The quote “music is the universal language of mankind” comes from a Harvard professor and poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who first uttered the phrase more than 200 years ago.
It is the one thing that unites people; of all races, languages, genders….
Years ago, I went on a trip to Canada and visited a music store. A young lady behind the counter who resembled Yolandi from Die Antwoord started chatting to me. When she heard that I was from South Africa, she immediately gleamed and told me that her favourite band was from South Africa – I guessed correctly that she was referring to Die Antwoord. She continued to say that she doesn’t understand what they are saying, but that she absolutely loves the music, the beats… and very importantly the music resonates with her in some way.
This is absolute proof that if you feel it, you feel it – this is the power of music.
This is the very reason I feel that I can review music by an Afrikaans musician; although I learned Afrikaans at school and ‘ek verstaan a bietjie’, I am not completely fluent and do need the help of Google Translate.
I interviewed Hanru Niemand a few years ago and he is such a down to earth, nice guy. He is a clinical psychologist by day and an Afrikaans folk musician by night.
“He has released four albums: ‘Tot Stilte’ (2006), ‘Roepwoorde’ (2010), ‘Kreeftegang’ (2016) and ‘Opgrawings vir ŉ Lugkasteel’ (2020) – his works have been translated in both Finnish and Russian.”
In 2020 he released a brand-new album, entitled ‘Opgrawings vir ŉ Lugkasteel’. The title loosely translates to ‘excavations of an air castle’ (‘air castle’ is a term used for ‘pipe dream’ in Afrikaans).
“The album is partly retrospective, like an archaeologist doing excavations on an ancient city. The excavation process is however also related to a post mortem that looks at how things went wrong and how decay has taken hold.”
Like a good old mix tape, ‘Opgrawings vir ŉ Lugkasteel’ has an A Side and a B side.
The A Side (Voetstoots) contains songs that Niemand performs live. It is raw, recorded as a live record for his fans. Songs that are requested often.
The guitar and vocals were recorded simultaneously. This is a very different approach as usually vocals and guitars are recorded separately. Niemand wanted to lay down versions of his songs that capture his live performance sound; just his voice, his guitar and harmonica.
The songs that were recorded on Side A are ‘Kreeftegang Wals’, ‘Avis Tannie’, ‘Gert Vlok Nel’, ‘Land van Kaïn’, ‘Worcester Woorde’, and ‘Verlange’. Hanru’s loyal fans will recognise these songs as those that are requested by audiences on a regular basis.
The B Side (Ruïnes) brings something completely different to the table. It contains four brand-new tracks – ‘Freaky Joe’, ‘Morsige Momsen’, ‘Tiran’, en ‘Die prinses se lied’.
Listening to Side A – Voetstoots, Niemand’s personality and down to earth character come through immediately.
Niemand has a very unique voice, it is very clear and distinct. I can picture him playing in an intimate setting or around a camp fire but also in a bigger venue like the Atterbury Theatre. He has a charm that is endearing and whether English or Afrikaans speaking (or any other language), and whether you understand the songs or not, it is easy to connect with the musician. I love the use of the harmonica.
I love the titles of each song; they are fun and quirky and introduce the story of each song, like Avis Tannie or Worcester Woorde.
Of course, the lyrical/ idiomatic meaning of the songs is lost on me sometimes and so I am unable to appreciate the full humour or mood of each song; even in trying to Google Translate the meaning is vague, as direct translations don’t always serve the meaning. But as mentioned I connect with the music with ease, as Niemand is a true story teller; very expressive and sets the moods with his vocals and composition.
Side B was very exciting for me. Not only is there an English song, but the music composition and writing is more elaborate. He also introduces more instruments to the songs, which gives each story various layers. Side B was definitely more of a feast for my ears. I loved the use of the violin on ‘Tiran’ (tyrant); this song had a very haunting feel and reminded me of a classic Mel Botes sound. Niemand also played around with the theme of this song, and it has very Cowboy mood, which made it also fun to listen to. Overall the track has beautiful melodies and is very emotive.
Anyone who can whistle during a song has my respect automatically, as is heard in ‘Morsige’ (Messy). This song is a little more cheerful than Tiran, with the folk/country feel.
The only English song on the album is ‘Freaky Joe’, so it was great to understand the proper meaning and nuances of the lyrics. This song has a a very gypsy, exotic feel to it. Once again I love the use of violin, especially how the harmonies between the strings and vocals are synchronised – it is a beautiful duet to listen to.
‘Die Prinses se Lied’ (The Princesses Song) has a very Spanish, gentle feel for me, and the use of multiple instruments is incredibly impressive and once again brings a warm dimension to the song.
I would love to see what Niemand does to these songs should he play live, as I am hoping he can emulate the studio sounds of these songs.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of this full album release; the live versus studio sides. Niemand’s music has an overall warm charm, even the sadder songs, and he truly is a great story teller – through his words and music.
The album was produced by Riku Lätti under his music label, Die Wasgoedlyn Musiek. Final mixing and mastering was done by Willem Möller.
The musicians who perform with Hanru on the B side of the album are Wilken Calitz on violin, Riku Lätti on piano, Mark Ellis on base, Jean Marais on drums and Jacobus Grimm on backing vocals.
The cover art for ‘Opgrawings vir ŉ Lugkasteel’ is an original painting by Evert Esterhuizen that was digitally arranged by graphic designer Corli Sadie.
HANRU WILL BE PERFORMING THIS SATURDAY, 8 MAY 2021 – CLICK ON THE LINK FOR DETAILS: https://www.facebook.com/events/933353330738644/