Elu­sive mo­ments of syn­ergy

World-beat­ing South African mu­si­cal phe­nom­e­non Fresh­ly­ground fin­ished record­ing their new al­bum in Cape Town be­fore jet­ting off to shows in New York

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODGROOVIN’ -

IT’S EARLY Jan­uary and Fresh­ly­ground are holed up in a stu­dio in Long Street, lay­ing down the tracks for their new al­bum. They aired the songs in their raw state late last year, less than a 10-minute walk away, in a unique and in­ti­mate few evenings at the Wait­ing Room, then re­turned to their prac­tice stu­dio to tweak and per­fect them.

At around the same time, they se­cured the ser­vices of New York­based Grammy-winning pro­ducer Fabrice “Fab” DuPont, whose many cred­its in­clude record­ing Jen­nifer Lopez, Marc Ron­son and Isaac Hayes, among other big names.

Now it’s the fi­nal stages of one of many morn­ing ses­sions in the stu­dio as the band records, and rere­cords, the songs that will make it on to their new al­bum.

Fab is danc­ing around in the stu­dio, de­lighted at tiny mo­ments of sound or, per­haps, by what his mu­sic-pro­ducer mind can en­vis­age in a fi­nal mix, in the sin­gle we will soon hear on ra­dio.

There’s a chair for Fab in the con­trol room of Keith Far­quhar­son’s Su­gar­foot Stu­dios but there might as well not be. On the first bar of the song, Fab is up and jiv­ing. Half­way through he’s bent down to shove the chair aside.

Mo­ments later, he’ll have to lis­ten to the view­points of seven world-class mu­si­cians and, more or less, be telling them what he ex­pects them to do next.

Cre­at­ing a good al­bum is a del­i­cate process. The mu­sic must sound live, fresh and au­then­tic, which in­volves record­ing a piece many times over to en­sure a per­fect take.

Each time a song is played live, though, there’s a slight dif­fer­ence to the way it un­folds. A ver­sion needs to be se­lected that cap­tures the mood the band is go­ing for and fits with the other songs al­ready bagged. It’s a finicky process.

Also, in this case, Fresh­ly­ground and Fab have opted for a “live” feel. Rather than do­ing mul­ti­ple takes on each in­stru­ment and then spending end­less deft hours craft­ing th­ese to­gether, Keith has set up his stu­dio so that Fresh­ly­ground can all see one an­other and in­ter­act, but without the sounds of their in­stru­ments in­ter­fer­ing with the sep­a­rate chan­nels that each is recorded on.

Vi­o­lin­ist Kyla-Rose Smith and flautist Si­mon At­twell are close to­gether, fac­ing a cen­tral room in which bassist Josh Hawks and drum­mer Peter Co­hen have a clear sight-line, the rhythm sec­tion which pow­ers the band along.

On the other side of the room are key­boardist “Shaggy” Scheep­ers, near the per­cus­sion he also plays, and gui­tarist Julio Si­gauque, who also picks up the banjo oc­ca­sion­ally.

The record­ing process is hard­est, per­haps, on singer Zolani Ma­hola. To en­sure that sound from the in­stru­ments does not reach the mi­cro­phone cap­tur­ing her vo­cals, she is tucked away in an acous­ti­cally in­su­lated vo­cal booth.

Also, while the re­peated takes of a record­ing ses­sion are a mer­ci­less as­sault on the fin­gers of gui­tarplay­ers and vi­o­lin­ists, the arms and shoul­ders of key­boardist and drum­mers, and the lungs and lips of flautists, they’re par­tic­u­larly try­ing on the vo­cal chords of a singer.

It shows as the band con­venes in the con­trol room to lis­ten to the track they’ve just played twice. A beat or two af­ter they fin­ished the first play-through, Fab glanced at Keith, who patched him through to the mu­si­cians, and said: “Okay, it was great. Now, no talk­ing, no think­ing. We play it again, just straight. You are ready; now go.”

The band all sit on chairs or the couch, but Zolani lies down, eyes closed, lis­ten­ing in­tently. It’s a touch­ing mo­ment, see­ing the dy­nam­ics be­tween the seven in­di­vid­u­als who make up the band and the two peo­ple in charge of the tech­ni­cal and creative el­e­ments that make a record work.

Con­sider that this is re­peated, take af­ter take, and that the band is aim­ing for the elu­sive mo­ment of per­fect syn­ergy across their dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments.

A dozen books on group dy­nam­ics could be penned from ob­ser­va­tions in this con­trol room. As the song is played back, each mu­si­cian must as­sess their own per­for­mance and hear how it meshes with the whole. They’re also hear­ing parts where, per­haps, a fel­low player didn’t quite crack it. It’s a time where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but here sit the parts, and each one is a per­son who needs to make calls that af­fect the oth­ers.

“I wake up early Mon­day morn­ing down to Fri­day/Can’t catch no taxi ’cause I can’t af­ford the money/ Baby want this, baby want that/I am the work­ing class, but I ain’t got no work,” goes one of the band’s new songs, Work­ing Class. They play it over and over. Some­how, it’s an apt ti­tle that cap­tures the ethos of this band and the re­al­ity this be­hind-the-scenes glimpse af­fords.

They’re not work­ing class, but there’s a lot of work in­volved and a pun­ish­ing Mon­day to Fri­day of stu­dio time to bring us the songs that we get to dance to.

The new Fresh­ly­ground songs are be­ing mas­tered in New York and are due for release later this year. See Fresh­ly­ground.com and Fab­u­lousAu­dioBlog.blogspot.com

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