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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs