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“Native” is the fifth full-length studio album from South African singer-songwriter John Ellis. The lead single off the album is the brilliant ‘BE WHEN DONE’ – accompanied by music video shot at the BAT Centre, Durban and featuring well known maskandi guitarist David ‘Qadasi’ Jenkins, David ‘Qadasi’ Jenkins.

The ex-Tree63 front-man has been on an extended hiatus from music since 2015, and has not written or released new music since the delayed releases of “Tells” and “Growing Silent”, his two 2017 albums which both contained older unreleased material.

“Native” is an album of modern South African blues songs. Inspired by some of the experiments conducted during the 2011 recording of his “Rural” album, John recorded “Native” with a wide variety of South African musical collaborators. The songs draw on traditional early blues forms for their inspiration and feature some of the traditional sounds of South African music.

Blues music has its origins in West Africa. These were the Africans forced into the horrendous international slave trade who took their music with them, where over time it took root in the soil of North American cotton plantations. Hundreds of years later, modern popular music is still dominated by the basic patterns of blues music, and I find it fascinating that it all began in Africa. “Native” is about identity: what might modern African, and especially South African, blues music possibly sound like? Am I as a white South African ‘African’ enough to sing it? What does it mean to suggest that I am an ‘African’? These are big questions. I’ve attempted to address them with these songs.”

“Native” was recorded in Durban in 2021 and features musical contributions from David ‘Qadasi’ Jenkins, Maqhinga Radebe, Johnny Clegg drummer Barry van Zyl, Burton Naidoo, members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, Ladysmith Black Mambazo percussionist Njabulo Shabalala and Beeskraal concertina maestro Regardt de Bruin, amongst others.

“Native” was mastered by South Africa’s top mastering expert Rogan Kelsey, who says of the album:

John’s appetite for the greater good and his undeniable musical genius come together in a work that I believe, in time, will be seen as an important contribution to both the arts and the art of reconciliation.

The album is an arresting exploration of the tonal and narrative power of traditional African musical elements used in the performance of a form of music borne of the involuntary westernization of Africans and long since appropriated by the West. In this sense it’s an anthropological work, a metaphor for what things separated by time and space become, and the commonalities that remain.

Native makes sense of sounds from instruments which are foreign to most Western ears in their native form but which are rendered familiar by virtue of their raw connection to newer Western musical incarnations, recognisable for the tones they deliver and the emotions they convey in support of a familiar lyrical narrative form known as the Blues. By obscuring the cultural alienness associated with traditional African instruments and highlighting the musical language spoken through them, the album builds conceptual bridges between the soulful and indomitable vibrancy the black creative spirit and the price they’ve paid to preserve it. The album is simultaneously a mischievous provocation and a deep embrace. Native is as much a punch as it is a handshake”.

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