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The ever-popular celebrated Dutch superstar Herman van Veen returns to South Africa next week after a too-long absence to play two concerts at the Theatre of Marcellus at Emperor’s Palace (Saturday at 8.30pm and Sunday at 3pm) and two concerts at the Paul Cluver Amphitheatre in Grabouw (Friday, January 31 at 8pm and Saturday, February 1, at 7pm) as part of the Hope@Paul Cluver Summer Festival.
DIANE DE BEER chatted to Van Veen and his stage partner, guitarist Edith Leerkes.
Dutch performer Herman van Veen describes himself as a musician, painter, performer, singer, teacher… and the list goes on.
But it all starts with the music, says Van Veen who has toured South Africa many times since 1995 but hasn’t been here for five years.
“I’m so excited,” says the 60-something artist who knows he will never stop performing. “I’m too busy to die,” he explains.
And we should listen. He’s been on stage for 50 years and his beginning was unexpected.
“I was studying classical music to become a teacher,” he says. But before he knew what was happening, he was on stage. This was home – and Van Veen and his audiences knew it.
What he does is difficult to explain but phenomenal to exper- ience. There’s an instinct and an understanding of artistry that’s sheer joy to encounter. Some of it shines through when speaking to Van Veen about his latest show.
“It changes from day to day,” he says when asked about the content. “On the day, neither the world nor I are the same (as before).”
But only someone with his experience and confidence can work in this way. He has a kind of diary they work off – he and the musicians, including his longtime creative partner, wiz guitarist Edith Leerkes. But that changes as something catches Van Veen’s eye or taps into his emotion.
“Every day I’m different.”
He’s the master of impro- visation, and music is where it all stems from.
“I even hear a melody when I paint,” he says.
In his shows, the music is introduced by what he refers to as “visual preparation”, and what others might call mime or gestures.
It’s those moments when the magic creeps in as Van Veen’s inner clown (always with a tear running down one cheek) emerges.
“It’s about preparing the theme,” he says.
“I’m looking for the rhythm and then the music comes as the response.”
He points to a Baryshnikov in the wings, just before he steps out to dance. It’s the way he prepares…
Categorising their music as European – from across the continent – he underlines that his world is dominated by sound.
“When I sing, I am always happier,” he says.
All the languages come into play through the lyrics, even Afrikaans.
“Dutch is my home language, so I will speak some of that too – but mostly English and some others thrown in.”
Even those that don’t under- stand any of the above will get the show.
Van Veen is a mensch and his pet cause is the youth – more specifically children.
“I’ve been a Unicef volunteer with my father’s guidance from the age of 17,” he says.
He has fought for the rights of children and for children to understand their rights his whole life and that won’t stop.
He and Leerkes also recently launched their own art centre in Holland with an art gallery and a small theatre where young artists have a place to perform and show their work.
“When we met, we recognised one another,” says Leerkes.
Van Veen recently started giggling during a song on stage.
“He stopped the show and told me that my left eyebrow goes up a notch when I like what he’s doing!”
That’s their companionship, which Leerke says means that “I am his guitarist, but he’s also my singer”.
Van Veen’s grandchildren also keeps him on his toes.
“They’re a different generation and we grew up in different worlds,” he says. All of this makes his shows accessible to all ages.
To date he has recorded 175 CDs, 21 DVDs, some 70-odd books and scenarios for several feature- length films.
He has received many prestigious awards including a Golden Camera; a Silver Bear (Berlin Film Festival); nine Edisons (the Dutch equivalent of the Grammies) and several awards at the International Television and Film Awards in New York as well as the Edison Collected Work Award for his vast body of work and outstanding contributions to Dutch music.
He will win you over from the second he explodes on stage.