Singers’ love, passion ‘infectious’

2017-09-19 06:00

Although there have been five lead singers and more than 20 changes in the backing line, the standards are higher than ever.

The Drifters’ lead singer, Ray Lewis, along with his three bandmates, will be drifting to Cape Town in May next year. Their excitement is palpable.

In an exclusive interview with People’s Post, Lewis said he was “coming home to the motherland”.

“I love the Cape Town audience. I could put them all on a massive plane, bus or a train and take them all home to live with me,” says Lewis.

Although the Drifters have performed in South Africa before, the band members have since changed. But the music will still be as good, if not better, Lewis says.

He auditioned for the lead role in the 1970s and is the only surviving member of the band from that time.

“I had a very hectic audition, three in fact. It was a progression of interviews that were very nerve-racking,” says Lewis. “I always wanted to sing but never knew I would get the opportunity to do so professionally.”

Since then new backing singers have come and gone, and this is what lent itself to the name the Drifters, an ode to the group’s constant changes.

Lewis started his singing career as many do, singing in the church choir.

“I always enjoyed singing and entertaining but I never knew I could make a living singing so I stayed in school and went to college for engineering.”

He heard about the audition and “jumped at the opportunity”, he says.

“I did not think about anything. Not even my years of engineering and that is what I thought I would be. I just thought about the possibility of singing,” he says.

Due to the huge turnout at the audition, he was uncertain if he would get in, but Lewis fondly remembers getting the call.

“There were so many big names at the time, one-hit artists all vying for the spot, so I never thought I would get it, but I just went down on my knees and said my prayers and here I am today,” he says.

With the Drifters earning the respect of other groups of the time, Lewis always looked up to them and was honoured to be a part of their legacy.

“There were so many black soul musicians and groups, but the Drifters were the leaders. Everyone looked up to The Drifters and respected The Drifters. They had such a reputation that really crossed all borders. We had just as big a white audience as a black audience and we were worldwide, before many of the other groups became known worldwide,” he says. “The appreciation for the name was there and any singer knew that if you got schooled by someone like The Drifters, then you are polished.”

At 24, it was his first time performing professionally.

“I had performed and worked before, but I was still an amateur. The Drifters were on a completely different level,” he says.

He has grown as an artist and a leader, and is now grooming other young singers who join the group.

“There are some of them who have wanted to go on and do things solo and I have always wished them well. These are a great group of guys, on and off the stage, and they have earned the right to be here,” he says.

He admits to being a perfectionist and very demanding of everyone in the group.

“As close to perfection as I can get, is what I require from anyone coming into the group,” he says, but adds that all they need is passion, patience, loyalty and commitment to the craft. This has been a big part of the group’s continued success.

“It is very important to have a great team and that comes over time. You need to know the person you are standing next to,” he says.

“We become family and that is very important. This is always my advice to any up-and-coming artists. Love the craft, love the music. Don’t love the benefits, do it for the art,” he says.

It is the art that has kept him on stage for more than four decades now.

“I love it. I have such a passion for this and I would like to believe it is a mutual exchange between the people and me. They enjoy the music, and I enjoy bringing it to them. But passion and love are key,” he says.

“I am a people’s person. I love people and believing that I can help, and I love being the first person to help anybody and that is very important,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what car you drive or how much money you have in your pocket or how big your house is. You can be just as miserable in a golden cage.”

Over the past few years, he has also learnt to accept himself. This has helped him become a better performer, he says.

“I have always considered myself a public servant and my job requires me to be exactly what the people want; that makes me happy. It is my true happiness and there is no shame in that,” says Lewis.

Along with some of the classics, the singers will also bring new material, and something for all ages, Lewis promises.

“Our vocals are on point and our dancing steps are always first class and what stands out is the camaraderie in the group; it is very infectious. There isn’t one individual trying to stand out. We are a group. There is a lot of love on that stage. We pass it on and I believe the audience can feel it too.

“Also it is important to understand that our faith is our basis and this is a blessed opportunity, this was afforded to us as a gift from the Lord and we will deliver what the audience needs. A moment of happiness or a moment of thought.

“We believe in boogying and we will boogy on that stage, but those moments of inspiration is through divine intervention.”

V The Drifters will be performing at GrandWest’s Grand Arena on Saturday 12 May. Tickets start at R200 and are available through Computicket.


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