Ben Harper on coming to South Africa and collaborating with the Soweto Gospel Choir: 'I am a big fan of their sound'

Ben Harper (Photo: Getty)
Ben Harper (Photo: Getty)

Cape Town - American musician Ben Harper is coming to South Africa for a series of performances in Durban, Cape Town and Pretoria. His opening acts are the rock group Jack Mantis Band and blues singer Auriol Hays. 

He will also co-headline shows with Grammy award-winning group The Soweto Gospel Choir.

Channel24 gave Ben a call at his home in California to chat about about how he got his start, how music has changed his life, and how he's a big fan of one of South Africa's best exports: The Soweto Gospel Choir. 

The laidback soulful singer also spoke about surfing in SA, just letting his stage-fright be what it is, and absorbing the culture of a new country. 


Ben Harper

Ben's talent was evident from an early age. He played onstage at a time when most people are going through growth spurts and just getting to know themselves.

He painted a picture of his start in the creative industry, saying: "I did kind of theatrical stuff when I was 12 or 13. I was always in choirs. I did my first singular show when I was maybe 18, 19, right around then. Oh Gosh...It was still a long time ago...the first time I stepped on stage. But it's the same thing now as it was back then; the through line is that I'm still equally as nervous when I do it."

About how that changed his life Ben honestly said: "Music is the shit. It has shaped my life experience by way of even now getting to talk to you and travel as far and wide as South Africa."

He added: "Because without making music, I don't know if I'd even be able to afford it."

The 49-year-old also confessed: "I have never been to South Africa, but you know, as someone who has travelled the world extensively it's nice that this is new for me. I kind of like letting a culture come to me and letting the locals bring leads to the culture. As much as the culture gives, I go chasing it. You can read a million things about all the wonders of a country, and I do, but I want to get there and just experience somewhere new for the first time. It is exhilarating for me, and I want to hear the sounds and see the sights and take it in as much as it as I possibly can."

As to whether or not he will be surfing South Africa's big waves in Jeffrey's Bay or taking a dip in Cape Town's infamously rough swells, Ben was a little hesitant. He cautiously said: "I have heard that it might be too much for a hobbyist surfer for like me. I've heard it is serious stuff there."

Ben Harper

About what fans can expect, the man of multiple talents said: "I'm very much looking forward to hopefully collaborating with the Soweto Gospel Choir on stage."

About the rest of his set, he said: "I'll do a little bit of new material, but mainly music from my back catalogue. If I do collaborate with the Gospel Choir, I think it would be just a couple of songs if I'm lucky, you know, if they're willing to do that, that's what I'm excited about. I think it could be something unique."

What inspired the collaboration? Ben is a fan of the Grammy-award winning group. He said: "I am a big fan of their sound, I also collaborated with them on a record called Diamonds on The Inside."

He went on: "I collaborated with them on that song, and then I went down the road of discovery. I have known of the choir for some time - choir music is a cure, a collection of voices as they exist in the world. I often think a gospel choir's sound is my favourite sound…I just love vocal choirs. I believe that it is just a pure form of music as it exists. So, if I'm lucky enough to get a chance to collaborate with them, I think we could do something wildly exciting."

He added with a little break in his voice: "I hope we pull it off. I'm going to start strategizing with some ideas without getting too set in any absolute direction just to be ready. But I'll be ready. I'll be prepared."

About those nerves, he said: "My favourite quote is from George Harrison. I know his son, and I heard this from Danny Harrison because he and I have a band together, but when he was telling me about this quote, that said: 'I have terrible stage fright and I've done it. I've tried every single thing to get rid of it. I've meditated, I debrief, I use my mantra and, I relaxed. And then the minute I come out of my meditation I say, Oh Shit! I've got to play.'"

He ended off by admitting: "In other words, there's kind of nothing you can do. Mick Jagger said the most important thing is if you can get through it on your first song and be very comfortable, you're set. And then from there, you've gotten past it."

Ben Harper

(Photo: Getty)



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