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Here’s a ‘rebel yell’ from ‘Peggy Lee on ecstasy’ – backing vocalist Lani Pieters in her own angelic voice

Here’s a ‘rebel yell’ from ‘Peggy Lee on ecstasy’ – backing vocalist Lani Pieters in her own angelic voice
Lani Pieters singing with Dan Roberts and Riku Latti. (Photo:Ryk Kyser)

She’s the backing vocalist for whom musicians write songs so that she can feature on their albums and appear with them in shows, where she’s always bound to take centre stage.

In these bi-monthly interviews, we ask creatives about their lives in the arts, and which artists in their own or other media stimulate them. This time round it’s Lani Pieters, an acclaimed songstress who has done many collaborations with top local musicians.

When did you first identify as a creative artist?

That would have been the night I met Martin Wessels at the Country Lodge in Clarens, where I was the underaged bar lady – I was all of 17 – and it happened to be karaoke night…

I think it was a Karen Carpenter song I sang, which turned the old man’s attention to me and I was immediately invited to go see him at the Holkrans, because he wanted me to meet Hugo, some guy from Joburg who had been staying there for a while. This Hugo guy turned out to be a rather prolific songwriter. A decent guitar player too.

Through art we find our true selves and our connection to the universe… a protest against the mundane.

Between the two of them, they managed to coax me into believing that I wasn’t just a choirgirl and we proceeded to play gigs in all the local pubs for several years until I moved to Jozi, where I promptly met the guy from Shifty Records, Lloyd Ross, and that’s how all that started, I guess.

Outside your medium, what branch of art most stimulates you?

I love film. I’ve dabbled in editing, as well as a little production design, for which I got a South African Film and Television Awards nomination. But what’s most fascinating to me is the music score and how it tells the audience how to feel before the scene even plays out – how it has the power to evoke emotions, establish atmosphere and heighten dramatic moments, immersing the audience in the narrative, providing a deeper connection to the characters and their journeys. Exploring this as a career option is certainly something that piques my interest.

Which artist in this discipline has significantly inspired you, and why?

Quentin Tarantino – the way he fuses film with music, in particular his on-screen music selection, shooting to the soundtrack, setting the pace and mood of a scene… genius. I also really love that the only original score he’s ever used was composed by the legend Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight.


Lani Pieters during a photo shoot. (Photo: Supplied)

What to you is art’s most important function?

To break down the barriers of society and expose the raw essence of our human condition. Through art we find our true selves and our connection to the universe – a “rebel yell” against conformity and a protest against the mundane.

Local creatives – in any medium – who excite you at the moment?

Currently, I’m very much MaxX & Love’s shameless groupie… The very first time I saw them live was a truly unforgettable experience – so powerful and breathtakingly exquisite. I can’t wait to see them again and highly recommend that you do too.

What specific work, be it in literature, music, or visual art, do you return to again and again, and why?

Well now, this might be a fully loaded question… I’ve been working with Rian Malan since 2005, first on the Radio Kalahari Orkes album Stoomradio, promptly followed by his incredibly beautiful solo album, Alien/Inboorling.

Around 2007 he started writing an entire album of the most beautiful torch songs for me to sing, accompanied by his ferocious swinging guitar, reminiscent of Django Reinhardt. Apparently, I’m a bit like Peggy Lee on ecstasy and we call ourselves The Svengali Project. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Disrupt, surprise, abhor – the role of art in our scroll-by world, according to Toast Coetzer

Read more in Daily Maverick: Jitsvinger — the insightful maestro whose music paints bold pictures of Cape Town life

The doomed album, after having been visited and revisited by several producers, has been complete, yet unreleased, for many, many years. I’m sure we’ll revisit it again.

Lani Pieters having fun with Zolani Mahola. (Photo: Merwelene van der Merwe)

What are your thoughts on the current AI revolution?

I suspect humanity is far too chilled about the potential threat it poses, but ultimately I just hope that self-driving cars will at some point become sentient enough to go on strike, demanding better tunes on the radio.

Any current project you’re unveiling or wrapping up?

I recently had the great honour of taking care of the backing vocals on Anton L’Amour’s solo album, Dwaalvuur, which was released just a few months ago. It’s very special and has a uniquely fresh sound to contribute to the Afrikaans music scene.

It features music legends Marcus Wyatt on trumpet, Concord Nkabinde on bass and David Klassen on drums. It’s available to purchase on Bandcamp, or you can stream it on alternative platforms that don’t give a rat’s arse about artists. DM

Mick Raubenheimer is a freelance arts writer.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


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