- Karma-Ann Swanepoel: Vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar
- Julian Sun: Backing vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar
from the official Henry Ate website, September 2002
It's pretty hard to be recognized in South Africa, let's be honest. Bands are pushed to the side, seen as being inferior to the current chart toppers overseas and almost always, placed second to anything else on the radio. It seems you need to push and shove to get yourself recognized.
However, the band we are talking about today never seemed to fall into this trap. Call it what you will, but after one listen to the hauntingly honest and rib crushing voice of lead singer Karma-Ann Swanepoel, you kind of know that it would've been stupid for anyone to ignore this.
Think back to that dusty era of 1995 when the music scene was an even more struggling one than it is today. In a live venue called 'Wings Beat Bar' in Johannesburg, (the original and most memorable of places to play the circuit in SA) Karma took to the stage for the first time. And it would be this very moment that would glue her to her destiny like her guitar is to her soul.
The journey began with Karma and her friend Julian Sun. A duo who never realized how impressive their collaboration would be until now, years ago, when the familiar sound of Julian's backing vocals complement's Karma's like the comforting sound of something you've lived with and grown very close to over the years. Call it Karma if you will, but this was meant to be.
It wasn't long until Henry Ate - the band - were formed and began what is to date one of the most impressive musical journeys South Africa audiences have been witness to. Initially a duo, in late 1995 Kevin Leicher, guitarist and percussionist joined the team, as did Kaolin Thomson as flutist/saxophonist and finally bassist Warren Leicher and drummer Troy Dougans (who also happened to be in the band Plum along with Kevin Leicher). This diverse and uniquely talented group of individuals gave Henry Ate the power, the drive and the ambition to grab fast onto the roller coaster of success and plummet themselves, hands free, to the top.
The first album Slap In The Face could be called 'the album that made Henry Ate who they are today'. It's raw, it's honest, it's innocent and above all, it's packed with more hits than most bands accomplish in their entire careers. Produced by Willem Moller, Slap In The Face is a statue of brilliance that will forever stand proud in the hearts of Henry Ate fans.
Take a look at a couple of the singles from the album.
'Just' is one of the most widely played and loved singles South Africa has ever been privy to. It's a guitar folk song filled with excitement and seriousness in the same breath, a dynamic piece of pop history that would forever echo throughout the open fields of many a festival and many a sold out club gig. If people had a song to choose to "go wild" to, this was it. It was definitely the crowning glory of an already developing musical kingdom. To prove the power that this little piece of musical genius had, 'Just' was voted #1 on 5fm and was voted the #1 song on the countdown SA top 40 2001 on 5fm. Audiences were certainly hooked, reeled in, and for once it wasn't because of anything else but the fact that this was a perfect hit, a ballad of the most intense musical wit.
Slap In The Face is a very colourful album, an album that continues to live in the hearts of most Henry Ate fans, and an album which most will recognize as the one that converted them and kept them enticed. Included also on this gem were hits like 'Hey Mister' and 'Henry'. Both as lyrically challenging as the other, and yet both songs which hit with a bullet of adrenalin and continue, to this day, to keep the hands in the air. As Karma sings in Henry, "The view of the Sun from the moon can't be beaten". We don't quite know why, but we definitely believe her.
Pandora's Child, another gentle classic about love and pain and the struggle, is a masterful challenge which sees Karma proving herself to be one of the most naturally prophetic and talented of songwriters, whether locally or not. She writes gems that enter once and never leave, heartfelt stories of everything from the ridiculous to the painful to the decadent and beautiful. A wizard of the musical note and the written word, it is no wonder that Slap In The Face exceeds 25 000 in sales, and still continues to sell.
The story from here is simply, an extra rung up the ladder of success. As Henry Ate continued to play headline gigs alongside top bands in South Africa and opened for international acts the calibre of Skunk Anansie, it was far from the end for this band that had won the hearts of a very difficult audience. However, the line-up was to change, as it seemed it would continue to right up until present day. Now on bass Henry Ate welcomed Brendan Ou Tim, Max Mikula on guitar and Peter Cohen on drums.
However, as reflected in the songs of Henry Ate, not everything is smooth sailing. A rather abrupt and confusing decision to change the name of the band from Henry Ate caused a ruckus in the media and the public. Confusion abounded as to who "Karma' was and where 'Henry Ate' had disappeared to. But even amidst this confusion, Karma managed to walk off stage in 1999 with a Sama Award for her album 'One Day Soon.' No wonder really, as not only is Karma a mature musician with an ability to make people stare into themselves, make people comforted by their pain and cheer them up in the same breath, she is truly musically in touch with her feelings, and this was obviously plain to see. Truly unique songwriters are a hard diamond to find.
'One Day Soon' featured her hit single 'Tuesday Afternoon' which was accompanied by a rather revealing video of Karma in white pajamas. The starkness of the video fit perfectly with its theme of luck, karma and the feeling that you're never quite sure what card life is going to deal you, because as everyone knows, "Karma lives within it's own idea of time." Other monumental tracks that stand out from the rest are the same titled 'One Day Soon' which hangs heavy in the air with lyrics like 'I fall down quicker than I can get up again.' These songs are all about the most intimate of human emotion, about the weakness along with the strength, and it is this quality of being able to share, and to express it, that makes Karma a unique songwriter.
Pachabel, Karma's most tender of songs, has a haunting piano backdrop that lingers in the air and silences everything around. Named after the classical composer Pachabel who composed a concerto in D, Karma added her own personal meaning to it, lyrically. Once again love and the trying for it are a thread binding each of Henry Ate's creations together.
One Day Soon was the next step confirming the fact that this was not a band that would fly by night and leave the world unchanged. They would change the world, but still be ready and eager and dying for more.
The tale changes along the way as Karma and Julian decided to go their own way for a while. Henry Ate proved itself to be the polymorphous animal that it would come to be famed for. But the defining and most constant of factors was, after all, the illustrious lead singer Karma who was never ready to put down her guitar, never able to give up, no matter how difficult or tiring the process was to become.
Thus, amongst the continuous touring, (Henry Ate have been called many a time the most hard working of bands) Karma started working on new songs, reflecting back at times to the first songs she wrote at the age of 14, and adapting them to her now more mature outlook on life. Mature, and yet never cynical. And this was the magical ingredient that has kept the ever-changing monster called Henry Ate alive.
The third album, Torn and Tattered (once again released as Henry Ate) was mixed once again by Willem Moller who worked on 'Slap In The Face.'
It's hard to try and describe each album as an entity in its own, although they are, there is a similar thread of magic that joins each album together. Like a journey through the heart and soul of a human being, listening to each album is like living someone else's life, and being welcomed in to experience its brilliance.
Featuring the intoxicating and mad energy of songs like 'Madhatter' to the questioning and existential nature of songs like 'Prayer' you cannot help but hear a slightly more mature version of the songstress who all those years ago faced the adversity of a world which was not always the most welcoming. Torn and Tattered is yet another arrow on the map of Henry Ate's heart enticing us with its crazy charisma and its clever dialect of the soul. With songs like Saints and Sinners, it seems Karma's more questioning side has arisen, to the most tender of conclusions.
Henry Ate - The Greatest Hits, is, testament to a band that have genuinely moulded, shaped and sung some of the greatest hits that this country has ever seen. They're not merely the bands greatest hits, but hits that belong to everyone. They aimed for the heart, and hit - bull's eye.
Also included in the package are 4 brand new Henry Ate songs that deliver more than we expected. The songs include the brilliantly uplifting "Life" which is one of her more addictive and hyperactive of her songs. She sings "You keep stipulating madness when I know it's only sadness" - once again managing to grab the heartstrings and play them without you even realizing. From this brilliant addition to the piano-esque feathery touch of 'Finally' and on to 'Outside' and 'Hey Boy' these are not merely bonus tracks but a glimpse of what her next album would've sounded like. They hit the spot perfectly.
Henry Ate will continue to grow, to re-mould themselves and, above all, re-invent life as we know it everyday, to a more peaceful place, a place where people understand, where they bleed, where they understand what joy is and where they are not afraid to share it.
It is a magical journey indeed.