It’s a Friday night in Pretoria and things are happening somewhere. But for blues fans the only way to get an injection of the good stuff is probably to pour yourself a slow whiskey and crank up some old vintage blues tunes at home. This is not Cape Town you know. Here be no wine farms and jazz & blues festivals are smaller and few and far between…but I decide to take a break from my vinyl addiction and pop in at Cafe Barcelona, one of the few Pretoria music joints where you’ll find decent music. Tonight the SA Blues Society is showcasing local blues talent. Mostly amateur guys cooking up some great blues – purely for fun. But one band stands out from the rest. Straight outta Joburg. Raoul and Black Friday!
I’ve been following this project for the past three years. It’s essentially a solo project launched in 2009 by Joburg Axeman, Raoul Roux. I saw Raoul and Black Friday live for the first time in 2012. Raoul doesn’t have a fixed band but plays with different members from time to time. So I saw different versions of the band live a couple of times with Raoul being the creative mind behind it all. I got hold of the debut album ‘Say it Ain’t So’ sometime in the middle of last year and I’ve been listening to it ever since.
With only 20 or so people in the audience and limited quality of sound (it is a small venue after all) they kick off with some hardcore blues…and it’s just the sound check, man….the rest is yet to come…
Look, I love it when there’s only a few people in the audience – when the blues is great, it’s a kind of musical telepathy. It’s contagious and very visible. Everyone feels the energy. Everyone. But nevertheless I want to rant a bit. I admit the blues, blues rock, bluegrass and folk music has a niche following in South Africa – and yes the demand is not as high as with local commercial music. But I think we can do better in terms of support. We also live in a complex, still very much divided society. I can only speak from my experience but the black middle class (who can afford it) generally don’t rush to go and see live blues acts here in Pretoria. It may be different in some parts of Joburg or Cape Town but I doubt it. When it comes to niche music most prefer jazz. I know this because I try to connect with people through music and my jazz knowledge is very limited. It’s also a fantastic genre and I try to keep up…but it’s strange if you consider the roots of the blues. Think about it, there is a potential fan base that is extremely limited for blues artists in our country at the moment. I’ve seen theaters and music bars in Gauteng packed with white folks before – though we know there is interest from that quarter, it’s also not as consistent as it should be. No doubt our country’s past caused some preconditioned artificial barriers when it comes to music. I went to both the Carlos Santana and Bruce Springsteen concerts at FNB stadium and the racial demographics were totally different. It was very interesting for me to see: one was lily white and the other was so diverse, man. So I’m a bit confused about this. I don’t want to sound like a politician, but we really need to break down these barriers. And what better way to do it with then a shot of the blues, man….
The band is really cooking and the crowd is under their spell. Raoul Roux’s style is influenced heavily by Stevie Ray Vaughn and (of course) Hendrix, now and then you’ll hear a touch of the eighties – Gary Moore riffs and Van Halen finger tapping – but what I love the most is when Raoul gets into the groove with Tom Morello sounding chords. It’s hard rocking blues and it’s fucking delicious. No bullshit – served straight up – in your face. It’s totally different from most of the Cape Town blues acts. Like an old friend of mine used to say to fellow passengers when the airplane landed at OR Tambo. Welcome to Joburg – the safe part of your journey is now over. Dis rof boet en ek love dit. But the lyrics are also poetic and self reflective at times. I love this too. He’s not overly exhibitionist but – make no mistake – he’s got the chops. And there’s great chemistry between Raoul and his band members and it flows over to the crowd.
So not only is there a limited fan base but South Africans have this tendency to listen to all kinds of mindless shite. I don’t have to name and shame. You know them all. How do we promote the blues to potential fans? I’ve also met true blues fans who don’t know half of the local talent out there. I hear you. Marketing = money. SA blues musos simply can’t throw money at the problem and get an advertising campaign behind them to try and sway public opinion now can they? It’s a miracle that despite these almost insurmountable odds you have musos like Raoul and Black Friday going out there, doing their thing with talent and passion. Working their asses off while you wind down with a drink. It’s inevitable that this rare breed has to find a way to eventually tour overseas – not unlike most SA musicians. I really don’t have solutions locally, but word of mouth is a good place to start! So end of rant and back to business.
Let’s do things a bit differently this time around and bring Raoul Roux into the conversation. After all, he’s living the dream everyday!
RRP: Thanks for agreeing to do this Raoul. My first question is simple: You guys go out there night after night – sticking it to the man – getting fans all blues’d up. Sometimes large crowds, sometimes smaller ones.What makes you get up on stage every night and play with such passion and drive?
Raoul: Over the last ten years I have played a lot of different styles of music, blues and blues rock music really comes naturally to me, it speaks to me and I think that would translate into soul, passion and drive. I love it!
RRP: I’m going to use the term “the blues” broadly. But what I want to know is this: Why the blues, man? Why not commercial stuff that will sell like koeksisters at a Church Bazaar?
Raoul: I have played in commercial bands before and have had success with some, the problem is that you have a shelf life when you play for the market. In South Africa you have around five years and then you have to move on. I would like a career with longevity and history has shown that artists who remain true to themselves stand the test of time.
I dedicated my life to playing guitar and for me that is what is important. I truly believe in my music unlike other projects I have done.
RRP: Raoul and Black Friday is the quintessential Joburg blues band, paying your dues in the big hard city. The song ‘Black Friday’ brilliantly tells the story. Why do you think even seasoned musicians have to work much harder to get proper exposure in South Africa? What in your experience limit blues artists here? And what can be done to change this?
Raoul: It’s quite simple, the Media and Press are generally not involved enough in South African music and even less invested in the blues. Unfortunately, the South African public are fed “safe” options and without genre specific radio stations there is no space for the blues.
RRP: We had a conversation last year about why there’s no big blues festivals in Gauteng. The Cape Town guys seem to get it right. Do you think there’s a market for it here?
Raoul: Oh yes there is a market, but not always a budget, but we have something in the planning. Watch this space…..
RRP: ‘Say it ain’t so’ is a great blues rock album. Compared to other blues artists, you have a much more rugged hard rock blues sound – even the slow blues songs have an edge to them. Is it geography (the spirit of Joburg), childhood muso heroes or the chemistry of the band that influenced your sound?
Raoul: I think it has a lot to do with the environment we live in. I see my music as the perfect outlet for this Joburg city life, and it’s like the Wild West out here sometimes.
RRP: Where can the readers go to get more info about Raoul and Black Friday with regards to history, gigs and where can they buy your CD ‘Say it Ain’t So’?
Raoul: My website at http://www.raoulandblackfriday.com where you can find all the links.
Music is available on:
RRP: Maybe just give a few highlights where you’ll be playing in the next few weeks. Spread the word!!
Raoul: I’m playing at the Cockpit Brewhouse in Cullinan on Saturday 21 March, Die Stoep in Nelspruit on 17 April, also we will be performing at Marks Park on 27th April (Freedom Day). It’s going to be a big one! Or go to http:// www.raoulandblackfriday/tour.
RRP: I heard you’re cooking up something new. Can you give us info on when it will be completed? What can we expect? Give us some detail bro!
Raoul: He he, I am currently writing some acoustic stuff which will be just me and my guitar, very intimate stuff! And that should be the next album going out. I’m pretty excited about it!
I am also busy with the second full band album and there are going to be some great tunes on this one, as we grow so does our music.
Also a tour abroad planned for the end of June! We’ll announce details once it’s all set up.
RRP: One of the things I’d like to achieve with this blog is to get more people to support local blues bands (amongst other genres). What message do you have for curious people and existing blues fans who rarely or never go and watch local talent?
Raoul: Get out there, there is some amazing talent in South Africa and people need to go and explore, share and experience great music, you will not find any of these jewels on commercial radio.
RRP: And last but not least I have many readers who are vinyl junkies and, on their behalf, I always promote analogue recording of albums. Most vinyl junkies love it when local artists record in analogue and press vinyl. Is it something you may consider doing in future?
Raoul: I would love to put my music on vinyl and record analogue and once we hit the jackpot we’ll go straight into studio.
RRP: Thanks again man! May the blues be with you!
Raoul: Thank you for supporting the blues! Keep up the good work!