News / Africa

South African Musician Laurie Levine Makes Landmark Folk Album

Darren Taylor
This is Part Five of a six-part series on South African Vocalists 
Continue to Parts:   
  1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

Out of the emotional wreckage of a failed six-year relationship has emerged a recording that critics are praising as one of the best folk albums ever to emerge from the southern tip of Africa.
 
Somewhat ruefully but with a slight smile, Laurie Levine acknowledged, “[Six Winters] is a break-up album and I suppose it charts six years of something.”

​That “something” that ended so traumatically provided fuel for songs with titles such as “So Long, Farewell,” “Hand to my Heart,” “Beautiful Loser” and the title track where she sings of her heart being “Six Winters Wide / Six Winters Deep.”
 
The record is a lush lament for a love gone wrong. Levine sings of homelessness; loss and hurt; sad and damaged people; betrayals; imprisonment; soaking rains; and a woman finding comfort in the dark, under covers, hiding from what would harm her.

Laurie Levine’s Six Winters album is set for a UK release, something that excites the artist – but she’s keeping her feet on the groundLaurie Levine’s Six Winters album is set for a UK release, something that excites the artist – but she’s keeping her feet on the ground
x
Laurie Levine’s Six Winters album is set for a UK release, something that excites the artist – but she’s keeping her feet on the ground
Laurie Levine’s Six Winters album is set for a UK release, something that excites the artist – but she’s keeping her feet on the ground
“I was very fragile at the time of writing this album,” she said. “It was quite a painful process [although] I wouldn’t say the writing of it was difficult; it was more the recording of it because you’re trying to kind of move on and then you’re focusing on these songs that are just really indulging in your feelings….”

Six Winters: a ‘breakup album,’ according to Levine (L. Levine)Six Winters: a ‘breakup album,’ according to Levine (L. Levine)
x
Six Winters: a ‘breakup album,’ according to Levine (L. Levine)
Six Winters: a ‘breakup album,’ according to Levine (L. Levine)
Perhaps surprisingly, given the record’s tortured roots, it’s a pleasure to listen to...for if Six Winters has a color, it’s the sepia tone of old America. It’s disconsolate without complaining; mournful but not pathetic.

Levine uses her plaintive voice and banjo, acoustic guitar, cello, violin, piano, accordion, and layered harmonies to create a work that sounds far more Nashville than her native Johannesburg.

“I love using traditional folk instruments…so it’s really got kind of an Americana / bluegrass sort of feel,” she explained.
Add to that odd bursts of electronica and electric guitar that crackle and crumble in the background, giving some of her songs a claustrophobic quality.
 
Fear and foreboding
 
Six Winters begins with one of its most memorable tracks, “Oh Brother.” Like much of the album, it’s dark and filled with fear and foreboding -- lyrically and instrumentally.
 
Levine sings, “I was broken / And when the light fell / It was dull” before sliding into a chorus of glorious defeat, “Ohhhhhhh, it’s a long way down / I’ve reached rock bottom / But I don’t know how to climb….”
 
And later, “I was cold / I couldn’t stand…. Oh my brother / I’m scared,” as a jarring electronic rhythm chatters malevolently behind her.
 
“This track, there was just something about it. There was a feeling, there was a mood, there was a pulse, and it’s actually slightly different to the rest of the album,” Levine told VOA. “It was quite a strong way to open the album and a strong statement.”
 
Paradise lost
 
Despite a piano that tinkles gently in the background, sweet harmonies and a dazzling banjo solo, “Heaven’s Door” bristles with impending doom, enhanced by a computerized, echoing drumbeat. It suggests that the pearly gates won’t swing open to the person waiting at their threshold; paradise could very well have been lost…and lost forever.
Lize Wiid, keys specialist and Levine’s close musical collaborator (L. Levine)Lize Wiid, keys specialist and Levine’s close musical collaborator (L. Levine)
x
Lize Wiid, keys specialist and Levine’s close musical collaborator (L. Levine)
Lize Wiid, keys specialist and Levine’s close musical collaborator (L. Levine)
“Heaven’s Door” was co-written with Lize Wiid, pianist, keyboardist and accordionist, and Levine’s closest musical collaborator in recent years.
 
“The song came from [Lize’s] piano melody and we really stayed true to that sound,” said the singer. “It does have some banjo and it does take a rootsy turn at some point, but I think it is quite different; I hadn’t ever written anything like that and I suppose it’s because it was based on someone else’s piano part.”
 
Even the most jaunty song on Six Winters, the infectious “Not Gonna Cry,” with its near reggae rhythm and insistence that no matter what, tears are not going to fall, is clouded by pessimism: Throughout it, Levine is waiting for a sun that never arrives and “Waiting for the end / Of this night to come.”
 
Defiant its beat is, but victory still seems some way off in a distance that remains discordant.
 
Ring of fire

Arguably the biggest call Levine made with regard to her latest album is to cover a song by inimitable country music and Americana icon, Johnny Cash.

A poster advertising performances by Levine and Wiid (L. Levine)A poster advertising performances by Levine and Wiid (L. Levine)
x
A poster advertising performances by Levine and Wiid (L. Levine)
A poster advertising performances by Levine and Wiid (L. Levine)
​ While preparing to record Six Winters, she listened to the Man in Black’s biggest hit, “Ring of Fire.”
 
“I just thought, ‘Oh, I’d like to play with this song,’” she said.
 
Levine also felt that thematically the Cash song, which warns of the perils of love, belonged on her record.
 
But others weren’t so sure. She acknowledged, “Many people tried to dissuade me and they said, ‘Don’t do it!’”
 
They were concerned that the Cash track was too much of a classic for her to try. She said she knew it was risky, but she had faith in her interpretation of “Ring of Fire.”
 
While Cash’s original chugs and churns with a rockabilly beat, and he growls the words in his trademark deep voice, Levine’s version meanders at a snail’s pace and her high-pitched trills are stretched to the point where they almost stop.
 
She has recreated, rather than covered, the Cash staple.
 
Glastonbury beckons
 
Levine’s latest work is garnering high praise. South African alternative rock legend Piet Botha recently said in Rolling Stone magazine that her music is “brilliant,” and her homeland’s music critics have labeled Six Winters a resounding success. The album also won a South African Music Award, the highest accolade in the local music industry, for production.

Laurie Levine is respected as one of the hardest working live performers in South Africa (L. Levine)Laurie Levine is respected as one of the hardest working live performers in South Africa (L. Levine)
x
Laurie Levine is respected as one of the hardest working live performers in South Africa (L. Levine)
Laurie Levine is respected as one of the hardest working live performers in South Africa (L. Levine)
Yet, Levine’s songs don’t get much airplay on national radio stations. The artist is willing to voice only a veiled criticism of them for this, saying she understands that the market for her brand of Americana-folk is “really small” in South Africa.
 
Botha, however, had no such reservations, describing radio stations as “an evil empire, with their formulas and playlists,” and adding, “Radio has become the enemy of music, and the Internet the savior of music.”
 
For salvation, or at least a wider and more appreciative embrace of her musical talents and exceptional songwriting, Levine is gazing at a vision that lies beyond her current borders.
 
Six Winters is about to be released in the UK, and she and her band will soon travel to London to talk about a possible appearance next year at one of the world’s premier music events.
 
Levine explained, “I was seen by someone who’s quite influential in the UK in terms of…Glastonbury [Music Festival]. He introduced us to an agent and we’re going to be going over there at the end of November, beginning of December. We’re releasing the album [in England as well]. So this is going to be a real chance to play for a different market and spread the music elsewhere.”
 
Realism
 
Levine has constantly had to battle for artistic recognition. It’s a fight that has steeled her, forged her in the purifying fires of disappointments and false promises. So her eyes do not sparkle at the mention of a possible international breakthrough.

Levine performs live on a South African radio station (L. Levine)Levine performs live on a South African radio station (L. Levine)
x
Levine performs live on a South African radio station (L. Levine)
Levine performs live on a South African radio station (L. Levine)
She laughed, “People kind of have this misconception that a musician goes to [London] and all of a sudden, boom; they’re playing at Shepherd’s Bush [Empire; top UK live music venue]! It doesn’t work like that,” she said.
 
Levine is deeply aware that the opportunity that seems to be shimmering on the horizon now in terms of exposure in Britain could very well prove to be a mirage. So there are no ostentatious gestures from her about the future, only reserved expressions of hope.
 
“I just want people there to enjoy what I’m doing,” she said. “South Africa’s certainly a place that I will always play; I love being here and I love playing here. But it would be really nice to make it viable to play in other places as well.”
 
Levine is too modest, or too careful, to suggest it, but what a start it would be to appear on a stage at Glastonbury Music Festival next June…  
                                                         
Watch Laurie Levine’s video for her song “Oh Brother” on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjeHQjrtQ3Q

Listen to profile of South African musician Laurie Levine.
Listen to profile of South African musician Laurie Levine. i
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

You May Like

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs