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Q&A with Swing City

The Swing has Swung, but Still Swinging Away!

Q & A with Louw Mulder

Recently, I have written a lot about how artists in South Africa must be innovative and perform out of the box in order to maintain a competitive advantage in the industry.

A good example, is when you have three artists, each with his own unique style and genre, who combine their talents, and end up swinging towards their own SAMA nomination.

Graeme Watkins, Nathan Ro, and Loyiso Bala, did just that, when Swing City received a nomination this year for their brand new album, Now Listen Properly. I caught up with the threesome…


How did Swing City happen?  Were the three of you friends before the time? How was the idea born?

Graeme’s band and mine (Nathan’s) used to play together all the time. We actually really got to know each other when our bands were touring LA. We only met Loy when we decided to start swinging and cheating on our bands but the chemistry was immediate.

How did you guys determine, or notice the need for an all SA Swing band?

We honestly did zero market research for Swing City when we started. It really was just a passion project. Only once we got a booking (before having an official rehearsal), did we realize how much people love the genre.

 What were your guys’ reaction to the response for Well Swung, your first album?

It’s always amazing when people receive something you have made with fondness!

Each one of you have your own projects on the side.  How does Swing City fit in to that lifestyle?

It works out quite well actually. A lot of Swing City gigs take place during the week and the rock gigs are usually weekend affairs. But Swing City has become its own animal, so it has taken priority. We also have amazing departments that fill in for us, if one of us is double booked.

Graeme, The Graeme Watkins Project is a rock band, but then you also display the love for the swing genre.  How do you bring the two together?  Are there other genres you would also like to pursue in the future?

Graeme: Growing up in a family of musicians and music lovers, I was heavily influenced by the varying tastes of both my parents and siblings, alike. Having this early exposure to all types of music allows me to easily adopt the persona required to stay as authentic as possible, as each genre requires a very specific approach. My love for the swing genre is particularly strong, as my father often took me to shows as a young boy and being a double bassist in a swing band himself, I had a huge role model in him, growing up.

RnB and Soul are also particular favourites of mine, with Stevie Wonder at the helm, but alas, I never really had the voice or the tone for it and I have accepted this sad truth.

Swapping between genres is only made easy if you understand what makes that genre tick. If not, then rather stay away and try something you do know and understand. That however, does not suggest that a skill cannot be learnt though practice.

It’s not so much that I merge the two genres in my life (Rock and Swing), but simply balance them, as they each possess their own unique character and carry their own weight; each deserving their own respect.

Loyiso, your solo career is doing very well.  Do you think the market in South Africa has welcome your different styles and especially this collaboration, as it did with your solo material?

Loyiso: What I love about SA is that the audience is not segregated as one might think, when it comes to preferences in musical styles. So to them, if you do good RnB, good rock, good gospel, and even good swing, they will accept it with ease. As long as the delivery is authentic and of a good quality. Therefore, as long as I do my best to always perfect the style of music that I’m doing, I believe that I’ll be okay.

Nathan, you’ve been involved in the music industry, but you have also been acting in soaps, as well as teaching.  Is most of your attention mainly focused now on Swing City, or are there future plans to reunite Lonehill Estate, or might we even see you back on the small screen?

Nathan: Well, Lonehill Estate never broke up or anything, we just have long gaps of not doing anything… We actually just recorded a new song, so hopefully you’ll hear it on radio soon. As far as the small screen is concerned, you will definitely see me on YouTube…

Much is said about talent competitions in SA.  Graeme was on Idols, Nathan on Project Fame, and Loyisa made a mark as judge on many of these.  Would you guys say that there is still a place for talent competitions?

I don’t have any issues with talent shows per se, I think they often showcase talent that otherwise would go undiscovered. They are often however just a big PR injection. Anyone who thinks they have made it because they won a talent show, are in for a wakeup call. You’ve only just begun…

How did these talent competitions groom you, to what you are now?

They are great because they expose you. People recognize you and you start to mix in circles that allow you to keep going.

The New album Now Listen Properly, was nominated for a SAMA this year… What does it mean for the trio, to have been nominated?

It is such an honour to be recognized by people in the industry. When your peers put you forward, it is almost a greater honour than winning (I have to say that because we lost ?)

How would this nomination mould your approach to future albums?

Well, we are replacing our horn section with a flute section and we are definitely going to have to collaborate with the Soweto Gospel Choir.

You unfortunately lost out to Symphonic Soweto, by Wouter Kellerman as well as The Soweto Gospel Choir.  Do you think that their genre should be in the same category as yours?

I guess every musician secretly wishes they could have their own personal category but then, what would be the point? Luckily, we are not that competitive. The fact that other people are making good music that people love, is good for everyone.

How did you guys choose, or come to an agreement, on the track listing for Now Listen Properly?

It was a very long list that became a very short list. There was some calming down of a stressed out musical director, some sneaky moves and some bribery and corruption ,to get your way… And there you go?

What was the main purpose / goal behind Now Listen Properly?

We really wanted to bring the Swing genre home to SA. That’s why we included South African songs from Locnville, Joy, Lira and even Kurt Darren.

Do you guys think you have achieve this?

I do. The proof is in the live shows when you see how the audience respond to and enjoy the local stuff, our next move is to show it to other countries.

Are you guys working on a third album / other projects?

We haven’t started yet but I’m sure we are all, already playing around with some ideas so long…

Any chance of future collaborations between Swing City and Loyiso as solo artist / the Graeme Watkins Project / Lonehill Estate? 

That would be awesome… And diverse.

What is Swing City’s message to the world out there? 

The world seems to be going through a tough time, people have had to tighten their belts, and depression is at an all time high. We are here to let you know that it’s going to be alright, tomorrow will be better than today, so smile. If you can’t, then come watch one of our shows and we will help you out…

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