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The weirdest band in the country, Mr Cat & The Jackal, recently released their third album and, as is to be expected, they have given us the unexpected, writes Therese Owen.
TO UNDERSTAND Mr Cat & The Jackal, we must start at the very beginning with the conceptualisation of the group in 2006. Who, in South Africa, decides to form a band to write musical scores for theatre productions? After all, outside of the Department of Arts and Culture’s little teacher’s pet, Mbongeni Ngema, and Umoja, who else makes money from theatre in this country?
Then, to add to the bizarreness of the idea, bring in an accordion, two dramatic vocalists and handmade instruments. What’s more, decide that a fusion of influences from Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Balkan music, exotica, the tango and the blues are the basis of for your creativity.
Four musicians from Stellenbosch, that’s who.
They’ve made a relative success of their idea. They have toured overseas and released bizarre and sometimes creepy videos on MK and YouTube.
They have also received a Kanna nomination for their work on Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Die Storm, KKNK) and a Fiesta award nomination at Aardklop in 2010 for the soundtrack to Die Kortsondige Raklewe van Anastasia W which was composed with Braam du Toit.
Their debut album, Themes and Variations, along with their innovative and passionate live performances, caused a stir among music fans and their second album, Sins, Sirens, Songs, consolidated their cult following.
Now, their third album, S3T, is set again to take us on a mind-boggling aural adventure.
The album cover looks like it was inspired by Tool with its weird symbols. However, unlike Tool, there is no meaning to the symbols.
“Our symbols are devoid of meaning or purpose,” says accordion player and vocalist, Gertjie Besselsen. “It’s cynical, as always. It’s a look, a feel.”
Again, the name could really mean anything. He and bassist JC Visser have met me for the interview at Pisco in central Cape Town to discuss the album. Surprisingly, the interview is full of laughter and the two are not as serious as their music and their videos suggest.
“The album is divided into three parts and Seth is Adam’s third son. Seth was also the Egyptian god of storms and darkness, or something like that,” says JC.
So songs one to five are about love. By the way, they handle love with cynicism and sometimes rather cruelly. Songs six to 10 deal with doom.
“Are we doomed, or are we not doomed,” asks Gertjie. “We are always asking these kind of questions. The third set is about regret. Are we regretful or are we not regretful?”
Again, it’s a twisted take on the theme with a song that centres on a man who stays faithful to his partner even though he is attracted to some hot young thing in the village.
The songs are in English, even though the guys are all Afrikaans. However, they acknowledge their language with their periodic instrumentals by giving them Afrikaans titles.
The sound between each set on the album is very different, with some dark, unsettling moments as well as those of beauty.
They say they wanted to make pretty songs as opposed to pirate songs, which is what fans expect from them. They says the album is more serious, but their sound is not as specific as their previous albums.
Last year the band toured the UK and were surprised that the British thought they were weird. Really?
“They thought we were Eastern European or something,” says JC.
“I guess it’s ’cos we are so mechanical when we set up on stage,” continues Gertjie. “And maybe its got to do with what we wear, like military clothes and wide hats and our beards. They don’t have much to worry about over there.”
Or maybe it’s a combination of everything that Mr Cat & The Jackal are? Use it, don’t use it.
Back home they are determined to fulfil an original dream, which is to take their shows to theatres.
“The plan of the band is to put together a proper theatrical show,” the two agree. “We’ve played all over the country and now we want to establish ourselves as a theatre band. When we write songs we see the songs in a theatre. We want to establish ourselves as theatrical, serious art.”
Well, Mr Cat & The Jackal, with your innovative visionary attitudes, absolutely anything is possible.