Natasha Meister: world-class 20-year-old blues sensation

20-year-old blues singer and guitarist Natasha Meister recently returned from touring Dubai to play the Kleinmond ‘Big Blues’ Festival and headline the LMG third birthday celebrations.

Natasha Meister

Natasha Meister

* This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Weekend Argus ‘Good Weekend’ *

At just twenty years old, Natasha Meister is clocking up more passport stamps than many manage at twice that age. Born in Ontario, Canada, she chose to accompany her parents when her Cape Town born mother and Swiss father decided to return to South Africa. While an exciting opportunity, it meant leaving behind her sister, Shari, who was also the young singer’s main musical collaborator. It also marked the start of her solo music career, which has blossomed in South Africa, and seen her perform alongside local blues stalwarts like Dan Patlansky, Piet Botha, Jack Mantis and Dave Ferguson, and earn slots at festivals like the Table Mountain Blues Summit and this weekend’s Big Blues Festival in Kleinmond. Late in 2010, it also saw her invited for a Middle East tour as part of the Crossroads Band, backing legendary blues vocalist Jimmy Thomas (Ike and Tina Turner, Rolling Stones, Lloyd Cole) and blues performer and educator Michael Roach (Smithsonian, Oxford University).

“It was my first real tour, so I was excited and kind of nervous,” says Meister, sounding like an old-hand but ending with a little giggle that shows her delight and enthusiasm at playing to new international audiences. “I knew it was a big deal, even though I didn’t know that much about the tour – Jimmy Thomas used to perform with Ike Turner, and Michael Roach was hand-picked by Robert Junior Lockwood to be taught by him, and Junior Lockwood was taught by Robert Johnson, so there’s this whole direct connection with the guy who pretty much started the blues. That’s a pretty amazing thing, to meet people like that, and to be able to play with them.”

When Natasha Meister says “blues”, it’s not merely a word. She infuses it with a sense of tradition and legacy, but also with a passion born of true dedication and passion. “I guess it’s a bit unusual for someone who’s young, and a girl, to fall in love with the blues, but that’s what happened to Sheri and me. We first started singing and playing at church, doing country and gospel songs, but the first time I entered a pub and heard the blues, I was hooked,” she says. “I don’t know why more girls aren’t into it, and why it’s the more modern pop stuff that most girls want to sing. i think they’re missing out and I wish there were more women playing the blues, so that girls could see it and hear it and look up to them. Even for me, most of my blues influences are guys, but lately I’m getting really into Susan Tedeschi and Bonnie Raitt. It’s a powerful thing to see a female blues artist, and I look up to them.”

Meister’s talent was evident at an early age. When she and Sheri opened for Mississippi blues legend, Bobby Rush at Ontario’s London Music Club, Rush was so impressed with her that he invited the teenager to join him on a tour to the American South – an invitation she had to decline in order to finish her last year of high school. After playing in South Africa for only two years, she recently received a rare honour and a local first. Natasha Meister became the first woman in the country to be endorsed by Fender guitars. “That’s really exciting for me,” she enthuses. “I got an American Telecaster from them to play and, before that, I’d been a Stratocaster person, and had been playing a Squire Telecaster, which is obviously not the real deal. Now I have the real thing and the sound is amazing. It feels so nice to play this guitar and the way it has a bright sound really suits my playing.”

But back to Dubai, and the first ever international tour by Natasha Meister. “Mike (Smith) from Live Music Guide was apparently going on about me being really good,” she says, again with a self-effacing giggle. “He told Steve Hallam, who runs a music agency called Purple Patch and Jump Media out of Dubai and then they booked me! The right opportunity came along when Jimmy and Michael and the Crossroads Band were touring there. It was incredible to meet them because, obviously, my average everyday teenage crap – being only twenty years old – is nothing on the blues like Jimmy, who’s in his 70s, and Michael, who’s in his 60s. They’ve experienced real blues in their time, so it was incredible and touching to learn about that, and it really opened my eyes. When I first met them, I almost expected musicians as experienced and talented as them to take one look and say, ‘Who the hell are you?’ but they were such chilled, cool guys, and very welcoming. Right during the first rehearsal, Jimmy just started talking to me and making sure I felt part of the band.”

In addition to the two-week long Crossroads tour, Meister also played a single solo gig at West 14, a swanky music-focused restaurant on the Palm Jumeirah. “Jimmy and Michael and the whole band came to watch and support me,” says Meister. “It was kinda difficult coming on with not really anyone knowing who I am in Dubai. I was a little bit intimidated, of course – and every time I made a mistake I’d be freaking out, but after I while I got settled. I applied myself and after a while they were singing and clapping. I played some cover stuff – all of it with a blues undertone – as well as my own original songs, that are still blues, but maybe with a bit more of a commercial sound. Afterwards. Jimmy and Michael said they preferred those over the covers because they could see that I was really putting all me emotion into it. Jimmy said, ‘Play the music that makes you happy and it will show, and the crowd will see it too’. I wasn’t sure they’d take to that kind of music, but I think they appreciated how much I felt it and how much it meant to me. The rest of the audience were open to it, and a I got a really great response, and the owners asked me when I was coming back. That has to be a good sign.”

Natasha Meister headlines the LMG third birthday festival on Wednesday 9 March alongside EJ von Lyrik, Stereo Zen and Joshua Grierson. The birthday celebrations run from Monday 7 to Saturday 11 March and features  Foto Na Dans, Van Coke Kartel, The Sleepers (Friday) and “Best New Band” with My Flawless Ending, Genitalia and Peachy Keen (Monday)). All at Mercury Live (43 De Villiers Rd, District 6, 021-4652106; see YourLMG.com for details). Natasha Meister also plays the Splashy Fen Festival on Sunday 24 April as well as regular gigs in and around Cape Town at venues like Bertie’s Moorings, &Union, Mercury Live and more. Find out where and when on the “Natasha Meister” fan group on Facebook.com and at Twitter.com/NatashaMeister.

*photo by Collete Yslie.

* This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Weekend Argus ‘Good Weekend’ *

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