Riku Lätti's soundscape
By Robert Laing
Reading the liner notes of Riku Lätti's "best of" die president se keuse, it's interesting to see who all he worked with on different songs.
Though Riku's music is typically far from heavy industrial rock, it's not a big surprise to hear fellow alternatiewe musik spieler Paul Riekert of Battery 9 fame providing "stem en mayhem" on osama bin laden. But hearing Steve Hofmeyr's backing vocals on medisynemens comes as a shock.
"It's annoying for me that the Afrikaner gets this reputation that he likes to keep things separate. Even post-Apartheid there's this view that 'that's an alternative guy, that's a commercial guy and never the two shall meet'. For me, that's old thinking and as an alternative guy I went looking for the most commercial oke I could find — Steve Hofmeyr.
"I approached him, and he went 'you know, that could be interesting'. Then one Tuesday morning, he was in the studio with me. I couldn't believe my eyes: 'Why should he want to work with me?'. It was just fantastic!"
Like several other local musicians, Riku pays for his music habit by working as an IT specialist. At the bottom of www.riku.co.za/Musos.asp he has listed the musicians he has worked with, and clicking on a given name lists who all that musician in turn has worked with. This provides an interesting view of how tightly intertwined the local musical community is.
Riku has just finished two new albums — Radio Lawa and Die burg van hertog Bloubaard.
Radio Lawa originated over drinks with fellow musicians Arnaud van Vliet and Jahn Beukes.
Arnaud is a mainstay of the local underground rock scene. He is the Diesel Whores's guitarist (under the pseudonym Dan Vegas to avoid trouble in his school-teacher day job). Before the Diesel Whores, he played in seminal local bands Battery 9 and Blue Chameleon.
Jahn, a classically trained composer, wrote the music for the intro to the Tri-Nations games for the past three years plus numerous other events like the World Summit and Thabo Mbekis inauguration. He also does lots of theatre work.
The original idea behind Radio Lawa was three muso mates busking together on the porch. The outcome, however, is an avant-garde work of art straying into Philip Glass theatre music terrain.
For instance, one track has a squeaky gate opening and closing used as a musical instrument, leading to a sombre funereal hymn.
"It's an experimental soundscape. A garden gate we kept opening and closing to get to the studio had a nice squeak, so we recorded it. It was autumn, so I took dry leaves and crushed them to get background noise.
"This sound made me think of some desolate hill where a small community somehow survives and are putting somebody in the ground."
One of Riku's favourite tracks on the album is a poem by Willie Plaatjies which he stumbled on when Antjie Krog asked him to read it at the Nuwe steme III poetry festival.
"I'd never heard of this poet, but fell in love with his words, and immediately picked up my guitar and put it to music."
Die burg van hertog Bloubaard turns a set of poetry by Pretoria University creative writing professor Henning J. Pieterse into theatre. The work uses the legend of Bluebeard as a backdrop to a story of Henning's personal life.
Riku turned it into a musical theatre piece which he and actor Chris van Niekerk (Francois in 7de Laan) will premier at the Klein Karoo Kunstefees and then move on to Aardklop and the rest of the arts festival circuit.
"Arnaud and I come from the same school of playing pubs. Jahn comes from a different world, the drama world. He has done big productions, made music for big things. He has taken our music from this stranglehold of clubs and got us to step out onto a big stage.
"I'm lucky. I'm going to be sitting behind a piano and guitar. Chris has to do a lot of work on stage bringing the poetry to life."
Riku's musical arrangement of Henning's poetry is going to be performed at the same venue at the kunstefees as Jahn's new production Stock, so Jahn will do the sound engineering for Die burg van hertog Bloubaard.
"It makes me sad because Stock should be on a huge stage. It shouldn't be stuck in a small theater."
Riku's dream is to take his Die burg van hertog Bloubaard and Jahn's Stock on a road show.
"If people aren't going to the theatre, lets take these theatre productions to the people."
My favourite website is online US satire newspaper The Onion. Riku writes the closest local equivalent, Die Zimdollar. Here he adopts the persona of Die President, which is why his compilation of his previous three albums is called die president se keuse.
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