Multiple award-winning rock-band The Parlotones swept through Cape Town this week to record a new video for a song inspired by Madiba’s ‘Long Walk To Freedom’.
This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 22 – 23 January 2011.
Kahn Morbee is on the phone, trying to find a quiet place outside Long Street’s Royale Eatery for our telephonic interview. Ironically, I’m in Johannesburg’s Sandton Square, trying to do the same. Greetings are exchanges and jokes made about the city swap – and the fact that it’s good the rain was in Jozi, so the Cape filming could run on uninterrupted. Morbee is sounding tired but happy – it’s been an exhausting two days on set for the video shoot of “Should We Fight Back”, a song he wrote after reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk To Freedom” and the interview has dragged him away from the wrap party. It’s an interesting video for The Parlotones to be making, with its inevitable political overtones and the band’s general apolitical stance.
“You’re right,” says Morbee, raising his voice to be heard over some raucous laughter from a passing group of Long Street revellers. “The Parlotones see music more as an escape, that as something that hammers home the stuff we are surrounded by all the time and we definitely never wanted to be a political band. In various songs, we’ve touched on growing up in South Africa and the society we live in, but I think the time was right for us to do something like this. We’ve come a long way as a democracy and last year was one of those historical moments, a beacon where you can say it’s been so many years since the birth of our democracy, and here we are hosting a world event. The eyes of the whole world are on us again and there has been a certain amount of progress although we still have our problems and those are not going to vanish.”
The narrative of “Should We Fight Back” sees a juxtaposition of scenes from South Africa’s turbulent history and the inception of the country as a democracy, with scenes of the nation experiencing the euphoria of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
“We all played different parts in it,” explains Morbee. “I play a character who walks through the streets of Cape Town in this juxtaposition of 80’s South Africa with the present day. It shows the darker side of South Africa, in terms of apartheid and the chaos of those times. Then it melts into where we are today, where the country is a lot more unified and has advanced and, certainly, is a lot more peaceful. I walk through a representation of these different eras and the rest of the band has roles in those time. Neil is a photo-journalist in one of the riot scenes; Paul and Ian are cops in one scene, and so on.”
Also acting in the film was one lucky member of the public, drawn from a competition on Gauteng’s Highveld 94.7FM and the Cape’s own KFM. The contest garnered around 10 000 entries according to the band’s management, Sovereign. Morbee laughs when asked about the huge interest in being part of the video. “I guess it’s partly the perceptions of the world of film and video that made so many people enter,” he says, with just the hint of a fatigued air of a star who’s spent more time in on-set trailers than he’d care to think about. “People think it’s a lot more glamourous and exciting than it really is, with all the stop and start, and the hurry up and wait of it. Shooting a video is a long, tedious process with very little spontaneity, but I can imagine that people outside of the industry would be very keen to be in it – to get their fifteen seconds of fame, as Andy Warhol’s theory put it. We’re happy that so many fans wanted to be part of it, and we hope they like the video that comes out at the end.”
“Should We Fight Back” was directed by Ryan Kruger, fresh off winning two awards at the Wirral International Film Festival for his music-video-meets-short-film for the Taxi Violence song, “The Turn” (track down the video on Facebook and YouTube to see Cape Town live music enigma Phillip “Papa Smurf” Hotz in a role that won him the Best Actor award at the festival). Although The Parlotones have not worked with Kruger before, they were impressed by “The Turn” and felt the director was appropriate for the grittier takes required to illustrate the story to the song.
“I read ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and I found it very inspirational,” explains Morbee. “It’s not like I then sat down and decided I wanted to write a song about it. It was a much more organic process than that. I’d be humming some melodies and lines would start coming and eventually they shaped into a song about it. The story is very inspirational – even if you’re not in South Africa. It’s a real story about a real person in a real situation – a very, very inhuman and difficult situation. But he overcame massive adversity and never wavered once from his dreams. When i think about that, and reflect on my own life, and on how insignificant my obstacles may seem or my dreams may seem, it inspires me to try even harder. It wasn’t written with a political motivation or to score any brownie points, or even to try and get approval from anywhere. It happened naturally and we’re just happy that it turned out so well as a song. Now we just have to wait to see the edits of the video – which is quite a nervewracking process – and see how it all turned out.”
Having played a sold-out Kirstenbosch concert just days before, The Parlotones are no strangers to Cape Town and to Cape fans; and this despite a punishing international touring schedule which saw them in Europe and America extensively in 2010 – and continues through 2011. “Last year, when we did a support tour across the USA with Blue October, we also did some of our own shows and we were surprised by the turnout at those. We’ve got some cool press there – some really good reviews actually – and we even managed to enter three of the Billboard charts for two of the weeks that we were there. It was actually pretty cool to see, and then to see that Verizon put us down as one of the top bands to watch for 2011. So, we’ll be touring in Europe this year, doing all the festivals, and back in South Africa for the festivals here, but we plan to tour America three times in 2011. It’s such a big country that you have to do it that way.”
Back home, though, the band have good news for fans. “We are going into studio this year and hope to have a new album out by the end of 2011. It’s going to be hectic, but it’s something we have to do – record for three days here, then come back a month later and record for a week there… Not the most ideal process, but we’ll get it done.”
What about the content or direction of the new songs? Morbee laughs, again dodging a bevy of Long Street party animals, one of whom blurts out a choice phrase not fit for print in a family newspaper. “It’s too soon to say, but it seems I’m writing a lot of songs that are riff-based, flirting with a sort of blues base. I’m not saying that’s a specific direction or that’s what we’re planning to do – we are never really calculated when it comes to writing. I’m just writing, and it seems that the bulk of the songs have a lot of riffs going through them. We’ll see how it turns out…”
The Parlotones play D’Aria on Sunday 13 February (tickets R160 (kids under 12 R50) from Webtickets.co.za or D’Aria on 071-4156985; gates open 12noon, show starts 5pm; picnics welcome, but no alcohol to be brought in; D’aria wines and food on sale.
This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 22 – 23 January 2011. Find out more on Tonight.co.za.