Mario Batkovic. Picture: Tim Van Veen

The Swiss solo accordion player, who was born in Bosnia, will present a part of his Southern African tour that began in Cape Town on May 18.

He will be at the Market Theatre tonight, after which he will make his way to the MTN Bushfire Festival taking place in Swaziland this weekend.

Part of his tour has also been to revive the networks and connections he created with local musicians 13 years ago, when he first visited the country.

Chatting on the phone to Batkovic, who took some time off his scenic drive through Cape Town, a city he professes his love for, he laughs heartily when I describe to him that hearing his music shocked me ... but in a good way.

“I grew up with this instrument. I started playing it when I was four years old. I think I’m married to it now. So I learned to play it this way,” he said.

Rolling Stone magazine in 2017 stated that his latest album was one of the 20 Best Avant Albums of 2017. His music has often been described as Avante-Garde Jazz, a label that Batkovic has said he doesn’t really care for. For him, music is more than the confines of the labels.

“I have no style. I don’t like being placed in a category of music. My feel, as a free musician, is to do what’s important - the music. I believe that there exists, really, two styles - real music and fake music. Those are the only two styles for me,” he explained.

It’s this unique style of playing music that led to Batkovic being awarded the Artist Recognition Award from the Capital in Canton Bern, where he has his own studio and runs his own record label. He is also highly regarded as a film score composer, with many of the projects he has worked on being nominated for and winning awards.

Discussing the inspiration of his music, Batkovic said he gets his ideas from being around ordinary people and sharing experiences with them.

“I don’t sit down and think I’ll find a new way to play this instrument. I just listen to the instrument. I try to surf on the music; it’s bigger than I am. I have travelled around and met lots of different people, with different styles of music from different societies, that has led me to making my own style of music. I draw my inspiration from all the people and things I experience in my daily life. The experiences didn’t happen in one moment of my life. They aren’t limited to jazz clubs or playing with other musicians,” he said.

“I believe that music, to me, is like a religion. It’s the most peaceful way to communicate with humans,” he added.

His playing has been described as challenging and experimental, yet maintaining a masterfully beautiful quality. He scratches every nuance out of the instrument, integrating scratches and clicks into the arrangements and making a feature of the kind of tonal scars and birthmarks that are usually eradicated from recordings and live performances. 

It’s the opportunity to experience this that he promises to fans of his music and others who will be taking the opportunity to be initiated into it tonight.

“This is my language. My English is bad. My mother language I speak as though I’m a kid. My German sounds like that of an immigrant, so this is my way of speaking to the people. Through the music. When people come to my concert, they will find moments where they feel one with the music. My biggest advice to people coming to see my show is come with an open mind,” he said.

* Mario Batkovic plays at the John Kani Theatre , Market Theatre, tonight. Tickets are R90 and R70 for pensioners and students. 

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