INTERVIEW: Hezron Chetty

South Africa often plays host to unconventional artists. Violinist Hezron Chetty is one of them. His unique style of music fuses punk, folk, and classical violin pieces into an evocative mass of soaring melodies and breathless instrumental pieces. Following the release of his debut album, we decide to chat to him about where he gets his inspiration from and how influential his father was in setting him on this path.

I think the burning question here is why did you decide to start making violin music? It is a rather unconventional choice considering the nature of the South African music scene and how it leans towards much more commercial sounds.

I am an artist in every sense of the word. It never occurred to me to choose an instrument that would sell or a career that would give me stability. I simply love the violin and could not possibly see myself doing anything else except what I do. Since I was a kid, people tried telling me to choose something that would be easier and more accessible to the mainstream. Thankfully I had the strength to believe in myself, and I knew it would pay off because people respect courage. I think most music scenes around the world tend to lean towards commercial music – it makes the most amount of profit for the record labels. It is an uphill battle but I intend on proving that I can make it with my violin!

I’m going to assume that, based on your skill with the violin and your youth, that you started playing the violin at a young age? What made you choose that particular instrument as opposed to the traditional choices of guitar or piano? Or was it more of a forced decision?

Before I discovered the violin, I was playing an Indian instrument called the harmonium. My dad was a strict disciplinarian but always gave me the choice, which when made he forced me to stick with. I started playing the violin after hearing it being played by a boy at school one afternoon. That weekend my father asked me whether I wanted to learn a different instrument and I chose the violin. I was only 8 years old, and stuck to a rigorous schedule. My father would come to my lessons, and if I made mistakes or didn’t practice for long enough I would get a beating.

The interesting thing about your music is how you fuse together a multitude of genres and sounds that don’t traditionally get combined. What kind of artist did you grow up listening to that made you want to fuse classical music with the rhythm of traditional folk music and the almost in-your-face “fuck normal conventions” ethos of punk?

I grew up listening to Led Zepplin, Cream, Rod Stewart, The Beatles, Jim Reeves, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Stephane Grappeli, Django Reinhardt, The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, Charlie Parker, Bill Withers, The Who, Bread, Bad Company, Robert Johnson, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, King Crimson, The Doors, Metallica, Pharoah Monche, Joy Division and so many more. My life has been filled with great bands and the fact that most of them didn’t have a violinist didn’t stop me from wanting to incorporate their influence in my style.  The `fuck normal convention’ twist is just my personality and what drives me to a large degree. Life is way too boring to simply copy other bands and to sound like someone else. I create my own sound.

I guess the next question to ask would be from where you draw inspiration for such unique music? Especially since your music is based around three distinct genre groups that hardly ever operate in the same circles.

I draw inspiration from the awesome people in my life. I am friends with a colourful variety of people, including gangsters, priests, cops, doctors, artists, lawyers, judges, club owners, school teachers and musicians. My music speaks to people from all walks of life because everyone I get to know somehow has an impact on me. And I play what I experience and feel based strongly on human interactions. I enjoy learning from people, how they live, how we all ultimately have the same destination but take such different routes to get there.

I can imagine that the process of creating your music must be quite difficult. Could you walk us through how exactly you would create a song like “Violince In Africa”?

The melody of a new song will come to me, borne from a certain feeling or a question I find myself asking. “Violince in Africa” jumped at me after a journey I took into town in Durban, watching the harsh environments people thrive in, and the contrasting satisfaction they seemed to have with life. I take these feelings and open with the intro of plucking on the strings (my own unique style of pizzicato I have developed) to lay down the basic beat, a slightly African feel in this case, which is recorded on my loop station. Then I lay down the strum on my violin, and press record – this lays the foundation for the song. I then start plucking the melody line and get the feel of the song. It takes me on its own course, and the drums and bass fit in as I play. The cycle continues, building intensity and is very similar to a verse, chorus, verse, chorus songwriting method. I then lay the violin down in the bridge and loop that as well. Finally, I have the finished product that I can improvise on top of. It all seems very tricky but I suggest that people come check the show out for themselves to see how it is done, live!

Furthermore, how do you translate these songs from being studio creations to working on the live stage?

When I recorded the songs with the producer, Rudi Greyvenstein from Vervet Underground Studios, I told him that I need to be able to recreate all of the songs live, without any backing tracks. We accomplished this beautifully, as the final product on stage sounds pretty identical to the songs on my album.

I moved to Cape Town and started rehearsal with my band members who had learned the songs before-hand. Basically, I lay the first loop down and I then send a click track out  of my Boss RC 300 Loop Station to my drummer’s in-ear monitors. He then signals to me if the click is in tempo and the signal is also bounced to my bass player. It was complicated at first, but once we got the hang of it the flow came naturally. I can’t lie – rehearsals are intense and it takes hours of practice to get it right.

Your music is catching the attention of many who don’t typically like instrumental music. How does it feel to be noticed by so many people who would typically ignore someone that solely played the violin and failed to include any kind of vocals?

I believe that people in South Africa are unfortunately not exposed to much instrumental music. Promoters are scared to book instrumental bands at festivals or live venues, and if they do it is usually just one instrumental act competing against plenty of vocal acts. I am not here to be noticed solely as an instrumentalist. I am here to be noticed as a musician that is changing the face of the South African music scene by showing people that they can like something that isn’t necessarily mainstream. I think the attitude in my music translates to the feeling people get from vocal-driven songs – I am saying a whole lot with merely a melody.

Do you think there is an untapped market in South Africa for unique instrumental music such as yours?

Most definitely! The proof is in my album release and how successful it has been.

Has it been difficult for you to gain traction in South Africa’s music scene considering the fact that people tend to give attention to indie-pop acts rather than solo violinists?

It was challenging in the beginning when I was battling to define my place as a violinist-led band in the SA music scene. People would ask what genre I am, and had no idea what I was describing when I tried to explain my sound. Fortunately for me, I have made many good contacts and friends in the industry, many of whom believed in my work and respect my courage. A few of these individuals took a leap of well-founded faith and put me on stage with other well-known acts, and in doing so saw the thrilled reaction of the audience. The success of my album followed from there, as people demanded to see more of me on local stages. It took only 6 months since the release of The Fallacy of Composition to reach the major festival stages in SA.

With this thought in mind, what is your opinion on the South African music industry?

The SA music scene is growing exponentially and we are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world. There are many talented, feisty people in SA who don’t see us as disadvantaged at all which we aren’t.  We are producing music that is breaking boundaries worldwide.  I was having a chat with my brother, M`rirho Luja (from BCUC) at Littlegig Festival this year, and he said something that I have always believed in: “We will be old and grey when we see the fruits of our efforts, but we would have built the pathway for all the young musicians in this country”. There is a lot of rubble still clogging the arteries of progress in SA music, but I am part of the movement of change. And it all starts with changing people’s minds.

Finally, was there any defining moment in your life where you knew that your calling was to be a musician over anything else?

It is an ongoing moment really. I am only happy when I play my violin. Every time I pick up this amazing instrument and play, my troubles dissolve and I feel like I can conquer the world. Every time I experience this, I know that this is all I am meant to be doing, and it generally lasts me long enough until the next time I decide to play. I have also come to realise that my calling is not only to be a musician, but also to help the music scene in South Africa expand its horizons. I realised this after I returned from London in 2011 after living there for many years. London taught me how a music industry should work. My ethos is as follows: learn, practice and initiate.

 

 

2016’s Most Anticipated 30 Albums!

Each year kicks off with much excitement regarding new dreams, new adventures, new challenges and most importantly in our opinion brand new album releases to get excited about.

We compiled our Top 30 most anticipated album, and EP, releases for the year in no particular order, please feel free to comment with albums or EPs you are excited about! Continue reading 2016’s Most Anticipated 30 Albums!

Fokofpolisiekar Live At The Assembly

With the several times that I have attended The Assembly; I have seen it in many shapes and forms. I have seen it bustling with romanticised energy before a Matthew Mole show, bursting with frantic energy as the hard electro beats of HAEZER deliver carnage to the dance floor, and I’ve seen it close to being completely empty on a Friday evening. However, nothing had prepared me for the energy that coursed through The Assembly for the launch of Fokofpolisiekar’s “Dagdronk”. Arriving at the pre-show media event gives you a different glimpse into the event, as the various journalist and other music industry insiders mingled and passed pleasantries. Obviously, as the newcomer to the South African music journalist scene, I watched apprehensively from the bar nervously sipping on my complimentary bottle of Dagdronk – which was fantastic. It was eventually time for my interview with Fokofpolsiekar, which went spectacularly and will shortly be available for your reading pleasure.

Upon emerging from The Assembly’s backstage area, the venue had begun filling up slightly as DJ Johnny Rehab (Johnny De Ridder) begun spinning some upbeat indie and rock ‘n roll tunes, with a handful of commercial rock songs and pop hits thrown in just to throw down some fitting music to get the mood right. A couple of heavier classic metal songs were thrown in for good measure, but most people seemed preoccupied with committing to the sole goal of getting obliterated before the bands begun playing. At just after ten, the bar area was packed as DJ Valkie Van Coke & Crop Top begun taking advantage of their audience drunken state with the likes of Skrillex, Halestorm, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Metallica, Iggy Azalea, and many others pumping out of the sound system.

It was when De Wallen took the stage at 11 when things started to get interesting. The five piece rock ‘n roll band hailing from Stellenbosch has been renowned for their onstage theatrics, especially from their lead singer. Nothing had prepared me for what I was about to witness, and I still have trouble processing exactly what happened. All I remember is that there was some point where Jeandré Swanepoel decided it was necessary to pelvic thrust the drum set. The sexual tension between Swanepoel and the females in the front was almost palpable. That being said, De Wallen know how to put on a show and there is no denying their musical talent as they sped through a set-list designed to get the crowd riled up for the carnage that would happen when Fokofpolisiekar took to the stage.

There was a collective realisation of “heir kom die kuk” when the lights went completely black shortly before Fokofpolisiekar took to the stage, and Francios Van Coke launched himself into the crowd. Fokofpolisiekar showed their true form as they played through a set-list that encompassed all the classic songs, and a couple of new ones. Songs like “Bid Vir My”, “Brand Suid-Afrika” and “Vernietig jouself” launched the crowd into a frenzy as the true nature of an Afrikaans punk show manifested itself in a violent mosh pit that threatened to launch itself into the people on the outskirts of the crowd whom weren’t so interested in being mauled by strangers.

Francios Van Coke commanded a tremendous stage presence with mic swings that would make Adam Lazzara proud, and an intrinsic understanding of how to connect with the crowd. There were few moments when he wasn’t performing his signature air kicks or moving around the stage to sing to different parts of the audience. There were many moments when he’d stand on the railings and lean into the crowd while belting out the lyrics. Wynard Myburgh also shunned the traditional bassist behaviour and often moved to the sides of the stage to high 5 fans, or get them to clap along.

Closing on the trifecta of “Antibiotika”, “Ek Skyn (Heilig)” and “Fokofpolisiekar” – which had surprise guest vocals from Jack Parow – whipped the crowd into a frenzy which culminated in many sweaty individuals shooting for the bar or the cool evening breeze as soon as Fokofpolisiekar had finished their set. With this show, Fokofpolisiekar proved why their rag-tag group of musicians was able to come together in 2003 in the backstreets of Belville and start a band that would mould the South African music scene.

Metallica Review (24th April 2013 Bellville Velodrome, Cape Town)

Written by Kenneth Keiser

Photography by Willim Welsyn, courtesy of Rolling Stone South Africa

 

Metallica is a multi-platinum metal band proclaimed to be the most influential metal band of the century. They arrived in Cape Town on the 24th April to play the first of two shows at the Bellville Velodrome to their “Cape Town family”, as James Hetfield himself told the crowd. They were humble enough to offer a South African band an opening slot with their “Metallica opening band search”, but little did we know that the genre “metal” has been misunderstood by most of the voters in South Africa. The winner was Afrikaans alternative rockers Van Coke Kartel. Continue reading Metallica Review (24th April 2013 Bellville Velodrome, Cape Town)

…A Tribute For All | Metallica tribute at Mercury

Written By: Kenneth Keiser

Metallica, one band that has been claimed to be the world’s most influential band of all time has inspired four well known musicians here in Cape Town to show tribute to the masters themselves by creating an excellent imitation of the world known band.

There was talk amongst friends and fellow musicians that there will be this show at Mercury on the 9th November, I was told that there will be a Metallica tribute band performing and apparently they have only done two shows in the past… as I heard that I immediately got hooked to the idea and planned my Friday night of madness to the tee. Continue reading …A Tribute For All | Metallica tribute at Mercury

Metallica Tour South Africa in April 2013

Metallica is an American heavy metal band, whose releases include fast tempos, instrumentals, and aggressive musicianship that placed them as one of the founding “big four” of thrash metal alongside Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax.

The band earned a growing fan-base in the underground music community and critical acclaim with its third album Master of Puppets (1986), described as one of the most influential and “heavy” thrash metal albums.

Continue reading Metallica Tour South Africa in April 2013