By Jordan Stier
When was the last time you saw Seether in your neighbourhood? Or Dave Matthews? Or Watershed? These acts have all vacated South Africa and have been sore losses to our creative capital. Worryingly, the past few years have seen an unfortunate increase in the number of South African musicians leaving our shores for bigger, better, or just plain different things. We spoke to The Parlotones, Locnville, Gary Thomas, Nibs van der Spuy and Farryl Purkiss, five of the most prolific of these recent departees, about their reasons for leaving and their experiences of new lands.
Nibs van der Spuy:
Nibs has been living in Portugal for nearly a year now, having taken the leap of faith to become closer to his growing European audience. “I live on the ocean, the winters are mild and somehow it still has a spirit of Africa. As cliché as it might sound, it is a home away from home.”
Despite missing everything about home, from Durban curry to hadedas making a noise in his garden, Nibs says that his emigration was the right thing to do.
“Firstly, I needed a life change,” he says of the move. “That comes with risk, but the calling also whispers to you through the trees. It’s exciting, yet daunting at the same time. I wanted to start a new musical chapter, and to live in the moment of my destiny, where I live it, not just dream it. Africa is my heartbeat, but I needed to take it somewhere else.”
The move has been a fruitful one for Nibs. The album that he will be releasing in a few months’ time was recorded with world-renowned producer Mark Tucker, who has worked with the likes of PJ Harvey, Portishead and Jethro Tull.
“I never felt there was anyone in South Africa who could do my vision and sound justice, so it was such a revelation to relinquish my art and music to someone who understood my musical nuances and heartbeat. I took the self-production thing as far as I could, and am proud of what I achieved, but handing over the baton has really freed me up creatively.”
Nibs attributes much of the success of his latest releases in places like Germany and France to his South African identity. “It worked to my advantage being South African and bringing the unusual “African roots” element to the nu folk/ world music genre that I have been associated with.”
“I have to say, it’s been amazing so far,” says Locnville’s Andrew Chaplin. The electro twins moved to Los Angeles earlier this year in order to pursue a bigger market than what Cape Town could provide for their increasingly popular music.
“It’s Hollywood, it’s exactly what you’d expect. There’s some really great people in amongst the weirdos, and on the whole a lot of creative minds dedicated to growing this industry in innovative ways. That’s something we wanted to be a part of.”
“It’s always been a thing about expanding our career and taking it to that next level,” he says. “Not even for my own gratification, but for the people that follow our careers too. We owe it to them to take this to the greatest heights that we can.”
It’s been a busy few months for the brothers, but not without reward. “We’ve been writing like mad things. I started going a bit crazy at one point because I wasn’t leaving the house that much!” Their hard work will be seen shortly in their up-and-coming release, I Can’t Sleep, which will see a new, urban feeling coming from the duo.
“I’m starting to get really comfortable here with basic things like knowing my way around and not having to use a GPS all the time,” says Andrew. However, LA just isn’t SA, even in the minor details. “There’s the obvious things we miss, like being close to our Dad and friends over there. But also basic things like sparkling water: I drank sparkling water every day in SA, but here it’s considered something that only celebrities drink or something. You can’t just get a sparkling water at the gas station. It’s weird…”
Farryl Purkiss’s move to Singapore is not set to be permanent, but one that will be indefinitely long: “I’m going on a trial basis first, like six months. It’s mainly a work-related move for me, as well as an opportunity to tackle the Asian market, which I have never dabbled in.”
After a short spell in the USA that saw him record an album due for release in the coming months, it is the unknown element that has lured Farryl to the far east.
“The beautiful thing is that I have no idea what to expect. That’s partly the point of this move. I need to challenge myself once again and take myself out of my comfort zone. I get lazy easily.”
“Ah man, I love everything about home,” he reflects. “But the cool thing is that I know SA will always be here for me at the end of the day, my little pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
In his musical adventure, dipping his toe into an unfamiliar market as a relatively unknown artist, Farryl remarks how grateful he is that his fans at home have his back, and have been nothing but supportive. “It makes such a difference knowing you have the support of your fans and friends when it comes to a move like this. I am a very blessed human.”
Gary Thomas’s career has plateaued in South Africa. “A South African tour only lasts two weeks. What am I going to do next week?” He has simply done the same old tour too many times, he reflects. “I just want something bigger right now.”
Gary’s decision to emigrate wasn’t entirely a decision though. New immigration laws have meant that his wife and child have been forced to go back to Spain, his wife’s home country, and they will be denied re-entry upon leaving South African shores. “[The laws] are destroying the country, economy and families everywhere,” Thomas told Artbeat reporter Chelsea Haith earlier this year (see the article here ) “My son can’t get a birth certificate here and he was born here!. So we just decided to say fuck you to Home Affairs and go where my whole family is welcome.”
The Parlotones dominated the South African music scene for many years, but decided it was time to go. They lived in the USA for a while, but they have since returned, continuing to tour the world while using South Africa as their home base.
“The plan was to expand our borders and take our music everywhere we could – that’s the goal of every band,” Parlotones bass guitarist Glenn Hodgson says. “It wasn’t even our idea, but the American opportunity came up so we grabbed it, without thinking too much about it to be honest. Our manager at the time said one day, ‘You guys are moving to America.’ He went over a year before us to “set things up,” but when we arrived there was no solid plan, no goals, nowhere to stay… We gave it our best anyway but there’s only so much bullshit you can take before you need to make a change.”
The group have since left their management and label, and are operating independently. “It’s a little more work, but so much more rewarding,” says the band’s guitarist, Paul Hodgson. “We are finally in complete control of all aspects of our band.”
“We’ve realized that you don’t need to move somewhere to be able to tour there,” says Glenn. The band intends to release and tour their new album later this year, visiting Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and possibly one or two other African countries along the way.
“We love SA,” says Glenn. “It’s home, and the loyalty that our fans have shown prove that there’s no need to panic. We will be around for as long as people keep on coming to the shows.”