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Memories of East Texas

Memories of East Texas

by Roger Young / 09.11.2009

It rained in support of the music, driving us indoors to the little wooden Intimate Theatre at Michaelis for three nights in a row to get a primer in the hand made and earnest proponents of the anti-folk movement in Cape Town. Each night of the mini “festival” features a different stage set and a different artist’s work on the walls. My fears that the quirk might come on too strong were dismantled by the musical honesty, as familiar and strange as a grandmothers quilt dipped in magic mushroom tea.

To call it anti-folk is deceptive, free form acoustic might be closer to the truth. Certainly all of the bands performing are free of the typical constraints of traditional folk. But no matter what you call it, from the Martian spiralling of Guy Buttery through the guttural Gary Thomas to the pop sincere irony of Beatenburg, the real thing that binds this scene together is a desire to push the boundaries while sampling the genres they love the most.

Miss Texas

Miss Texas 1977 skirt the line of twee, sometimes veering dangerously close to it but mostly staying on the good side of a lullaby. The awkwardness of Julia Merrett combined with the self deprecation of Gene Kierman makes for a charming enough diversion between songs, but it takes you away from the lushness of the post Mazzy Star vibes that they put out, like you want the wave of reverbed harmonies and building guitar, to carry on cresting and never break. Parts of the songs feel like they haven’t yet filled in the spaces left by a recently gone solo member, but the overall feeling that Miss Texas 1977 leaves behind is like a reversed line from an early John Prine song filtered through the smell of a coming storm.

Frown Family Karavan

The Frown Family Karavan are a sorta circus troupe at first coming across like some deranged theatre with a vaguely fraudulent air but after a while you realize that as affected as the wielding of gypsy accents and bandoneon is, Eve Rakow and Gustavo Fasani are also being entirely genuine about the performance, they are just that mad and have maybe watched too many Kusturica films, but they will pull you into their world with their arched eyebrows and stomping piano if you can suspend your cynicism.

Dear John Love Emma

Dear John Love Emma have a kind of beautiful cacophony going on, an Emmylou Harris meets an early Gypsy Kings attack. Instruments are too many to describe, drums, bass, violins, banjo, piano, voice, guitar and others, they come on like some kind of insane school play band and break off into harmonies and picking, a choral melodrama of deep seriousness that is never less than jaunty, a bit post Victorian, a bit like F Scott Fitzgerald if he’d never got bitter.

Guy Buttery

Buttery and Thomas in their psychedelic introspections function as gravitational centers to this little universe of off beat which is at once technically proficient, innocent and dark. Expect no obvious choruses and hooks, but each one of these artists are experimenting with something, creating their own little worlds, it is at once a pity and a joy that these worlds are fragile, for some of them can exist only fleetingly, and therein lies a large part of the beauty, the inability to capture them. All that can be done is to experience them.

All images © and courtesy Julia Merrett, James Seigel and Claire Homewood

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  1. Thaya says:

    Looked absolutely beautiful and entrancing.

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  2. Sleaze says:

    Not exactly sex drugs and rock n roll hey Roger? One week in Cape Town and gonzo journo becomes mellow yellow fellow. Next week can we expect a mini insiders guide to the organic markets of the Southern Peninsula?

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  3. Media Hussies says:

    Beautifully written and great images…going to load it onto our Fan Page…

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  4. Mary says:

    So why the Michelle Shocked reference? I mean, it’s all very pretty and folksy, and I totally wouldn’t have been disappointed if there hadn’t been a reference to a hardcore social activist folk singer. A reference that implied that you would talk about folk and politics? Or at least how apolotical South African folk is? C’mon guys! I was so excited!

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  5. Roger Young says:

    Finally someone spots the reference!

    Yes SA Folk is apolitical right now. And these guys make no excuses for that, mostly they are concerned with day to day domestic and heartbreak stuff that happens within their social milieu.

    The question this essentially posits is: Does Folk have to be political? Does Folk even have to tell a coherent story? The answer I think lies in the fact that none of these guys want to be labeled as anything, even anti-folk is too much for them. All they want to do is play and explore music and feeling. Is this not a political statement unto itself, that they feel free enough to be able to do this?

    The reference was in essence to:

    A: The fact that it is the most tender and almost non socio-political song on that album. It speaks mostly of influence of culture and memories of youth.

    and B: The lyric
    “You know, their lives ran in circles so small
    they thought they’d seen it all
    and they could not make a place for girl who had seen the ocean”

    Are our definitions of folk so small that we cannot make place for people who see things differently?

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  6. Mary says:

    The lack of social commentary in music in general is disappointing. There are so few artists here or internationally who have the courage to put themselves out there with a meaningful message.

    And it is more striking when you are listening to a genre like folk music where your strongest associations are with very hardcore political musicians. Bob Dylan, Michelle Shocked, and Joan Baez are the first names that I think of when someone says “folk music”. It’s the same with hiphop – if you expect social commentary you are disappointed. Except in a few exceptional cases. I’m thinking of South African artists like Bacchus Nel, Brixton Barnard, and Zubz.

    I love beautiful music for beautiful music’s sake, but nothing can match the poignancy of beautiful music delivering true insight into parts of our society and ourselves that we don’t necessarily want to look at.

    That’s the difference between good music and art.

    That said, the most important thing is for people to make music they enjoy, and that other people enjoy listening to. And from your review it seems the event was fun!

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  7. Roger Young says:

    I agree, except for the “parts of our society and ourselves that we don’t necessarily want to look at.” part. I don’t think it has to be only stuff we don’t want to look at. Sometimes it can be things we want to look at but didn’t know were there.

    Also I agree that there is a lack of social commentary in folk and hip hop at the moment. The level of commentary in Hip Hop is especially disturbing to me. Folk generally seems to have abandoned commentary the world over, think Devendra and his crew. This is why many are looking to labels other than Folk.

    The musicians above use many of the instruments common to folk but in the sense of the definition of Folk they are not folk artists. They do make beautiful music, and they are fun, and sometimes the music is so beautiful that it inspires a profound melancholy. In those moments it is art.

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  8. TIT FACE says:

    Roger once again it is probably best if you don’t comment on music related subjects… I love the fact that you are Folk specialist now and in some moments it is art.

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  9. jerms says:

    i really enjoyed the frown family caravan set.

    i was particularly spell-bound by their carni-ness.

    awesome set design by the girls from pelican and peony.

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