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Instruments fill the stage. A cello, violin, trumpet, guitars, keyboard and drums. It appears as if a mini orchestra is about to perform and then six men appear. With a strike of a chord the stage comes alive as all these instruments start singing along with each other. They are the only voices you hear for this six-piece outfit, Bateleur, uses no lyrics and are pure instrumental. One can call the music playful experimentalist jazz with electronic sounds, filled with various tones and layers. There is a contrast and discord of sounds together forming a beautiful sound.
This cluster of musicians – Dylan Jefferys, Adam Bertscher, Odon Human, Paul Mesarcik and Louis Pienaar – makes music that thinks outside of the box in a genre that is hard to pull off. On the scene for two-and-a-half years, the band have released their latest EP Cargo Cults delivering their signature blend of sounds set to produce acclaim.
Over coffee, three of the band members, Van Reenen, Pienaar and Jefferys, chat to me.
Without lyrics and the use of pure instrumentals, Bateleur’s music speaks louder.
“It’s actually a lot easier without lyrics. We have so many instruments that there’s no place for voice most of the time. It’s also how we approach music. It’s what the crowd makes of it and where it takes the listener. The lack of lyrics creates a semantic void for the audience to fill. We don’t have to say anything because it’s difficult for all of us to say the same thing,” explains the piercingly blue-eyed guitarist, Van Reenen.
The name Bateleur, a well-known African eagle, is not so much aimed at the eagle but the fact that it also refers to the French term for a tight rope walker, says van Reenen.
“We spent months working on a name that all six of us would agree on. It’s this constant balancing act – just like (when) the eagle flies it’s constantly trying to balance.”
An intricate approach to their sound, the meshing of various instruments and opinions, is where the balancing act comes in, says Van Reenen.
“The songwriting process has never been consistent. We tried to condense it into a simple process. When a song happens it generates itself organically. If one of us has an idea we bring it to the table.
“Over the years we’ve got better at reading each other and our musical inclination, so the process has become more streamlined. We’re always trying something new and different as much as possible so we won’t be streamlined for too long.”
Bateleur is intent on allowing the listeners to make up their own minds as to how they interpret the music.
“We take ourselves somewhere – that’s how we can take listeners there. It’s far more important if a song transports me than trying to convey a message. It’s that escape,” says Van Reenen.
Nature too plays a role in the inspiration behind their music as the band would retreat to the mountains or seaside for a week to create their music.
It’s their love for the outdoors that is highlighted in their artistic music videos where the guys are seen running naked through a forest.
Their love for artistry comes from mutual appreciation of the artists’ work they have come across and vice versa. It is shown in their EP which was released in the form of 30 pocket-sized wooden discs engraved with the Cargo Cults graphic, as well as 20 unique vinyl-sized discs designed by five SA artists, and are up for auction online. Both formats are accompanied by a 4GB flashdrive containing their new tracks.
Bateleur have not been playlisted on any radio station and say they’re not attempting to make radio friendly music.
“Obviously it would be great to have people listen to music while in traffic but we’re really just trying to break online distribution. People who want to get hold of our music will listen to it there. The international community is far more complex than the local South African national community. So putting our music in that huge pool is far more appealing as it’s accessible to everyone as opposed to just trying to get play-listed here,” says Van Reenen.
“The problem with the SA music scene is that we’re competitive on a very small scale, when what we’d rather do is collaborate. And give something to the international market,” adds Pienaar.
“There’s an eye on SA now thanks to bands like Die Antwoord and Spoek Mathambo. Neither of those bands had their focus on SA alone, they went straight for the jugular, which promotes a sense of pride in SA musical culture and saying what we doing here could go there.”
• The EP is available for free download at www.facebook.com/ bateleurband