By Dawn A Denton
Louis Mhlanga uses his music to express his experiences and to connect with daily events. He feels happiness and utter fulfilment when he can reach other souls through his music and the album ‘Keeping the Dream’ does just that.
Louis was born in Salisbury, (now Harare), in what was then called Rhodesia, in 1956. He is a self-taught guitarist who drew inspiration from the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple and the Beatles. Although he recorded his first tracks and album in the 1970s, his music wasn’t fully appreciated until the early 1990s. Since then this talented musician has collaborated with artists across Africa and the world, including Nigerian King Sunny Ade and renowned South African musicians and songwriters such as Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Hugh Masekela, Vusi Mahlasela and Ray Phiri.
Eric van der Westen
Born in Zierikzee (Zeeland) in The Netherlands in 1963, Eric van der Westen had played the guitar from an early age and formed his own hard rock and new wave bands in the 1970s and 1980s. After graduating from the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam in 1990, he started playing with some of the Dutch jazz greats, and his music took a different turn.
In the late 1990s Louis taught African guitar in The Netherlands, which is where he met Eric, who was at the time a composer of modern crossover improvised music. Eric had developed an interest in African music and their passions and creativity came together to write, play and record. This album, ‘Keeping the Dream’ showcases their fresh sound. It is a fusion of their different cultural backgrounds, upbringing and ancestry. They wanted their music to cross ethnic borders and the sounds they produce is an eclectic mix of traditional Africa with wonderfully modern European jazz rhythms.
‘Keeping the Dream’ – The Album
‘Keeping the Dream’ was released in 2004. It can be found in World Music or International categories online or in a music shop, as the mixture of the sounds is difficult to classify. On this album you can hear Louis on the steel string acoustic guitar, the electric guitar and on lead vocals, and Eric accompanies him with the double bass and backing vocals.
The album gives one a sense of Louis’ experience, not only in the music industry, but in his life – the peace he found as he gets older and the understanding of his place in the world. The album has twelve tracks. Each one is different, but there is a thread of similarity in the beat and the rhythm that runs through them all.
It is hard not to tap your toes for most of the album. The understated music dances a pattern that is easy to follow and brings peace to often more lively African music.
There is soul.
There is feeling.
There is an air of playfulness.
As their music has become more popular, they have travelled and performed around the world. Life on the road has been, at times, difficult, but the duo used the mantra of ‘keeping the dream’ to keep them going. This album is an expression of this faith.
This passionate duo of musicians love music and this album expresses the warmth they feel for their people. Ultimately, they want the world becoming a better place, free of cultural intolerances and that life will improve for everyone, everywhere. Their dream is that their music and this album will cross the cultural divide and bridge ethnic intolerances.