News / Africa

    Young Singer Natasha Meister Hailed as Africa’s Blues Queen

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


    When she was a teenager a few years ago, Natasha Meister strolled into a hazy bar in the country of her birth, Canada. She and her elder sister, Cherie, were there to perform in a music competition.
     
    The sisters had been singing gospel music since they were toddlers. But, unbeknown to them, they’d signed up to compete with some of the area’s best amateur blues artists.
    ​The awestruck teens walked into a crescendo of electric guitars, growling vocals and leather clad men singing about unfaithful women, liquor-soaked nights, murder, redemption and lost love.
     
    “We didn’t know it was like a full on blues competition with full on blues bands and everything, and we came on [stage] doing our gospel music! People were like, ‘What’s going on?’ That’s when I heard the blues for the first time,” said Meister.
     
    Amid the smell of beer, sweat and personal pain, she underwent a life-changing experience.
    Natasha Meister: Canadian by birth, but practicing stunning blues guitar in Africa (Natasha Meister)Natasha Meister: Canadian by birth, but practicing stunning blues guitar in Africa (Natasha Meister)
    x
    Natasha Meister: Canadian by birth, but practicing stunning blues guitar in Africa (Natasha Meister)
    Natasha Meister: Canadian by birth, but practicing stunning blues guitar in Africa (Natasha Meister)
    “I remember watching a guy who was in his early 20s. He was playing amazing blues guitar with this amazing band, and people were just cheering and getting off on it, and I thought to myself, ‘I want to do that….’” Meister recalled.
     
    Encouraged by her father, who bought her an acoustic guitar and taught her some basic chords, she began her blues education. She plunged into the works of legendary American blues guitar maestros BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Guy, and soul divas Aretha Franklin and Etta James.

    These were her teachers.
     
    “I’ve never actually gone for proper guitar lessons or vocal lessons. I’ve just listened to a lot of music, and it’s just all about the feel and the groove. It just has to feel good and that’s what it’s always been about for me,” Meister said.
     
    Passions
     
    But it’s two different things to love singing the blues and playing electric guitar as a teenager and actually doing it to the point where you become the first woman in Africa to be endorsed by legendary American guitar company, Fender.

    Despite her youth, Meister believes she has every right to write and sing the blues (Courtesy Natasha Meister)Despite her youth, Meister believes she has every right to write and sing the blues (Courtesy Natasha Meister)
    x
    Despite her youth, Meister believes she has every right to write and sing the blues (Courtesy Natasha Meister)
    Despite her youth, Meister believes she has every right to write and sing the blues (Courtesy Natasha Meister)

    Yet this is exactly what the 21-year-old Meister, based in Cape Town, has achieved, placing her in illustrious company. Many great guitarists have used, and continue to use, Fenders – including rock music’s holy triumvirate of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck.
     
    Not that Meister for one second believes that she deserves to be in this pantheon of guitar masters.
     
    “I’m still learning; every day I learn something new. Playing guitar and singing are my passions. I honestly don’t know where my skill came from. I’ve just been given this talent and I’m using it; that’s all I can say,” she told VOA after a recent rousing performance.
     
    Sadness and suffering
     
    Meister feels the electric guitar is an extension of her body and uses it to enhance her humanity.
    Natasha Meister with her beloved electric guitar, the first woman in Africa to be endorsed by Fender guitars(Courtesy Natasha Meister)Natasha Meister with her beloved electric guitar, the first woman in Africa to be endorsed by Fender guitars(Courtesy Natasha Meister)
    x
    Natasha Meister with her beloved electric guitar, the first woman in Africa to be endorsed by Fender guitars(Courtesy Natasha Meister)
    Natasha Meister with her beloved electric guitar, the first woman in Africa to be endorsed by Fender guitars(Courtesy Natasha Meister)
    “I love playing the guitar, and electric guitar especially, because it’s the best way for me to express my emotions – whether frustration, anger or joy, the guitar for me is the perfect instrument to do this.”
     
    In “Drowning,” a key track from her debut album, Half Way, Meister sings in a sultry tone similar to that of internationally acclaimed vocalist Norah Jones, “I just can’t think of anything better / Than sitting here on the floor / In the dark / Humming this tune / And strumming my guitar.”
     
    Singing and playing guitar also allow her to channel sadness and suffering.
     
    “Once in a while / I just don’t care / The pain is hard to bear / Now suddenly I’m scared…. I’m half way on my way / To nowhere,” Meister sings on the title song of her new record.
     
    “A lot of people ask me how can I play the blues, how can I understand the blues when I’m only 21? You know, I haven’t been through all these hardships in life but I mean I have my own little hardships and I also get sad sometimes,” she explained.
     
    Shelter
     
    Meister described Half Way as blues, with a bit of pop and rock added. “I’m kind of experimenting with my sound at the moment,” she said.

    Meister performs at Kirstenbosch, South Africa (Courtesy Natasha Meister)Meister performs at Kirstenbosch, South Africa (Courtesy Natasha Meister)
    x
    Meister performs at Kirstenbosch, South Africa (Courtesy Natasha Meister)
    Meister performs at Kirstenbosch, South Africa (Courtesy Natasha Meister)
    The album is a mellow mix of easy-on-the ear blues that accentuates her rich, pure voice and her languid, almost liquid guitar playing. Her guitar work is never flashy.
     
    Her lyrics speak of the joy of a new relationship; regret at a failed one; self-doubt but also optimism and hope. What always shines through in her songs is her belief in music as her savior, her shelter from harm.
     
    Meister clearly has her own style but acknowledged that she’s tempted to model herself on a modern-day blues hero. “I’m a huge fan of John Mayer; I think he’s got one of the greatest feels for blues guitar,” she said.
     
    Sincerity
     
    Meister is extremely attractive and exudes confidence, and she could easily don a figure-hugging outfit, perhaps as a gyrating, pouting member of a girl group selling records based on their sexy appearance rather than any superior musical talent.
     
    She acknowledged, “I’ve thought about like going that totally commercial route, like all about body image and the dance and techno stuff you hear on radio every day; you know, like I could make lots of money and I could hit the big time real quick….”

    But she hastened to add, “I’d be selling myself short and that’s not what I want to do. I’d rather take the long road and do what I love and see what happens, without becoming something I really am not…I don’t think I’ll ever move completely away from the blues. There’s just something so pure about it, as a musical genre. It’s just such sincere music.”
     
    Good responses
     
    Right now, Meister and her band are performing all over South Africa, wherever they’re able to get gigs.
     
    “I don’t want to sound brash, but we are hoping to go international, to go overseas to play in Germany and maybe even the United States. We’ve received good responses from both those countries,” she said, smiling.
     
    Currently, Meister’s immersed in writing new material.

    Meister belting out the blues at a recent live performance in South Africa (Courtesy Natasha Meister)Meister belting out the blues at a recent live performance in South Africa (Courtesy Natasha Meister)
    x
    Meister belting out the blues at a recent live performance in South Africa (Courtesy Natasha Meister)
    Meister belting out the blues at a recent live performance in South Africa (Courtesy Natasha Meister)
    “It’s very exciting and I’m hoping to get a second album out soon. Of course I’d love to be signed by a record label, if the opportunity ever comes along, but I wouldn’t want that to mean that I have to change my sound in a major way,” she said.

    ​ One of her favorite songs on Half Way is “Safe in the silence.” But, standing on a stage in front of hundreds of festival goers, her guitar moaning deliciously and her honeyed voice washing over the crowd, it’s unlikely that Natasha Meister ever will be. 

    Listen to profile of South African vocalist Natasha Meister
    Listen to profile of South African vocalist Natasha Meister i
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    You May Like

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.