DEREK “BOKKIE” DE BEER

Present location:  Toronto, Canada.

 – Reminiscing with Rhodesia’s master drummer & percussionist –

Derek “Bokkie” de Beer was born in Bulawayo on 2 May, 1949.  Bokkie was one of four children, two boys and two girls – Brian, Merle and Lorraine.  His parents, Lorna and Sonny, were clearly pondering a change of scenery for, a couple of years later, they relocated from their Hillside home to Shabani when Sonny obtained employment with the asbestos mine.    It was 1951.   Like all local youngsters, Bokkie attended junior school at Shabani Junior School and enjoyed an upbringing and youth “second to none”.  He thrived in the carefree existence based on wide open spaces, a sense of adventure, close friendships and revelled in the peace and security of small town life.   When it was time for high school, Bokkie became a boarder at one of the country’s most prestigious schools, Chaplin in Gwelo.

Although Bokkie did not come a musical family and had not been exposed to any  music coaching at junior school, he was forever “drumming” away at his desktop with, usually, a compass and ruler.  As he got older he began to recognise in himself a sense of timing and rhythm.  It would seem that around about this time, his mother saw this latent talent in him and duly took him shopping for a set of drums in Bulawayo.  It was at Harry Gerber’s music shop that his eyes fell upon a sparkly, red, flashy set of of Roxy drums.  The deal was done and Bokkie returned to school with the kit in his loving care!

The acquisition of a drum kit was his “entry ticket” to the STRANGERS, a high school band made up, primarily, of Chaplin day scholars.  The band’s full line-up was:

  • Ryk de Kock – Guitar
  • Bob Fortune – Guitar/vocals
  • Peter Badenhorst – Bass
  • Derek de Beer – Drums

The band was very popular amongst its peers and played regularly around and about Gwelo, doing popular covers of the day.  Sessions were the social “happenings” of the day and the STRANGERS played a feast of them!

In 1964 it was time to move on from high school and Bokkie, without having any really clear idea of where he wanted to go in life, moved to Bulawayo where he quickly established contact with local musicians.   The MERSEYS soon became the band that would allow him to showcase his talents on the Bulawayo circuit.  The band were:

  • Brian Powell – Vocals
  • John Kaizer – Guitar
  • Paddy Powell – Guitar
  • Hugo Rijpftra – Guitar
  • Nippy Cripwell – Bass
  • Bokkie de Beer – Drums and percussion

Eight months later the inevitable happened – Bokkie received his military call-up papers for National Service.  His intake was one of the first to be conscripted for nine months, the length having been recently increased from four months.  He was based at Lewellin Barracks which he found to be “a breeze after boarding school.  I knew how to make my bed and fold my clothes”, recalls Derek with a smile.

It was after one bush deployment that he returned to camp to be told that the Commanding Officer, Major Wells, wanted to see him.  Fearing the worst Bokkie duly presented himself in full regalia, coming to attention and saluting with all the correctness and energy he could muster in a bid to stave off, or soften, whatever fate was about to be dealt out by the Major.  He needn’t have worried because all the Major wanted to confirm was that he was de Beer – and that he had a band in Bulawayo!  As soon as he confirmed that he had, he was instructed to get the members together as quickly as possible as they were required to play at a function.  Although Derek was unlicenced to drive he implied to the Major that the opposite was the case and, with the keys to the Major’s transport, set off to town to round up the MERSEYS.  Needless to say, apart from the MERSEYS’ wonderment at how Bokkie’s rise in the military had become as meteoric as it was – given that he had already “acquired” an Army staff car! – the dance was an unmitigated success!

After completing his military service Derek joined Rhodesia Railways as a fireman.  Apart from being a useful way to fill in time and earn a salary, it was also a convenient “out” from constant army call-ups as the railways was an essential service.  As such, its employees were exempt from military camps.  Some eight months later, however, Derek noticed that many of his friends in music were relocating to South Africa and decided to follow suit.   In true Bokkie style, he hitch-hiked to Durban with “a toothbrush, one sock and half a shirt!”.  Shortly after arriving in the city, and without any network as yet, he was ambling along the beachfront one day when he was hailed by a bunch of ex-Rhodies who recognised him.  He was no longer a stranger in a strange city!

Derek soon joined his first Durban-based band, SCRATBY HUD.  Apart from himself, its members were:

  • Dave Evans – Vocals
  • Geoff White – Guitar
  • Freddie Van Rooyen – Bass

After a period with this group he formed KORTA:

  • Peter Papa – Guitar
  • John Kirsten – Bass
  • Dave Richards – Keys
  • Bokkie de Beer – Drums & percussion

In due course KORTA gave way to PRELUDE:

  • Peter Pappa – Guitar
  • Clive Goodwill – Keyboards
  • Chris Ghelakis – Bass
  • Derek de Beer – drums

PRELUDE’s reputation soon started to spread and they starting gigging throughout the country in all the major centres – Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and East London.

Chris Ghelakis later moved into production and will be best remembered, as a vocalist, and was the voice behind the phenomenally successful 60’s hit, “Mammy Blue”.  On the production scene he gained notoriety as the producer of all-girl band, CLOUT, who scored a massive international hit with “Substitute”.

In due course PRECLUDE was superceded by FANTASY:

  • Peter Pappa – Guitars
  • Chris Ghelakis – Bass (later replaced by Trevor Gordon)
  • Costa Anadiotis – Keyboards
  • Bokkie de Beer – Drums

It was whilst doing session work for Hilton Rosenthal at SATBEL studios in Johannesburg that Derek’s career took a major step forward.  At the time he was doing session work for a new band on the scene called Juluka.  The band was the brainchild of Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu, with band members Gary Van Zyl on bass, Glenda Miller on keyboards and Zola Mtiya on drums.  Whilst doing session work Derek was told by one of the sound engineers, Peter Thwaites, that Johnny Clegg was scouting around for a drummer.  He suggested that Derek think of applying.  Ironically enough, Clegg was unaware of the fact that Bokkie was actually the drummer doing session work for him on the band’s very first album, “African Litany”!   After a period of reflection, he decided to go with it and so began his relationship with what was to become South Africa’s most successful internationally recognised musical export.

Derek remained with Juluka, and then Savuka, until 1994 when he decided to retire from touring.  During the intervening years Clegg’s bands had achieved international acclaim.  In America they appeared no less then six times on the Johnny Carson show, three times on the Jay Leno show and appeared on Saturday and Sunday night “live” television programmes.  They toured and played with some of the World’s greatest stars, including George Michael, Robert Palmer, Steve Winwood, Earth, Wind and Fire and Tracey Chapman, appearing at some of the biggest festivals and venues.

Derek has been very happily resident and settled in Canada since 1997 and has two teenaged children.  He lectures drums and percussion and is in great demand as a motivational speaker at schools and corporate functions.  As a sideline he also manufactures wooden furniture.

His drum site may be accessed at:  www.debeer@magma.ca