Although talk will soon turn to the World Cup, football isn’t the only big thing happening in South Africa at the moment, music is too! Yes indeed South Africa has an ever growing music scene, and one ‘star’ to come out of that is Elan Lea, a solo singer, whose debut album ‘My Only Excuse’will be released soon. We caught up with him as he began his assault on the UK market with a trip to London.
Many of our readers won’t be familiar with South African culture, what can you tell us about it, and the music scene in your home country?
South Africa is a beautiful country – the photos tell the true story. It’s culturally diverse, with people of many different religions, languages, tribes and race. We have something like 11 official languages! I think the one thing that stands out in a full look at South African culture is the people. Very friendly, they enjoy life to the full, with a strong and positive view of South Africa’s future. You hear so many horror stories about SA. Like anywhere in the world, it has its problems, but it’s a magnificent place to be, with fantastic weather and scenery, friendly, colourful and by and large happy people – and I hope people go and check it out – especially with the World Cup going on there is a great buzz!
The music scene in SA is growing. South Africa – if you know the background means that some aspects of the country still need to play catch up to the rest of the world. The SA music scene is one of those parts. We have many talented artists, in a wide variety of local genres. Local flavours like Afrikaans, Kwaito, SA Hip-Hop, are doing great things, and we have some great rock bands too. I’m sure you’ll be hearing of one or two of them on the international scene if you haven’t already.
What can you tell us about your background, and how you’ve come to the point of releasing your debut UK album?!
My background… well I went to school, and finished it (yes kids – stay in school!)
At school I started getting into music, I conducted the choir, did the school plays etc. But I always wanted to be a footballer. I did a trial in the UK with Ipswich when I was 16, that’s a story on its own! I came home to finish my last year of school, jumped into music, wrote a song and signed my first record deal by 17. I had some good radio success with my first song, went to the SA music awards etc, then shook hands with that label and went out on my own. I started my own label, released an album, which got me spotted in UK/ France, and I was subsequently introduced to my now extended family Full Phatt Productions, who produced this album and have managed me for a while too. Haha if I read that back – that’s roughly ten years worth of exhilaration, torment, tears and success in a paragraph.
Your album features tracks by many top British and American songwriters, how did you come to work with them, and what appealed to you about the music/songs from these countries?
Full Phatt introduced me to the writers on my album. I remember getting the phone call to say “Elan you are about to record a new Dianne Warren track”. I think that was one of those right place at the right time kind of things. My manager was having lunch with her manager, and he played some of the stuff we’d been doing to her – and yeah it rolled out positively from there. Then similarly I got a call to say the same about a Guy Chambers track. I remember working with Adam Argyle and Jeni Saint basically over email, and Nathan Thomas came out to South Africa on a writing retreat with Full Phatt and myself; we got great tracks down for the album during that trip. And of course Mark Crew, Dan Priddy and Paul ‘Charlie’ Brown co-wrote my first single ‘Right Anyway’.
I think the thing was to make sure all the songs on the album fit the sound we were after. What appealed about the songs we have on the album, was that they were done by great writers who wrote great melodies, which fit my direction and sound.
If your music brings you the opportunity to tour the world, what will you miss about home, that you just can’t get abroad?
My kung fu class
How did you find learning to play the piano, and are there any other instruments you’d like to learn?
Well I pretty much taught myself to play, but I did have a couple of lessons to make sure I was on the right track. Ah, but the funny thing is when I was 8, my dad – who is a muso back home, sent me for piano lessons. I hated it, went once and never went back, plus swore I’d never play again! But I guess that all changed.
I ‘play’ guitar as well, and I stare at the harmonica I bought trying to work out what the hell is going on there. That’s my challenge, harmonica, and maybe one day a cool violin or cello.
For me, there is something special about piano led melodies and music, but what does this musical direction mean to you, and what is it like to play/perform this style of music?
I’ve always been a fan of piano led melodies, both as a listener, and as a writer. I think a piano led melody is one where the song can be stripped down to a bare vocal and piano, its one which could probably work in any genre, by adding the ‘bells and whistles’ of that specific genre around the piano led medley. Performing this style of music is great for me, I feel very comfortable in it. Also for me, the piano is where I feel most comfortable, and I love to perform while playing.
If you were going to tell some kind of story about South Africa in a song, what would it be?
It would be a song about a place or person who has all the potential in the world, and a plea to keep it safe and not ruin it.
Do you feel with your ‘debut album’, you have that ‘universal sound’ that will appeal to a broad range of people, and the international audience?
I do feel that ‘My Only Excuse’ has a universally appealing sound. I think it will appeal to a broad range, and age of people. As far as international audience goes, well I’m sitting in a hotel doing this interview in London far from home, so I really hope it does appeal to the international audience!
What do you enjoy doing outside of music? Do you have any other skills or talents you could impress us with?
Outside of my music I do martial arts. I have been doing Kung Fu for 7 years under my Si Gung (teacher), and I teach for him as well. I also train in grappling/submission wrestling, which I’ve also been doing for 7 years now. Something impressive though, is my ability to eat tub after tub of Haagen Daaz Ice Cream with no problem! Seriously that’s true talent!
Are you looking forward to the world cup? Do you have any tips or predictions to share with us?
Yeah I’m definitely looking forward to the World Cup. It’s going to be a great time, also in South African history. I’m going to the opening game, and hopefully I’ll make it to another game or two! Predictions? Tips? Never go out in the rain without an umbrella!
Are there any artists you’d like to work with, or write a song for one day?
Absolutely, in fact there’s so many, but if I could name a couple, Robbie Williams, Craig David, Robin Gibb, Bon Jovi – but the list could well be endless.
Finally, what else is there we should know about Elan Lea?
You should know that Elan Lea is loving doing music, and being here and looking forward to my single release at the end of June, and to saying “hello UK” from a stage quite soon!
Keep your eyes and ears open for Elan, we’ve heard his single, and have to say it’s rather good! ‘Right Anyway’ will be released on June 28th, followed by the album release ‘My Only Excuse’. For more information please visit www.elanlea.com