Living there has introduced me to people from all walks of life and opened my eyes and ears to backgrounds other than my own. Natascha has been enjoying a varied career as a singer, songwriter and educator: “Music is more than just my profession. It is what defines my life, where I live, who I meet and what I do when I get up every day. Music to me is a way of life.” Since leaving Germany, as a teenager Natascha has been an active part of the South African music scene, studied Musical Theater at the Max Reinhardt Seminar in Vienna and attained a masters degree in Jazz Voice from the University in Graz, Austria. Her teachers and musical role models include Mark Murphy, Andy Bey, Jay Clayton and Sheila Jordan. Besides following her own career as a performer Natascha has lectured in Jazz Voice at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, the Lemmens Instituut Leuven and the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp in Belgium. Recently Natascha played in the USA alongside jazz singer Jeanie Bryson, daughter of the late Dizzy Gillespie.
In South Africa Natascha was featured at the Melodi International Jazz Festival 2007 sharing the stage with legendary Zulu Vocal Trio “Mahotella Queens”, 4 times 2007 SAMA award winner Simphiwe Dana, Afro Soul Diva Lira and saxophone giant Pharao Sanders. PRESS: " Natascha Roth Spreads her wings" (Classic Feel Magazine 2008) Natascha Roth’s rendition of Busi Mhlongo’s ‘Yise Wabant’a Bami’ never fails to surprise listeners. In addition to an expressive presentation of the song, there is the clear intonation of the tune’s isiZulu lyrics by this German-born vocalist. Dinga Sikwebu speaks to Roth about her new musical direction. After she heard an Ella Fitzgerald recording at the age of 14, Natascha Roth knew that she wanted to be a jazz singer.
In pursuit of this ambition she immersed herself in the music of singers such as Mama Ella, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. A daughter of a political journalist, she moved to different parts of the world as German television dispatched her father all over the globe. The Roths came to South Africa in 1989 when Roth Snr was the bureau chief for ARD television. This movement around the world has made the vocalist a keen student of different languages and cultures.
Later in life, Roth studied jazz voice at Austria’s University of Music and Art under singers such as Mark Murphy, Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton. With a Masters degree, Roth continued to sing both in South Africa and abroad and has taught jazz voice at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and at Belgium’s Lemmens Institute. Roth’s debut CD released in 2003 is made up exclusively of American jazz standards. But, listening to Way Out South – an album that the vocalist released in March this year – there is no doubt that Roth’s music is taking a new direction. ‘Way Out South is very interesting.
The music is not jazz. It’s a kind of fusion of different backgrounds. Africa has been my home for many years and I draw inspiration from the wealth of vocal tradition that emanates from the diverse cultures that exist on this continent,’ says Roth. The album, which consists mainly of vocal-guitar duets and is dedicated to people who are forced to flee their homes and countries, grew out of a collaboration between Roth, her guitarist partner James Scholfield, guitarist Denis Moses who is an asylum-seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The new album features Moses and Cape Town drummer Kevin Gibson. Roth, who sings in the album in English, Portuguese, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Swahili and Lingala, describes the music as ‘a journey into the world of sounds and space, of repetition and hypnotic rhythms’. Roth feels that South Africa and the rest of the continent have a lot to offer the world’s vocal tradition. She demonstrated this when she sang the music in her new album on 18 July at a concert to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday in Berlin. ‘The talent in this country is so endless.
There is enormous talent especially in the vocal field. As a singer, if you are passionate about voices, South Africa is the right place to be.’ This is no novice speaking. While Roth is herself an accomplished performer, a number of her students have also emerged as leading vocalists in their own right. Four of her students have scooped prizes in the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) vocal competition.
In addition, there are many other young vocalists who have come from Roth’s hands and tutelage. Mimi Ntenjwa, whose 2007 album is currently making waves in the country, was a student of Roth’s at UCT. For the soft-spoken vocalist, the south has a uniqueness that allows vocal talent to blossom. ‘The South is an unexplored spiritual place within as well as a physical reality without; a world of extremes where light and dark meets and where music heals and reconnects the spirit.’ According to Roth, the spark behind the new direction that her music is taking comes from her previous album, Everything I Love.
In addition to tunes by Cole Porter, Carlos Jobim and Ray Noble, the vocalist added South African standards as part of the repertoire – Alan Silinga’s ‘Ntyilo Ntyilo’ and Busi Mhlongo’s ‘Yise Wabant’a Bami’. Nokia chose her version of ‘Ntyilo Ntyilo’ for the company’s music download site, and her rendition of Busi Mhlongo’s famous song has become somehow Roth’s signature tune and the recording’s definitive track. ‘Way Out South was triggered by the response to songs such as “Ntyilo Ntyilo” and “Yise Wabant’a Bami” in my previous recording. There is something about that material that is interesting to a lot of people whether they speak the language or not.’ It is not surprising that Roth has been able to present the newly discovered material as hers.
Firstly, she grew up in a musical family in which her father played guitar and her mother loved music. Secondly, Roth’s family was a cosmopolitan one. A daughter of a political journalist, she moved to different parts of the world as German television dispatched her father all over the globe. The Roths came to South Africa in 1989 when Roth Snr was the bureau chief for ARD television.
This movement around the world has made the vocalist a keen student of different languages and cultures. Thirdly, Roth’s approach to music is that you have to love what you do. ‘As a singer it is a challenge to find out what makes you a jazz singer. Phrasing helps, but in the final analysis it’s about feeling and expression.’ Read more on Last.fm.
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