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Live Band/DJ Bookings | Contact Freshlyground Management

August 27, 2008 – 17:21 by John

Looking for a band or artist? Overtone handles all the top South African artists, from live bands and DJs to performance and entertainment art. Whether it’s for a corporate event, a public event, festival or concert, contact Freshlyground. Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria/Tshwane are the places to be this summer as we get ready to dance with Freshlyground, South Africa’s premeiere afro-pop live act. Let’s get the South African summer on the go!

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    Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, November 2002: a little-known band of young performers has just released their first album and are mere upstarts in the diverse business that the South African
    music industry is. Their hysterical groupies aside, most bystanders might dismiss them to the
    hostilities of the country’s musical environment – like apartheid, the range of tastes keeps a
    distance between genres. Eleven national languages, lingering ethnic prejudices and a relatively
    small overall population keep the segments small. How does a band pull it off?

    When Freshlyground return to Kirstenbosch in November 2005 the scene that surrounds the
    performance is nothing short of spectacular: for the eight thousand available seats, the queue
    stretches kilometres from the gate. Traffic is held up in surrounding suburbs and during the
    concert, people sit outside the venue to listen to what they can of the music. Two thousand are
    turned away at the door. In a country where the complexity of musical taste reflects its social
    structure, Freshlyground’s is a story of how to overcome the impossible.

    How does a band pull it off? For each of the seven members of Freshlyground, this
    band is about more than music. From each of their backgrounds comes a unique version of “being
    African”. When they rehearse, each of their styles, flavours, colours and attitudes is swirled into
    a process not unlike nuclear fission – and the result is not unlike an atomic blast. “Sheer
    exuberance”, “passion”, “red-hot energy” are the first things that come out of reviewers’ keyboards,
    closely followed by “honesty”, “depth” and “integrity”. The individuality of each member is part
    of the creativity in each track and tune. The process of reaching a consensus is democratic. And
    the results have been astonishing.
    Freshlyground adds violin and flute to the familiar band instrumentation of bass, drums, keys
    and guitar, and sometimes throws in the mbira, a traditional African “thumb piano” and sax. So
    typical of African groups, their dance routines are loosely choreographed to allow space for
    spontaneity, which comes with live-wire energy. “Forget about your destiny, get off your feet and
    live!” the lead singer Zolani sings, and she knows exactly how to make an audience go wild.

    Zolani comes from a small town in the Eastern Cape, where Xhosa is the spoken language. She
    sings in Xhosa or English, or both. The messages embedded in her words are a testimony of the
    challenges facing South Africa. In “Nomvula”, the title track of Freshlyground’s most recent
    album, she relates a story of her upbringing in a home without a mother, of her admiration for
    her father, and of the woman she’s become. Sung in Xhosa, the words resonate through the
    townships. Her English lyrics are poetic and modern, portraying an intelligence for language that
    may have been honed studying Shakespeare at drama school at the University of Cape Town. The
    mingle between the two tongues flows easily from her lips – like most of her compatriots she’s
    perfectly at home using two languages.

    She had met Aron (keys) at the University of Cape Town, where he was also studying drama, but
    it was only three years later that she watched him and Simon (flute, mbira, sax) performing at a
    small smoky venue in Observatory, Cape Town’s suburb of eccentricity. In an act that would change
    the music scene in South Africa forever, she got up on stage and lyrically improvised to their
    tunes. They never looked back, and Freshlyground was born.

    Aron grew up on a farm in the Karoo, the harsh desert that surrounds Cape Town and which,
    coincidentally, produced the largest diamond ever mined. “There’s nothing out there but sheep,”
    he laughs “so your imagination is as free as you want it to be.” Starting a band was a childhood
    fantasy, moving to the bright lights of Cape Town gave him the opportunity.

    Simon, who moved to Cape Town to study English, was classically trained in the flute but is most
    comfortable in an African band. While he feels his classical training has given him the articulacy
    he impresses onto the group, it is because of his love for the magical music of his home, Zimbabwe,
    that he finds himself in Freshlyground. In traditional Shona custom, the mbira is played to
    summon ancestral spirits to a gathering. Simon plays in the typical Zimbabwean style
    and its input to the band’s creative processes in its formative early stages was, perhaps, the secret
    to the Freshlyground sound.

    And the Freshlyground sound has been getting louder. Since the release of Jika Jika and that
    first gig at the beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens, under the tiimeless gaze of Table Mountain, their
    star has been rapidly on the rise. Performing alongside Femi Kuti, Miriam Makeba and Stanley
    Clarke, they made their mark at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Alongside Oliver Mtukudzi and
    Jonathan Butler at the Robben Island African Music Festival. They were invited to play in
    Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Japan, Germany, Belgium and Holland. And by
    the time they recorded their second album, Nomvula (“After the Rain”) Freshlyground had come to terms with their natural status as representatives of their country’s diversity.

    Nomvula’s magnetism might come from the fine balance it achieves between vivacious, catchy
    melodies and deeply introspective ballads. Maybe it’s the harmony between the various elements
    in the group, or the level of musical comfort among them. Whatever it is, this is the album that
    has brazenly announced Freshlyground’s arrival on the doorstep of the world. “Doo Be Doo” is
    probably the most catchy tune ever written. With this single, a portrait of life through rose-
    coloured spectacles, Freshlyground had the South African public in the palms of their hands.
    It was the most played song of 2005. And as people got to listening to the rest of the Album,
    the ripples in the pond turned into waves.

    In South Africa, records fell (the album’s second single, “I’d like” stayed at number one on the
    5FM pop-charts for three consecutive weeks), albums sold (despite the heavy pirating climate,
    150 000 CD’s were bought over the counter) and the gigs piled up (in all, two hundred in 2005).
    Every radio station in the country is playing their music. Through it all, the guys have maintained
    their senses of individual identity. Through it all they’ve kept their focus and their desire to play
    what reflects their uniqueness, themselves.

    In November 2005 Freshlyground played an exclusive gig to raise funds and awareness for the
    Desmond Tutu Foundation, a charity that facilitates the distribution of antiretroviral drugs to
    HIV-positive people in the poorest areas of the country. Their involvement in the cause is a simple
    reflection of their connection with the gritty reality of life for so many in Africa. “We weren’t
    obliged to do that gig,” says Josh (bass), “we needed to do it.” They’ve committed themselves
    to making it an annual event.

    Judging by the variety of sounds that come out of his guitar, Julio (“Gugs”) has a multiple
    personality disorder. Maybe that’s what happens when you grow up in Portuguese-speaking
    Mozambique, train in technical drawing and then decide to go and study Jazz guitar in Cape
    Town. But for it, Freshlyground have a lead guitarist with fingers that bring other-worldly dimensions
    to their music. Kyla-Rose studied jazz at UCT too. It’s her plucking on the violin we hear in
    “Nomvula”. Unlikely for a white girl from Jo-burg, it’s her African dancing, a perfect compliment
    to Zolani’s, that’s set her apart and earned her the respect of the township folk. The rhythm
    combination of Josh on bass and Pete on the drums brings a depth to the band – Josh has played
    with Johnny Clegg and Pete with Mango Groove. Both from Cape Town, they’re the seasoned
    anti-apartheid Afro-popsters and their weight on stage is the balast that permits the front-stage
    spontaneity that’s lapped up by audiences wherever they go.

    Everywhere they go, Freshlyground are a sensation. In South Africa audiences of every race cram
    in to see them. Old people get up and dance. Hip black teenagers sing to their lyrics. White kids
    emulate their moves. The very presence of this band in South Africa is the promise of a harmonious
    future. But they don’t sit still for the picture. Sony BMG have lured them to the UK and Europe,
    where they’re set to release “Nomvula” in July. There will be concerts in the UK, France, Italy,
    Germany and Belgium. They’ll be drawing the crowds as they go, making surprisingly good
    impressions, remarkably large impacts. That’s what they’ve done all along. Bridged historical
    divides, defied musical stereotypes. And it’s about time an Afro-pop band took some of Africa’s
    magical music to the world. It’s about time.

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