South African composer Herman Bergman presents Mahai, a collection of original, newly composed instrumental guitar music.


Mahai is a proudly South African venture – one far beyond the scope of that cliched branding tag. Locally designed recording equipment was used, the guitars played (classical and steel string acoustic) were made by South African luthiers, and Bergman’s musical partners for the project are fellow home-grown guitarists Werner Bessinger and Charl Lamprecht.


In addition, most of the recording took place at Bop Studios in Mafikeng, over the course of 2015, with mixing and mastering completed at Bergman’s Johannesburg studio, and session heavyweights David Klassen (percussion), Denny Lalouette (bass) and Werner Spies (double bass) completing the world-class ensemble.


Even the songs’ origins were propagated (largely) in South African soil – specifically batches of it Bergman has spent time standing on during his travels around the country. As the composer says: “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.”


The album is named for a campsite at Royal Natal National Park in South Africa’s majestic Drakensberg Mountains, nestling, in Bergman’s words, “between a lively mountain stream and an avenue of ancient pine trees.” For him, the place evokes beauty, piercing, crisp light, the smell of campfires and the sound of friendship.


Each track comes loaded with similar emotional weight, the memories and nostalgia giving this easy listening, neo-classical instrumental music a heft beyond its sonic textures.


Tarentaalwals (Afrikaans for Guinea Fowl Waltz) celebrates the amusing antics of the chicken-like wild birds Bergman and his family watched in South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park, while Langakker is the name of an old family farm where, according to the artist, “there is not much to do but make music and absorb the serenity of the arid landscape.”


Ferns In The Mist, Nizas and Café Triéste speak of moving experiences in the USA, France and Italy respectively, but ultimately, home is where the heart is for Bergman as he interprets, in Suburban Bliss the immeasurable privilege of feeling content when you arrive home every day.


Local luthiers Werner Bessinger, Hans van den Berg, Garth Pickard and Mervin Davies left their mark on Mahai via the tone of the instruments they created, and South African-made TUL microphones and DEW audio recording equipment ensured that each nuance of each performance was captured.