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

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.