Author JRR Tolkien famously wrote: “Not all who wander are lost.”
Take Kommetjie singer and songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou, for example. Few people get the chance to live the life they choose from the outset, but a viral video of a performance at TEDx Berlin in 2014 helped Alice cement her path at the tender age of 21.
It’s not just her brand of genre-bending music that’s turning heads. She’s making waves with her uncompromising independence.
Essentially, Alice is a busker. This gives her the space to experiment with styles from folk and jazz to hip-hop.
“I am constantly changing and I like it that way.”
She set her heart on a nomadic existence during a trip to Europe as a teen. Watching street performers fire dancing gave her the inspiration to use busking as a means to travel, which is exactly what she did, until she got to Berlin where fire poi gave way to music.
Alice grew up surrounded by music. Her mother was a self-taught multi-instrumentalist and besides the piano in the house, there was always good music playing.
“As a child I always had my fingers dipped in many pots, from music to theatre to dance, but music was never my main focus,” she explains. Although she took a couple of guitar lessons in high school, it was her European travels that stirred her songwriting and performance.
“I was so intrigued by the idea of using the streets as your performance space and being able to get by with the money that you make playing for strangers.”
The South African has now settled in Berlin, where music lovers can still find her busking in autumn, spring and summer between tours.
“I was attracted to Berlin because of the vibrant music scene, the diverse and multicultural people who make Berlin their home, the day-to-day freedom one experiences and the bubbling nature of the art and culture.”
Alice is in Cape Town this week to promote her debut album Orbit, which follows her EP Momentum which was recorded in Israel, Germany and South Africa and her live album Alice Phoebe Lou with Matteo – Live at Grüner Salon.
Released in April last year, the nine-track, jazz-inspired Orbit was recorded at Popsicle in Cape Town and at Butterama studios in Berlin. It features collaborations with musicians from both countries.
“I have been incredibly lucky to meet so many mind-blowing musicians in the last five years and many of them have become good friends and collaborators,” Alice says. One of these artists is Matteo, who has become her live performance companion and helped produce Orbit.
Their finished product is intended to be experienced as a whole, “from start to finish”.
“It’s an introspective and quite ambient album with a lot of soundscapes and attention to detail with some incredible musicians playing from their hearts rather than from a music sheet,” Alice explains. “The songs were written across two years and are all touching on a variety of subject matter: personal and human experiences.”
When Alice shares those experiences at the Central Methodist Church in the CBD on Thursday and Friday it will be just after finishing a European tour with four sold-out shows.
“I am incredibly fortunate to have been able to travel all over the world off the back of my music,” she enthuses.
Alice’s journey has helped her grow, but one of her most memorable experiences is the opportunity to perform in Palestine where she says most are isolated from the outside world without freedom of movement. “The level of appreciation I received for bringing music to them from outside of the 720km wall that surrounds the West Bank, was one of the highlights of my music career.”
The experience also falls perfectly in line with her motivation for being a street musician – “making music accessible to everyone, not just people who can afford concert tickets”.