South Africa's acoustic genius

2011-01-04 00:00

THE measure of a good song is that if you strip away its layers, you're still left with a harmony that doesn't need arrangement. That's the view of guitarist­ James Grace, who recently released the stunning new album, World Café.

Asked what had sparked the idea for the new album, the Cape Town-based musician said: "I like the idea of themes and just a whole lot of random things thrown together. It seemed obvious to me to do something along the lines of World Café, especially with the World Cup being in South Africa in 2010."

The album features music from the United States, Australia, France, Spain, Scotland, England, Turkey and South Africa, including Carlo Domeniconi's hauntingly beautiful Koyunaba, Abdullah Ibrahim's The Wedding and Cavatina by Stanley Myers (the theme from The Deer Hunter).

Grace said he wanted to record The Wedding as he had long been a fan of Ibrahim's work. "This particular song has a big sound but the tune is very lyrical, simple, and I thought it would sound really good on the guitar," he added. "It's one of my favourite­ tracks and people really seem to respond to it."

As for Cavatina, which features Janine Neetling on the keyboards, he says: "It's been recorded many times, but I think the keyboard accompaniment gives it a lot more body. I'm very grateful Janine could make the time to perform with me because she's so busy."

"Grace who describes music as his passion began playing when he was seven years old. "My dad always wanted to play and had a guitar in the house," he explained. "One day I picked it up and my dad saw I had an aptitude for it, so he organised some lessons. My dad now comes to all my concerts.

"The thing with the guitar is that it can be used in so many different genres — pop, classical, blues, rock. Everyone can relate to a song with a guitar tune. [And] the connection between the guitar and the guitarist is a very special one. The guitar is one of the very few instruments held against the body and played with the fingertips."

Grace, who studied at the Royal College of Music in London as a foundation scholar with Carlos Bonell, became the first guitarist in the history of the college to receive the Tagore Gold Medal, an annual award presented to the most outstanding student.

After spending two years in Doha, in the Arabian State of Qatar where he taught guitar at an international music centre, he returned to South Africa and was appointed head of classical guitar studies at the University of Cape Town.

Grace has also performed with all the major South African orchestras, most recently in March 2010 at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens for a sold-out performance of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra and Pieter Daniel.

And he's a familiar face to music fans in the midlands, having made regular appearances with local pianist Christopher Duigan.

Check out for more information on Grace and to see when and where next he will be performing.

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