Mahai is an album of newly composed guitar music inspired by my travels to places far and beyond. For me, music and places are inextricably linked. Each of the pieces in this album evokes memories of a certain time and place and, more specifically, its atmosphere. It unlocks more than the memory – it unlocks emotions.
Mahai is the name of a campsite at Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa. The road there weaves through rolling foothills, dotted with rural settlements. The campsite nestles between a lively mountain stream and an avenue of ancient pine trees. It is a place of majestic beauty, piercing, crisp light, the smell of campfires and the sound of friendship.
The guineafowl (tarentaal in Afrikaans) is a peculiar, spotted bird with endearing comical behaviour. Its early-morning antics have amused us for hours. Tarentaalwals was composed in South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park.
The eerie disquiet amidst the giants of the Redwoods National Park in the United States inspired the composition of ‘Ferns in the mist’. Delicate ferns in the undergrowth, mostly covered in a veil of mist, are in stark contrast to the awe-inspiring sequoia trees towering silently above.
Nizas is a small town in the south of France with a unique blend of history and untarnished aesthetics, and a backdrop of vines and a pale-dry sun that makes the tranquillity seem surreal. This dreamy state inspired the composition of ‘Le soleil sur Nizas’. A door in Nizas is also the subject of the cover photograph.
We spent a miserable week in a rain-drenched campsite in Mozambique where a friendly Portuguese-speaking boy named Ernesto assisted us. The only Portuguese I knew was Obrigado Ernesto, and every time I used it Ernesto would smile and brighten up the gloom a bit. Thanks to Matthys Maree for allowing me to build on his musical idea in the bridge.
On the shores of Lake Maggiore is the small Italian town of Cannero. We arrived late one night and the only café still open sold ice cream – proper Italian gelato! With ice cream in hand we strolled along the town’s elegant riviera, with the full moon as companion and the murmuring sounds of the placid lake. Back in Johannesburg, where we live, our connection to the memory of Cannero is a little Italian gelateria called Café Trieste.
My in-laws live on a remote farm called Langakker (‘Long Acre’ in English) in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Sitting on the veranda of the old hartbeeshuis, without electricity, there is not much to do but make music and absorb the serenity of the arid landscape. Two of the tracks on this album were created here. ‘Timepiece’ was composed in the dead of the night and, for me, captures the slight unease of the silence and the inevitable sound of time running out. ‘Langakker’ was composed on a sun-drenched morning, capturing the spirit of the farm with its backdrop of children’s laughter.
‘Suburban Bliss’ was composed at our home in Linden, Johannesburg. It is our place of sanity in the hustle and bustle of the city, a place where we can still find solace and feel nostalgic. I love the feeling of the neighbourhood with its small, unpretentious shops and inviting gardens. Arriving home, it is always with a sigh of contentment.
‘Jupiter Island’ is a perfectly manicured little town on the coast of Florida. We took a stroll on the endless white beach on a simmering day; the hazy sky and sea melted into each other, leaving us feeling slightly alienated.
‘Modest Life’ is an ode to the art of musicianship. The musicians with whom I worked on this album are some of the most down-to-earth people I know, preferring to find joy in music and living a modest life. I have tremendous admiration for this. Some of my happiest moments are those sharing in the wonders of music with other musicians.
My lasting impression of Grand Teton National Park, USA, is of mirror lakes reflecting the Rocky Mountains towering in the background and seeming to rise out of the lakes themselves. I had a vivid image of a horse galloping through the snow against this majestic backdrop when I composed ‘Grand Teton’.
This album was recorded using South African-made instruments and recording equipment as far as possible. The guitars used were made by South African luthiers Werner Bessinger, Hans van den Berg, Garth Pickard and Mervin Davies using mostly indigenous woods. South African-made TUL microphones and DEW audio recording equipment were also used. Most recordings were done at the iconic BOP Recording Studios in South Africa with assistance from Dewald Visser and Michon de Villiers. Mixing and mastering was done at my home studio. Rogan Kelsey assisted me with the mastering of the album, for which I am very grateful.
My deepest gratitude goes to the musicians who contributed to the album, especially to Charl Lamprecht and Werner Bessinger for their incredible support and enthusiasm. We are also indebted to the suppliers of the instruments and recording equipment for the project, especially Dewald Visser for his assistance. We had many people supporting us during this project, but I would like to single out Marie Pieterse for her enthusiasm and for lending me her Berg guitar, and Heinrich van den Berg for lending his ears and assisting with the design. Last but not least, to my wife Seugnet, for travelling with me and being willing to listen to work in progress (HFTATM).