You know you’re committed when you tune into the last precious days of an album being a band’s definitive product before the eruption of a new one relegates it to recovery, and it makes you cherish it all the more. It’s exactly inside this antici
a retrospective is ripe.
On the eve of Foto Na Dans’s new release I’m listening to “Intervensie” a lot, with a certain wry joy and a new appreciation for an incredibly balanced debut that has carried me though my own imbalances more than once (sometimes kicking and screaming, ja.) They have their own criticisms of its placement in their musical motif, but to my mind the collection of songs is both a spiritual biography and a kindergarten of elements that will find and refine itself into an unmistakably unique South African sound that knows the importance of the silence between notes.
The first bars of Oorywerige Gelowige open with a brittle air of expectancy that expands into a surge of strength. It’s an approach employed in breaths and breaks throughout the album. Between anthemic, singular notes and floods of full, five-piece sound, the poignant and powerful music is sprinkled with symbols of self realisation, restraint, and strains of self doubt. It’s run-through with focused emotional insights full of comfort and disconcertion, blood, belief, and deliverance from both. As an inaugural offering, the album is not a manifesto, but it has the essence of one in its elliptical intentions; and in hindsight, i believe, it will be recognized for its lucid insights that already prophecy Foto Na Dans’s feathering and unfolding.
Musically, the album faces the facts of life – separation, union, expansion, isolation, destruction, creation, continuation. Maybe, then, a discography that starts with “Intervensie” begs to continue with something associative like "Evolusie", but it’s more likely that the new EP will have an utterly poetic, slightly obscure title that makes perfect sense only on reflection. Their poetry is fluid, not stolid, after all. Their song names and stand-alone phrases don’t create billboards with dictatorial statements, they create psycho-spiritual co-ordinates that change as you change. Besides, some of their brightest brilliance is subversive; at the very beginning of a swelling journey, they’re already too sophisticated and seriously artful to wallow in self-congratulatory self-reference. Instead of talking to themselves or at the world, they start a conversation with it. They talk about things that want out, and things that remain true no matter how shaken one's core is. Things like the autumnal logic in Vergeet Van My and the exigent expulsion in Die Wals. Things that more and more people relate to.
Flying forty five degrees uphill towards the top since they launched “Intervensie” late last year, they had every right to believe their lyrics held a self-fulfilling prophecy, for better or for worse. The album sold with incremental intensity, the band got SAMA nods, MK 89 broadcast them, their Facebook fan-count got fatter by the show and festivals gobbled them up like a Box Street whore (respek, Jaxon Rice, for that line!). They believed, we believed, but we all bled for it, too. With admittedly no respect at all to the actual chronology of their lyrical narrative (or the order of the songs on the album), i'll go as far as to say it's a long journey from the sentiments in “Hou jou hande bymekaar / en glo die roes sal bedaar” to “My gedagtes behoort agter tralies / Daar’s net plek vir een in my kis”, and they had to take it. More than once. Metaphorically and literally, it seemed words manifested in reality; and while it wasn’t something they first appreciated, a distinct growth period was gifted them late summer 2008. Neither would you, really, no matter how much you believe in your music - it’s very difficult to argue with silence when there are no notes between to differentiate it from forever.
Forever didn't last long. Though the boys were forced to bend to the will of the Fates for a few worrying months while Le-Roi nursed ailing vocal chords, they'd been planning some breaks from public performance to write and record new material and catch up with their non-musical commitments, anyway. The infection effectively escalated their sabbatical, prolonged their silence and changed their tune. Right now, they’re putting finesse and power into recording the final throes of what has been a tumultuous and redefining period for them.
Guitarist Neil Basson on the changes:
“The incident evoked particular emotions, which actually inspired the writing process and steered the whole project into a new direction. I think that bands often find themselves in a comfortable groove that works; the hard part is breaking away and trying something new without the guaranteed success experienced before.”
“Our previous album had too many loose ends. Songs and concepts were a bit divergent, not really successfully capturing the ethos of our convictions concerning the musical integrity and message. We don’t regret releasing the album, it’s just a certain sense of artistic integrity that was lacking. [With the EP] we scaled down on the details, the focus shift was directed towards the album as a whole. Instruments were seen only as a means to achieve the final uniform sound, whereas “Intervensie” often relied on specific bursts of individual instruments to captivate the listener. “
Was it a relief to have Le-Roi back in business, or did it feel natural?
“A relief yes, we’re just happy that he’s making a good recovery. It felt different, but in a good way. It was the first time, basically since we had to cancel the Durbanville show (after the first song) that the five of us could sit together and just be friends again, outside of the band context.”
The seven new tracks due for release early August will put anthems like Die Wals and Oorywerige Gelowige deftly into the debutante category. Yet, in the face of an ageless album quickly being overshadowed by excitement over new material, the gentle men of Foto Na Dans are just getting into their talent and focus. i am convinced that this band has a lot to offer South African music on the whole and Rock in particular and is going to continue to break new musical ground.
So from this eulogy/ tribute / retrospective I’d like to extract a blessing for the EP to be : that what started with Intervensie continues without a score, and that fans and music lovers alike keep time with an open mind.
T.S Eliot said it best. “The end is where we start from.”
Here’s to both.
(Foto Na Dans launch and christen the new EP at Oppikoppi , 7 – 9 August 2008 )
(Intervensie will not be put to rest. not now. not ever.)
über-talented lead vocalist, Le-Roi Nel in studio midyear 2008
(photo by Alex Fourie)
(top photo by sean metelerkamp)