A feast of mu­sic

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IAu­riol Hays: Dream­ing Mu­sic am of­ten amazed at Au­riol Hays’ com­fort­able eclec­ti­cism – the fact that she has this naughty vel­vety voice that belts smoky jazz num­bers hark­ing back to an era when lyrics meant some­thing and scat­ting women ruled the roost, and yet she shut­tles with ease among other gen­res, from rhythm and blues to blues proper, to House, to kwaito. She has the abil­ity to as­tound. Some­times she sneaks up on you, softly, gen­tly, even on tip­toes, and then grabs you by the lapels of your coat and shakes the be­je­sus out of you, leav­ing you flus­tered.

De­spite the ob­vi­ous in­flu­ence of the great bel­ters and croon­ers of yes­ter­year, she is none of them. She is her unique self and hers is a very con­tem­po­rary sound.

In her lat­est an­thol­ogy, Dream­ing Mu­sic, due out in Fe­bru­ary, she proves she is, above any­thing else, a sto­ry­teller. I call it an an­thol­ogy be­cause it is in­deed a col­lec­tion of po­etry – nar­ra­tive verse in melody and some­times har­mony. Com­ing in the wake of a deep House al­bum, here she takes a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion al­to­gether. She calls this a “sanc­tu­ary” al­bum, and that runs through the themes of the songs. Hence In My Lover’s Bed is an Au­riol who can suc­cumb to de­sire and yearn for the sanc­tu­ary that love can be.

This is no longer the de­fi­ant – some may even say an­gry – Au­riol we have come to love. Here she proves she can still be lov­able.

I love the sub­dued in­stru­men­ta­tion through­out the al­bum, pre­dom­i­nantly strings, be­cause it brings her voice to the fore – so that the voice speaks to you di­rectly, un­hin­dered, and makes you live and feel the ex­pe­ri­ence nar­rated. For who among us has not gone through such yearn­ings, dis­ap­point­ments, soli­tude and melan­choly? She pleads for the re­turn of a lover in Come Home To Me. She threat­ens to be­witch her lover in When Worlds Col­lide. But not all the songs are about love.

The can­vas of sanc­tu­ary is broader than that. It in­cludes dreams, such as we find in Dream In Mu­sic, a dra­matic and child­like piece that leaves you stunned when it comes to an abrupt end. Hol­low­ness fol­lows. The can­vas ex­tends to Story In My Pocket, which com­pels you to tap your feet as it tells the story of a man who be­trayed his friend: “Choose your friends care­fully, es­pe­cially if you have money.” And then we have a pow­er­ful song about so­cial jus­tice ti­tled When God Gets Back. This is the Au­riol I have come to know and love, who cares about the world and the fate of hu­man­ity. Hence her par­tic­i­pa­tion as a pri­vate cit­i­zen in the cul­ti­va­tion of the cul­ture of read­ing for the youth and in the pro­tec­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment through Green­peace.

I was cu­ri­ous to hear how her cover of Sipho “Hot­stix” Mabuse’s Burn Out would com­pare. I think she gets away with it. She gives it a new twist and makes it her own.

The song that con­tin­ues to haunt me is Child Atone, per­haps be­cause of its res­o­nance with the Amer­i­can Deep South of slav­ery and Un­cle Tom, of tamed field hollers and cer­e­mo­nial chants. It is a pow­er­ful duet with Ro­man Amit. Au­riol’s blues vo­cals here could surely wake Ma Rainey from her grave.

Through­out this al­bum, Au­riol Hays is un­mis­tak­ably Au­riol Hays. Here is a unique voice that com­pels me to keep on won­der­ing when the heck South Africa will wake up to it.

– Zakes Mda

PHOTO: DAVE NUT­TER

AU­RIOL HAYS

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