Dear Reader: Rivonia

14 Dec

coverOriginally South African, now Berlin-based Dear Reader‘s Rivonia is a musically-deft homage to singer-songwriter Cherilyn MacNeil’s upbringing in Apartheid South Africa.

Macneil has a gift for storytelling in her songwriting that we don’t often see in the cryptic, disjointed lyrics of indie bands today. Rivonia is a collection of diverse narratives relating the multifacetedness of South Africa’s oppression under colonialism and apartheid, all united under the childlike sweetness of MacNeil’s high, clear voice.

The music itself is brilliantly-crafted. Dynamics are pronounced yet fluid, and an impressively layered effect has been achieved with bare piano, simple drums and an abundance of vocal harmonies. I was particularly wowed by the instrumental use of vocals in Down Under, Mining.

I am unsure, however, of how to feel about the way in which this music portrays its subject matter. Whilst its lyrics speak tragedies, there is no real grit in Rivonia, and I’m inclined to feel the stories it tells of inequality come across as mournful fairytales rather than traumas that continue into the everyday lives of millions of South Africans. Whilst this distance is appropriate in a track like Good Hope, which narrates the arrival of the European settlers, 27.04.1994 imbues the 1994 elections with an insensitively naïve idealism I find uncomfortable to listen to.

Whilst I play host to these reservations, though, I acknowledge that it is not the job of art or music to present a full, balanced analysis of a situation or set of events, but rather to offer an individual’s perspective or interpretation thereof. Within the realm of artistic reflection on Apartheid and South African history, this album is best received as a thought-provoking piece in a vast collection, rather than as a problematic stand-alone account.

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