Steve Newman: With the Tananas reunion shows in Cape Town and Joburg, and Steve’s upcoming CapeTownFringe 2014 shows with Ashish Joshi; here’s a 2012 interview with the guitar legend, on the eve of his 60th birthday.
This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/01/08. Original intro was “Guitar legend Steve Newman celebrates his 60th birthday in Cape Town before a year of ongoing local and international tours.”
Steve Newman answered the request for an interview about his 60 years of life and four decades of touring as a guitar player with characteristically twinkle-eyed humility: “Cool, bra, should be interesting from the bus”. This was no chrome-plated tour coach, although Newman is no stranger to those after criss-crossing the globe as a solo artist, with the seminal Afro-acoustic outfit Tananas and with long-standing guitar collaborator Tony Cox. This was a simple Roadlink bus, crawling its way from Cape Town to Johannesburg . Newman does not drive a car and is content to travel by the most economical means when circumstances demand it.
When artists pursue the integrity of their vision and their craft, even though success and growth and opportunities will come, it does not necessarily hold that riches will follow.
The image of one of South Africa’s most critically celebrated musicians tucked on a bus inching its way through countless roadside stopovers hammers home the reality of Steve Newman‘s four decades in the business. When artists pursue the integrity of their vision and their craft, even though success and growth and opportunities will come, it does not necessarily hold that riches will follow – especially if their art is not aligned with current commercial trends. Newman is both sage and grateful about what he calls his “gypsy” life – creating and performing music across the world as a solo artist and with carefully selected collaborators, living as as dedicated yoga practitioner and vegetarian, and raising a family on a farm he has built into a model of eco-sustainability. What, then, does the sprightly sexagenerian, think about music, and life, in contemporary South Africa?
“Musically, I’d like to see a change in this country, from Americanised sounds and lyrics and acts, back to the really unique and original stuff which we have here.”– Steve Newman
“Musically, I’d like to see a change in this country, from Americanised sounds and lyrics and acts, back to the really unique and original stuff which we have here,” he says. “We’ve got loads of really excellent musicians in South Africa but, at the moment, it seems to be going through a phase where everything is following trends from somewhere else. We’re hoping that places like the new Ibuyambo in Cape Town will be like the old Base nightclub used to be in terms of audience – very cosmopolitan. Audiences can still be very segregated if you play in certain areas, and I have always found that a mixed audience is way better to play to.”
“As for living, we’ve got lots of space here in South Africa and we need to decentralise our country,” he continues. “We need to get more eco-villages and so-called intentional communities happening. It’s a natural thing, too – it’s happening already and a lot more people are interested in this kind of lifestyle. Things have changed more in South Africa than some us would acknowledge. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, but us gypsies carry on regardless.”
Steve Newman co-founded South Africa’s first globally touring contemporary Afro-acoustic trio, Tananas, in 1987, which went on to become a staple of Peter Gabriel‘s globe-trotting WOMAD festivals. In addition to his solo shows, he co-founded and played with groups like Mondetta featuring vocalist Wendy Oldfield, the Aquarian Quartet with the late Syd Kitchen, “World In A Guitar” and “Road Warrior” with guitarist Tony Cox, Strings ‘n Skins with tabla-player Ashish Joshi, Man Walking with Kaolin Thomson and, more recently, creating In The Clouds with multi-instrumentalist Greg Georgiades and All In One with Cape Town’s own Errol Dyers and Hilton Schilder.
“When I first picked up a guitar, I certainly didn’t think it would take me all over the world… I look at examples like Stephane Grappelli and Arthur Rubinstein who were all performing at 90, so I am sure it will continue for a while.– Steve Newman on turning 60, in 2012
Can Newman pick out particular highlights? “There are so many that it’s hard to choose just one,” he says. “A lot of the festivals abroad were amazing: playing in Japan, playing all the WOMAD gigs, playing the French World Music festivals. Touring with Tananas, especially since we got to see a lot of heroes on the stage at those same festivals, which is always good to inspire one to write differently and to live differently.”
Newman also has a new project in the works – Jika Nelanga – along with 2012 plans that include a new solo album; world festival interest in All In One; European tours as a solo artists and with the Aquarian Quartet – and potential interest from WOMAD in Jika Nelanga. The band is billed as “an ethno world music experience of mood, rhythm and melody”, and features Greg Georgiades and Ashish Joshi, along with vocalists Zamokuhle “Zamo” Mbutho (renowned as a backing singer with Miriam Makeba) and Lungi Dlamini, percussionist Godfrey Mgcina and backing vocalists.
“I’m very grateful to have a small following of people who enjoy what I do,” he concludes. “To be in that position means that I don’t have to churn out country or pop or rock or metal songs to make money. Within that following, people seem to like what I do, and that means I should carry on writing new material, and performing it. When I first picked up a guitar, I certainly didn’t think it would take me all over the world. It’s been a fantastic ride and I look at examples like Stephane Grappelli and Arthur Rubinstein who were all performing at 90, so I am sure it will continue for a while.”
Cape Town Fringe 2014: Steve Newman & Ashish Joshi
This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/01/08
celebrates celebrated his 60th birthday – and four decades of playing music for delighted audiences across the globe – on Wednesday 25 January 2012 at the Olympia Bakery, playing with fellow guitar troubadour Tony Cox, solo, and with ex-members of the Squirrel Skinners and the Biscuit Raiders (Kalk Bay, 8pm, tickets R150 (includes light vegetarian supper) from 076 1053310 or email@example.com). Steve Newman also plays with the ten-piece Afro-world big band Jika Nelanga as part of the Oude Libertas summer series on Sunday 22 January 2012 (Oude Libertas Amphitheatre, c/o Libertas and Adam Tas Streets, Stellenbosch, 6.30pm, seated tickets R110-R130; lawn tickets R40 for adults, R10 for children under 12 from Computicket.com; details 021-8097380). Get more on SteveNewman.co.za and on Facebook at http://j.mp/Steve60