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The 24th Splashy Fen takes place on the Easter weekend in its beautiful setting just below the majestic Drakensberg. Therese Owen highlights musical reasons to get out your camping gear and wellies and head for the hills.
It’s a Sunday sunset at the bottom end of Melville’s 7th Street. Mabusha Masekela is playing the appropriate left-of-centre music at Lucky Bean. He is in a very good mood.
“How can I not be?” he smiles broadly. “It’s two of South Africa’s greatest female singers, here, tonight. I am not going anywhere.”
Inside Laurie Levine and Josie Field have just finished their sound check to one of the final gigs on their nationwide Side by Side Tour.
Their final gig together will be Splashy Fen, where they’ll play the main stage on Saturday at 7pm.
Relaxing outside on one of the last few evenings of summer, the two singer/songwriters say it was inevitable that they would play together.
Laurie says: “We both started playing in about 2005. And even though we sing differently and do different genres, there is some sort of crossover.”
The idea was put together by Josie’s manager, Bill Botes. “The idea is that we play on each other’s songs,” says Josie. “The harmonies are amazing. I never realised that it would be so fresh and fun. It’s also been challenging.”
Throughout the interview the two young women finish each other’s sentences. “We work well together and we’ve become really good friends,” confirms Josie.
“Laurie is the acoustic side of me. We’ve had such a great response that we need to do an album together.”
“Yeah, we are quite similar,” laughs Laurie. “We are complete nerds and wake up at 3am to plan what we have to do. We like to be on time and want everything on our set to be perfect.”
“During the set we do different things like bring in a ukulele and a banjo and even a glockenspiel,” says Josie. “Splashy Fen is going to be great because throughout our tour we have done small stages and Splashy is a big stage. We’re gonna make it rock and do some up-tempo tracks.”
“The whole thing about our show is the simplicity of it all,” interjects Laurie. “It’s our music stripped down.”
And when was the last time two female musicians teamed up and performed together in this country? I can’t remember two female musicians performing together in a very long time, if ever, really.
But I am fascinated with what I am about to hear tonight. Their voices are very different. Josie has a deep, dark voice that comes out of absolutely nowhere. Laurie’s voice drips with honey. While they are so different, they do speak to your soul: Laurie to the whimsical side, Josie to the raw, crazy side.
Tonight Lucky Bean is sold out and, it being Melville, there is always a guarantee of a celeb or two in the audience. Tonight it is e.tv’s Deborah Patta.
At about 9pm, once the patrons have finished their fine dining, the girls go on stage.
By the second song they have got me. It’s a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m on Fire. The audience is enraptured by the angelic beauty coming from the stage. And, surprise, surprise, their voices are finely tuned to each other.
This is world class, goose-bump material. In a small restaurant tucked away at the bottom of 7th Street I have discovered something wondrous. Mabusha is smiling like a Cheshire cat: “See, I told you.”
For a moment, I try and find the words to describe the experience. But the music is so good, I just go with their flow. Besides which, it’s one of those gigs where, if one does speak, it has to be whispered. No one dares to raise their voice and disturb this melodic, intelligent, soulful blending of two vastly different voices.
What becomes evident as the gig progresses is that Josie and Laurie have stumbled onto something really, really big. Individually they are powerful performers, as unassuming as they both are. But together, they are even more powerful. This is the stuff that could tour the world. This is the stuff that legends are made from.
An hour flies past and still the people want more. The duo end with another cover, this time one of Dolly Parton’s tracks. When they finish, they get off stage and hug each other in delight.
People flock around them, wanting to purchase their CDs. Over and over again, they tell their newfound fans that they will be recording an album and will be playing again in November.
But why so long?
Laurie is recording a new album and Josie is going to work on a boat in Cannes.
“I need a holiday,” explains Josie. “I have been doing this non-stop for eight years.” Yes, but the rest of the world has to know Josie and Laurie. Don’t go on the boat.
But it is clear that, while they appear to know what a cool combo the two of them are, they also have their own lives and careers.
I end the night feeling spiritually uplifted and have the comforting thought that November is not too far away, and at least I’ll have Splashy to look forward to. They will certainly be one of the highlights of the festival and Sunday night was one of the musical highlights of my life.