Daniella Deysel recently turned her poetry into music and recorded an album with Chris Chameleon. I had a chat with her about poetry and all the things that inspire creativity.

Firstly, please tell us a bit about yourself? Where are you from and what inspires you about the world?

I was born and raised in the beautiful Namibia. All over Namibia, in fact. We moved around a lot so I had the privilege of growing up on dunes at the coast, having my feet thorn-blasted on the grassy planes of the central savannah and sitting in traffic jams caused by elephants way up north.

I was constantly busy doing my mother’s hair and make-up for the concerts she had to attend in the living room. I used anything I can find to create characters with different accents. From creations of Sara Hussein, Sister Anna to Banana man, I played them all and made sure the rugby wasn’t on that day otherwise I would only have my mom and sister attending.

I soon got to the awkward puberty phase and limited my performances to only my mom. And soon the performances just stopped all together.

What got you into writing?

Getting used to a new school everytime I just started settling in and the fact that adolescents are not always the most welcoming of creatures, inspired a new character, The Introvert. I played this character most of my high school career. I started writing poetry and hid it in my room. One day my mom came across the bundle of scribbles and came bursting into the kitchen rejoicing and hugging me. She had thought that I totally lost my passion for the arts and motivated me to share my poetry with the rest of the world. Which I didn’t.

You recently turned your poetry into music with Chris Chameleon. Tell us a bit about that experience and the recording process?

I met Chris when I was busy completing my final year of BA Drama at the University of Stellenbosch.

When I finished my studies I decided to move to Johannesburg in search of pots of gold. I went from soapie audition to theatre audition walking out everytime and waiting for the phone to ring. Soon the pots turned into nuggets and the nuggets turned into golden spray paint. Up until then I learned that it doesn’t just happen.

During my friendship with Chris, he was always aware that I wrote poetry, but I never had the guts to show him any. I think he is one of South Africa’s best lyricists and songwriters, so it might be a little intimidating sharing the scribbles with someone like him. One day he asked me again to show him and I finally gathered the courage and showed him 5 of my poems. I gave him the poems to read and walked out the room, standing outside until he had finished. I was too embarrassed to see his reaction. He called me back into the room. He was sitting there smiling and asked if he could keep them.

Much later he told me that he would like to play me a few of my poems that he had composed into songs. I was very excited! Now I could finally hear what my poems sound like in music. It was magical. I started humming along to the otherworldly tunes as he played them to me and he stopped playing. He then asked me if he can compose some more of my poems and if I would like to sing on the album. It was all very overwhelming and unexpected. I agreed before thinking it through.

I didn’t know the first thing about singing professionally. Chris started taking me along to his gigs and made me do the sound check, which happens before the show starts, with him. I had to get used to singing with a microphone, and singing in front of people (the poor sound engineers that had to sit through that). As one more training task, Chris asked me to do the harmonies on his album ‘Herleef’. I went into studio for the first time. A singing booth, a microphone and earphones, all alone, with the producer and other renowned musicians, like Schalk Joubert and Albert Frost watching me from behind the glass in another booth. It was scary!

By the time we started recording at Tommy Tucker studios with producer, Fred den Hartog, I had become a little more accustomed to the protocol. Chris created a very safe and relaxed environment in studio for me. He gave me lots of freedom to rather ‘feel it out’ instead of ‘singing it out’. We had so much fun recording that before we knew, we had finished laying all the vocals for all the songs in three days.

Do you think there’s a difference between writing poetry and writing lyrics?

I think poetry has more freedom to flow freely from the thoughts and feelings of the writer. It has no road it needs to walk on, it can just float and become. It is not bound to a certain melody that needs to support the words or vice versa, which can maybe influence the lyrics when writing it alongside a melody.

What is happiness for you, as writer and creator?

Putting the pen down, sitting back in my chair and staring at the newly created words.

How would you inspire something who’s not that into poetry to give it a chance?

I wouIdn’t ask them to read it, I think that’s why a lot of people avoid poetry, because they think they need to understand it when they read it. I would ask them to come to one of the Posduif shows. Where Chris and I perform the songs from the album. Where they can just sit and relax and experience the poems through music. Music has the ability to cross bridges for people, without them having to lift a finger.

When writing, what would you say is the ratio between writing and staring?

I think staring happens before the idea of even writing about the staring happens. Staring is definitely a good formula for writing, just be sure to wear your sunglasses.

Do you use pen and paper or do you slap keyboard and do you have special pens or paper you like to use?

Poems happen mostly when staring, and the best staring takes place in nature or whilst sitting in public or even during sleep, which is also a glorified stare with our eyes closed. I don’t always have my iPad or PC with me when this happens, thus I always make sure I have my little note book and pencil with me, in fact, any old piece of paper or pencil will do. Pencil, because I like the story about the American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts.

As a writer I often fear being self indulgent. Do you ever have such concerns?

No, I don’t

If you’re voice had a color, what color would it be?

Pink. Pink stains better than black or mustard.

If you had to choose only one, what theme would you say your work revolves around?

Falling. Into, out of, away from, of just falling…freely.

Apparently, the creative urge is a sort of neurosis. What’s your take on that?

Yes it is, and as artists we have the privilege of having a constructive outcome for it.

What do you find most puzzling about this whole being human experience?

Why they can land a spacecraft on a comet, but not talk people out of buying low fat or skim milk.

If you could have a play on Broadway. What would it be called?

A musical called “What they don’t want you to know”.

What would it be about?

It would be about everything they don’t want you to know.

Why do you think poetry is so important to people?

It’s not important to people, if it was we would be millionaires;)

Get the album right here

QUESTIONS|Ivan Serfontein
PHOTOS|Jo Spies

Changing Colors: The Chris Chameleon Interview