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Change is inevitable and sometimes it can be very beneficial, as is the case with Gavin Wratten, Idols SA executive producer and series director, securing Alexis Faku and Martin Schofield as this season’s musical directors. Debashine Thangevelo |spoke to these talented musicians, who, besides changing the band, plan on flipping the script on this year’s hopefuls.
THERE is nothing wrong with injecting a bit of freshness to change the face of a show. And Gavin Wratten, Idols SA executive producer and series director, was clearly aware of this when he approached Alexis Faku and Martin Schofield to be the musical directors for this season.
Faku, a musician and producer fondly referred to as SA’s Quincy Jones, says: “Yes, it is my first time with Idols. I was called to come in as a musical director by Gavin and ProVerb. It was just to bring an influence with what they were trying to achieve in terms of sound. They wanted to give it that young feel.”
On working alongside Schofield (guitarist for Wonderboom), he says: “He (Martin) comes from a rock influence. I come from a pop, R&B, African and reggae background.
“Our influences are going to bring a difference in terms of the sound and energy.
“A key role, for me, is to mould most of the performances according to what the contestants are envisioning in their head. And to bring out their personality and get them involved with the band.”
With the aspirants not au fait with singing on a professional platform, Faku and Schofield have their work cut out for them – especially on the grooming side of things.
Faku nods: “Sometimes the contestants are inexperienced. And they want things exactly the way they sound – this is where the musical director comes in.
“We say, since we’re doing it live and don’t have those electronic sounds, maybe we can strip it down and do an acoustic version.
“The singers this year are so very competitive. You need a musical director who can niche those ideas into a simple formula. Mould them and encourage them.”
Given his impressive 22 years in the industry, Faku, who bagged the Best Producer honours at last year’s Samas for Peter Gabriel’s Big Blue Ball project, isn’t fazed by the challenge. Aside from working with the Idols contestants, he is also developing artists and his solo album under his label, Black Gravity Entertainment.
As for what he makes of this year’s talent pool, Faku smiles: “They are a new breed of Idols. I find everybody has their own style of presenting themselves.
“I was shocked to find most of the black singers doing pop and rock. Instead of R&B, some were doing Nelly Furtado.
“To even see them play acoustic guitar… I’m proud, for a change, that we have that culture.
“The contestants this year are very talented – it is going to be a tough one with everyone bringing their A-game.”
Having worked on the Samas this year, Schofield’s and Wratten’s paths crossed. Of course, Schofield’s long-standing work in the industry also piqued the executive producer’s interest. “He heard of me through other channels. I have played with Wonderboom since forever. And I’m a songwriter with Flash Republic.
“I have done session work with almost everyone. Last year, I was involved with The Loerie Awards and the Samas. I have done a lot of writing for people and session work.
“As a producer-songwriter, you are basically a musical director in a studio. The other projects I have done have been a lot of live work.”
Often acknowledged as a “rock guy”, Schofield clarifies: “But my roots, where I grew up, is hip hop, but it crossed with a lot of rock and electro dance stuff.”
On how Faku and he complement each other, Schofield says: “We meet in the middle on hip hop and reggae. Alexis is a serious producer. He wrote Tamara Dey’s earlier stuff and I worked on her later stuff. He is a musical expert, especially R&B.”
Schofield says the bottom line, “when you are a producer, is you have to love music”.
Shedding light on the changes they have instilled, he says: “What we have done already is employed a different Idols band for a start. Alexis and I have been very involved in the musical arrangement of songs. Especially for the old-school, new-theme week.”
With each hopeful given two minutes to blow viewers away, Schofield says they have to ensure “the music and song makes sense within the timing boundary”.
Although not dismissive of the former Idols band in the least, he shares, “We are going to try to shake things up a bit. You often have this long-haired, white guy doing Nickelback. We are going to get them to do an Alicia Keys song instead.
“One of the girls has a big diva – Aretha Franklin – voice and I said: ‘I’m going to give her a Guns N’ Roses song. We are going to be pushing the envelope – but within the rules of the show.
“But we are flipping the script. We are going to push the envelope. Obviously within the rules of the show. But we are not afraid to take chances. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. We feel we are on a winning streak with Idols this year.”
And there you have it – two musical directors set to make waves starting with the Top 16 this year. Hopefully, they’ll hit all the right notes.
• Idols airs on M-Net (DStv channel 101) and Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 107) at 5.30pm on Sunday.