Album review: Dear Reader - 'Rivonia' - Times LIVE
   
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Album review: Dear Reader - 'Rivonia'

Nikita Ramkissoon | 2013-07-15 11:51:20.0

In a haunting revisit to her South African roots, Cherilyn McNeil of former South African group Dear Reader delivers a beautiful album called ‘Rivonia’.

She says that in her travels through Europe, she’s been asked about her home in Johannesburg and the country’s interesting (to say the least) history and she discovered that she couldn't adequately answer people’s questions about it.

Rivonia, an album about South Africa written and recorded in McNeil’s apartment in Berlin, may seem a bit strange but I think it must have taken moving away from home to see South Africa with fresh eyes.

This awareness of ‘ignorance’ so to speak has inspired a stunning story of South Africa interwoven with local instrumental sounds, deep beating drums, trumpets and earthy tones alongside her sweet, soulful voice, which is not nearly heavy enough for the heavy stories she tells, but that may be just because it’s a personal view rather than the collective view of the country.

Dear Reader is not really a band, but a one woman show, with a collective of session musicians coming and going with each album. It’s all McNeil with her soul laid bare in each gripping album that tells the story of her life.

McNeil previously spoke to me about her feeling of disconnectedness to South Africa’s history, being white in a country that favoured whites, and her detachment from what the rest of South Africa went through during apartheid.

She was very emotional about this poignant feeling, even though she says she loves this country with every fibre of her being.

Rivonia shows her research, her attempt to reconnect with the land of her birth and tells the story of miners underground, settlers arriving in South Africa, Freedom Day and the country’s very uncertain future.

McNeil draws you in with compelling lyrics, intense but simple piano work and weaves the tale of this complex country while painting a picture of her take on its many diverse stories.

Being a very proud South African who has experienced much of what she talks about, Rivonia drove me to tears.

‘Can you hear your people weeping?’, she asks in Teller of Truths.

Down Under, Mining haunts you with the lyrics ‘Mother, my brother lies dead in the gutter’, bringing up horrific images of our tainted past.

‘So they came in the dry-cleaning van and they took them away’ from the song Took Them Away brings back painful memories of my uncle being arrested and not knowing whether my father is going to come home or not due to his illegal political activities, which is contrasted with Back from the Dead where she asks people to ‘rise above it all’.

Victory ends with a sense of pride as we know that we have overcome a huge hurdle, but personally leaves me with a sense of uneasiness, as we still have a long way to go.

McNeil has previously pleaded to South Africa to move on from our past and not look past the colour of each other’s skin but look at what’s under it in the song The Same from the album Replace Why With Funny.

On Rivonia, however, she asks us to recognise our past and how it’s made us what we are.

This album is a very emotional one, and if you don’t know your history, you’d better get cracking on it, and Rivonia is a good end point for that journey into what we have been through.

Dear Reader has captured South Africa in a personal tale of discovery and pain from which we have to move on.

Rating: 8/10

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