When a musician describes his music as “Afro Stomp Gospel” he’s bound to be as intriguing as his compositions.
Guitarist, singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Guy Collins doesn’t disappoint. With his newly released album he’ll be among the acts representing the best in South African blues at the Table Mountain Blues Summit on Saturday 5 December.
Like many of the names who will be on stage, Guy is far from your run of the mill blues man. His influences range from African roots, Zulu Maskandi and Malian Desert Blues to New Orleans Funk, Cape Goema, Southern gospel and Mississippi Hill Country blues.
Guy’s musical journey can be broken up in to two parts. At 21, while studying agriculture, he started the band Billy Goat with well-known musicians Schalk van der Merwe and Schalk Joubert.
“I went to Stellenbosch to study, but that fell apart quite quickly,” Guy jokes. “It was quite a heady time.”
Eventually the band members went their separate ways and after a couple of unfortunate accidents, Guy started reassessing his life. Guy, who has been a teetotaller since then, started thinking about seeing the world and wondered if he really wanted to be a part of the local music industry.
“Not because I didn’t want to play music, but because of all the other stuff going on.” He was put off by the idea of having to sell himself.
At the age of 25, Guy took his guitar and headed overseas. He kept playing and writing music while working and studying in Switzerland, where he met people from all over the world while arranging arts festivals. As musicians do, Guy naturally started working with many of the people he met, like underground hip-hop artist Matre and folk rock band Kasper.
He returned to South Africa about four years ago and got a call to play for Donovan Copley’s Hot Water. When he played his first gig with them at Up the Creek in 2012, he realised he must have made an impact when he was younger as he was being introduced to newer names who knew exactly who he was.
He soon started his own project, Mean Black Mamba with James van Minnen. The two started the band as a side project and developed their “raw, foot-stomping” sound playing four-hour sets at house parties.
“I am always trying something new.”
That being said, the band’s recognisable White Stripes and Black Keys sound has made the road a little easier, because as Guy points out, it’s a sound that’s quite popular at the moment.
One of the reasons Guy left South Africa was because he was struggling to find his identity as a young English-speaking white man in South Africa. He was very aware that he didn’t want to come back and get comfortable in middle class existence.
His involvement with Hot Water saw him make friends with many township musicians, and he’s no stranger to playing in church tents in places like Nyanga. He spent his first year back playing at an African restaurant in the city centre.
“I feel like there’s still so much to be done in the country.”
This thought led to the track “Long way to freedom” off his new album, Breaking my Bones. He recorded the track with a group of social activists and hip-hop artists from Nyanga.
He wrote the song after a State of the Nation address. Everyone pitched in for the recording process for free. Funds raised through the single will go back into the community to help young creatives.
Breaking my Bones is Guy’s second solo release after Global Vagabonds in 2010. Two of the songs from that album have been given “remakes” for the new album.
“I’ve had this music in my head for about five years.”
Guy started playing guitar after hearing Howlin’ Wolf, but when he heard rural West African music, he started gravitating toward music that was raw and honest.
He’s always been into fusing styles and Breaking my Bones is a further exploration of the sound Guy is looking for, drawing on the similarities between African and Southern American music.
Guy and his band will be sharing this sound and the stage with the Albert Frost Trio, the Black Cat Bones, Gerald Clark, the Boulevard Blues Band, the Aidan Martin Trio, the Jonathan Peyper Band, Frank Freeman, the Studebakers, Wayne Pauli Trio, Basson Laubscher and the Violent Free Peace and Bandeleros at Hillcrest Quarry on Saturday 5 December. Gates open at 10:00 and the first band will be up at 11:00. Tickets cost R195 from Computicket and children under 12 enter free. Visit www.bluessummit.co.za for more information.