Deep South have announced that they will release their second album, Heartland, this November. The world music duo, comprised of Dave Ledbetter and Ronan Skillen, collaborated with some of Europe’s most sought-after world music musicians on this lyrical and fluid album. Creative Feel’s Tamaryn Greer spoke to Skillen about the release and making music.
Best known for his session work as a jazz musician, guitarist and pianist, Dave Ledbetter also fronted The Truly Fully Hey Shoo Wow Band in the 1980s and ‘90s. Respected among local musicians, Ledbetter has the unique ability to perform across genres. With Deep South he has distilled his vast knowledge of jazz, folk, funk and blues into an acoustic world music blend. He has performed with Miriam Makeba, Ray Phiri, Hein Van de Geyn, Sibongile Khumalo and Jimmy Dludlu, among others.
Multi-instrumentalist Ronan Skillen who plays the tabla, percussion and didgeridoo, is an enthusiast of global rhythms and is well known on the local scene for producing curious sounds and rhythms with his innovative hybrid drum kit. He specialises in world music with ‘groove and a sense of space’. Other than Deep South, he is also cofounder of Tonik, Swiss-SA trio A.Spell and Hot Water. He has performed with Rodriguez, Johnny Clegg and Freshlyground, to name a few.
Deep South is the realisation of the collaborative potential of a twelve-year friendship between Ledbetter and Skillen and the duo was officially formed in 2011. Despite the generational gap, there is a mutual respect and understanding that exists between the two. ‘Dave has an immense knowledge and history in music and it started off with a fascination from my side. We collaborated on and off, sometimes didn’t see each other for long stretches of time, but became Deep South over time,’ says Skillen. The name, Deep South, is a reference to where they both live in the Western Cape.
The partnership is a balanced one, with Ledbetter’s primary role being the composition of music, which Skillen describes as ‘lyrical and accessible’. While Skillen, though similarly incredibly musically talented, is the driving force, ensuring that recording happens and that albums are promoted. Skillen essentially recorded and produced their first album, A Waiting Land, himself. ‘I wouldn’t be able to do it without Dave and he wouldn’t be able to do it without me,’ Skillen adds.
The production of Heartland is the result of a coveted collaboration between Deep South and Swedish bassist and producer Björn Meyer. The Bern-based artist has featured on hundreds of recordings – notably with genre-defying record label ECM – since his beginnings with Milla Jovovich. Meyer regularly tours with ECM oud maestro Anouar Brahem and was a member of Zen-funk groove master Nik Bärtsch’s band, Ronin, also represented by the prestigious label. He has also produced all of the albums for his Swedish trio Bazar Blå.
Meyer and Skillen became friendly after meeting at workshops in Switzerland due to an arts residency that Skillen was awarded by Pro Helvetia (the Swiss Arts Council) a few years ago. They met subsequently on Skillen’s trips to Switzerland to work on other collaborations he had formed. The two began to talk more seriously about working together and Skillen gave Meyer A Waiting Land to listen to, ‘which he liked, thankfully,’ he laughs. He then agreed to Skillen’s idea that Deep South record their next album in Switzerland, produced by Meyer.
The recording process was funded by Pro Helvetia, another sign to Skillen that they were on the right track. ‘Björn is one of those people who has immense history and is sensitive to the process of capturing the essence in an uncorrupted way. I am very privileged to have worked with a man like him, given his musical history. I felt very supported throughout the whole process and needed to worry about nothing in terms of music and knew what was being recorded was as good as we could do it.’
Heartland comprises ten original pieces that feature some of Europe’s most versatile and innovative artists: Jan Galega Brönnimann (bass clarinet) of Brinkmanship, who’s played with artists such as Nils Petter Molvaer and Aly Keita; Samuel Würgler (trumpet and flugelhorn) of Balkan band Traktorchester; and Fredrik Gille (riq, frame drum and percussion), a specialist in flamenco and Arabic percussion who has performed with Andreas Vollenweider, among others.
To bring Heartland’s compositions to life at the South African launch, Deep South will be joined by Joburg-based experimental trumpet player Marcus Wyatt and Shaun Johannes, Deep South’s regular bassist.
Listeners can expect an impeccable performance of acoustic instrumental music, set in a landscape of sound with plenty of space, funky grooves and the odd ghost note.