The HA! of Music and Words
The HA!Man with his trademark spontaneous cello, keyboard and electronic accompaniments is joined by Belgian partner and word artist Joke Debaere, together criss-crossing the globe with a deeply memorable flow of heartfelt creative expressions, ever open to the moment, reflective of past experiences and hopeful towards a more connective humanity.
Our story(s) as i know it (now)
We both walked a path of being singled out as very gifted, often landing in positions and moments of great promise, but eventually finding ourselves at an existential sort of dead-end. My background is in music, Joke's in theatre. My father stimulated me in the direction of spontaneous expression, before my mother (a trained pianist and music teacher) took me under her formal wing to “learn the notes.” I walked this parallel line - between piano and cello lessons, orchestra playing and formal composition, and improvisation, which i utilized being a church organist since age ten - all through my formative years in Johannesburg. Joke made theatre plays for her siblings as a child and excelled in various creative activities during her schooling in Kortrijk, Belgium, always relying on a good dose of direct expression and improvisation. My "dead-end" came after theological and music studies in Stellenbosch, as my creative breathing space in the formal environments dried up, and hers, after struggling to find room for her deeper feelings both in theatre school at Maastricht and having run her own theatre company in Antwerp for some years. I came through in 1992 by plunging myself on stage with raw improvised music performances and she threw herself into semi-autobiographical writing, while we both sustained other mediums of expression, including dancing and visual art. After almost a decade of hitch-hiking and street performances, plus another decade of being the "HA!Man," making use of electronics to become a kind of continent marauding one-man band, and after Joke spent six years working for a bookshop while producing a small mountain of writings in her free time, we met. Within two years, Joke left Antwerp to join me on the "HA! road" as I entered a new phase of growing a full-on collaboration with her.
But what is HA!? HA! is HA! for a lack of any better description. How can i explain the moment of being creative? How can i define something that needs the nothing to be born? How can i package a performance that has no plan, no preconceived theme, a performance that in fact relies on NOT knowing what lies ahead? HA! So we enter the stage, each time with a lifetime of real and artistic experience; we enter with rich inner worlds and deep musical, poetic and dramatic languages; I also enter with a whole library of electronic accompaniments that shoots forth orchestral, band, ethnic, ensemble and experimental styles and textures and so does Joke enter with her library of writings, characters and thematic material to dip into. But it is only with the act of being on stage on strength of carrying an urge to share with an audience, that we decide, or rather feel, what it is that we will do, moment by moment, item by item, show by show. We die and get born each time we perform. As our collaboration is in process, i still carry the bulk of the performance, with the cello at the heart of it. I have played the cello for over fourty years. I stroke it, slap it, caress it and fire it up. When it becomes too small for me, i dance. Or i go over to the keyboard. Or i play both at the same time. Or i grab little flutes or go off about some human issue lying close to my heart. At times, Joke will enter. She might read a poem, tell a story, but mostly she waits for a sound from me and then find herself creating song-like poetry - in English, French or Dutch - on anything from her most intense feelings to global warming to a blind man taking a bus to nowhere, in direct flow with me, not missing one word. (Yes, WITH me, as I go along WITH her, adding this magical interactive dimension neither of us can ever offer by ourselves). Each performance becomes a journey made unique and memorable by the specific setting (whether a garden, living room, theatre or large concert hall), the people attending and one of the many hosts around the world who makes it all happening.
Needless to say, we have no managers or agents. We share, people come forward with ideas and invitations, we communicate, relationships grow. Every year we tour South Africa twice (Feb-March, Aug-Sept), Europe during April-May and North America during Oct-Nov. This cycle is an evolving story in itself, keeping us close to the ground, stimulating the sources of our creativity. Oh yes, we also came together in eating mostly raw food.. and our creative products - cds, dvds, books and other things - come without artificial colouring and preservatives. We carry all we need to live and perform where we go and from 2017 we will be based close to nature, near a town called Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape (which is close to Hogsback, where i was previously based for nine years). Apart from performances, i am still active in giving workshops in Spontaneous Creativity, where the HA! and the NOT-knowing is thrown on anyone - from toddlers to the elderly, from high-end music students to the disabled. I also love visiting schools, where i am "allowed" to be the HA!Man for real, losing my mind in order to find it again, blowing ruffling and inspiring winds of HA! energy from assembly to assembly. (How many schools have i been to? From the Leysin American School in the Swiss Alps, to Bokoro School in the Lesotho Drakensberg - and all the plains in between!) And finally, we both are keen collaborators when meeting fellow artists with kindred spirits - whether at the Center Studios in Los Angeles or in a dusty hall in Rhini township outside of Grahamstown, not to mention my own predilection to work with choirs and orchestras. Play play play! The future from here is as open and as grounded as a HA! moment. We are ready for it. In humble thanks to all - family, friends, hosts and audience members - that keep the conversation, and our journey, alive. For more, visit hamanworld.com and hamanworld.com/jokedebaere.
Francois le Roux (HA!Man) January 2016