The Philosophy of Karen Zoid – The Ellerman Sessions

She stands in front of us in the colours of rock ‘n roll. South Africa’s original rock chick, people call her. Black coat, black shirt and black jeans. Brown boots. Endless cords wind round and round the stage at her feet, like the roots of a tree, connecting it all, Karen to her bassist and pianist, the front of the tent over the terrace at Ellerman House to the back, performer to audience.

Musician, Jon Savage introduces her: “a human with such fire, passion, courage and …”

“Integrity,” someone from the crowd shouts out.

“She has fought her way to get to her position today,” Jon says. “Please welcome, the star, the icon, the incredible legend… Karen Zoid!”

Since releasing her first solo album, Poles Apart in 2002, Karen has become an icon in the South African rock music scene. She’s known for her fierce individuality, her “take me as I am” attitude (“Dis my lewe en dis my look”), her ability to speak her mind (“I’m an extrovert. I can keep talking all night”), and her lyrics that range from the light and witty to the deep and soulful.

She has shared the stage with international acts like John Mayer, Annie Lennox, Metallica, Simple Plan, Hothouse Flowers, Seal and UB40.

On stage with her tonight is bassist, Schalk van der Merwe, “Mr Cool in the band, a friend and hero,” Karen calls him, and pianist, Kyle Petersen.

The music begins…

You’re beautiful, you know it’s true
I could go black, I could go blue
You’re beautiful, there are no lies
Only the river, only the sky

She moves from song to song, from one “for all the housewives and dads who take their kids to school” to one called, Big Mouth, written for a drummer she once worked with (“drummers are all weird, women love them, they’re always leaving stuff behind and they sit throughout the whole show. This drummer I had loved complaining, so I wrote this song for him as a joke.”)

Before the next song, Karen stops to tune the guitar. She says the cold has gotten to the strings, but I can hardly feel the chill in the air – not from between the lights and wine and swaying bodies.

“Paul Harris, the owner of Ellerman House, told me that he’s a Rolling Stones fan, so this one is for him,” she says, leading us into a cover of a Stones’ classic, sung by Keith Richards.

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away
Wild, wild horses, we’ll ride them some day

The song reveals the beautiful tone to Karen’s voice – its rich range and diversity – and you realise what it is that has made her stand out in the rock world. It’s also the kind of song that arrests time, has you gazing off into space, pondering everything or nothing at all.

Karen’s eyes close and I sense her losing herself to the tune too, drifting down the tunnel with us. I wonder where she goes to – behind closed eyes – and then she opens them again and she’s back in the room with us. The spell is broken and I see the furniture of her home on stage again.

Before singing what she calls an ode to Cape Town in the winter, Karen explains that it’s her favourite season here in the Cape: “there are fewer tourists, and I write more and feel more creative and inspired in the cold.”

Then there are those well-known lyrics…

And I looked at you
And you looked to me
And I thought to myself
I’ll get stuck in a small room with you
Any day, any day…

Followed by a song for her son, (“If I go, when I go,” she says, “please tell my son this song is for him and play him the track…”) and Toe Vind Ek Jou, about which she says, “I wrote this with Francois van Coke, of Fokofpolisiekar,” the well-known South African rock band. “It’s a love song. I think it did so well because we didn’t try too hard, it was simply Francois writing to one person, his wife, and it was honest, from the heart.”

The philosopher in Karen reveals itself here and there; she admits she sees a bit of herself in Socrates.

“In Alain du Botton’s constellations of philosophy, he talks about Socrates – this guy who drank too much, couldn’t read or write but had strong ideas about things, and he let his wife do anything she liked, and people didn’t like that and they wanted to kill him. But until the day he died, he was at peace with the fact that the world was a mess, different to him, and that people didn’t like him. He didn’t write any of his ideas down – it was Plato who came around after him and did that. But Socrates held onto his ideas and ideals even when everyone was against him and he was willing to die for them. And as musicians, we always end up in places most people don’t and you need to remember to hold onto your inner power as you move through this messed up world. Like Socrates. We musicians are just a bunch of philosophers, conveying our feelings and ideas to the world.”

On that note, Karen chants…

I’m about to go insane
On this lonely aeroplane
Everybody looks the same
On a lonely aeroplane

The band plays a mash-up of song lyrics (“You can go your own way… Take me to the water… I got soul but I’m not a soldier…”) and finishes with Great Heart, by a man Karen calls “the essence of what a South African should be.”

Mr Johnny Clegg.

Before she sings, she adds, “Thank you, Ellerman House, thank you for your support of South African music and art,” reminding us of where we are, and what we’re here to celebrate: not merely the songs of a country, but the stories of a continent. “Your life is a story like the wind, your life is a story like the wind,” Johnny and Savuka sang….

The world is full of strange behaviour
Every man has to be his own saviour
I know I can make it on my own if I try
But I’m searching for a Great Heart to stand me by
Underneath the African sky
A Great Heart to stand me by…

Thank you to Ellerman House and their Head Chef, Grant Daniels, in collaboration with Peter Tempelhoff, Exec Chef at The Cellars-Hohenort, for the delicious cuisine and wine. The Ellerman Sessions are made all the more special with their partners, BMW, Bvlgari and Moët & Chandon joining in.

Take a look at future Ellerman Sessions here.



How To Stay Inspired – AtholPlace Has the Answers

To stay inspired, to hold on to our sense of purpose, that is all we ask for. In our work, our relationships, ourselves. This is not simply about contentment, this is about creation, about passion, about the impatient calendars and proverbial butterflies getting in the way of us finding the time and space for the things we’d like to do – planning new adventures, writing that book, those vows, researching new projects, taking time to reflect, to find answers, to connect with ourselves, to get creative, to plan our next steps for a life well lived.

Outside of that time and space, everything calls for our attention. There are ways to reel in the mind, but often more is needed: a change of scenery, a new workspace, different faces, nature’s sounds, quiet and calm, good food, prepared by someone else, no kids or pets (love you, Bones)…

Once in a while, we take a kind of retreat – a self-care retreat, a writer’s retreat, an artist’s retreat, a silent retreat, a fitness retreat, a wellness retreat and often something more indulgent – in the inner-city sanctuary of AtholPlace Hotel & Villa, in the great urban forest of Johannesburg, South Africa.

There’s something special about the familiar faces that greet us and know our every whim, who give us the space friends and family sometimes don’t or can’t, but who also know when to lean in, to stay awhile and share in a deeper moment.

There is a great call for these kinds of getaways and often they come with a range of treatments, workshops, health regimes, meditation and breathing practices, times and structures, to help you find peace and serenity. Sometimes, we just need something more moderate, a simple retreat of the mind, or we might prefer to dictate our own time and to go unseen.

Whatever kind of retreat you need or favour – a deserted island or a hotel surrounded by trees and birdsong – the effect is a better you, a clearer, rested, reset individual, ready to give attention to the things you’ve neglected.

AtholPlace Hotel & Villa has the essentials of the perfect retreat: a gym for fitness, rolling green lawns and yoga mats for self-guided yoga, pilates or meditation, adaptable menus and wholesome, healthy food and juice options, a spacious exclusive-use villa or suites for privacy and quiet, organised restorative spa treatments, and a kind and gracious team.

You never really know when inspiration is going to strike but creating the space for it to find a welcome home is the first step. Just put your phone in the draw and take each moment as it comes…

Discover more about AtholPlace Hotel & Villa here.

A Reverie of Music & Food – The Ellerman Sessions

It starts with Cat Stevens…

But take your time, think a lot,
Why, think of everything you’ve got
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not

The first song Ard learned to play, long before he would become the front man of well-known and loved South African band, Just Jinjer. Over the course of two decades, singer and songwriter, Ard Matthews, has been honing his craft and charming people the world over.

His lyrics and melodies led the way to the incredible success of the band’s album title ‘All Comes Round’, becoming one of the biggest selling rock genre albums of all time in South Africa, achieving double platinum status in its first year.

We’re seated in the dimly-lit wine gallery of Ellerman House in Cape Town, a venue that has become, over the course of the Ellerman Sessions, a home of inspirational music, food, wine and company each month, with top musos and chefs telling their stories to hypnotised audience after hypnotised audience.

We start with the first courses of the night, creations of world-class chef, Peter Tempelhoff, whose own story is weaved alongside Ard’s.
In between each song, Peter, Executive Chef at The Cellars-Hohenort’s Greenhouse restaurant in Constantia, introduces himself and the evening’s cuisine.

He tells us about how his journey began… “My mom, a Canadian, was so bad at cooking when we were growing up in South Africa that I had to cook for the family or help mom cook. I wasn’t exposed to food in any big way but I knew that carpentry and tree-felling were not for me. I followed food and worked in the United Kingdom and then came back to South Africa 12 years ago. It’s great to be cooking in South Africa and to see how the culinary scene has taken off.”

And then to one of the primary reasons Ellerman House guests and Cape Town fans have come together for the evening:

“Tonight I’m going to take you on a journey of my culture, of South Africa. We will start with a range of breads, which came about somewhat by mistake – how the best inventions are made. You’ll taste ingredients like foie gras, which is part of my essence as a chef, pistachio nuts, black truffles from a farm in Kokstad, flavourful and pungent, and maples (inspired by my Canadian mother and her love for maple syrup).”

“We then have a Japanese inspired dish, born out of my love for the country and its cuisine, using kelp we foraged from our own Cape beaches and tuna that is fermented to make digestion easier. And before the final chocolate bento box, we have a Camembert cheesecake, which is the kind of dish that stays with you for life as a chef, it’s just so perfect.”

Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go

Ard follows his Cat Stevens’ cover with an original, the well-known Shallow Waters, a song of heartbreak, of losing a true love, a song he wrote about an ex-girlfriend who moved on “way too fast”.

I’m leaving shallow waters, I’m leaving all my dreams of you, I can’t go on, I want to run away… I think I’ll go today.

His song, Father and Farther follows and then those lyrics…

Sugar man, won’t you hurry
Cause I’m tired of these scenes
For a blue coin won’t you bring back
All those colors to my dreams

A cover of Sugar man, by Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, known professionally as Rodriguez, an American singer-songwriter whose songs were the soundtrack to many South Africans’ lives in the 70s and 80s. A man of myth and mystery, whom many thought had died, on account of that myth and mystery.

Ard tells us about the phone call that let him know that the great idol was well and truly alive – the day Sixto’s sister called to say that Rodriguez had heard his version of Sugar man, and “really loved it”. A call for Ard to continue on, if ever there was one…

“I never sit down to write,” Ard adds, sitting on a chair with his guitar resting on his knee, microphone standing tall in front of him. “I let it come to me, I never force things. The song comes to me in an instant. Like any art. I have such gratitude for this process. Sometimes I have the melody first and then the words come.”

Before starting his next song, What He Means, Ard tells us that the message of these lyrics is as important today as it was back when he wrote it: a message of “peace, love, more tolerance…” and, “Freedom, kindness, warm deliverance.”

With a little bit of ease and a little bit of calm
Acceptance is the key to all we know
What about a stir of compassion and lenience
What about some understanding
What about some sympathy

Ard continues to share tales about gypsy life, about having moved 30 times with his dogs and bags, about following the music, and about what drives him: “There is enough negativity in the world, I try to sing uplifting songs. I mean there’s some heartbreak in there, but overall I’m trying to shine a light of hope.”

And then… the audience breaks out cellphone lights and candle flames to sing along with that song… a song we all seem to know and love, a song that closes the night beautifully and leaves us in a dreamlike reverence for the great talent of South Africa, for the genuine power of music to unite and move and inspire, and for, well, that Camembert cheesecake slipped onto the table in front of each of us.

And there, she lies
There is no sound
For all I know
We dream the same

She knows, just what to do
Only yesterday
Speaks for yesterday
She finds all my weaknesses
She knows, just what to do

As for the full menu of Peter Tempelhoff’s treats for the night… take a look below.

Bread on the Table
Crispy lavash with pumpkin mousse, pecan granola, pickled maple, onion brioche with foie gras and pistachio, onion compote, Karoo truffle

Big in Japan
Bluefin tuna tataki, seaweed, compressed apple, wasabi furikake, sesame, tsukemono, paired with a Chenin wine

From the Braai
Koffie Bokkie, lacquered shallots, mushroom ragout, Parmesan pap, paired with Pinotage

Camembert Cheesecake
Pineapple compote, pine nut biscotti, extra virgin olive oil, paired with Paul Cluver NLH

Chocolate Bento Box

The Ellerman Sessions are the more special with their collaboration with like-minded partners, such as BMW, Bvlgari and Moët & Chandon. Take a look at future Ellerman Sessions here.