Interview: South African singer, Hanru Niemand, talks about his new album Opgrawings vir ‘n Lugkasteel
“I think I live close to tragedy. My job keeps sadness present and it does influence my outlook on life and then, of course, it manifests in the songs. If that could provide some solace to people, I would be very happy.” Hanru Niemand reflecting on his new album, Opgrawings vir ‘n Lugkasteel.
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Opgrawings vir ‘n Lugkasteel is Hanru Niemand’s highly anticipated 4th album. The Afrikaans singer-songwriter who lives in the Boland has a dual career as psychologist and musician. He brings his deep passion for people, humanity and caring to his music with edgy and beautifully crafted lyrics which conjure up stories.
Opgrawings vir ‘n Lugkasteel is structured around an A and B side –inviting listeners to go on a journey of self-exploration and reflection. The tracks on the A side – Voetstoots – contains songs he performs regularly. Voetstoots – the fabulous Afrikaans/Dutch word/term for ‘as is’ – represents a mini retrospective of his work. The B side on the album, features new tracks. The song on the B side are conceptualised around protagonists who finds themselves in “some sort of trouble.”
Translated into English, the album title, Opgrawings vir ‘n Lugkasteel, may interpreted as ‘excavations of an air castle’. Air castle is a term used for ‘pipe dream’ in Afrikaans. The album title certainly resonates now-in a time when many people realise that maybe what they had was a pipe dream. We are trying to excavate physically and emotionally through the uncertain times. Hanru Niemand is with us on our journey – the troubadour, folk singer- transporting us through melody and story song- bringing us solace. As a psychologist, I think that he is able to bring the empathy and insight from his work to his music, with layered and textured lyrics.
TheCapeRobyn: The album is partly retrospective, “like an archaeologist doing excavations on an ancient city. The excavation process is however also related to a post mortem that looks at how things went wrong and how decay has taken hold..”Can you reflect on this album- written pre Covid – and how it resonates now, as many people are doing a post mortem on their own lives?
Hanru Niemand: The thing about decay and things going wrong, things staying out of reach, has been a theme going back to my first album in 2006. I think it has become very real for many people now. Terrible as it is, and it really is, there is some good, I think, in the shattering of the illusion of certainty we were operating under. I think I live close to tragedy. My job keeps sadness present and it does influence my outlook on life and then, of course, it manifests in the songs. If that could provide some solace to people, I would be very happy.
TheCapeRobyn: You are described as a “folk singer”. Your lyrics are deeply considered, gritty, sometimes dark and yet hopeful- reminiscent of Jacques Brel?
Hanru Niemand: Thanks for the comparison with Brel! Yes, he’s one of my favourite song writers. When it comes to style, this particular album is quite folky, but at times, for instance with Roepwoorde (2009) I do embrace some more cabaret/chanson-like vibes. I sort of switch between the two regularly. But yes, when it comes to lyrics, that somewhat twisted, funny, dark take on things is what I love about Brel and I’m glad that someone could see it in my lyrics as well.
TheCapeRobyn: I find that music takes me out of myself and I love an album – with narratives – which I can relate to. Through your music, we can excavate through the panic. I want to see you performing live. Any live shows being planned or streamed shows on digital platforms?
Hanru Niemand: I have been slow to adapt to the new regime of digital shows, but I’m getting there. I recently had the pleasure to play with Die Kaalkop Waarheid online, and I hope to arrange a solo gig soon.
TheCapeRobyn: I was fascinated to hear that you have had your music translated Finnish and Russian audiences. How did that come about?
Hanru Niemand: Both the Finnish and the Russian translations were a result of a music video of the title track from Tot Stilte (2006). There are a lot of language lovers out there in Europe who are interested in Afrikaans, and they stumbled upon my video and felt the need to do a translation. The whole story still feels quite surreal to me.
TheCapeRobyn: I love the concept of side B- “each song is centred around protagonists who finds themselves in some sort of trouble.” Very theatrical – sounds like it could be the basis for a theatre show – cantered around characters – not just a concert. Have you worked in a theatre context in the past?
Hanru Niemand: I have done a bit of theatre work. I wrote some music for plays at university and my second album, Roepwoorde, was essentially the music for a one man show, you could maybe call it a cabaret if you were being generous, that I was doing at the time. I have been sitting on another project since about 2013, which I hope to be able to produce one day, but I’ve been struggling to find the right platform. Strangely, with the advent of these online concerts, I have a feeling that the stars may be aligning. I actually haven’t thought about converting Lugkasteel into a show, but now that you’ve mentioned it, I’m going to look into it.
TheCapeRobyn: For now, the album is out on digital platforms. When will the physical album be available – with liner notes etc?
Hanru Niemand: I would really like to release some physical albums as well, at the moment I’m testing the water to see if there is interest. The climate has changed so much in the last couple of years, people stream by default these days, but if I can find a 100 people or so who want a hard copy, it will be a green light for me.
TheCapeRobyn: What makes Hanru Niemand tick – as psychologist and artist/singer?
Hanru Niemand: I think you could say I’m trying to make sense of things and when it comes to the hard things, like pain, sadness, even despair, that’s obviously not easy to do. My answer tends to be an aesthetic one, there is some beauty in all of these things and I try to release it with music and words, like a sculptor would release a sculpture from stone. Or perhaps like an archaeologist reveals history from dust.
Opgrawings vir ‘n Lugkasteel
✅ Buy/streamBuy/stream: http://smarturl.it/hanruniemand
Opgrawings vir ‘n Lugkasteel album credits
✅ Words, music and vocals: Hanru Niemand
✅ Producer: Riku Lätti
✅ Music label: Die Wasgoedlyn Musiek.
✅ Final mixing and mastering: Willem Möller
✅ Musicians: The musicians who perform on the B side of the album are Wilken Calitz (violin), Riku Lätti (piano), Mark Ellis (base), Jean Marais (drums) and Jacobus Grimm on backing vocals.
✅ Album cover design: Original painting by Evert Esterhuizen – digitally arranged by graphic designer Corli Sadie.
Hanru Niemand – social media links
✅ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HanruNiemandMusiek/
✅ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hanruniemand/
✳Photo credit: Supplied. Photo by Dee Lou.