Coenraad Grabe (Coenie) de Villiers was born in Bloemfontein on October 11, 1956.
Coenie de Villiers has changed the landscape of South African music and in particular Afrikaans music over the past 40 years.
His first recording (an own composition for EMI and released in 1978/9) won a SARIE Award and the originality of the song foreshadowed what has become one of the most radical and important creative careers in South African music.
His career has subsequently spanned nearly four decades and nearly 20 albums of his own material, garnered three SAMA awards and numerous other accolades, including the medal of honour by the South African Council of Arts and Sciences. His creative work and recordings have been banned by the previous regime, but he has consistently broken down barriers in the face of adversity and shunned commercial credit in the process.
Coenie has performed in Canada, England, Holland, Belgium and New Zealand. Artists who have appeared with him and worked with him on his critically-acclaimed albums include Dave Koz, Jonathan Butler, Hugh Masekela, Sibongile Khumalo, Sipho Gumede, Amampondo, Gloria Bosman, David Kramer, Robbie Jansen, Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee, and a plethora of the greatest names in quality Afrikaans music, including Karen Zoid, Laurika Rauch and Kurt Darren. His previous album, Hart van Glas (Heart of Glass) reached gold status and was critically acclaimed. His opera Maximilan (with lyrics by John Jackson) was performed in Austria in 2009 as part of the Klagenfurt Summer Festival.
He was introduced to Paddy Lee Thorp of Mountain Records by David Kramer in 1981, and Coenie recorded and released his first album Skoppensboer on that label in 1982. It was immediately playbanned for its political contents and criticism of the then-regime. Songs on the album questioned the forced removals from the erstwhile District Six (with lyrics by Pieter-Dirk Uys), highlighted the oppression of poverty, and satirized the sensorship regulations of the day. The album caused a furore in the mainstream Afrikaans market.
This album was followed by Die Reisiger, which featured, inter alia, Jonathan Butler and Steve Newman on guitars, and which went on to win two SARIE awards and a SCOTTY award. As with Skoppensboer, the album was engineered by Kevin Shirley, currently the producer of, amongst others, the band Aerosmith in America. Coenie again produced, wrote and performed the album. The SABC again playbanned several of the songs.
Kruispaaie followed, an album steeped in the unrest of the middle to late eighties. The title track (referring to the Crossroads squatter camp) included live recordings of squatter evictions during a period where lyrics reflecting the unrest were not allowed. The album also included several live recordings of songs set to the text of award-winning author Dr Hennie Aucamp. Coenie once again wrote, produced and performed the album, and infused it with a clean, crisp production quality that was as yet unheard of in the mainstream Afrikaans market. Again playbans by the SABC followed.
Coenie lived on the island of Cyprus during the cusp of the eighties and nineties. He wrote, recorded and produced the album Amper Alleen (Nearly Alone) in Cyprus and in Athens, Greece. Amper Alleen was the second SA album to be released on CD. On this quiet, introspective album, Coenie plays with some of the best Greek and Cypriot musicians, notably the bouzouki player Elias Elias.
Coenie and his family returned to South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela. He released Hartland, an album which looked at the dark heart of South Africa, and which included an exceptional vocal performance by Leslie Rae Dowling. One of the songs off this album was quoted in its entirety in the seminal book by Antjie Krog, Country of my Skull.
Two further two albums on the Mountain label followed. The first was Karoonagte, which included several new tracks and established favourites in a remastered guise. The title track is probably Coenie’s best-known song and has become a classic in the Afrikaans pantheon. The second, Liefdesversies, is a collection of Coenie’s finest love ballads.
Coenie’s subsequent three albums were made in conjunction with JNS records with full ownership of the creative held by the musician himself. The first, Ek Wens, is a powerhouse album featuring, inter alia, Amanda Strydom, Laurika Rauch, Sipho Gumede, Lucas Maree and the Jubilee 5 singers from the Eastern Cape. The album displayed a new confidence for the singer/songwriter, and songs such as the title track and Lied van die Exiles (Song of the Exiles) have become entrenched as favourites. The album was recorded at Bop Studios and engineered by Richard Mitchell.
The next album, Solo, was recorded with a live audience in the studio, and features the talents of erstwhile Blood, Sweat & Tears trumpet player, Bruce Cassidy. Coenie worked with Johan Laas on the production – which has a live feel to it – but with the technical veneer that only a studio can offer. A feature of the album is Coenie’s stunning Afrikaans version of the seminal Bright Blue song, Weeping.
The next album, Hooglied, features the production capabilities of Harold Schenk, who produced the international hit album for Coleske. Coenie ventures into English on this album, and shares a stunning R&B duet with Gloria Bosman. The Afrika Mamas add textured vocals to the production, and Coenie again shifted the paradigm by using hip-hop group Brasse vannie Kaap in his bilingual version of Desiderata. The album was particularly well received by critics.
His next album, Zen, reflects the certainty of a musician and songwriter with two decades of experience behind him. It is primarily a songwriter’s album, with Coenie sharing production credits with Johan Laas, Mauritz Lotz and Marius Brouwer. Once again he pushes the envelope by including a raucous duet with South African rock singer Karen Zoid. This album won the SAMA award as best adult contemporary Afrikaans album of 2003.
At the beginning of 2003 Mountain Record re-released Coenie’s first album, Skoppensboer, in a commemorative boxed CD edition. The album was remixed and remastered in Hamburg, Germany.
He releases the acoustic album Handgemaak in 2004. It features amongst others the vocal talents of Steve Hofmeyr. The album’s universal crossover appeal spoke to both mass audiences as well as critics, and won Coenie yet another SAMA award in 2005 for best contemporary Afrikaans album. The album was also nominated by popular vote for the Huisgenoot TEMPO awards in 2005.
Coenie released a new album, Weerlig oor die see, in May 2008. The album was produced by Marius Brouwer, and featured appearances by inter alia saxophonist Dave Koz, Gloria Bosman and Hugh Masekela. Coenie’s writing and performance displays a new depth and maturity on this album, and critics acclaimed the album as arguably one of the best Afrikaans albums ever made. The album won the SAMA award for best contemporary Afrikaans album of the year.
He follows this album with Dekade in 2010, an album featuring some of the very best tracks off his albums over the previous ten years. The CD includes new material, notably the majestic Pie Jesu with Chris Chameleon and Jannie du Toit, with a stupendous symphony and choral arrangement by Christa Steyn.
He tops his recording career in 2011 with the release of Hart van Glas, recognized as one of that year’s best releases across the board. Laurika Rauch calls it the most important album of the past twenty years. The album again features the talents of Dave Koz, and he is joined by inter alia Sibongile Khumalo and Amanda Strydom as guest performers.
The track Coenie co-wrote and performed with alternative Afrikaans rock outfit Die Heuwels Fantasties was a number one hit and arguably the biggest Afrikaans alternative hit of the that year. Multi-Grammy award winning arranger Jeremy Lubbock conducted the live symphony strings; he is best-known for his work with Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Michael Jackson. The album was arranged and produced by Jaconell Mouton.
In October 2011 Coenie received a Lifetime Contribution to Music award at Sun City from Huisgenoot Skouspel before a collective audience of 40 000 people for his work in music over 34 years. In 2015 he received a similar lifetime achievement award from the Innibos Arts Festival.
Numerous other albums and collaborations were released through the years, notably a tribute to the late, great Afrikaans chanson writer, Koos du Plessis. Coenie collaborated with singers Jannie du Toit and Lucas Maree to capture some of the unreleased Du Plessis songs on this memorable tribute album.
In 2013 he was invited by Dave Koz to join an international group of jazz luminaries to perform on his Mediterranean jazz cruise; musicians on the tour included the likes of Michael McDonald, Kirk Whalum and Gerald Albright. In 2015 he was invited to perform with renowned Dutch artist Herman van Veen in the Netherlands.
After a hiatus of several years Coenie releases a ground-breaking album, Emoji, in October of 2016. This is a mature album by an artist who utilises the full spectrum of his talent and experience. The mostly original repertoire includes work in English, Afrikaans, Khoisan, and Zulu, as well as some stunning instrumental tracks. Again the astounding production is by Jaconell Mouton.
A stellar cast of musicians join the artist on this album. Dave Koz again makes a guest appearance, this time recorded on the island of Santorini. Karen Zoid and Elvis Blue take a bow on two tracks, and kora and kalimba legend Pops Mohamed plays on the track Naledi; he is joined by the 87 year old Khoisan elder !Gubi on a track that is bound for World Music acknowledgment.
Other artists on the album include Leon Gropp, the a capella group No Limits under the leadership of Kgomotso Moshugi, the Turkish duduk player Gürkan Çakmak on a track recorded in Athens, Greece. The cutting-edge hip hop artist Hemelbesem appears on a rousing rap track, and Grammy winner Wouter Kellerman blows up a storm on an original instrumental track.
Coenie was born and raised in Bloemfontein, where he completed his schooling and did his post-graduate education. He lectured Media and Communication Sciences at the University of the Free State, and later concentrated on working in the media as an announcer, programme manager and marketing manager for several radio stations.
He advanced his studies in Marketing, and was, inter alia, Manager: Public Affairs for the erstwhile Anglo American gold division. In his role as marketer, he was MD of Eliance Media in the Bidvest Group, a director of O2 Communication, and a director of BrandWealth Strategic Advertising. He served as a director on the SAMRO Board for nine years, and was a trustee of the POSA Board. He is currently an independent marketing consultant.
As a television presenter, he anchored the kykNet flagship magazine programme on DSTV, Kwêla, for a collective period of 17 years. He subsequently produced and presented the critically-acclaimed television series ‘n Ander Wêreld for kykNET, as well as ‘n documentary blending Afrikaans legends and up-and-coming hip-hop artists, Vat die Rap.
He is patron of the MES organisation, which takes care of the homeless and street children in the CBD of Johannesburg.
Coenie is married to Dr Eleftheria de Villiers. He has two daughters and a son.
Have a peep below at one of his famous music video’s:- Coenie de Villiers – Windmeul van jou Hart