HA!Man: selected articles
SPACE MAGAZINE (Namibia) cover article, Feb 2007
Make no mistake - all of the musicians SPACE has ever interviewed are all authentic. Few however, have been as brutally honest, as deeply probing, as Francois le Roux, known better as the HA!man. Towards the end of last year, we met with him when he was performing in Windhoek and what was supposed to be a 30-minuted interview ended up as an entire afternoon spent chatting for hours. Take a look at the pics girls and tell us that this man is not eye candy. A man with his instrument - for you, for Valentine!
Besides the eye candy component, the HA!man is an artist, an intelligent artist that is constantly digging a little deeper into himself. When one listens to his music, it may at first seem a little disturbing but eventually, when you allow the sounds in, you find it to be very moving. And that is because his work is candid and frank. But we are getting ahead of ourselves here - let us start at the beginning.
Born in Vanderbijl Park and raised in Johannesburg, he grew up in a home filled with music. His mother was a music educator and his father a Dutch Reformed minister. While his mom was a trained musician his father could improvise well on the piano and accordion. When he was only three, (1969), he began to improvise pieces on the piano, writing melodies and songs - obviously with a natural flair for music because at the tender age of ten, he was appointed permanent organist at a local church.
Francois explained that growing up in a musical family he did not really have a choice - it was a matter of which instrument he would choose to play. He would have liked to have gone for violin (the violin "seemed to be most important") but his sister had already chosen that, so he opted for cello.
He was also being trained as a pianist by his mom from the age of five. Throughout his school years he participated in musicals, performed locally and on television and played in various ensembles and orchestras. He even wrote a movement piece and adapted Romeo and Juliet, directing it as well. He also had the opportunity to tour to Europe as a member of a string ensemble.
So how does a classical background turn into the HA!man with all its musical diversity and influences?
"I grew up in a moderate home and in my Std 8 year, I changed schools where, politically speaking, I became very conservative. After school came the army and there my views, ingrained from childhood and beginning to become my own, became all rattled. Everything started to change for me in the army. After that, I was off to Stellenbosch to study theology. This was in from 1986 to 1988. Things were just beginning to change for South Africa then, and musically it was a time of great upheaval with the VoŽlvry tour led by people like Koos Kombuis and so on. They were breaking down the establishment and Stellenbosch was known as a liberal varsity so I was bombarded with all kinds of political things from the right wing to the very left wing.
"These kind of things can throw a young person, you know. Your very roots are challenged. Everything was clashing within me. I was unsure of truth, reality and expressing myself in words became of limited value. I decided to quit theology and changed to a music major as the world of sound became more real and closer to my body, and then eventually gave that up as well as I felt stuffed to the brim with dead knowledge."
Needing freedom, he decided that the only real challenge that was left for him was to go onto the stage, totally unprepared, and improvise before a live audience.
"That is a challenging process because you have to continue to dig deep inside yourself while an audience is watching you. Initially you can become quite 'dark' and depressed and as the audience absorbs that depression and they too become depressed. There is a fine balance there. But performing this way is like a cleansing process, it becomes 'experienced truth'.
Francois began to perform ad hoc with cello or piano and mostly played on the streets of Johannesburg and Cape Town to get by. At this time (early nineties), he was already beginning to build up a fan base who enjoyed the rawness of his unprepared shows. He told us some people told him that he was wasting his talent; that he was mad while at the same time he was complemented by some very good offers - which he declined.
"My pad was my pad en ek moes hom stap."
His next phase came when he decided to sell his cello, to hit the road with his backpack and to do shows with only his body to perform with - no other mediums. In this way, movement, drama and dancing became part of his expressive language. It was a time of living on the breadline, of hitchhiking, often sleeping in a tent next to the road.
"It was a wonderfully dark time for me and I never thought I would get out of it - I thought I would end up living this way for the rest of my life."
By 2000, after having experienced the loneliest of times but also the most euphoric of euphoria, he suddenly snapped out of it, bought a car and computer and over the past years, re-invented his identity as a musician. He became the HA!Man! Since 2001 he has travelled South Africa extensively as well as the States and Europe annually to perform there - as the HA!man - and over the years he has built a name for himself. His music, he says, is more accessible now but, it is still as honest.
It is a brave thing for any person to do and this is probably why Francois is entertaining but still real and authentic in his music. It takes time to probe the dark side, to source your own truth and your own reality and to face that with which you are left when this is done. It has been a real challenge for those of this generation - to take a long and hard look at what we were taught and to rethink and recreate that for ourselves. And then, one still has to embrace that from which you came. This is no easy task and because Francois took that plunge, he has emerged as a true creator of sound and beauty - combined.
"My music is less complicated and a little more structured now but I am still driven by the same sources of inspiration."
People, places and life inspire him and when he composes, he says that he makes use of his spontaneous skills to play the music (electronic keyboard recordings) rather than to work it out note by note. He would then layer different sounds and then do a mninimum of editing. These rceordings are then used as accompaniments for the cello in his shows, which he keep on playing in an improvised manner. The result is a body of music that gets audiences on their feet as they feel the energy in a very direct way.
The times that he feels depressed are now much less than in the past and he has learnt to use these as sources of inspiration. That is perhaps why he does not fear to take his audiences to deeper levels of feeling, but also knows how to lift them up from there, leaving them refreshed and inspired. He believes that this is more valuable than being merely entertained.
"You cannot lose connection to the Earth, the ground beneath your feet - that is balance. We are part of the micro- and the macrocosmos and although I am not a believer in the 'Higher Self' I can tell you that the deeper you delve into yourself, the more truthful you are on that level, the higher you raise your consciousness."
Where does the name 'HA!man' come from?
The meaning of 'HA' is breath and life - a natural rhythm. It is an intuition and it can be translated into many things. It is control and freedom combined.
"Spontaneity is associated with natural rhythms (like breathing) and any creative process that strays too far from this holistic (or healthy) approach cannot be regarded as HA!art."
Francois's music is a fusion of variety and impulsiveness - it is true spontaneity and he creates funky, vibey and energetic sounds with a rock flavour, an African flavour and even combines classics and blues. While we were busy with our photo shoot with him, we asked him to play a piece for us while the photographer was clicking away. There is real passion and energy that goes into his playing and it immediately transformed the mood in the room. There was a tangible shift in energy and it was inspiring.
It is no wonder then that he does so very well with his workshops on spontaneous creation of music. The reviews are amazing to say the least.
In closing, we asked him what was the ugliest thing in the world for him.
"The fact that we mostly speak in terms of money, of science. And that which really matters we don't talk about. We still communicate by means of war. Our churches need change, from the inside out, because they divide humanity into false compartments. We need to acknowledge our common origins to be able to talk effectively about our common crises."
We could not have put it better. Eye candy with a brain and a heart? A rare find indeed.
The Sunday Times, August 9 2009 - by Zingi Mkefa
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(Rozanne Stoman, 2004, Knysna)
It is to do what you really want to do without being afraid that you will make a mistake, it is to be able to make mistakes without fear, it is to say you allow yourself to make sounds, to make music without the guaruantee that it will sound correct. This can be applicable whether you do this for the very first time or have been doing this over years. It will always stay the same. You never have that gauruantee. But what you have is a certain trust. You trust that something will happen which can not be written down, but will be able to communicate. It is a trust. it takes a lot of levels to be spontaneous, it is not just "go with the flow" and do whatever you want. You focus and you listen to what you play.
What is going on in your mind while you are playing?
You are actually busy to think about what you are doing while you are doing it. But that "thinking" side, that analytical side is never so strong that it will make you fear the freedom. It is never so strong that it will make you anxious. You think, you analyse, you plan to a certain extent, you anticipate without losing the flow, without losing your boldness. Because it asks a certain boldness. You want to say something and you are going to say that something. You want to hear something and you are going to hear that something. You play the piano and you think, wow, I wish it sounds just like this and than you MAKE it sound like that.
You are doing a lot of things at the same time. Is it not better to focus on one thing that you are good at?
Well, there was a stage in my life when I focused even less! I was interested in almost anything - all the art forms, the academic disciplines, all the cultures, forms of expression. I came to value integration as much as specialization. I was fascinated- and still am - by the way the whole of things informs the details, in other words, there is an Art which is greater than the various art forms of the day. There is a Skill that underlies all the different skills we practise. So I developed a way of focusing as much on the whole as on the parts. If the whole is sound and alive, it infuses all your actions, and cultivates new skills from below, like roots giving water to the branches of a tree. On stage today, I have a community of skills at hand: they all complement each other (like for instance my cello playing would be anhanced by my movement skills) and the added dimension to the audience is that you present them with the reverberation of the whole - the magic, if you like - as well as the shine of the details. Technique infused by spirit.
Are you on a success path?
All that I can say at this stage is that the audiences that listen to me, most of the time, I was in Europe and the USA, react extremely optimistic. The audiences over there get SO excited, and it is great, it's like a wind that blows through them and it gives me the feeling that I am on my way somewhere. I am busy with something that is truly worthwhile.
Do you WANT to go big?
I tell myself that if I receive this kind of recognition on a small scale, why not also on a bigger scale in years to come? But inside my thoughts there are always questions hanging. And one works primarily with the present and you are not fixated on the future.
Do you enjoy working with children?
Greatly. Children teach you something. I have a certain freedom with children, almost like an opportunity to experiment. I think they liberate you, you go completely crazy and they are actually mad about it.
What are your workshops all about?
I speak about spontaneous creativity, and I try to convey that, you know, there are treasures inside of. Wealth and riches do not only exist outside of yourself. I usually take the example of music: we generally think of music as of written notes that come to you from the outside; but there is as much music withIN each of us, in your soul, your being, to which you must give attention and expression.
Is there still a place for spontaneity in today's world?
It is part of our lives in any event. And in the music world it has never truly died. There is jazz, which is big today. There is a lot of traditional music which is strongly infiltrated by spontaneity which today is popularized as world music. And then you get the momemts of hardcore spontaneity in rock and jazz music when the drum or sax player for instance is given the opportunity to "let go." It is usually these moments that get the crowds going. Thus, spontaneity is there all the time. It is more about the fact that it is TREATED rather badly. There is a great parallel between this and what we had a 100 years ago with women's rights - they were not removed from society, but they had quite a raw deal. Spontaneity to me comes from a more "feminine" place - less rational, less regulated. Like that other great feminine entity - our Earth - we treat her in a pretty degrading way.
What can the HA!Man do about it?
Well, at first I doubted whether I fit in at all with my spontaneous approach, let alone do something about the state of the world. But I have never been without ambition. So it drives me to explore how I can contribute. And deeply, I believe in its value, that it is a necessary thing today. All I can really do about it, is to keep on playing!