‘I own all rights’ – De Groene Amsterdammer

The people in the Netherlands know her face. Aldith Hunkar has long been a TV presenter and journalist, before the youth news, in front of NOS News, for various programs and broadcasters. In those years, she was already busy: she felt the need – when it was not yet called ‘woke’ – to put together a more diverse programming at the broadcasters. But sometimes people only know that they’ve seen her before — no longer in any capacity.

And so it has happened more often, especially in the Concertgebouw, when she has arranged good seats or received a VIP card, that the lady behind her on the left (‘they are always women’), dressed in something Chanel-like, suddenly her shoulder taps and asks, “But I know you, don’t I? Didn’t I just see you in the service / in the cloakroom / cleaning?’

It hasn’t happened once, it’s happened too many times, so she can’t dismiss incidents like this as: coincidence; madam was definitely having a bad day, suffering from a passive aggressive shower; perhaps Aldith himself was in a pestilence mood. New. ‘That anonymous lady just can’t stand me sitting in front of her, with my dreadlocks, and in a better place, too.’

Aldith prefers to go to the Concertgebouw with her 84-year-old mother, it really is an outing. Bach, Handel, those are their favourites. And then of course a good dress is put on, the hair is done, the nails are painted and the lipstick is spotless. casual dressed to the concert? No, that’s not for her. That is, she says, ‘a privilege of white people, who have been there for generations. I’m a minority with my appearance in The Concertgebouw: that’s why I look great, because I’m not going to hand over extra ammunition to the unwilling.’

One of the times they go to the St Matthew Passion went, and had to go to the bathroom during intermission, she stood in a long line waiting for the ‘ladies’. ‘A woman yells: ‘I’ve been looking at your hair all this time, I just need to touch it.’ I say gently but firmly that it won’t happen, I’m not a lamb in the meadow. To which the lady says: ‘I lived in Africa for a long time, and my people there didn’t mind at all.” Aldith sighs, and repeats again: ‘My people there.’ It won’t stop her from going to the Concertgebouw again, even if ‘Dat Thing’, as she calls it, bothers her.

‘Black and colored Dutch people should also be a little bit bolder, and still take the step to The Concertgebouw’

Hunkar: ‘I once, I believe in 2003 or 2004, presented an evening in the Concertgebouw, for NPS Classic, with the Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. Me in rented dress, with high heels. Well before the actual broadcast I went down those huge stairs in sneakers, because you have to practice and above all: you have to count steps.’ Princesses do it that way too, she knows, wobbling in pumps, descending huge stairs in style. A matter of not losing count.

Hunkar was born in Suriname, ‘but that was the Netherlands then’, and her mother is Surinamese, just like her deceased father. Mother very light colored (‘people think she is Pakistani or Indonesian’), father dark. Vader studied in Wageningen, the Netherlands, and then worked as an agricultural engineer in Malaysia, Brazil and Tunisia, among others. Around the world with the family. Aldith attended a French secondary school in Tunis. I check her French, and really, as if she never spoke otherwise.

The family can best be described as the upper middle class. And of course that includes The Concertgebouw. Aldith played the piano at a young age, quite well too. ‘I was admitted to the youth conservatory, but my parents found it objectionable to leave me alone in The Hague at a young age, while they had to leave for another distant country.’

But the love for the music runs deep, almost for all music: from classical to soul and reggae. ‘Reggae didn’t mean much to me at first, until my boyfriend at the time showed me different types of Jamaican reggae twenty years ago. We then visited the country together, and it was an instant hit.’ The friend is now out of the picture, but Hunkar cherishes the second home she has owned on the island for years. She also works there as a ‘global freestyle multimedia journalist’, as she has come to call herself. She has a scooter, a yellow one, very striking, she has recording equipment and her smartphone: like a raging reporter she also reports on the local news in Jamaica.

“Hopefully I’ll be there again soon, for about three months.” Overwinter, ‘because the older you get, the worse the Dutch winters get’. But also: stepping away from the Netherlands for a while, the country where she has warm memories from her younger years, because it was free and tolerant and peaceful. “But how De Onderbuik has steadily risen to power — I really need that three-month Jamaican retreat.”

‘I look great in the Concertgebouw, because I will not hand over extra ammunition to the unwilling’

And what can The Concertgebouw do to become more inclusive? ‘The most important thing is that there are also black and colored musicians on stage. Just: a black cellist, a colored oboist. Those people have also dabbled at the conservatory. They can also play Rachmaninoff.’ And no, as far as she is concerned, it is not necessary that ‘just syncopated African rhythms’ will now be heard on stage. ‘But if the Concertgebouw is to go to Nieuw-West, go to Amsterdam-Zuidoost and let them know there that they are very welcome; that they are not out of place, on the contrary: that they are looking forward to their arrival.’

And now a hand in your own bosom, or rather, in the colored bosom. ‘Black and colored Dutch people also have to be a little bit bolder, and still take the step to The Concertgebouw.’ Well, I say: you got it from your youth. “All true, and there will also be black people who say: Hunkar is easy to talk to, she is light-skinned.”

She tells the story of her sister, who somewhere, once again in a faraway country, wanted to take up classical ballet as a girl. But yes, that frizzy hair stood out so much against the hair of the other ballerinas tied in a ponytail, the ballerina thought. ‘My mother went there, and brought with her such a tight cap that exactly hugged my sister’s head and hair. Look, problem solved again.’

There is such a thing as ‘colourism’, the idea among people of color themselves that those who have turned out lighter are also better, or at least: better off. It also works the other way around – black people often don’t take light-skinned people seriously and are suspicious. In Jamaica she sees women ‘bleach’ their skin, bleaching it with chemicals so that it becomes lighter, because then they get a better job. ‘All those things will also play a role in the Concertgebouw audience: that requires strong colored and black people who take their places with conviction, because they know that they belong there.’

Hunkar, just before she drives off in her Peugeot 3008: ‘I own all rights. That’s not brutal, that’s the Dutch constitution.’

In this monthly interview series, Stephan Sanders speaks with a variety of people about how the world of classical music can become more inclusive. This series is a collaboration between The green and The Concertgebouw

Leave a Comment