feel like it was strong, witty commentary and promotes the fact that we can have a voice,” said former sêr leader Dené Vorster.

Hippokrates Ladies
Style can be a mold, something that gives form to shapeless ideas. Sometimes, it can be a straitjacket. This might just be the problem for Hippo Ladies. Those who have watched sêr for more than two years, will view their performance as a Hippokrates Ladies cliché. It is simply a case of Hippokrates Ladies playing at being the Hippokrates Ladies of 2012-2015 – the skits, the rapping etc. But, it is unfair to judge this group on the sêr of former years, whose excellent performances were an island in a sea of mediocrity. Hippokrates Ladies of 2017 fight through all this doubt in their touching finale song, Angel Down. The filigrees of the soloist’s voice, specifically when it reaches a heart-wrenching, if not off-key, climax near the end, are to be clung to as original and deeply human moments in an overall performance desperately in need of it.

After placing second in 2014 and 2015, Eendrag once again claimed the winning spot, which they worked so hard for last year. “I’m happy to see the continuity and the consistency. We won last year as well and it’s the fourth year that we’re in the finals. I’m proud of this year’s leadership, they did a great job,” said former sêr leader Alvin Mabuza. It became obvious that they thought about their performance leading up to finals, when they started with All Time Low instead of Haven’t Met You Yet. They also showed the range of the group in their African song, using the volume of bass to maximum capacity. Jy Doen Dit Vir My remained a crowd favourite and their Sewe Lewens was a worthy contender for best original composition. Eendrag was nearly flawless on the night and thus deserved this win. “We feel happy, satisfied and relieved. It is great to see seven months of hard work pay off at this pinnacle point,” said Sêr leader Tristan van den Berg.

Their upbeat opening was standard, but their best works are the arrangements imbued by emotional weight. The most remarkable characteristic of the group’s performance is the way in which their music is striated with all kinds of sadness. Their War, what is it good for? arrangement is a study in harmony and bold pronouncements. It is hard to imagine a better pair of vocalists than the two soloists chosen, whose interplay created a perfectly balanced pendulum of self-pity and strength.

Hippokrates Men
We have criticised Hippo Men in the past for their lack of musicality, however, their enthusiasm is infectious. Last night, Hippokrates men were playful, energetic and downright frisky in some places. Every hoot, yelp and twerk is accompanied by an impish smile, one that makes it difficult not to crack a smile of your own. Despite their weak soloists and pitch problems, these imperfections could be seen as part of their charm. The group exudes confidence and manic energy in their African medley. It’s such a palpable reminder of the actual physical joy of making music, particularly singing music, with other people.

Initially, the group’s attempts came off as beige and unsatisfying. Last night, their performance was a great improvement on their earlier offerings. The slow, legato rendition of rock standard, Black Parade, doubled as a showcase for a couple of previously unnoticed soloists. The polyphony of their Afrikaans, fugal arrangement illustrated the complexity of their arrangements.

Winners in the other categories included:
Best marketing: Pieke
Campus favourite: Eendrag

Best original composition: Sonop
Best prescribed song: Metanoia Dames
Best multi-cultural song: Osler
Best arrangement: Harmonie

Best original composition: Wilgenhof
Best prescribed song: Eendrag
Best multi-cultural song: Hippokrates Men
Best arrangement: Huis Visser

– Franco Havenga and Christina Pitt


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