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

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, No voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve and do not want to take a risk by endorsing independence More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country 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.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid