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A Synergy Of Expansive Opposites

Sarah Jane Mary Hills – EP Child of Ancestors

cover image - Child of Ancestors

A short Review and an Interview with Sarah Jane Mary Hills by Helge Janssen

All Artwork featured by SJMH ©

Another Review of this album can be found here

 

There is a quote on Sarah Jane Mary Hills’ FB page by Georgia O’Keeffe:

“I’m frightened all the time. But I never let it stop me. Never!”

flower -  photography SJMH

 

Born in England but spending most of her life in South Africa, Sarah Jane Mary Hills has been an active songwriter for fourteen years having begun her musical career as a bass player and backing vocalist in South African band Sunways. After performing, writing and winning Best Rock album at the South African Music Awards with the band and touring extensively between 2003/6 in Ireland and England, Sarah returned to Durban where she is currently based. Aryan Kaganof (artist, author, film and documentary maker) made an exquisite video (The Portrait of a Lady) of her first solo song “Dirty Slut” (2007).

 

Child of Ancestors is Sarah’s debut solo EP and bristles with inventiveness and originality. Its like something I have never heard before…it slides and slips between rhythms, levels, depths; illusively, trying to escape detection – like an extremely rare creature (an alien combination of animal, fish, plant and human) that has a finely attuned radar that only allows it to have brief moments in moon shadow to forage for food and water at specific depths of the night. And, should it linger a moment too long, its fragility would be the cause of its demise like Cinderella at midnight.

Conversely, it is this same appreciation of lingering, hovering, floating that forms the backbone and strength of Child of Ancestors. This solid mix of extraordinary opposites has resulted in an artistic gravitas which makes the album such a wonderous achievement. Its as if Sarah has taken her detailed close up images of flowers (a photographic passion she has pursued for many years) capturing an ethereal translucent beauty, a world of intricate detail, and transformed them into sound!

petals - photography SJMH

 

This discernment of artistic consciousness permeates the poetic and lyrical phrasing of the rhythms. The sense of time lapse and free form in the musical structure has an expansive impressive and expressive effect. Sarah’s guitar work swirls, strums and provokes through the aural landscape. The lyrics stretch the poetic import underpinning the metre in a dreamlike, meditative and layered (Sarah also on backing vocals and harmonies) exploration of ‘eternal time’. The guitars are crisp and warm. Additional instrumentation, mixing and mastering is by Warrick Sony at Milestone Studios, Cape Town.

“Only Love” is undoubtedly my favourite:

I can hear the sound

music’s all around

the wind is singing

that there is only love

there is only love

it is in the breezes bringing

and if you don’t know

then you will

if you just let it flow

then it will

so find a way to look within

the grace of love is everything

the clouds are just like angels wings

and if you listen you can hear the wind

singing

that there is only love

there is only love

 

I was privileged to be granted an exclusive Sarah Jane Mary Hills interview:

 

H.J.: When were these songs penned?

 

I began writing my own material in 2005. My mother had just passed away and it was a way of dealing with the pain of that event. At the same time I decided I didn’t have the energy required to continue with being an active live member of Sunways. We were making headway in the UK but were also having to do full time day jobs. After the struggle of being a professional musician in South Africa, especially with the constant touring, and then emigrating and attempting the same frenetic pace overseas I was just plain exhausted.

Robbie Boake and I maintained the songwriting side of things and worked on demos for a future Sunways album for a number of years as well as working on our side-project called Ambient Anarchy which was more instrumentally based (guitar and bass) and free-form.

SUNWAYS1

I started thinking seriously about making an album of my own in about 2007 after I released the song Dirty Slut and got a lovely response from it. Previously I had never considered myself as a singer even though I had done backing vocals in the band but I guess it gave me the confidence to believe that perhaps I could be a songwriter in my own right.

About a year after that Robbie and I split up permanently and this had a profound effect on me. I started working on journals, writing in order to make some sense of everything that had happened over the previous few years. The therapeutic writing became something I did so regularly that it wasn’t long before lyric writing became something I did automatically.

Some of the songs on Child Of Ancestors were written a number of years back and some are more recently penned. And all were recorded over the last couple of years in my makeshift studio at home.

 

H.J.: How and when did you connect up with Warrick? (Warrick Sony of Kalahari Surfers fame)

 

I have known Warrick Sony for many years and worked with him for a time at Shifty Records in Johannesburg. I have always been a great admirer of his musical work and he’s a wonderful person. When Warrick heard some of the songs I had on my Myspace page he got in contact with me and asked me whether I would be prepared to do a vocal track for one of his songs on his album, One Party State. It worked out really well and I ended up doing some more singing on his recently released album, Agitprop.

Earlier this year Warrick suggested that I start sending him some of my own songs and suggested that he mix them for me. I had been worrying about how to approach the album because I didn’t feel that what I’d been recording was good enough. In the end I decided to try and relax with it and started sending him some of my tracking and he began the mixing process.

I love what he’s done to the tracks. He’s left them sparse and pared down but at the same time has added some very subtle instrumentation into some of them that adds to the dreamy quality of the music and that’s exactly what I wanted.

 

HJ: What was the easiest part and the most difficult part about this project?

 

I suppose the most difficult part of the project has been my set-up at home. I have a dodgy interface that only allows me to mic up instruments and I have no soundproofing, so there was a lot of background noise and hiss that Warrick had to deal with. I think the best part was putting the discs with my tracking on into envelopes and posting them to Cape Town and knowing that the process was underway.

 

H.J.: Are there any performance plans?

 

I’m considering doing some performing. I’m also doing a lot of writing at the moment, finishing some songs that I hadn’t had a chance to complete before, and working on new material. Child Of Ancestors is really just the beginning for me and I would dearly love to put out another album next year. I am also keen to continue collaborating with other artists and have plans to do an album of South African cover versions at some point.

SUNWAYS3

 

Sunways – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1ipx0ndkVA

Dirty Slut – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Bc2XdDMrO8

http://www.sarahjanemaryhills.bandcamp.com

http://www.myspace.com/sarahjanemaryhills

“Child of Ancestors” is being distributed by Sjambok Music, Cape Town.

 

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