A reluctant caretaker of local culture

A reluctant caretaker of local culture

The City Hall Sessions is currently underway in Cape Town, with the final show in the concert series taking place on Saturday July 7. PETER TROMP spoke to one of Cape Town’s finest ERROL DYERS, who joins the likes of Khaya Mahlangu, Zolani Mahola from Freshlyground and Morris Goldberg in the musical celebration.

What does it mean to you to be part of the line-up at the City Hall Sessions?
It means a great deal because I have worked with a lot of the people involved in the Sessions over the years and it is wonderful to be part of something like this again. It is an opportunity to reconnect with the musical culture right now, get a couple of things right and get the music out there again. These efforts that bring local musicians together are wonderful, because anything can grow from it, and hopefully will. We can dream again and put our music and culture back on the map.
I have been involved with schools kids for the past 17 years where I try to keep them informed about the shared history and culture that have shaped our music, but the City Hall Sessions is a real opportunity to connect with a larger audience. I suppose I consider myself a reluctant caretaker of our local culture, but someone has to do it.

Your sound has been called many different things over the years, but how would describe it?
I can only say truthfully that it comes from experiencing many different musicians over the years like Sonny Groenewald, who was a predecessor of Abdullah Ibrahim, and from soaking up and living the local culture. I love American music and European music, but I had to stick to my roots, so I guess you can say I have the Cape Town sound. The culture is there for anybody to internalise; it speaks for itself. Anybody who does their homework can get their own sound from that.
I must say I do worry about young people and the way forward. It is easy for people to say ghoema is a beat or a sound, but there is a history there, a culture, a heritage and that shouldn’t be lost. You have to have your story, something that you can share with the world and even wake up the powers that be at any time.
I’m still hopeful that we can reconnect with our past. Reminding people of this is not an easy task, but I like it that way. It is a challenge. Anything worthwhile is.

What can audiences look forward to with your set at the City Hall Sessions?
I will perform three pieces, namely a poem, a solo song and a performance of my song ‘Lily Tripping’ with a big band. I get to show my poetry and theatrical side, which I love.

Would you say Capetonian musicians get enough opportunities like these to showcase their music to a local audience?
I suppose you have to work hard it. A lot of musicians do their own events, when they can afford it. I personally love to move around and expose my music to places like Barrydale and Napier, because it is always a surprise when people enjoy it as much as they do. You’ll have people sitting on the lawns, just soaking it up, with their kids in the pools or something like that. Maybe people are rediscovering that local can be lekker. It is always up to the musicians to make it all palatable to an audience.

What would you say are the benefits of being a self-taught musician?
I had to come from the street and I sometimes wish that a lot of the musicians who are taught would get out of the college and go out into the streets and get a sense of that realness.
I love classical music and jazz, but being schooled in that is no guarantee that you’ll necessarily tap into something authentic. Luckily I don’t have to sit in the street with three chords and die there. I guess I am one of the lucky ones that the local music that has influenced me has this infectious kind of sound, so I can still get it onto the radio.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career as a Capetonian musician?
A lot of people go out there on a whim and a prayer because of their love of music, but you also need to learn to take care of yourself and have a support structure in place. I live in the city and I thank God that I have a family that has supported me all of these years, because it’s not easy. You have to do the miles; that is the reality.
Perhaps it is simpler for the new guys because these days kids can do it on their own in their basements, because of technology, but that can also get in the way. We need to remember we have a shared history.
We need more guys who decide to do things from the heart, but you also have to strike a balance between not selling out and taking care of your basic needs.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently busy with Mark Fransman at his studio with songs that I have written over the years. Mark told me not to worry about the money, just to come in. For once I won’t be the purist. Instead of the strings, we can use a synthesizer. There will probably be a lot of African instruments on the album, but it will be about the words mostly. I write songs for a lot of people in theatre. Two weeks ago I wrote two songs for Zane Adams. The theatre for me is the big picture and I will continue to compose music in that area.

* Tickets prices range from R40 to R150. Book at Computicket.
There will be further City Hall Sessions in September. For more information, visit www.cityhallsessions.co.za.