Mr Eric Lau, the Londoner music producer and reluctant Dj who is an habitual favourite among South African fans of hip-hop rooted, cross genre soul music, left Johannesburg this week, after almost a month of gigs and connecting in Jozi and Cape Town. He recently released the instrumental record ‘Examples’ and will be following that up with a studio album later in the year. He then returns to South Africa to work on yet another album with Tall Black Guy. Below is an edited excerpt* from a recent conversation between the quietly industrious producer and our editor, MR SIPHIWE MPYE, as part of our new conversation series, noted.dialogues.
ON HIS PROCESS
It is usually a case of going back into the archives and having a starting point of a few pieces of music and trying to tell a story with that and then finding music to fit around it. In this situation with First World Records (his label for this release) they asked me (to do the album) and I had hundreds of ideas and tracks there. I just had to get back to them and then compile them (songs) so they run in a nice way, and then mix them, remix them to arrange them. So that’s the process, it’s pretty straightforward .
ON THE MEANING OF HIS LATEST INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM, ‘EXAMPLES’, WHICH HE INTRODUCED EXCLUSIVELY IN JOHANNESBURG LAST WEEK
I am still underground, nobody knows who I am, so this (the album) is like a 2017 resume. I hope artists listen to it and are inspired to write. If something comes from it, great, that’s fantastic.
ON HIS STUDIO ALBUM (COMING UP IN AUGUST/SEPTEMBER) AND THE TALL BLACK GUY SA COLLABORATION
It’s going to be cross genre, cross tempo, many collaborators and it’s not just me, the title will be Eric Lau and the Connection. The Connection is not a set group of people, but a symbol of all the collaborations on that record. That in turn will be the band name for the live show.
In terms of me and Tall Black Guy, we were so inspired by the trip here – especially him because it was his first time – and I had never done a South African specific project. I was like, can we do a project together so we can come back and give some music back to the people? We still need to talk about it in-depth, but we would like to explore some South African music and be inspired by it. Whether it is to sample it, or to replay it or to work with South African artists in some capacity.
We would like to explore some South African music and be inspired by it. Whether it is to sample it, or to replay it or to work with South African artists in some capacity.
ON THE LINE CONNECTING SOME CONTEMPORARY AND VETERAN SOUTH AFRICAN ARTISTS
I can see the line in their (some of his favourites from different generations, like Nonku Phiri and Bheki Mseleku) spirit, that’s what ties it together. The musical package and soundscape is obviously different. Seeing them and meeting them in person (Mr Lau met Mr Mseleku when he was alive) made me more drawn to them, they hold that South African spirit that is unique. A lot of South African music is influenced by the West, to the point that you are not sure, so that’s why I lean more towards them (Mseleku, Phiri and others).
ON BEING AN ‘OUTSIDER’ MAKING BLACK MUSIC
I am a Chinese man, who grew up in London, making soulful music. I am inspired by predominantly black American music, so for me to come into that lane, is very difficult, not just culturally, in terms of the sensitivity, but also in terms of the level of music. It’s (the music) from there, so how do you contribute to that respectfully? Work on your craft, respect the traditions, but – always with respect and consideration – TO tell your story from it.
Everyone has been really supportive. I think its because I just acknowledge it so much. I wouldn’t be doing music if it wasn’t for being influenced by Black music and black culture. Being a Chinese man in England, I am a minority by far, in terms of the social context, we are not really in the conversation a lot of the time on anything, so I didn’t have many Chinese people – apart from Bruce Lee – to really look up to in terms of people standing up for themselves and expressing themselves honestly. That’s what I got from black America. Its empowered me to want to be me, a Chinese man, more.
I wouldn’t be doing music if it wasn’t for being influenced by Black music and black culture. Being a Chinese man in England, I didn’t have many Chinese people – apart from Bruce Lee – to really look up to in terms of people standing up for themselves and expressing themselves honestly. That’s what I got from black America.
ON THE MOOD IN THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE IN THE TIME OF BREXIT AND DONALD TRUMP
As artists we are very privileged because we explore emotion day to day and we have time to look at history because we study our peers before us and what they were saying and we learn from that. I feel that not many of my artists friends are surprised at the situation right now and I think everyone is charged with spreading a positive message even more so right now. That was the theme when I was at (DJ) Jazzy Jeff’s Playlist retreat last summer. A lot was going down at that specific time and most of the music that we created was social commentary. And it’s needed. It’s up to us as artists and ambassadors to lead by example, to show people that we don’t have to live in fear.
The rest of the interview coming soon
Image by Mr Siyabonga Mkhasibe