Even the most cursory listen to South African music yields an embarrassment of riches in the realm of guitar talents. Indeed, throughout the country's musical history innovative figures have forged a near universe of unique approaches to the instrument, fusing the many musical traditions of Southern Africa with popular styles into a staggering array of styles.
Even within this abundance of guitar talents, Cape Town-based Dave Ledbetter nevertheless manages to stand out. A genre-hopping virtuoso whose guitar and keyboard work have graced projects ranging from the short-lived punk outfit Illegal Gathering to the Jazz-Fusion supergroup Workforce, Ledbetter has forged a highly individual and iconoclastic career in South Africa. With his latest project Deep South
, a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Ronan Skillen
, Ledbetter has brought his extraordinary guitar and compositional talents to bear in a meditative and hypnotic set of pieces inspired by the environment. All About Jazz:
Can we talk about your earliest memories growing up with music? Dave Ledbetter:
My mum was a Classical pianist, a very excellent one. And so my earliest memories would be around the piano listening to music, and then taking piano lessons and guitar lessons. Everything was music. So from as early as I can remember, there was always musical activity in the house. Then there was music at school. I think the moment I heard the Beatles for the first time was when I realized that there was something here for me. AAJ:
One of your earliest recordings is with the punk band Illegal Gathering from 1985, featuring you on electric bass. How did you get involved with James Phillips and with that band? What's the story behind that particular recording? DL:
James Phillips' parents were very good friends with my parents. My father was a structural engineer who also happened to be a very active thespian. And they did a lot of theatrical work together. Through the friendship of the families came the friendship of James and myself. James was a couple of years younger than me at school. What happened was that as we got older, we started hanging out a little more together and gradually began making music together. I left Springswhich is where he hailed from and where that entire East Rand Renaissance happenedquite early on. So I kind of wanted to get out of there as soon as I had wings to fly, and I pretty much did. But James stayed for awhile, and then he went to study music at Rhodes University.
On one of his backs, he came down to Cape Town to hook up with Carl Raubenheimer, who was also an ex-Springs friend of mine. They got this band together in an incredibly short time, and they asked me to come and play bass with them. So that's pretty much how that happened. The band was together for I think two or three weeks. We did six gigs, we recorded 14 or 15 songs, and broke up. That's pretty much it. AAJ:
That band springs out of a very interesting 1980s counter culture fomenting in South Africa, with things like the Voëlvry movement. From your perspective, what was driving that? DL:
The entire alternative rock movement in South African in the mid-1980s came out of people wanting to make pertinent social commentary about what was actually going down in the country. And James, as it so happens, was one of the first, if not the very
first alternative voices of that genre, along with Roger Lucey. Those two particularly were among the first people of that movement to have their music banned, or just not played on radio stations at all. And it's strange to think, but if it wasn't for James, there would be no Die Antwoord, for example. I think the tragedy of James's life, if we're still talking about James, is that he was never recognized in his lifetime. It's taken 25 years for people to actually wake up to the fact that he was a hugely influential figure, you know? AAJ:
Yes, particularly with his creating the alternate persona of Bernoldus Niemand. You're right that Die Antwoord absolutely carries that. DL:
Pretty much. It all came out of that first initial idea. It's amazing that all great ideas initially begin with one person, and then other people take that stuff and they carry it further. It's been the case throughout artistic history if you have a look at it. In terms of nearly every major art form, there's always been one person who initiates something, taking it through to the next stage. And in the case of South African alternative music, I think James is that figure. AAJ:
Absolutely. Thinking on your own career, there's a moment of whiplash where we see you playing bass in a punk band, and then we turn around again and suddenly you're at the Jazz Workshop in Cape Town taking lessons with Merton Barrow. Can you talk about that experience, and how you got involved with the Jazz Workshop? DL:
Well, they asked me to teach there. I hadn't really been playing for that long, but Merton had heard me play. He was such a mentor and father figure to me. Merton's still alive, in his eighties now, and he was a mentor to some incredible musicians. We're talking about guys like John Lockwood
, who's in charge of the upright bass faculty at the New England Conservatory outside Boston. There are so many, many musicians who've all been nurtured by and come through Merton Barrow and the Jazz Workshop. Merton preceded the University of Cape Town's Jazz Faculty. My earliest memory of him was just how incredibly encouraging he was. He just sat me down one day and said, "I'd like to offer you a job teaching. I can see that you love music and you're obviously very musical." I thought that was rather nice! And then he proceeded to say, "I hope you have an unusually long and rewarding career playing music." I just never forgot that.
One of the things that used to happen with Merton a lot is because I played piano and he played vibes, we would often play duo piano and vibraphone together. We'd play on "Giant Steps" for half an hour, and that would be my lesson for the week, which was great fun. It was really like being thrown in the deep end. Through Merton, I came into contact with so many other amazing musicians, like Kevin Davidson, who was head of the Tshwane University of Technology music faculty in Pretoria. He became our daughter's godfather. So I met so many amazing people through Merton, and I think Merton is just one of those people who oozes music. He takes the responsibility of anybody under his wing incredibly seriously. I remember recommending a child go to lessons with him and he said, "Please don't ask me to teach children, the responsibility is too big!" That's how he is. AAJ:
In terms of your time with him, were there formal lessons he did as well, in addition to the lesson type you just described? DL:
Yes, I jumped the gun a bit. "Giant Steps" is a ways down the line! He started me off just he started every other person by giving me some basic Classical stuff to read, and then by quickly introducing me into improv in the same way that one would be educated by understanding simple things to start with. Things like the modes generated by the notes of Diatonic scales, and then chord progressions, and then improvising patterns. At the time, there wasn't anywhere near the amount of information available then in South Africa that there is now. You had to pick it up from somebody who knew. So I picked most of my theoretical information up from Merton, and also from Kevin Davidson. And then that continued through my involvement at the University of Cape Town, where I studied under Mike Campbell
as well. Prior to that I'd taken classical piano lessons as a child with my mum and with Steven van Staden, a concert pianist. AAJ:
To your point of jumping into the deep end, you then auditioned for Duke Makasi and his band Workforce! How did that come about? How did that process go? DL:
Well, one day the late great Robbie Jansen
arrived at my house in Devil's Peak and said, "We're looking for a keyboard player to join this band Workforce." The person whose shoes I had to fill was one of South Africa's most incredible piano players, a guy called Ibrahim Kalil Shihab, formerly known as Chris Schilder. He's part of the Schilder keyboard dynasty in South Africa. You had the eldest brother Richard. And then Tony, his son Hilton, and then the other brother Chris, who later converted to Islam and became Kalil Shihab. An absolutely incredible pianist. So I got his job when he left. I had only been playing piano seriously for about a year and a bit. So Robbie Jansen, the great alto saxophonist, he arrived at my house and said, "We're looking for somebody to come and play in this band Workforce. We play original music and we do some covers. It's a five-night-a-week gig. We play Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evenings, and we rehearse on Mondays. Are you in?" And I thought, "Yes, absolutely!" I just jumped at the opportunity.
There were no parts, everything was by rote because many of the musicians didn't read. Robbie didn't read, Stompie Manana, Spencer Mbadu, Denver Furness, none of them really read. Duke did a little. So I was the only person who was vaguely schooled on reading at point in time. And yet we'd be working out by ear all this stuff. At the time we were doing Steps Ahead-type stuff, or Weather Report, but no parts so we'd just work it out and play it! It was quite an incredible experience. It really developed my ear, because these guys had unbelievable ears. They had the ability to manifest it into what it was meant to sound like. That was quite an incredible experience working with Duke. He commanded respect in the politest kind of way. He would enter into his solo, he'd play a soft note and the band would just come down, as it should be! He never raised his voice, there was none of that. There was just a very polite gesture of "Guys, I'm playing now, just listen and act accordingly."
So that was a major learning curve for me. It was bang-smack in the middle of the unrest. It was the middle of 1985, when there was unrest in Belgravia Road in Athlone. So myself and Richard Picketta drummer who played with Tony Schilderwere the only white people playing with bands of color in Cape Town at that time. We would go out and play these Detention Without Trial concerts at the Luxorama and the University of the Western Cape. And there were spokespeople on stage, and they'd be getting arrested as they came off stage and detained without trial for 48 hours. It was mayhem! While I was working with the band, what would also happen is that there would be a police presence outside my house. They would follow me to work, and they'd follow me back because I was accused of being complicit in devious undertakings. AAJ:
When we read about one of the other great integrated bands of South African history, The Blue Notes, Maxine McGregor talks about how while they were in South Africa before going into exile, they had to permanently stay on tour and keep moving in order to safely perform. Can you talk a bit about that progression from the early 1960s when the Blue Notes were touring in the countryto 1985 in terms of integrated bands in the music and the official response to them? DL:
Well, I think in the case of The Blue Notes and quite a few of the musicians of that time, many of them felt that there wasn't a platformor an equal platformfor them to perform their music. And there wasn't, it was the apartheid era. So they left. Many of them left, they relocated and they set their lives up in other countries. Abdullah Ibrahim
, Harold Jefta, Bheki Mseleku
, Russell Herman, Mervyn Africa, so many of them relocated and went to live overseas. Some of them did come back, but some of them never did. Some came back to visit, yes, but never permanently returned. I think the natural progression started in the early sixties, but I think by the time the mid- eighties came along, the dice were rolling. We'd reached a point of no return in this country. In many ways the music that came out in the mid-eighties kind of won the struggle. It was a powerful tool. I remember feeling that I was part of something that was so huge, and I was really very proud to be involved in that. AAJ:
You touched on this a little bit already, talking about Robbie Jansen, Duke Makasi, Stompie Manana, and all these amazing artists in Workforce. If we look at Cape Town broadly in the 1980s, then we bring in artists like Basil Coetzee
, Kevin Davidson, or Winston Mankunku Ngozi
, and indeed there is something incredible going on with Cape Town's Jazz at that particular point in time. Can you talk a bit more about that scene overall? DL:
Mentioning them in particular, I had a fairly close association with all of the guys that you just mentioned. Basil was a friend, Robbie was a friend, as well as people that I played with and worked with, and even recorded with. I think the important thing to remember about those particular players at that particular time is that they each had a unique sound. I don't know how else to describe it, but they had a sound which was essentially of
Cape Town, and it sort of has become the template. When you hear the music as it is being written and performed by people nowadays who are getting the exposure that these guys never got, you can hear the lineage in this music, in the same way that you can hear in American Jazz the lineage of sound stylistically and compositionally. It's very, very important to uphold and maintain.
I'm happy to say that at the present time, South African Jazz music is rolling along merrily in the lines of that tradition. Kyle Shepherd is a great voice for Cape Town music in terms of his pianistic style. But his pianistic style is highly influenced by Abdullah Ibrahim, and great to him! Because when I listen to Jazz, when the horn player is playing for instance, I want
to hear that he was influenced by Prez and Bird and Trane. I want to hear all that stuff. And in South African music you want to hear that as well. You want to hear that the cats have listened to the people who preceded them and they're carrying on that tradition.
For me, Robbie Jansen was really such a genius and was unsung. Just like Winston and just like Basil, their best work was never recorded, and so you never hear them at their burning best. Just like Johnny Fourie
, the great guitarist. You never really heard them on record at their absolute best. You'd have to catch them on a good night live for that. Fortunately for me, I was able to do so with great regularity, so I'm talking from first-hand experience. But they all had unique voices, and all of those voices have now been implemented into what I would now say is the South African zeitgeist, musically speaking. I hear their influences in everything that I listen to. It's inescapable, the influence is so big. AAJ:
Sometimes that particular set of artists and traditions gets lumped into the moniker of "Cape Jazz." DL:
Yes, or "Township Jazz." I just like to call it "South African Music" myself because that's what it is. AAJ:
Absolutely. Continuing along in terms of your own work, we see you moving into projects like Free Spirit and Rough Diamond. Can you talk about those later ensembles that you got involved with? DL:
Well, I found out that I could write music. The moment I discovered that I could write, I started writing tunes and I surrounded myself with people who could execute my vision. So there was a good friend of mine, a saxophonist called Greg Telian, who's now in Australia. He and I had the idea of putting a band together where we only played original music. But where could we find a platform to play it? Fortunately, in the mid-to-late eighties, there was a venue on Shortmarket Street in Cape Town, prior to the waterfront development, known as The Bass. On Sunday evenings they had Jazz. All of the major South African acts who came through Cape Town would play at that venue. So that was where we started to find a platform to play our stuff. All the music that came out of Rough Diamond and Free Spirit, and also the later ensembles, was pretty much inspired by the fact that suddenly I woke up one day and realized I could
write, and would
write and play with people that I love playing with. That was pretty much the deal. And it continues to this day. AAJ:
Can you talk about your early composition process, in terms of how you began approaching writing? DL:
Well, I'm a melody man. The music I love is rhapsodic and melodic, and I grew up in a thespian family and a musical family. The songs of the Crooner period, the AABA songs, the standards and movie soundtracks, those are the first things that illumined my attention. And then when I started studying Classical music, the music of J.S. Bach just completely captivated me. So I'd say my ear was opened by the beautiful chords and beautiful melodies of the Crooner period. Later when I started listening to Jazz, I think the first time I listened to Bill Evans
, I was rocked in my seat. Keith Jarrett
and Herbie Hancock
too, and Thelonious Monk
and Bud Powell
it goes on and on! All of these people are an influence in everything I do.
For my process, I normally sit down and just play, because I'm a Jazz musician and I improvise. Out of that, composition normally comes quite quickly. Sometimes a section of it comes, and then I wait for a little bitmaybe a week, maybe a month, maybe an hourand then I continue with it. I come back to it and I write that way. Most of my songs are just like one sitting. The muse is sitting on my shoulder: bring it on. That's how I roll. AAJ:
We get to your solo album Scorpio Rising
in 1996. Can you talk a bit about that album? DL:
My late lamented solo album! When I was teaching at the Jazz Workshop, I had a young family. I had two children, and I was working seven nights a week and teaching six days a week. The work that I was doing in the evenings was playing at restaurants, playing in pubs and playing rock songs and covers, because that's how you could make a living in apartheid South Africa at that time. So that's what I did. I honed my pop/rock/folk/prog-rock chops doing those gigs over about eight or nine years. They put me in very good stead in terms of what constitutes the popular song. So I was able to write some, and the ones that I wrote ended up on the Truly Fully Hey Shoo Wow album and on Scorpio Rising
, which was my first and only solo vocal album, so far. I'm planning to do another one quite soon. AAJ:
To people who have been following your career, it might come as a little surprising that it took until 1996 to record your debut. What do you think accounted for that longer timeline? DL:
It was when I felt ready. I wanted to feel confident. Plus, it wasn't easy to get a record deal and get people to put up the cash to make an album for you. That was probably one of the main reasons. My stuff wasn't mainstream. I wasn't mainstream at all. I mean, I've always gone for stuff that's musical! AAJ:
If we were to take a snapshot of your career in the 1980s, we might say you're a keyboard player. Nowadays we'd pin you as a guitarist, but perhaps the truth is both? Guitar certainly starts to take a more central role in your playing as the decades progress. DL:
Well, I didn't have a good piano to play on at home. I got tired of going to venues and playing whatever the venue threw at you. The great Mary Lou Williams
said that if she got confronted with a piano that she didn't like, she'd play it because that's what she was trained to do. I felt the same way, but I also think that to create you need a good instrument to create on. Until quite recently, I didn't have an acoustic piano at home. Now I have one, and I'm doing a lot more writing and playing a lot more piano than I did.
Piano is a great instrument to write on because you get the full spectrum of tonality: the mid, the low, the top. It's easy to write on it, and it's nice to write on for other instruments as well. So piano from a writing point of view is great, but so is guitar, as it opens up other avenues in different ways. One of the projects that I'm working on at the moment is a project where I play both piano and guitar. Not at the same time by the way, that could be a challenge! I want do an album along the lines of a Undercurrent
by Bill Evans
and Jim Hall
. That's one of the few guitar-piano albums where they get it right. Those two guys epitomize empathy in their playing together. There's a lot of listening going on, and there's a lot of stepping back going on and leaving space. But there's also a lot of beautiful playing going on as well.
I'm veering away from your subject, which is "Why more guitar than piano?" It's because I had a better guitar to play, and because I enjoy playing guitar. I also found that I could explore a whole lot of different hybrid tunings on guitar, and then mix and match them with conventional tunings and see how they sound together to create more textures. The more recent stuff, particularly the stuff with Ronan Skillen
and the Deep South stuff, there's a lot of guitar texture on the album. We quite painstakingly recorded those guitars over quite a long period of time, just to make sure that they would represent as much of me, harmonically speaking, as I could get onto the album. AAJ:
Speaking of the guitar, you are a member of an extensive lineage of great South African guitar players. You described the Jazz artists of the Cape that you worked with as being highly individual, and it seems the same is true of South Africa's guitar players. If we think about you, Johnny Fourie
, Tony Cox, Steve Newman
, the Dyers brothers, Louis Mhlanga
, among others, it truly is an astonishing range of guitar voices that developed in South Africa. What do you think drives that? DL:
There's a spirit that is prevalent amongst all the guitar players in this country, which is generated by the tradition. I think of aspiring young guitarists, like Guy Buttery
, who is an absolute sweetheart. He's a great young player, one of the new young lions coming up. They're just indicative of the very soul of South Africa, which the guitarists in this country want to capture. I think Johnny was the king of this business in terms of Jazz guitar players, but there are some very incredible guitarists. They've all got something unique and they're all different from each other. I'm different from Tony who's different from Steve, who's different from Errol or Alvin or Johnny or Guy. The list goes on. I look around me all the time, and every time I go to a jam session or to the club I see a new guitarist, and they've all got their own thing!
There is a diversity, but it also appears to me that in the players, particularly those who play exclusively instrumental music in this country, you see unity. You see the unity of what has preceded and how people really feel about what it is that they write and what their intention is when they write it. AAJ:
On this idea of your fusing guitar work with composing, can we talk a bit about the formation of your band The Clearing, and what drove that group's formation? DL:
It's interesting, but Lee Thompson
, the trumpet player in that band, has just moved into my place and we're sharing right now. We're going to be doing some projects and some old music together, and we're actually going to be reviving The Clearing and playing a few gigs. Funnily enough, as you mentioned that band! It first formed because he came to me and said, "You know, you're a great writer, maybe we do some of your stuff." I said, "Let's get a band together."
So drummer Kesivan Naidoo
is Lee's best friend, and he was onboard from the get go and then the bassist Shane Cooper
joined. Andrew Lilley, who is head of the piano jazz faculty at UCT, and Buddy Wells on tenor saxophone also joined. That was the lineup. So then I had voices to write for because I know these guys, what they sound like, and how they play, and so I can write with their voices in mind. So the formation of the band came about just by having a group of musicians who were inspired by what it was that I did, and who were willing to let me write for them and to play my music. AAJ:
In the case of some of these artists, you were working with younger artists who were coming up in the scene. Did you feel also that you were stepping into the role of a mentor as some of these things have developed? DL:
To me, music is not age discriminate. There are elders who I suppose should be respected, and there are younger ones coming through who you should encourage and try and lead by example. So I felt that they were great musicians, and I'm always happy to share the same stage with them. I saw no difference between us. I view musicians essentially as family, part of the same brotherhood. Maybe not everybody feels the same of course, depending on how large your ego is, but I view them all as part of same family. And one of the reasons why that band was a hip band was because everybody felt the same. We'd all back down and just play the music, and when you've got that, music instantly occurs. There's nothing that can stop it. Music intrinsically knows where it's going to go. You've just got to be the vehicle to let it go where it wants. AAJ:
One thing that's striking with both The Clearing as well as your project Deep South is that both bands seem to draw a huge amount of inspirationin title and musical approachfrom the environment itself. Can you talk a bit about that? DL:
I live on a conservation state. I'm surrounded by nature, in the middle of a forest with a river running through it. So a lot of the tunes on the first album and on the second were written here just by going down to the river in the morning with my guitar and getting inspired by nature, or going for walks on the mountain which is right behind me. I was inspired by that, I guess like the way Beethoven would be inspired. He'd go out and look at nature for the day, then he'd come back and write it down. I did the same thing: I sat next to a river, and when the music came, I wrote it down. Those became the templates for virtually all of the songs on those two albums. That's inspired by the environment in the sense that we're losing the environment. People are raping the land, and they're doing it the world over, not just here in South Africa. It's our duty to make people consciously aware of how important it is to look after the land. The land is all we have. AAJ:
If we look at the debut album of Deep South, A Waiting Land
, that seems to be the sort of core concept that's being explored there. Can you talk about how you and Ronan Skillen
got together on this project? And can you describe the process of creating this album? DL:
All of the tunes on the album were written and arranged by me, and they were all inspired by the environment, by nature, and by conscious intention, I would say. I really feel that it's crucial to perpetuate those things that are most important in the music. So I wanted to do that on the Deep South albums. And so the pieces came relatively quickly, but the recording process took a while. Ronan used to live just across the road from me up until a few years back. So I used to see him quite regularly, and I realized I had an ally because Ronan is a very hands-on guy who gets things done, very organized. I'm more musically oriented, but I'm getting there! I have to say I'm getting my organizational chops together, but he is great at that. He's a good engineer as well.
We gradually recorded those tracks over years, when he had time in between all the other things he was doing. He was involved with Hot Water, he was involved with Tonic, he was involved with Babu. So there were all of these things going on with him, and I had The Clearing. The bands were running sort of simultaneously in and across each other. And in between those, I'd go around to his place and I'd lay down a track, and then we wouldn't see each other for a couple of weeks. And then we'd go back and we'd lay down another track. So the process took a while, and then eventually we realized that we had an album. I was initially a bit skeptical because I didn't feel that it was there. It didn't sound quite like a Blue Note album, which is what I always envisioned I'd want my albums to sound like. But I realized it had its own unique charm in the way that it had been recorded, and that was thanks largely to Ronan, and to him wanting to keep everything else off it other than the things that needed to be on it, at least as far as the editing process and the recording process was concerned.
That was a great experience. I think we learned a hell of a lot, both of us, in recording that first album in how to record instrumental music and capture it. AAJ:
It's a four-year process for creating it, certainly! There are some really wonderful guests who appear on it, too. We spoke earlier about this younger generation, and here again we see artists like Darren English
and Mark Fransman
playing on it. DL:
Yes, absolutely. We also have the great Hein van de Geyn
on it as well. He's a personal friend of mine that I collaborate with quite regularly. He's also been a huge influence on me in the last six years, since I've been hanging out at his place in Scarborough, which is a 20-kilometer drive down the coast. He's an amazing double bassist, and one of the most recorded double bassists. Hein owns his own record label in Holland, which many people have recorded on, and he's now based here in Scarborough. He's retired pretty much, but I go around there every couple of weeks and then we play. Now we're working on a duo album that we want to do before the end of the year.
Darren is just such an amazing talent and, he recorded on this just before he left for the States. Mark Fransman is still here and very active. Shane Cooper's on the album, as is Shaun Johannes
, who's a great electric bassist. Kevin Gibson
is on the drums, who I absolutely love. I mean, it's got a lot of great voices! I heard those instruments on those tunes, but as slightly different pairings of instruments. I wanted e-flat clarinet with trumpet, for example. Unusual pairings, but nice in that context so that it didn't sound as straight ahead as sometimes albums with brass can sound. I wanted to retain the kind of central wooden quality of the harmonic template, and then have those other voices added unto them. AAJ:
To that end in terms of the sonic qualities of the two Deep South albums, if we compare A Waiting Land
, there's a massive shift in the sound between those two albums. Obviously the collaborators changed, but can you talk about that shift? DL:
The shift was just because it was produced in Bern, Switzerland and by Bjorn Meyer
who's one of the most authentic, original electric bassists on the planet. I mean he's just released the first electric bass solo album on ECM.
So he produced Heartland
, and he played on the album. We did it in his studio in a couple of days, as it didn't take us long at all to track. He's done lots of recordings and he's an incredible engineer with incredible ears, and an absolutely amazing human being as well. So the sound changed basically because we just moved up a notch from Ronan's loft space to Björn's studio. I love the albums equally, but the production value on the second album is a notch up. But then you'd expect it to be, we moved from Cape Town to Europe. AAJ:
The compositions themselves sound a little bit different from the ones on the first album, and I'm curious if that's due to a collaborative aspect with the European artists on it. DL:
The songs were already written before I went along. The interesting thing about the second album is that I'd already written the tunes, and everybody got the parts before we arrived there. We had no idea what that was actually going to sound like. Suddenly here we are, the tapes of rolling, and oh, this
is what it sounds like! I think there's an immediacy about that album because of that, because we didn't know what it was going to sound like. We didn't know what the bass clarinet or trumpet or flugelhorn, or extra additional percussion was going to sound like until we were in the studio recording. It's great in a way, that's the exciting thing about the recording process: anything can and sometimes does happen. There are certain tracks on that album which, for me, sound unique. AAJ:
Let's talk about some of the tracks. One that pops out is "Forest Road," which has a sort of a Protestant hymn quality to it. Can you talk about that piece? DL:
Some people tell me that it's the one I'll probably be remembered for! My grandparents were salvationists, they were missionaries in China, Kenya, and in India. So I grew up in a kind of Fire-and-Brimstone Calvinist family, a very Christian upbringing. My late grandfather was a missionary in Nairobi, Kenya, during the Second World War. Six weeks after the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, he was stung on the forehead by a bee. He was allergic to bees and he died. That was 17 years before I was born, so I never got to meet him. He's buried in Forest Road Cemetery in Nairobi. So I wanted a piece that sounded like a Salvation Army brass band, a funeral march piece, which that piece certainly does. Anyway, a few years ago, Ronan happened to be touring Kenya with Babu, and I said, "Look, can you do me a favor and just go and put a rose quartz crystal on my grandfather's grave," which he did. So I was very thankful for that. We hadn't yet recorded the track, that was a couple of years before we recorded it. So that's the story of "Forest Road." AAJ:
Similarly, another really striking track is "Awagawan." This is in memory of Gito Baloi
, correct? DL:
It is. It's a direct translation from the Sanskrit. It means "coming and going." It refers to the cycle of birth and rebirth in the Hindu scriptures. Gito and myself shared a room for a week at the Grahamstown Festival in 1996 or so, and got quite close walking back and forth from the gigs, hanging out and playing music together. Gito was a beautiful person, a very laid-back guy and a wonderful musician. He was friends with so many of the people that I know and have worked with. He was from Maputo, and I work with musicians from Maputo like Jaco Maria, the Paco brothers, and so many amazing Mozambicans. The beginning of the piece came pretty quickly to me, and we did early versions of that live when Ronan and I first started to play together. We didn't play it again for a long time, and then it came back up just before we went over to Europe. So I thought it was time to record it. So we recorded it on the second album. AAJ:
In terms of projects on the horizon, you mentioned a duo with Hein, and you mentioned also that you're going to also be recording yourself in a guitar and voice context. I noticed on YouTube that you had done a little bit of that work with Amanda Tiffin
I have just done an album with Amanda and Hein, and also with an amazing pianist and accordion player from Brazil named Guilherme Ribeiro. So we did an album of compositions of mine, Amanda's, Hein's, and Guilherme's. I think it's being mixed as we speak, but I'm not quite sure when it's going to be released. So that will be coming out quite soon. I'll also be going over to Europe, in February next year and recording with a Swedish saxophonist by the name of Per Thornberg. So there's plans to do some stuff there. You've got to keep busy! AAJ:
That's a very wide range of projects, then! DL:
Yes. I think South Africa is extremely diverse in music and there's so many different influences that are all different but yet all the same. You can hear they're from the same place but from different parts of the same place. That's the great thing about South African music. Since 1994, people have been able to get their stuff out there and have it played and heard. It's reached a wider global audience, and long may it continue.
Photo credit: Maya Morgan-Skillen Selected Discography:
Boereqanga, Made in South Africa
, (Nebula Bos Records, 1996)
Dave Ledbetter, Scorpio Rising
, (Lions Head Records, 1996)
Deep South, A Waiting Land
, (Self Released, 2013)
Deep South, Heartland
, (Self Released, 2015)