This is a real “Long Read” but it is also very much worth it! Do you know who Jaasir Linger is? Do you know the meaning of Lingua Franca? And what do you know about Neo-Nazis, Transatlantic Slave Trade, and being an OG for the next generation? Truth be told this interview wasn’t even planned to go there and in the process of typing this out, I found myself learning, and more importantly eager to learn. It is a reset, forcing you to look at your beliefs and reassert what you actually believe and know and what is surface knowledge. As such, I can say with pride that it is one of the most informative and best interviews I have worked on, and with his part dropping tomorrow you should get ready to meet Jaasir Linger!
Intro & Interview by Roland Hoogwater.
Photos by Marcel Veldman, Oona Kanerva & Ziggy Schaap
How are you Jaasir?
I am good, weirdly enough, this year I have not been that strongly been affected by the pollen in the air. Maybe there is a connection to having had Covid-19 and my allergies?
You had Covid-19?
I did, recently, it felt like the flue set in for about a week. Tired, headaches and some chest pains. My Girlfriend was a bit concerned about the chest pains – she was also positive, but was a-symptomatic – I was born 5-weeks early so my lungs aren’t the strongest. In the end, luckily everyone recovered.
Besides that, how are things?
Busy, things have been going well on the art side of things. My life as an artist has been fruitful this year and with museums coming back I am preparing to be part of 3 exhibitions at roughly the same time right now. One in Rotterdam, one in Amsterdam, and one at the CBK, to top it off, I just got offered an artist in residency spot at the Black Archives, which is an archive dealing with Black History, slavery, the N-word, arts, literature, etc… They are offering me a place to work and a budget to create an exhibition at the end of my 6-month long residency.
I hate this question, but does that mean you pursue the arts full-time?
I could but at the moment, I don’t..yet! I work in construction as well, so when you first called I was on a rooftop working (laughs).
I love the juxtaposition of the art institution and construction.
(laughs) Yeah, as I said, I could live of of my work but right now, I just want to have the security of this job as well. I always worked, even during my studies, I don’t want to rely on something I love. Plus, I am getting married and we just signed a new rent contract. I also want to have my pension.
All in all, I am going through some changes, I also decided to go for a masters degree in arts, because, I noticed that often that will allow you to get into different positions versus having a bachelor degree.
And you what are you working on?
We are finishing up an issue about heritage, so we are working with people like Ibu Sanyang, Luidgi Gaydu and Leon Charo-Tite who is a skater that has German-Kenyan roots. One of the things that sparked that was seeing how stoked Leon got when he found out David Jakinda is part Kenyan as well. Those cultural aspects matter and so do role models.
Yeah, that is sick, I have something similar with Jair Gravenberch, he has a similar Surinamese background as I do. So we talk, and what I noticed that as you grow older your heritage becomes more important and you spend more time thinking and looking into those kinds of things. During the last 6-years, I have spent a lot of time researching my own heritage. Me and Jair talk about those things.
I understand and that is a beautiful thing, because you need OG’s, people that have walked similar paths and understand where you are coming from.
Exactly, I think it is important for him to be able to express himself. And because we have similar backgrounds we connect. If he is on a Pop trip that would be a bit more challenging because there is nobody with that Surinamese background on the team.
You are a bit older and you can see in things like your work as an artist that you have spent time thinking about these topics.
It is funny though, Jair is a bit of an introvert, but if he does open up he shares a lot and sometimes he surprises me by bringing up topics or ideas and I think to myself “Where did you read that?”.
In recent years, the younger generations have been more interested in delving into their heritage, I get interviewed by papers from time to time and those kind of questions do pop up.
We are Millenials and after us we have Gen-Z, they are much more focused on themselves and presenting an identity, and with that comes the duty to be more conscious about the identity or image you are presenting. That causes them to be more aware of their roots.
Last year, when the BLM protests were at their height in the Netherlands there were 2 Highschool girls that in conjunction with the Black Archives set up an entire new urriculum. They initiated that at 15-16, I was shocked, they are way more woke than I was at that age!
They are but don’t forget, we are both in our thirties, when we were that age, the internet and the information streams that come with it were in a totally different state compared to now. At the same time, the culture (in the Netherlands) was definitely more sexist, more racist, and, people as a whole were not as aware! I think people like you, from our generation as generations before you, put in the groundwork to get where we are now.
It is crazy how much they can inform themselves at all times with their phones. We had to use our house phones or go to someone’s house to hang out or go to the skatepark. Now I can send a live location or I can google a name of a Surinamese person I want to research on the spot. If you got the person’s full name, I can even find what plantation his grandparents worked on.
Imagine, before you had to call the royal archives, make an appointment, go there and search yourself, asking help along the way. The barriers to inform yourself was much, much higher in certain places.
True, but with that also came a certain decision, a shift may be in your identity because you had chosen to spend so much time dedicated towards your search. Now I do see Gen-Z being a lot more private and careful about putting themselves out there too much because as a young person now the mistakes you make are a lot more public and they can be a lot more lasting.
True, screenshots and digital chat records remain. Whereas when we were young and you said or did stupid shit… the audience would be smaller and their memories weren’t as persistent. You just aren’t as ready to takes risks and make certain mistakes if you feel like you could get canceled.
I think they seem more sensitive which leads to a lot of good, but I wonder if they have that at the cost of having less thick skin… maybe not as relevant to your part, I know (laughs).
(laughs) Yeah, I didn’t know we were going that deep. I was wondering about the name Place Skateboard Culture. I was reading Kadir Kucuk’s interview and that lead me to see the focus on “Skateboard Culture” And I started to read more and started to notice that pattern more and more.
By the way, did you know, we met before at Spot The Spot where you had that horrific slam?
No, I didn’t but I was pretty out of it, not only because of the slam but also because I still smoked a lot of weed and drank way more. I actually wish I had started on the path of art and photography sooner because it would have been interesting to document a lot of what was going on there. I am a bit sad that I smoked away a lot of my memories, I don’t really like that weed is such a big part of our skateboard lifestyle.
To be honest, that slam really fucked me up, I ended up in the hospital and had all sorts of tests and probes including them going up my rectum. I was out of it for like a week!
I think people take weed like it has no negative effects, but as you grow older you noticed that you pay a price for abusing substances like weed later in life.
You do, both with your body and your mind. I remember walking through the city paranoid, it takes a toll on your psyche.
When I cut down on my drinking I felt more solid emotionally and I also was able to say no to things more easily. The whole turn-around happened in my last year in art school. I was working and doing my studies so that meant I would have some very short nights. maybe like 4-hours long so if you drink alcohol as well you are fucked and you just don’t get the rest you need.
Understandable! By the way, we have a friend in common Ziggy Schaap and he sent in some questions.
He said he talked to you, he helped me get sponsored. We filmed a part together, of which a lot of footy got lost because his bag including his camera got stolen. That turned him off skating and filming and he became a Moped guy (laughs). He probably didn’t mention that did he? He was a scooter nerd! The weird thing is he, is an autodidactic person, and he was really good at all of that.
After a while though, he got bored and returned to skating. Still, what did he say?
He told me to ask you about you being in a Big Banger condom commercial.
(Laughs) Fuck…Well, actually the answer is quite simple, I was studying media management, and I wanted to be a film director so I thought the best way to get a full scope of all the elements and see them in action is to not only be behind the lens but it would also be to get in front of the lens.
So, I replied to all these ads to be an extra in commercials. That was one of those in which I featured with Dutch Rap Star Kempi. It was this marketing stunt by his label, not that serious but the condom existed and I had it. In the end, the whole thing just turned into this meme before memes existed.
(Laughs) the commercial is great! It is cool that you did it, I think most people would not have the courage to put themselves out there like that.
True, and it stood the test of time people still mention it (laughs). I don’t really mind if people joke about it, you got to be secure in who you are.
So, one thing we have to talk about is the song by Anne Goedhart & Hillyanthe Kendall. How did that song come into play?
The song is sung in Sranan Tongo which is the lingua franca in Suriname. The idea behind this type of song came from Luy Pa Sin and Franck Baratierro’s section in the Lordz video, (sings) “Please don’t do me like this”. So, I always had this idea, if I have a part I want people to remember the song.
Those kinda moments where everything comes together to make it memorable don’t happen every day. Josh Wilson’s part in “Mother” by Quasi was another one that changed my opinion on what kind of music could work with a part. Besides that, this song represents my roots and in a way my work as an artist.
Puwema, the title of the part and the song means poem, normally a lot of the songs sung in this language are very deep and often go back to the time of the transatlantic slave trade. But this is a more sweet song and homage to love, but in the context to my part it becomes an homage to my love for skating and my roots.
And it works, I feel the song really suits your part, and it shows another side of you.
True, I have around the same amount of tricks for this new project with Marc Bolhuis (Boombap), but because that is a whole video you often get a certain soundtrack like hip-hop or rock/punk and I didn’t think a song like this could fit well in that mix. So, this was the right moment to show that side of me.
It wasn’t even the original idea for me to edit it, I just did it to show Marc, and he was like, did you mix the sound? Did you color grade it? Yes? It is done man put it out! I do work on film a lot and edit a lot but the skateboard part of it had never entered my mind.
I do use cameras a lot in my work, and I document a lot of my own life with a handy-cam. I did the movie which is currently playing in the Refresh Amsterdam exhibition in the Amsterdam museum. I didn’t edit it but I am sitting next to my editor so I know what is possible and what works because I studied it, I just don’t like to work the buttons myself, so to speak.
The final reason was to inspire the skater scene in Suriname, let them know to be proud of where they are from.
How is the scene over there? I have a friend living in Curacao currently I can imagine it is similar.
Not really, you can clearly see the difference economically between the ABC islands that are still a part of the Netherlands and Suriname that got their independence in 1975 the economy has not been the same. Aruba is known as “Little America” so the spots in Suriname are way rougher. You do have a couple of streets with spots in the city (Paramaribo) and you do have a skate shop that exists since 2014 and finally now in December they got their first official concrete skatepark.
The skate shop is run by a friend and is called Toad Hop Skate Shop. He made that happen by building the shop in his parent’s garage. You might think you know what that looks like but he really made it work but it shows the state of the country. People don’t have a lot to spend and skateboarding is expensive in general but even more so when you don’t have much. It is sick to see though how they deal with things and make it happen.
In the western world we don’t realize how certain things are luxury goods for other people. Getting a good camera is common here but in those places those are big expenses.
That is true, and that means that skating isn’t accessible for everyone in those places. When we went to Tunisia, that point really hit home. They don’t have a skate shop and online shopping doesn’t really work and packages get stuck in customs more than not so you give family and friends money when they go to Europe to buy product for you. You start to understand that fortress Europe isn’t only the water and the gates but it is also and economical wall for many.
I didn’t know it was like that there, there is this girl Anwaar that skates Blaak skatepark and I always give her my old wheels and trucks but now I understand that better they send it back! Alexander Belhadj’s family is also Tunisian right?
He told me his dad is from Sousse, Tunisia, so yes!
Moving to the Netherlands isn’t an easy process.
Can I ask how your family ended up in the Netherlands?
My mother came in 1972 because of her parents divorce but my dad came in 1975 the year of independence because you had a choice to remain a Dutch citizen. His dad fought for the KNIL in the second world war, when Indonesia was still a colony of The Netherlands.
So your mother is of Indonesian decent?
No, her last name is actually Rodriguez like P-rod (laughs). The jews had a part in the slave trade. There was the Jodensavanne which was a plantation run by Jews. My mom has Jewish-Portugese-Creole roots and my dad has Indonesian-Suriname-Creole roots.
That is a diverse heritage.
Yes, history is all around us. A while back a hitman murdered a big drug dealer in Suriname and the locals said he got in his car and went to French-Guinea which is right next door and flew back to Paris. The thing is that all of a sudden he was on French-European soil so he just managed to use those systems to his benefit.
Back to skating did you know the first Dutch pro was of Suriname descent? Clyde Semmoh, unfortunately, he died this year. He came in second at the World Cup in Munster in ’89 I tried to find footage or photos but those things are not that easy to find.
It was pre internet, right? At the same time, we never learnt how to deal with the digitalization, Tacky isn’t there anymore and that means a big part of my life as a young skater has disapeared with it. Analog photos are easier to keep.
Some of these childhood photos feature in my work. Funny enough, my mom who did the photo book captions wrote under one: “Future artist & Photographer”. I got my first board when I was 5 years old but my truck broke pretty fast, so, my dad was like, you are getting a new truck! I just didn’t know that it meant I had to wait until I was 11 for him to make good on that promise.
(Laughs) He did keep his promise though!
He did, it seems though that everything I saw in those pictures is still a part of my life. There is a photo of me fake playing a Saxophone and later I actually went on to play the Sax so it feels everything was already there.
The socialisation your parents offer you is so important.
It is! Funny though is that when it came to my roots I discovered that by myself. I didn’t learn the language from them, I learned it at family gatherings just sitting and listening. Speaking in Surinamese, during those colonial times was seen as inferior. My mom and grandmother live very close together and visit each other regularly. We have to forgive her lack of political correctness but one time she came in and was like: “I am so surprised you are speaking “Negro English” (Sranan Tongo), that wasn’t allowed back in the day.” She was in a catholic school in Suriname and there you spoke Dutch, which meant culturally that you could speak “proper” where from a good background and were able to work higher-paid jobs.
I learned later that in mixed schools you could get a beating if you spoke something else than Dutch. Colonization and Religion really suppressed other “undesirable parts” of Surinamese culture. A lot of black and African people got brainwashed into thinking that catholicism was also their religion but it isn’t.
Especially in America, for me the first elements of black-culture I saw on TV was American black-culture.
Like Gospel right? In Suriname, some of the most horrible crimes were committed during the slave trade. But black people in America have been brainwashed the most. They are so displaced and lack a knowledge of where they are from and what that means.
Expressed in Malcolm X’s, X.
Exactly, but the only thing I don’t like about his persona was the religious part of it. The same goes for Martin Luther King, Jr. They all went via religion, and I don’t feel comfortable with that.
I understand, but you have to see it not only in the context of those times but in the context of the U.S., they haven’t had a non-religious President. At least not openly. Those are the rules they had to play by.
True, plus it is the biggest neo-colony ever. And in the ideology of the colonizer religion is a powerful tool when it comes to controlling the masses. Nature-based religions are often depicted as pagan or witchcraft, as to discredit them. That is what I don’t like about what Kanye is doing with his Sunday Service, if he would delve deeper he could use his platform educate people further about African spirituality and the religion(s) of their ancestors, like Voodoo or Yoruba.
I was at the Black Archives and a donation came in from a professor in African Studies a white guy who lived in Africa for a long time. And I grabbed a book out of the stack that he donated and the title was from “From primitives to fellow citizens“, the premise was a critique on anthropologists from the ’60s. The book said they focussed too much on the differences between people as “wrong” and not so much as those differences making them “who they are” and that this difference is not “bad”. I still feel these types of negatives ideas about differences play out today.
Trans-generational traumas are real. An example of these differences to me was that I see certain German people, because of WW2, have a negative connotation to seeing the German flag paraded around casually. They have this feeling of national pride as something to think critically about. Whereas in the U.S. you see the flag everywhere.
Also being German is often translated negatively, I remember meeting Daniel Pannemann for the first time in 2008 in Groningen, my hometown. We went to this big bar to have a drink and the European cup was on. He and his friends were asked if they were German and it felt quite threatening so they said they were Swiss. Not a comparable example to colonialism, but an example of the impact of cultural heritage in contemporary culture.
I work on the rooftops, and I can clearly see if there is something going on like the birthday of a royal or something. The number of flags just increase.
Talking about identity, I often focus on the Afro side of my heritage but I also have the Portuguese-Jewish side of my family tree. But I haven’t researched that side as much but the Portuguese were probably over there to colonize as well. And the Indonesian side as well, I could show you pictures of that side of the family and you would be like “What?!”.
Cultural heritage can be a grey-zone instead of something crystal clear.
Funny story, I was skating in Norway – my ex was from there – and this black person just jelled out to me “Yo, where you from?” because he had never seen someone with my complexion before. I didn’t really understand at first but in Norway they have more African, Northern African and Turkish people, so I was exotic. They came up to me and I explained I was from the Netherlands, and what my heritage was and they where just like “What?!”, their mind was blown.
Your heritage is a bit more complicated than my dad’s side is from Ghana and my mother is Norwegian.
Both of my parents are mixed, so yeah it is multi-layered.
Slight change of topic, I wanted to talk about a documentary you worked on called “Gliphoeve” for which you won the Golden Freelancer award in 2017.
I got asked to work on the project by two journalists who had researched the story. At first, they wanted me to translate their text into photographs but I felt strongly about making it a video project.
Let me be frank, I wasn’t aware of this story about Surinamese people squatting in these high rises, to be honest, my parents are middle class so they didn’t live there.
Anyway, that area, the Bijlmer, became a melting pot, and many new Surinamese musical movements and sounds where created there. It was also one of the first or the first black resistance movement.
In the documentary we followed 5 people, so you get 5 perspectives, about how it was to live there. It was a very DIY movement because the state didn’t put anything in place, they, themselves went about solving the problem by squatting. The Netherlands, historically if you look at other minorities like the Molukkers who were put in the former concentration/transit camp barracks in Westerbork. The state has a bad track record of keeping its promises (laughs).
You made the right decision and won a prize for it!
True and I wasn’t even trained as a journalist. Funny story, I was at a symposium and all the editors in chief for the big Dutch newspapers where there. No security around, I was like “If a right or left-wing nut comes running in here now we are fucked.”. Anyway I felt awkward and then an argument broke out about if writers with an immigrant background where too biased when it came to immigrant topics. Whereas non-immigrant writers where seen as non-biased. It was crazy the old-guard vs the new guard. So the room was heated, they went to the award section of the evening and I got nervous and than we won! It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life!
You were probably glad you were not a journalist! Can you tell me about growing up in Zoetermeer?
Crazy, I just got hold of a police report about extreme right-wing groups in 3 cities of which Zoetermeer was one. Londsdalers the police called them, I always doubted if it was real, but it was.
At 14 years old I got attacked by Neo-Nazis, I was helping my first ever girlfriend with her paper route and they barricaded our way with their Volkswagen. Threw me in the bushes spit on me and threatened me but in the distance, a man on a motorbike came speeding at us. He had a skinned head as well, so I was like “fuck that is their boss!”, now I was in real trouble. But he chased them off, came back, and said, “I am not a Nazi, my wife is black”. (laughs)
He was aware of how you might perceive him.
The crazy thing is that it happened in the same area I lived in and in which the skatepark was. Another time I got a call from some friends asking if I was at the skate park, I said no, and it turned out a group of Neo-Nazis went to the park and started attacking the skaters. And riot police had to come in to break it up.
The report also said that Storm Front an international right-wing network had its Dutch headquarters in Zoetermeer so some top level people where there.
Weird fact is there was this weird tension in the air because some parts of the skate park were close to where the Neo-Nazis would hang out so you would need to be on your guard and that’s why i learned pushing regular switch instead of mongo so I could have better oversight of the skate park
The OG’s in the skate park later on told me that they were protecting me, we knew you were a person of color, a skater and you were the smallest in the group. They never told me that then, only years laters. I really respect them for doing that, also for the fact they never told me then. I would have probably hyper-focussed on it.
In the end, the police managed to break the network down by using a new police tactic called STALK AND EXTERMINATE. Now, I am happy to know that I wasn’t crazy, this was really happening in my city.
Still that sounds so heavy!
True, another example, I came back from skating in Utrecht, and in Gouda a big group of Gabbers entered the train. My guard was up, I was holding on to my board as a possible weapon. They got off at the same station I did, some of them came up to me and asked “Yo, do you know where this is?” I could tell they were high on something. And I just said, “Yeah, you can walk with me and I will show you.” So they were all hyped, saying “Yo, this “Negro” knows where to go, let’s follow him.” And I was thinking “I am happy they are not aggressive.” especially because I had experienced an attack before that.
In the police report it said that to resolve conflict they went on “Hunts” for skaters or people of color. Luckily instead of a hunt they were in a party mood and went to a Happy Hardcore party. Things like that are so wild. Many of my friends don’t even know how fucked it really was, I haven’t talked about it that much.
I am happy you did!
I also got a lot of “Isn’t skateboarding a white people sport?” but in my mind I saw Bastien Salabanzi and Kareem Campbell stylish as fuck! I am happy Thrasher did that issue during the BLM movement, I was surprised how many people there are. The inclusion of LGBTQ+ and other groups is so good for skating I am happy to see it.
Me too! Man, I think that was it, a true long read with many links to follow, thank you!
Went by fast, thank you for the opportunity to do this!