ART IS LIFE AND NOBODY SAID LIFE IS GOING TO BE EASY
During September my world was literally split in two. I worked on the music theatre production Smeltkroes for Woordfees TV and I was working on a wonderfully inspiring project at Paul Roos Gymnasium where I now work. I felt overworked at times, but also grateful that I had the opportunity to work on a music project again. I also realised that the “See and Be Seen” outreach project at Paul Roos I was working on slots perfectly into my nature, my interests and my experience as a social worker, coordinator and person that understands the value of the arts in society. I realised that I am super lucky to be able to juggle jobs, to say that I am stressed about work in a time when so many in my industry do not have any work to talk about. Not to say that the work necessarily relieves me entirely from the impact the pandemic has had on my finances. But knowing you are earning something, and that you have something meaningful to do, means the world.
I know so many of my friends and colleagues in the freelance and entertainment industries who had to make serious life changes during this time – many only really starting to feel the financial impact of this pandemic in 2021. People had to relocate, move in with their parents, find new jobs and re-explore their own ideas about themselves. I was thinking about how what you do for a living impacts your identity and the way you view yourself in relation to those around you. I know that once you are not able to do what it is you do – you by default start questioning your identity, your role, importance and place in your immediate family, your circle of friends, your community and even further, society. Artists have always battled to find their well-deserved and respected spot in all these respective communities, and it has never been easy. Very few people understand how artists are willing to sacrifice material gain and subsequent lifestyles all in the name of making art, music, theatre and the likes. That is why artists’ identities are very often almost singularly built around or upon their craft.
Artists must completely believe in what they do to be able to withstand all the questions, the doubt and at times judgement of others. Ever heard the questions, “So what is your real job?” or “So what do you do for money”? If you’re an artist, you are familiar with these condescending questions. And if you don’t make a lot of money, the assumption is always that you are not good at what you do. That you are somehow lacking in talent, business acumen etc. Why? Because the world and its people measure each other by money. The better you get at what you do, the more money you get paid, right? It does not always work like this in the world of art. Not necessarily.
So yes, why do we do it? Why does one become an artist? Here where I am sitting today, I am watching a group of 30 high-school learners participating in a visual art workshop, and I understand why. While watching these learners make their art works, I am witnessing calmness, inquisitiveness, openness to possibility, escapism, an exploration of and challenging of aesthetics, connection with others and most importantly self-exploration and the expression thereof. Being an artist is an outlook on and a way of life, a way of coping with life and a way of communicating. Once you have discovered the power of art it is hard to deny it ever again.
I want to tell all my friends and colleagues who are struggling with this time and all the necessary deviations to survive that we are resilient. We have years of experience in adapting, believing, persevering, challenging and being true to ourselves. In two years’ time we are going to look back and be amazed at how strong and resilient we are and how this time has forced us to discover hidden strengths and talents. We might even be amazed at how important and valuable our creative natures can be in the other disciplines we are forced to explore. The world craves creativity – especially now. The digital era has placed a huge emphasis on creativity inside the corporate world and there is so much scope for us to make ourselves of meaning within non-typical spaces.
Change is never easy. And transitional phases are the worst. They test our characters, our courage, our relationships – to name but a few. But change almost always resolves itself into something positive if it doesn’t kill us.
With three months left of this tiresome and difficult year – I am still adapting to change. I am still giving myself regular pep talks and find myself doing the same for others in my position. One thing I am not doing … is doubting myself or being angry at anything or anyone. There is no time for that. 2022 is around the corner and I am ready to see how change has resolved into something positive and probably unexpected. Embracing the unknown is part of the adventure. It has always been! Bring on 2022. The music? It will always find its way to me. Like water always settles where it wants and needs to – no matter how many obstacles are in its way.
Let us take on these last three months with chutzpah and hope. If you would like to check out Smeltkroes – be sure to tune in on Sunday afternoon 10 October at 15:45 on Channel 150 on DSTV!
View behind-the-scenes-footage below and Read more about the show here.
Lots of Love
LIFE AS IMPROVISATION
I always shy away from improv when playing with my fellow musicians. I get into a total panic if that moment arrives. I guess I’m afraid I will make a mistake or play something shitty, and that it will somehow reveal that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. You know that “imposter syndrome”, the new affliction every second person nowadays claims to have. My friend Schalk Joubert once said to me that songwriting is improvising and that I do it every day. I saw his point but did mention that songwriting is something I do in the privacy of my own company. 😉
When I started enjoying jazz, exposed myself to jazz musicians and subsequently started sharing the stage with them, I got to understand how the safety net of improv works. There is a basic structure, a progression, a melody, a rhythm – which frames your improvisational ideas. You can push and pull and move freely within this structure, play with, deviate from, and move back to the melody and groove however you want. You use your knowledge of and experience in theory to preempt or imagine what the notes you are going to play will sound like. You listen to all the players around you and respond to them responding to you. You converse. Sometimes a mistake can add a surprise element to the music and open a new pathway to a different beautiful melodic idea. Sometimes it is clear the mistake is a mistake. But you know there is always the next note – which allows you to swiftly recover and get back in the groove.
I realise life is like that. It is daunting. It requires bravery. One needs to rely on ones’ knowledge of and experience in the past to navigate the way forward. Not in any way to replicate or regurgitate the familiar, but to be able to dare with confidence. Improv in music is all about confidence. If you don’t have it, you won’t succeed. You must believe in every note that you execute. You must believe in what you have come to know until that exact moment in your life. You must trust yourself and be ok with the possibility of error. You must be ready to recover without flinching. Sound familiar?
Perhaps, if we think of life as a series of attempts to execute our plans. Plans built on dreams, hopes, goals, at times necessity and often a mere need to survive. Things happen. The unforeseen happens. Variables come into play, and we often need to adapt or worse get spiraled into a series of events, sometimes even feeling we have no control, that we are deviating from our goal. Sometimes we even start questioning our dreams and our capabilities in achieving them.
It’s all rooted in fear. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of being seen to be all but perfect. These are the things that hinder us from tackling the bull by the horns, from bravely improvising our way through a fabulous life.
I see the variables, the “unpredictable happenings” as the playing of others – the listening – the alternative ideas we can respond to and should. They are pathways that lead to doors that lead to new experiences, which in turn leads to new goals and new dreams. For each journey leads to a discovery of sorts. Life is motion. Nothing can stay the same when motion is in play. Not really, even if we want it to. Our dreams become but the structure, the framework in which we move – pushing and pulling – deviating from, and to come home to (often as changed people). It is only a guide. A place to start from, with the knowledge that we are in collaboration with life, and through this improvisational conversation we can end up absolutely anywhere.
I have been a full-time singer-songwriter since 2011. Before then I always juggled my music career with other jobs. I remember all the times people asked me what my real job is. This question would always make me uncomfortable. It made me feel that being a musician or a singer-songwriter is not really a legitimate job. Something I should let go of at some stage when I finally grow up and face reality. It made me question my value as a contributor to society. And to be honest I think it affected me, my music, and my journey in the music industry. I cared way too much what other people thought. After years of performing and releasing music I finally understand the value of what I do – not only the value it adds to my own life, but also to those of others. The journey to this point was long and hard, filled with many obstacles and frustrations – and believe me – a good dose of judgment from others – even friends, colleagues and family. Covid came, and suddenly all I have been working and fighting for came to a standstill.
It was like the roof of my house was ripped off. I had to look for another job again. I am grateful for that job, make no mistake. And I am enjoying it and learning a lot – about myself and my capabilities outside of the music world. Thankfully, it also forced me to (for the first time) really understand what music is to me. It is purpose. It is a reason to get up. It is release. A kinder world in which to process everything I experience, make sense of it, and let go of what does not serve me. This creative process helps me create something that others can connect with because it acknowledges and expresses their experiences too – things they don’t necessarily have the tools to express themselves. Let’s face it – we all look for ourselves in art. That is why we appreciate it. It mirrors us. It says what we can’t. It is us in relation to the world. Sometimes it even helps us see things in a new light.
Once I got over the panic of not being able to perform, I decided it was time to start loving what I do again. Simply. Like someone who just started out. Ignorant of the industry rules, politics and its prescriptive opinions. I realized that my relationship to my work is essential in the success of it -and the impact it can have. I must be 100% invested in what I do, and I need to trust my own creative instinct and choices.
And here comes my new music. A new and changed me, after the end of a relationship, turning 40, 22 years in the music industry, career successes, failures, ups and downs. After being angry, doubting myself, acknowledging fear of rejection and trust issues, letting go of people and life habits that don’t serve me, confronting myself, my faults and weaknesses – and accepting that things that happen have an impact, and that I should not be afraid of letting that show in my music. Some of us create musical spaces wherein people can escape from reality. We do need light material when things get hard. Others create spaces wherein people can reflect on reality. I believe we are in a time where we need to stand up for what we believe in. The time of escaping and avoiding is over.
In my first music release I am expressing matters of the heart – dark and light. I decided to keep a balance between the easy and not-so-easy material. I am landing softly. But I am planning to bring in some serious topics in my next release – songs in which I express my feelings about all that we have been confronted with over the last couple of months. Inequality. Conflict. Fear. Anger. Uprisings. Political power shifts and changes. Loss. A sense of urgency – of needing to unite and stand up for what we want: work, economic stability, peace, love, equality, justice, freedom to be who we are, acceptance, tolerance, an opportunity to grow.
The last year and a half have been hard, it’s been real, and I believe necessary to catapult us into the change this world needs to see. Things are not going to change overnight. But if we want it, we are going to have to step up and start instigating it. I guess internal change is a good place to start before we get our hands dirty (in a good way of course), stop shouting comments from the side lines, and become active agents of change in our communities. The arts have always been a powerful catalyst in times of change. I am happy to be a part of this community during this period in human history. I am ready to embrace my purpose. Thanks for being here, for being a part of my journey and allowing me to be a part of yours. I hope you enjoy season 1 (Behold, My Heart), and I look forward to sharing the next season in this music series with you! Feel free to comment and share your thoughts with me. I would love to hear your stories, your experiences, and ideas on how we can start making a difference in these turbulent times.