Cel­e­brat­ing 45 years in the in­dus­try

Don Laka col­lab­o­rates with a host of young artists on his new al­bum, Re­flec­tions, writes Helen Her­imbi

Cape Argus - - TONIGHT -

IT’S ONLY when the man­ager of the tra­di­tional cui­sine restau­rant we’re hang­ing out at meekly ap­proaches Don Laka (pic­tured) that I no­tice it. A large rect­an­gu­lar trib­ute above the bar.

There’s a huge pic­ture of Lucky Dube. Next to it is An­gelique Kidjo, Sibongile Khu­malo and even Yvonne Chaka Chaka. There is also a huge pic­ture of the kwai­jazz ar­chi­tect him­self, Don Laka. The stars are aligned in more ways than one. I am meet­ing with the pi­ano mae­stro to dis­cuss his lat­est al­bum, Re­flec­tions.

He tells me a lit­tle bit about how he be­came one of the founders of Kalawa Jazmee and that makes for in­ter­est­ing par­al­lels with what he projects on Re­flec­tions: a vet­eran who al­ways has time for the young guns.

This al­bum comes hot on the heels of Laka re­ceiv­ing the South African Mu­sic Award Life­time Achieve­ment Award. “It makes sense for me to re­lease an al­bum now,” Laka tells me over some braaivleis and dumpling. “I was for­tu­nate that it came af­ter I re­ceived the Life­time Achieve­ment Award.”

“It has been 45 years of me be­ing in this in­dus­try so I thought: ‘I need to cel­e­brate this.’ And then I de­cided to make a list of artists I wanted to work with. I wrote it and threw it out. I made another one and threw that one out. I didn’t know what I was go­ing to do.”

“Then last year, I was per­form­ing at a show in Namibia and I met Kelly Khu­malo. In front of the me­dia she said: ‘Bra Don, you have never worked with me. When are you go­ing to work with me?’ So I said: ‘There’s no project yet but when there is, you will be the first per­son I call.’ And she was. I thought: ‘As Kelly wants to work with me, let me draw up a list of the youth that I think would make a se­ri­ous con­tri­bu­tion to the al­bum.’”

Re­flec­tions also fea­tures the likes of Mafik­i­zolo, Thebe – who clev­erly changes his pop­u­lar bula boot phrase to bula booka – as well as DJ Mapho­risa, Dr Malinga and un­sur­pris­ingly, Em­tee. Laka first worked with the African trap mu­sic artist on a track called Ghetto Hero. On Laka’s al­bum, Em­tee ap­pears on the up­lift­ing Dreams.

“I was lis­ten­ing to some of the new artists – they call it rap or some­thing,” Laka says sar­cas­ti­cally. “My son played me an Em­tee song and I could hear some singing in there. I said: ‘I’m go­ing to do some­thing he never thought any pro­ducer would do. I’m go­ing to take out the auto-tune from his voice.’”

“Peo­ple don’t be­lieve it, but he re­minds me of Marvin Gaye.”

Laka no­tices my gob­s­macked face and con­tin­ues: “The way he sees mu­sic and the way he does his vo­cals is like Marvin Gaye.

“I’m talk­ing as a pro­ducer, here as some­one who hears what you may not.”

Re­flec­tions sees Laka mix­ing his kwai­jazz with a more con­tem­po­rary sound but he is not wor­ried that this may alien­ate his core lis­ten­ers.

“I must say I’m glad that the al­bum worked out the way it did be­cause it’s al­most dif­fi­cult to have such a theme work out with­out you los­ing who you are,” he con­fesses. “I call it a multi-genre al­bum as a cel­e­bra­tion of the al­bum. It is tar­geted at the mu­sic lover and the peo­ple who want to cel­e­brate this 45 years with me.” Don Laka’s new al­bum, Re­flec­tions, is in stores and on­line now.

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