"Everybody has a song and must sing it all life long!", Philip de Vos

Godfrey Johnson (GJ) caught up with  award-winning South African author, poet and acclaimed photographer  Philip de Vos (PDV) recently and g...

Godfrey Johnson (GJ) caught up with award-winning South African author, poet and acclaimed photographer Philip de Vos (PDV) recently and got to hear more about his remarkable journey thus far and passion for the arts, among other things. Below are excerpts from that exchange...

GJ:  I adore you and your work dear Philip. When did you discover that you had a flair for the arts?

P DV: In my 81 years on earth I have only lived in two places: Bloemfontein and Cape Town. During this time I have done quite a lot of things: I was a teacher for 15 years, both in Bloemfontein and afterwards in Cape Town. I later became involved in opera as soloist at CAPAB in mostly comical character roles.

I left teaching in 1973 and then did freelance work for 5 years. After a nervous breakdown and severe depression I  taught for another 2 years and afterwards became a member of the CAPAB opera chorus from 1980 – 1997.

When I finally left teaching I had greater peace of mind and started writing and had several exhibitions of my photography.

My first book was published in 1984 when I was already 45 years old. I never knew I could write in rhyme, but was encouraged by the book publisher Leon Rousseau to try and write verses. I started and couldn’t stop and now 37 years later I have published about 30 books of novels and nonsense poetry and limericks in Afrikaans – a form of writing no Afrikaans writer has seriously attempted before.

I have also had various books of my English poetry published in South Africa, the USA, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany

My interest in photography started as a child when I received a plastic Donald Duck camera for Christmas. I have always been an amateur photographer, but did have Milieu - a book of my photographs of 130 creative South Africans in their own personal environment published in 2006


GJ: How would you define your style of photography ? What inspires you to capture a moment?

P DV: My interest in photography still continues although at my age I do not envisage further exhibitions. I do, however, always carry my camera with me and through manipulation create a dream world of my own and then share these photos on Facebook.

Here is a link to my photographic essay: The Journey:



GJ: Your poetry is globally loved and admired. When did you realize that you wanted to write? What inspires you to continue writing?

P DV: In 1973 I left teaching to become a freelance singer. This was a period of freedom in which I wrote a book about my childhood in Bloemfontein and also a comical novel. Neither of these books was originally accepted for publication. Because of one little verse in the latter book, the publisher Leon Rousseau asked me whether I ever thought of writing verse. I wrote my first one and the floodgates were open. Here are links to some of my poems.


GJ: Please can you name the pivotal moments in your artistic journey? 

P DV:  If I had to name a few pivotal moments:

The musical settings of my poems:

About 20 local composers have set my poems to music by composers like Peter Klatzow and Pieter de Villiers. The composer who came the closest to what I am trying to say is the composer Albie Louw who set more than a 100 of my poems to music and we performed these in public and at many schools and universities. A highlight was our very performance which was at the then Nico Malan Theatre in Cape town when I very nearly cried when singing ‘Konsternasie hoenderpiep’



Another moment I will remember was when I got a KykNet lifetime award for my contribution to music, literature and the visual arts in South Africa.



Another pivotal memory: I wrote six 13 episode radio series of 50 minutes each for RSG on the lives and music of the composers Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Verdi, Schubert and Brahms.


GJ: What should the movie of your life be called? Who should play you?


P DV: THE OLDER BUT NO WISER MAN with a young Johnny Depp and John Hurt for the older me.


GJ: What advice do you have for aspiring young artists?

P DV: Be true to yourself. Know what you can’t do and what you can do -  and then do it as well as you can.

Here are two of my verses:


Everybody has a song

and must sing it all life long.


Elke outjie het sy lied:

hadida en kokkewiet.

Of dit fraai, of goor, of gek is –

Jy moet sing soos jy gebek is.


GJ: What exciting projects are you currently working on?


P DV:  Merely for my own pleasure I take photos and then place them on Facebook.

The exciting news is that a book of my Afrikaans poems with the title Tokkelossiebossie will be published by Lapa Publishers next year with colour drawings by my illustrator Piet Grobler with whom I have worked on 12 books.


  1. A most interesting interview with Philip de Vos, Godfrey. I was very pleased to read it.



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Urban Craft Magazine: "Everybody has a song and must sing it all life long!", Philip de Vos
"Everybody has a song and must sing it all life long!", Philip de Vos
Urban Craft Magazine
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