In this interview Mango Groove represents the Rainbow Nation with punchy swing rhythms, SA Eclecto-PoP and a bit of a chaotic mish-mash.
So, how’s Mango Groove doing these days?
Couldn’t be better! Lots of great shows coming up, lots of nice big projects in the pipeline, and I’m loving performing now more than I ever have ☺
You haven’t played Pretoria in who knows how long. How long has it been?
I’m embarrassed to say it has been years! Some of our best concert memories are from Pretoria, though, so we can’t wait to get back!
Mango doesn’t do a lot of shows, to be honest, so I guess we were waiting for the right Pretoria show to come along: a stunning venue, I must say!
You’re playing the Koppi crowd on Sunday. Tell me about your OppiKoppi show?
We were absolutely blown away by the crowd: over 20 000 people, singing all the songs and at times so loud we couldn’t hear ourselves on stage. In all honesty, one of our favourite shows of all time.
At one point it seemed that Claire got quite emotional, surprised at the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd. Was that the case?
You’re right there: we had a lot of trepidation before the show, and weren’t even sure we would go down well at all. The warmth of the crowd really humbled us, and we felt so privileged to be there.
I like to describe Mango Groove as punchy swing rhythms. How would you describe Mango Groove?
Nice description ☺ Ja, Big Band Marabi, SA Eclecto-PoP! A bit of a chaotic mish-mash, I guess, but certainly (we hope!) lots of swing and punch!
Mango Groove is seen as a symbol for the rainbow nation. How do you feel about that association?
Thank you for that. We have been lucky enough through the years to have had the support of many South Africans of different generations through the years, so we consider it a positive and flattering association.
Was it part of the band plan to represent the rainbow nation or did it happen organically?
Very much an organic process: I don’t believe one can artificially create these sorts of things. We battled through the ‘80’s with lots of ‘’hit and misses’’, lots of disappointments and all the usual trials and tribulations that artists would have faced then (and continue to face today)…the band grew, we stuck with what we believed in, we played the music we loved, and in time many South Africans came through with their support…we remain truly grateful for this.
Why do you think music means so much to people?
Music goes straight to your emotional core, whether you are happy or sad, celebrating or mourning…in a way it becomes a sort of soundtrack to your life and to all your experiences and memories…that’s certainly what music has meant to me in my life.
What do you think of the music scene in South Africa today?
I think it’s really vibrant, rich and exciting. I do think we need to stand prouder, though, in celebrating our South African-ness in all it’s form, and not always playing second fiddle to non-SA artists.
Moments Away is a classic early nineties love ballad. Was it written in that vein to appeal to a broader or maybe an international market?
Thank you for the compliment! Ag, it was just written from the heart…one never knows where these things will go…Lots of ‘90’s influences, including a piano technique borrowed from Abdullah Ibrahim (!), but ja, it seems to have hung in there, and we are so touched when audiences sing it with us.
Do you consider any of your songs political or social statements?
I hope we’ve never been proselytizing in our music, but we’ve certainly reflected our own thoughts and feeling about our country and the enormous changes it has gone through in the last few decades. Hopefully people take what they want to from these songs…
To me Another Country, Special Star, Home Talk, Shoo-Roop and Penny Whistle really embody the Mango Groove vibe. What songs do you feel most personifies the Mango Groove spirit?
A few, I guess: Special Star, Hometalk, Another Country: very South African, in some ways very bittersweet, and all of them very personal reflections on our country, our history, our music…
Claire Johnston once said “you can’t escape the special star” and I can’t. Why do you think that is?
Well, it’s such an odd, unique song, you know, and certainly one that doesn’t fit any sort of commercial model: 7 minutes long, fast and slow, and the vocal starts half way through the song…bizarre! And yet, it really captured a time, a place, a moment…it struck many chords with South Africans, and to this day we love playing it…
Do you ever feel bittersweet?
Absolutely! A lot of music in our country’s history was celebratory, but it came out of adversity, and this is very much reflected in the music itself. This is a complicated, troubled and wonderfully unique country, and the music it has produced through the years reflects that.
More generally, in life I find that one’s greatest regrets can’t be separated from other achievements you are really proud of…bittersweet, certainly!
The progression in a song like Penny Whistle, was that planned or did it come naturally?
A lot of careful arrangement went into it, but at the same time the song sort of arranged itself…not sure if that makes any sense?
Is there any one album your consider your best?
I think we will always be held up against the first album, as it was the first time we properly consolidated our rather strange sound (!), but I also love the Hometalk album. The ‘’Bang the Drum’’ album is arguably my favourite one, though, as it went straight back to our early roots, I’m proud of the songs, and we had great fun doing it.
QUESTIONS and PHOTOS|Ivan Serfontein