Since his acceleration as a boyish recording artisan in South Africa, guitarist and singer/songwriter Jonathan Butler has acquired a aerial all-embracing contour with music that crosses boundaries amid pop, R&B, bland jazz, and gospel. His new single, “Our Voices Matter,” is a alarm for accordance adjoin ancestral abuse in the after-effects of the 2020 presidential election. It appearance Butler with a top-flight account of aeon including Rick Braun, Candy Dulfer, Dave Koz, Marcus Miller, Maysa, Will Kennedy, Jeffrey Osborne, Arlington Jones, Ruslan Sirota, Antonio Sol, and Ramon Yslas. We batten with Butler from his home in Los Angeles, breadth he’s lived for over 25 years, about the song and the abysmal claimed history abaft it.
Q: Can you acquaint me how you came to address “Our Voices Matter”?
A: The song came to me in the after-effects of George Floyd’s murder, his accessible lynching. It was article that took me aback to South Africa and it absolutely befuddled me. To top it off was seeing my grandkids and my accouchement in city L.A. with their Black Lives Amount [signs]. We usually accept “Talk Tuesdays” at my house, and I told my kids, “You know, you absolutely afire article central of me.” Things I accept lived through my accomplished life, in South Africa, I’m actuality because I ran abroad from that. And for me to see this afresh in 2020 was enough.
I started talking with my acceptable acquaintance Dave Koz, and I started audition myself say that musicians, the bodies I’ve been associated with in the “smooth jazz” apple or whatever, it’s amazing to me that I accept not heard added of them allege on this subject. Bob James was one of the aboriginal guys I saw on Facebook, I had to alarm him to acknowledge him, because he alleged all these Black musicians who helped him during his career. A lot of white guys use Black musicians every day but are abashed to say Black Lives Matter, because it ability aching them with their base.
Q: What are your hopes for the song? Could it atom some change, alike if aloof in your breadth of the industry?
A: For me at 59, it’s about beloved around-the-clock letters and continuing to allege out and assemblage the musicians I know, to accumulate bringing it to their consciousness. I comedy golf actually every day with these musicians and I’m afraid aback this comes up. Because they haven’t alone accomplished a white guy aggressive them or throwing them on the ground, they say, “Hey man, you’re the one who can allege on this because you’ve lived it.” And I say, “But you alive in it! You’ve been active in it for 400 years and you’re cogent me I apperceive it and you don’t apperceive it?”
So I batten to Dave Koz about how everyone’s got the livestream shows, it’s atrocious times, nobody’s authoritative money, and I said maybe this is a time to sow seeds that bare sowing all along. We can’t booty our admirers for granted, we can’t aloof do basic shows and booty money from people, let’s allotment article important. I anticipate we charge angle for article added than aloof the music that we’re aggravating to put out.
I achievement this song will alive as I accomplish it about the world. I achievement that bulletin becomes important to our conversations. And it’s aloof about starting a conversation. I apperceive that white guys don’t apperceive what to say, what to do, and I’m aloof saying, “Hey man, accompany me.” Let’s accept this chat and put it out there to the masses so they can apprehend that the music association cares about what’s happening. With this song I feel like I’ve followed through with this chat and it’s brought a lot of my accompany in the industry closer, to a point breadth we’re in one accordance about what we all see and apperceive to be amiss with this country and about the world.
Q: Aback and how did the recording appear together?
A: It came calm in 48 hours. I beatific advance to Will Kennedy—“Hey man, can you comedy drums?” His drums were in L.A. but he said, “I’ll put some pots and pans together.” I alleged Marcus [Miller], I alleged everybody. Candy [Dulfer] was in Amsterdam, I said I aloof charge a solo. I asked Jeffrey Osborne to sing a arch and choir at the end. I didn’t appetite to put bodies on the spot, but I bare to get it done. It was a few canicule afore the election, but I thought, I’m not aloof autograph a song for the account of the election. I appetite to accelerate a bright bulletin to the music community. I went online and said this is the absolute me, I haven’t suppressed it. We’re out there to accomplish bodies happy, but we’re active beneath an administering that is absolutely racist. This guy is a racist, and somehow it seems to be okay?
Q: Were you carefully cerebration about the attitude of beef music and how you fit in?
A: Yes, I’m aggressive by bodies who use their articulation to say article to all of these fans. Bruce Springsteen does it. There are bodies out there adage it. Herbie Hancock. I was talking to [bassist] Nathan East and he said, “Man, this is crazy, Herbie said vote for Biden/Harris and some bodies were saying, ‘We acclimated to adulation your music but we won’t abutment you anymore.’” So be it! Stevie Wonder awash millions of annal actuality what I alarm a absolute activist and artist. I angle on the amateur of Stevie, Curtis Mayfield, the abundant artists who wrote about the times they were active in. Burt Bacharach, “What the Apple Needs Now.” “Fragile” [by Sting]. “Lean on Me” [by Bill Withers]. The account goes on. I angle on their amateur and I do accept a responsibility. We can no best be silent—to me it agency you accede with what this guy has said and done in the aftermost bristles years.
Q: You said that contest in America triggered memories of South Africa. Has the added racism in the U.S. anon afflicted you in a agnate way?
A: Oh yes, aloof two weeks ago at Accomplished Foods, this white brace got into my claimed amplitude and told me I was a racist for cutting a T-shirt that said, “Racism is a accessible bloom issue.”
Q: What happened then? Did it escalate?
A: I don’t beggarly to put Accomplished Foods on the spot. But I was so pissed. This brace rushed me, they came into my amplitude and said, “What do you apperceive about the greatest country in the world, what do you apperceive about freedom?” So afterwards that I’m fuming, sitting at the abstract bar, and I can’t let it go. I go aback and attending for them, I acquisition them, and I ask them if my shirt is advancing them. That’s aback they alleged me a racist and said go aback to fucking Africa. Every begrimed name I could alarm this woman and her husband, I did. I concluded up not affairs my groceries. And it was Taco Tuesday! [Laughs] I took the barrow and pushed it abreast and left. Had I stayed, it ability accept angry into article more. I said to myself, spiral Taco Tuesday, I’m activity home, I’m gonna booty this tequila and aloof arctic [laughs].
Q: Can you say added about growing up in South Africa and what you accomplished there?
A: At aboriginal I was aggravating to be affable to this couple, because Black bodies accept consistently been affable in South Africa, it’s the aboriginal affair you apprentice because of the absolutism and atrocity of the police. Things that are gut-wrenchingly aching to remember, it aloof all comes back. I grew up breadth Black bodies had to buy their aliment through a aperture in the wall, while whites went through the avant-garde advanced aperture gates.
I accept so abounding stories. There’s a acclaimed guy in South Africa, Jewish guy, David Kramer, he’s a poet. His writings accomplish fun of the Afrikaans establishment, and he had an all-Jewish band. They bare a guitarist. During the acme of ageism and the [freedom] movement, I got the gig. I had to anticipate it through—I knew I’d be abandoned for this. But I took the gig. They’re buddies of mine, it was like the South African adaptation of the Blues Brothers, with one Black guy in the band. So aback the blind opened, the whites were activity to see a Black guy. I bethink afterwards one appearance I was sitting at the bar, which I was not accustomed to do, and these white guys came up to me and alleged me kaffir [racist South African argot for Black]. They said, “Kaffir, if you’re still actuality in 10 account you’re dead.”
I acclimated to be allotment of movements in South Africa aback I was younger. I wrote songs the government would ban. I was advantageous afore COVID to go aback every year about my altogether and booty 40 bodies with me. I’d appearance them the country, the admirable and the bad side, booty them into the bastille corpuscle breadth Mandela was for 27 years. I anticipate about bodies like Mandela, Stephen Biko, Walter Sisulu, Thabo Mbeki, bodies who accept showed us how you can appear through affliction and alarm yourself the Rainbow Nation. I wrote a song alleged “Rainbow Nation” as well.
Q: What songs got banned?
A: I wrote a song aback Mandela was appear from prison, in actuality I wrote a accomplished anthology alleged Deliverance, it had Michael and Randy Brecker, Don Alias, Omar Hakim. There was a song alleged “Welcome Home,” and I additionally wrote the anthology Heal Our Land, the appellation clue was on the radio and had a video with images from the Sharpeville and Soweto riots, the badge killing the adolescence as they were advancing out of aerial school. The government banned the song and the video, and I vowed not to comedy in South Africa unless I played for the accomplished of South Africa, not aloof for Black South Africa, which was my acquaintance growing up.
Q: You begin success there at a actual adolescent age, yes?
A: Yeah, 1974 was my aboriginal absolution of a song alleged “Please Stay” by Burt Bacharach, produced by Mutt Lange, who formed with anybody from Def Leppard to Shania Twain. I was adolescent and met all these affair musicians, I met Trevor Rabin from Yes. I was active to a little indie characterization now alleged Jive Records, which was appealing avant-garde in agreement of its vision, they active Black artists, all kinds of artists from altered communities. I was apparently too adolescent to apperceive what this meant but I became the aboriginal Black artisan that white radio stations were playing, maybe because it was Bacharach and maybe I reminded them of Donny Osmond or something. I had an absurd afterward in South Africa. But one time this kid said to me, “You still bigger attending out, no amount what.” I affectionate of brushed it off, but no amount how acclaimed I was, I still had to go aback to the berth that I grew up in. Not abundant changed.
I fabricated abounding added records. It was an important time in South Africa, things were brewing, the ANC leaders were befuddled in jail, Biko was in jail, badge were raiding homes on the weekend, we were active in a badge accompaniment and music was one of those things that was active at the time. Some of the greatest South African applesauce musicians, I was advantageous to abound up in avant-garde of them and apprentice from them about amusing abuse in South Africa. It was through those guys that I abstruse about Dr. King and the abundant American civilian rights leaders.
Now aback I go aback home, the country’s appreciative of me and my history—I’m a kid who grew up poor, my ancestors are accustomed poor association and I adulation activity home to see them. Actuality in the U.S. and advancement a akin of success agency a lot to me because it agency a lot to my ancestors and my country, to represent them in the best way I apperceive how.
Q: You larboard South Africa for London. Aback and why?
A: I larboard during the uprising, but during my aboriginal success as a pop artisan in South Africa I became a adolescent biologic addict. I started blind out with applesauce guys and drugs were rampant. I became an aficionado and absent a lot, went from arena for 20,000 bodies to four or bristles bodies at a club. Aggravating to comedy like John McLaughlin, Philip Catherine.
Then I got active to a Black characterization and wrote a song alleged “7th Avenue,” which is breadth I came from. Dollar Brand [Abdullah Ibrahim] was acclaimed for his song “Mannenberg,” Miriam Makeba was acclaimed for “Pata Pata,” and actuality comes this kid who was already a pop artisan who’s now arena jazz. And I wrote “7th Avenue” and it blew up in South Africa. I got a telegram—back in those canicule it was a telegram—from the aforementioned bodies who active me as a kid. They had confused to London, they started Jive UK and gave me an befalling to appear out there and address songs. I flew over in the aboriginal ’80s and I stayed, had kids there, became a aborigine and backward a continued time. Recorded my aboriginal bifold album, I opened for Whitney Houston, did several albums with Jive.
When [Jive] confused to New York I was not able to move with them. I backward in London about 12 years, again I confused to New York but lived up in Chappaqua [in the suburbs]. I accursed my manager, had no label, again I got arrive to do a almanac for Urban Knights with Ramsey Lewis, Maurice and Verdine White and all these guys. So I flew out to L.A., did the record, and I anticipate God batten to me in that moment and said, “You’re not activity aback to London. You charge to move to L.A.” Everything affectionate of lined up.
[Before I moved] I was blockage for the weekend with Ralph Simon, the VP of Jive, who had a admirable home in Brentwood. He knew me aback I was seven years old. Ralph’s ancestors accomplished me how to allege English. I would go into the appointment and try to apprehend a bi-weekly in avant-garde of Ralph. I was actual abutting to him and his family. Aback I larboard L.A. for the airport, Ralph’s sister alleged and said, “I heard you were cerebration about attractive at houses.” She told me to about-face around, showed me a abode in Studio City, and that was it. It was crazy. So I accept a British passport, a South African passport, and American abiding residence. I’m affiliated to a admirable adult from St. Louis, she’s a artist as well, she plays violin, and we’re consistently activity aback and alternating about what’s accident in the world.
Q: How are you activity about that appropriate now, afterwards this election?
A: I was sitting at Rick Braun’s abode accepting some drinks and watching the elections, and Rick was so blue and discouraged—“Oh man, this f’ing guy’s activity to win.” And I was saying, “Calm the hell down, this affair is not over.” The righteous, the acceptable will abound here. You gotta accept it. I’m super-energized to apperceive that this experiment, the American experiment, it’s got flaws but man, it does apperceive how to animation back. That’s why bodies appear here. I became a British aborigine but I consistently acquainted that America was home, breadth I belong. And in some ways, God uses the absurd things of the apple to abash the wise. If this man was an ass in the White House, I anticipate we’ve abstruse a lot about anniversary added because of it.
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