Verve K’s EP is for everyone who still has faith in music as art and not just noise, writes Ace Moloi.
Of silent birds and tweeting humans
It’s Sunday, 02 December 2018. A day South Africa will never forget. The Santa of the nation, Patrice Motsepe, is throwing an early Christmas turn-up in honour of Nelson Mandela. So, the BPM of the nation’s mood is a million times faster than the average Gqom song.
Today, birds have taken a break from chirping; they have delegated the tweeting to humans. For the songbird-in-chief is in the country. Beyoncè: a global citizen in our hearts.
On all sides the Beyhive is buzzing a honeyed melody of Facebook check-ins and Instagram captions, and I’m starting to feel left Beyhind. No fault in the hype, honestly. Beyoncè has this charm that temporarily suspends any memory of your other heroes. Like Mandela himself. Who is Moses Mabhida again?
A concert for local citizens
It has just gone over almost 400km away from the FNB Stadium. We’re in SA’s centremost city, Bloemfontein. The Ivy Lounge to be precise. It’s the launch of Verve K’s Inner Thoughts EP and we’re keeping up with the nation’s verve on the rooftop.
The sun inches towards the mountains with the shyness of newlyweds who now have to kiss in the presence of their pastor. A cool breeze penetrates the dying summer heat to give us a preview of what’s to come on the other side of sunset.
Les DJ warms the atmosphere on the decks, flanked by a live band for a musical buffet of Black Motion’s culinary artistry.
People file in to take up space on the upper floor of the house that Shaxe built.
The production is a total bliss, and every head is nodding, pleasured by the gentle roughness of the drum boy’s stick and the considerate fingerings of the piano boy.
The bass guitarist squints somewhat nonchalantly as the sun smiles on his face, as if to pass on the baton of glory to him. The rich groans of his guitar corrupt a few loins, and a voice from behind whispers in my ear: “If you’re going to write about this event, you have to say something about him.”
The once brightly yellow sun is now a centimetre away from retirement, with its colour having faded into hues of dusty orange.
The live performance is simmering in the innermost realms of the human soul. So much so the bachelors among us seem to be yearning for a smooth hand to squeeze.
As the opening acts make way for the king of the night, there’s no doubt in my heart that if curtain-raising is about raising the bar for the main performer, then each artist who took to the stage before Verve K’s set deserves a heartfelt round of applause.
On set and on fire
Verve is finally here. The wait cost us a couple of hours, plus drinks we didn’t budget for. He is with his band, notably Bloem’s star saxophonist Lebogang Ramagaga.
In terms of cotton, he has kept things simply smart. A black skinny jean wraps itself around his athletic body, the whiteness of his shirt appeals to the eye, and this black tie seals his appearance in respectability.
Now comfortable, he begins his performance with the INTRO to the EP. With it he’s basically explaining that he’s been thinking about releasing new material, but he wasn’t ready. Now that he is, he does his first link: “My name is Verve K. Welcome to Inner Thoughts.”
As he moves from song to song, the temperature rises to a heatwave, and I worry that if nobody stops him, the fate of Cubana will befall Ivy Lounge. I’m soon consumed by his fiery performance, and when he performs MAYENI, I ditch my writing assignment to join the growing circle.
MAYENI tells a story of responsibility. He sings about a boy who’s neglected the herd. The boy’s negligence is attacking his father’s heart, and Verve K assumes the role of an elder, necessarily reminding the boy that our actions affect everyone else connected to us.
THONGO is a worship song. A war cry. It’s a chant that calls upon ancestors to take up arms and intercede for the nation. The lyrics stand against violence and promote the values of love and respect. It is optimistic in its messaging, speaking to the narrative of a rising Africa. Speaking of Africa rising, I look forward to dancing to this song in a Black Coffee mix.
This is how KHUMBUL’EKHAYA, everybody’s fave, was born: Verve K’s childish act of swallowing his whole allowance before buying a bus ticket home turned him into a homesick loner in the City of Tshwane, and when SK 95 invited him to the campus radio station’s recording studio, he directly sang about missing home. Many years later, the song is in Verve K’s first official body of work, showing some of his newest compositions flames.
By now I’m screaming, “Ke ya heso, nna.”
As he therapeutically and medicinally performs it, a mood of deliverance surrounds us. Most of us place our hands on our chests so that our hearts don’t fall. Some lift their eyes as if in prayer. Others bow their heads to listen to their own inner thoughts.
The inner thoughts of a gypsy
Verve K, self-proclaimed as a gypsy, is one of SA’s brightest musicians whose rise to the limelight came as a result of his outstanding delivery on the vocals of Khumbul’ekhaya (with SK 95).
Vocally, he’s an arsonist of note – he can set fire to the rain. What is more, his music is without vulgarity.
He aims to separate himself as an artist whose music has a thought process. “I want to make timeless music,” he tells me, citing his diploma in music as the influence behind his work. He says he’s not about trending sounds, but is focused on building his followership organically.
This kind of desired growth means introducing his fans to his other music beyond Khumbul’ekhaya. “I’m not only Mr. Khumbul’ekhaya. I can go jazz. I can go tribal. I’m a whole artist,” protests the TUT alumnus and CUT FM radio presenter.
Yet, even with a qualification in music, a voice many can only wish to have, and a Top 20 hits show, Verve K is still not insulated from the demons of the industry. He reveals: “I was on the verge of actually stopping [making music]. Earlier this year I said I was stopping everything. I was angry. It just wasn’t working out. I wasn’t getting gigs. I was hitting writers’ block.”
It’s Sunday, 02 December 2018. A day Verve K will never forget. He will etch it on the skin of his heart forever. The success of his EP validated his creative path, assuring him that there’s space for his art in this era of flying Gqom beats and a poverty of writing. This fuels him with inspiration, which I hope will translate into real prosperity from the billions Beyoncè is here to raise.
Ace Moloi is the author of Holding My Breath and other works.
Also published on Medium.