LONDON GOES SA: Theuns Jordaan

LONDON GOES SA: Theuns Jordaan, the old school troubadour

Conrad Brand chats to Theuns Jordaan, one of the South African performers in the London Goes SA concert on 1 and 2 August.

LONDON GOES SA: Theuns Jordaan

TheunsI spoke to Theuns Jordaan at his family farm in the Karoo and as soon as he answered the phone, his familiar warm, deep voice poured down the line.

How did you start out in music?

I started off playing in pubs as a student in Stellenbosch and that is where I learned my craft. I played for about eight years before I recorded my first album which was released in 2000 and that’s where it all started.

Can you remember your first performance?

I can, I can! It was in a place called Upstairs in Stellenbosch in October 1992. I was a first year student and my fee was R400 and a pizza! And I think my first song might have been ‘Hotel California’ or ‘Streets of London’.

From your many hits it is clear that you know your supporters, or what they want to hear. What makes your music stand out from other South African artists?

Phew! I don’t know – you will have to ask the public. I’ve always been into live music, into the band thing. We don’t use too much technology when we record and I prefer to work with live musicians, from the drummers to the bass, guitars, piano and things like that. I always try to keep it real, with not too much technology although we keep up, without the computer consuming the music.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you sing?

It’s commercially friendly most of the time and apart from upbeat music, we enjoy the odd ballad here and there. I also give a lot of attention to lyrics — I try to say something in a way it’s not been said before. It is very lyrically driven.

Do you write your own songs and where do you get your inspiration from?

I do, some of it. Usually I try to keep it 50/50, I found that it works for me. I also cover songs when I feel the song works for me, it suits my voice and style. I like recording those and bringing my own flavour to it. Inspiration, well that is a difficult thing you know. Sometimes it is things that happen to you, or most often observations of the lives of others around you, social commentary. It is not always easy, but if you work on the lyrics, it can be achieved.

Of your own songs, which is your favourite?

My favourite is ‘Bloutrein’ and I think it’s because it’s been so simply recorded. I literally just recorded it with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, keeping it very real and the lyrics are a social commentary, trying to say something about the situation in our country.

What would your advice be to any aspiring singer in South Africa?

It’s getting very difficult because the industry is getting smaller and smaller, it’s getting very tight and very difficult for new names to break through. It’s even getting difficult for big names to sustain the sales they had five or six years ago. Firstly because of technology – people are buying fewer CDs and downloading more music and copying. The other factor is our current economic situation — people want to buy CDs but they simply can’t afford it. So my honest advice would be, if don’t have something really special to put on the table you are probably wasting your time. The record companies find it more and more difficult to make a decent turnover on the number of CDs sold so they are not really looking for new talent, except if it is something really special.

What has been your career highlight so far?

I would say winning the South African Music Award for biggest selling album last year. That is ultimately the highest award you can expect to receive in South Africa.

What have been your biggest audiences and your most memorable moments on stage?

My biggest audience was probably the festival in Nelspruit called Innibos. It has grown in the last three or four years to be the biggest festival in South Africa with huge crowds up to 40,000 people and those shows are always special. But then you can have a very special evening in a barnyard with only 500 people – that can just be as special. We had a sold out show in New Zealand last year, playing about 100,0 people and that was a very special show. It is always amazing playing overseas, the crowds are just that little bit more responsive and appreciative, because they don’t see Afrikaans music every month.

What is the strangest thing that has happened to you on or off stage?

I don’t know, really weird stuff. Sometimes fans lose their grip on reality and they think they are in some kind of relationship with you, for example when Juanita and I started doing our duet shows, I had this lady fan who wrote to me and said she could see there something between Juanita and I and that our relationship was now off! She was pretty convinced that we were in a relationship and she was not going to have any of this Juanita stuff.

How many followers do you have on Twitter and what was your last tweet?

I am not the country’s biggest tweeter. I think I have about 30,000 followers and I think my last tweet was marketing this show. I don’t really tweet personal stuff, I usually only use it for marketing.

Who is your favourite South African artist?

Valiant Swart, because of his lyrics and because he doesn’t seem to concern himself with too much commercial rubbish. He is a street poet and an old hero of mine. And Johnny Clegg is my other old school hero.

What is the first thing you will pack for this tour?

My guitar I guess, the rest I can get there.

Have you been to London before? What are you looking forward to doing while here? 

I’ve been there three times with the Ukkasie festivals in the early 2000s. So I am looking forward to visiting again. I actually lost a bet with Bok van Blerk so now I have to busk somewhere on the Tube or on a street corner— I still need to figure that one out!

If you were to see a West End show, what would it be i.e. would it be a musical, opera, drama or ballet?

Sjoe! To be honest I don’t like any of the above very much, but to get a away from the music, I would watch a drama.

What music do you listen too?

Very varied but I tend to like older poets like Bob Dylan, Tracey Chapman, Dire Straits, U2, Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen and Cat Stevens. I also enjoy a bit of country now and again.

Who is your hero?

Johnny Clegg.

Do you have any hobbies?

I’ve been on my parents farm in the Karoo for about a week now, I quite enjoy that. I also enjoy renovating and restoration, to give an old house a bit of a makeover. I have done it a few times and I think the creative process is why I enjoy it so much.

What would a normal day in the life of Theuns Jordaan be?

I manage myself and I am independent in the sense that I have my own record company, so it goes with a lot of admin. There is lots of stuff to do from Monday to Thursday before the shows start, so mostly it is business as usual. I have an office at home and have someone coming in every day who helps with bookings, looks at contracts, does marketing and facilitates interviews with far away newspapers.

If there was anything you could change in your past, what would it be and why?

Well, I should have taken those piano lessons at school — that was a mistake.

What places are on your bucket list?

I ticked off Nashville last year, but want to go back, so that’s still on the bucket list. That and the Serengeti. I’d like to see that.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Maybe in Nashville?

If you could sum yourself up in four words, what would it be?

Precise, fair and patient perfectionist.

Theuns Jordaan will be joined on stage on 1 and 2 August by Bok van Blerk, Riana Nel, Claire Johnston and Juanita du Plessis.

Tickets for London Goes SA are available on