There are a handful of feel-good artists out there whose music can carry a great party into the wee hours of the morning -- Christine Vaindrilis and her new album, ‘Dance Mama!’ do just that.
Vaindrilis’ positive and bright life outlook are reflected in the sunshine-soaked ethnic beats and lively jazz vocals of ‘Dance Mama!’. A ten-track collection of world-music, infused with the syncopated rhythms of traditional jazz piano and big-band brass instruments, Vaindrilis’s rich voice brings the sounds and eternal optimism of the people of South Africa to listeners living rooms; a surefire way to usher in an impromptu dance party wherever it’s played.
Exclusive Magazine recently sat with Christine Vaindirlis to learn more about her cultivated inspiration behind the new album, ‘Dance Mama!’ and her seeding as a true citizen of the world after an interesting journey to New York City via Milan, Italy and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Your music has its eclectic roots in jazz, funk and Afro-beat. Who were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? "That's a very big question and difficult to answer. I would say everything that I've listened to and any good song with one of those melodies that you carry around with you for days has been my influence."
"I grew up listening to a lot of traditional black South Africanmusic, likeMiriam Makeba, High Masekela, Robbie Jansen, Mahlathini and the mahotella Queens, Johnny Clegg, Abdullah Ibrahim, Paul Simonenjoying all the traditional singing and dancing in the market place at any given day in downtown Johannesburg, but was also exposed to and soon fell in love with western pop, funk and Jazz on the radio - Tower of Power, Genesis, Chaka Khan, Patti Labelle, Earth, Wind and Fire, P-Funk, Sting, Stevie Wonder as well as from Ella & Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, Coltrane, Frank Zappa, Jimmy Hendrix, Toto,Albertina Walker, Mahalia Jackson, and a bit of classical too -Mozart, Rachmaninov, Bach, and the list can goes on forever...I still listen to them, good music is timeless!!"
You’re set to release your debut album, Dance Mama!, on November 3rd. As an up-and-coming artist, how would you describe the sound and style of your music? "A high energy fusion of Funk, R&B and Jazz mixed with South African flavored vocals and horn arrangements."
The new album is nod to your South African roots. Tell us a little about the journey from your hometown of Johannesburg to the Brooklyn, New York music scene "The pursuit of being a musician led me from Johannesburg right out of high school, to Milan - Italy where I got the opportunity to train as an opera singer at the Conservatorio di Milano "Giuseppe Verdi" and later under "La Scala di Milano" supervision while at the same time, being introduced to the jazz and gospel music scene in the evenings."
"Like most people, I had to earn a living, so I started teaching English at businesses and was then offered a full-time position at IBM as a corporate executive, while continuing to pursue my dream in music, performing and studying in the evenings. I was getting ready to change jobs when one day, by "chance" came across the Berklee College of Music's European Scholarship audition schedule and realized I could give it a shot. I had always wanted to go to Berklee right after high school but my parents were a bit weary of me venturing out to the US by myself at such a young age."
"So, soon thereafter I was off to Boston, thanks also to IBM who also helped a bit with a financial contribution. After four years of ten consecutive semesters in Contemporary writing, arranging, production and performance as a voice principal, I got an internship at a prestigious music house in New York City and made the big move. However, through-out all my travels, music from home never left my side, it always brought me joy, made me want to dance and reminded me of where I came from. The sun always shines in South Africa, and through all those years in Milan - as much as I loved being there, the gloomy weather was killing me - so all I needed to do to feel better was listen to a bit of Miriam Makeba and the sun would shine again!! :)"
A true citizen of the world, where is one place you haven’t visited that you would love to see sometime in your life and why? "I would love to go to Australia, the Philippines, Polinesia, Brasil, Argentina, Antartica, Ah! So many places, I love traveling, nature and the ocean. It gives me a sense of freedom, I love to appreciating God's marvelous creation and meet new people from different cultures. At the end of the day, we all live the same dramas in relationships, experience loss and birth, have the same desires, necessities and hopes...just seen through the eyes of different culture."
The debut album, Dance Mama!, shares its name with the title track. Why did you choose this particular song as your musical introduction to the world? "I chose this track because it sums up my life, where I am right now. Sometimes we don't understand why things happen or why they take so long to happen. Looking back on my life from South Africa to Italy and then finally to the US, I now realize there was a specific purpose. I had to learn and understand things about life, myself as well as other people in between before making the album. My belief in God is very real and personal and has been a fundamental part of my life. Looking back I can see how he's taken care of me - a little girl trotting around the world by herself - so I can sing this song ..."
"As I open my eyes - I see your smile,
Come rain or come shine - you're always around
In the middle of the night - you're watching somehow
And if I wake up and cry, I'm never alone.....DANCE MAMA!"
"This is the reason I can "dance" - I have joy in my heart, but I also wanted to give a tribute to music from home and to the late Miriam Makeba whose song, Pata-Pata has always accompanied me and made me actually dance...and my friends will know what I'm talking about lol! I always try and include Pata-Pata in the set-list whenever I can."
You’ve held a myriad of professions including stints as an English teacher, audio gear specialist and even corporate executive; so what made you decide to pursue a career in music? "I've always loved to sing, it's the best way I express myself and music itself can transcend beyond language barriers. I want to make a difference in this world, a small contribution to someone's life - make people feel better and get new energy and strength to face whatever they're going through, whether good or bad."
How easy or hard is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "Music is a gift and should come from the heart, I believe that if we try and fabricate it, it will be fake so whatever is in your heart, that's what you should express because everybody has a very personal story to tell and I believe people want to hear and relate to real life stories. From my point-of-view it's making a difference and not a business, if it fits within "industry" standards, then that's great, but if it doesn't that's even greater because times are changing and people are going through different experiences, so it's right that the music reflects that too."
A well rounded artist, you also created the album artwork; drawing inspiration from Zulu beadwork and colorful Ndebele houses. Tell us a little about this creative process "I love bright colors, they represent life and energy, so throughout the process I must have gone through at least three or four boxes of Crayola. After a long day of writing and editing, I would sometimes sit on the couch, grab a bite and catch the news and a movie to wind down a little while creating geometric and colorful designs like those on telephone wire baskets or Ndebele houses."
"Yes, my friends make fun of me because I can never watch TV without doing something else...one of those things you know, what can I say...anyways, so I eventually I came up with a design that I liked and decided to use it."
For the new album, you tapped the musical talents of critically acclaimed accordion player Tony Cedras and bassist Bakithi Kumalo, both who worked with Paul Simon onGraceland. Tell us a little about this interesting matchup and how you feel its reflected in the direction of the album "Bakithi's and Tony's playing make me think so much of the music from home. The Graceland concert has really been a fundamental influence since the 80's and one of those albums that followed me through Europe to New York. When I originally wrote the music I was thinking that there would have been no greater honor and nobody more perfect to play my music than Bakithi and Tony but I never imagined it would actually happen."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today and why? "'Something Inside So Strong' - Labbi Siffre (1987), because it speaks against injustice."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves penguins, do you? "I LOVE penguins, this little guy is one of my new friends from my last trip to Cape Town."
To learn more about Christine Vaindirlis and her unique blend of Afro-jazz music, check out her official website, Myspace, Facebook and Twitter sites!
Interview: Erin M. Stranyak
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