You know how they say that still waters run deep? For me, Brian Africa always has been one of those guys who, although not necessarily “silent” in the sense of sitting in a corner not talking to people, has this really gentle, calm quality about him. And while he’s obviously an amazing musician with many talents, I never realized that music is, actually and literally and in the realest way possible, his life. And that he also draws, studied Fine Arts (among other things) and produces his own music. Alas. Another thing they say: You live and learn.
There’s a lot more about Brian I had no clue about. Like that he used to make – as far as I, as someone who doesn’t know anything about this genre, am concerned pretty sweet – Alt Rock. Or that he originally wanted to play the violin when his parents offered him and his brother music lessons – but guitar turned out to be the more accessible option. So he picked it up, loved it (naturally) and taught himself how to play the violin a couple of decades later. Which is, I might add, quite the feat – I remember my tortuous first attempts, and that was when my fingers were still very young and bendy. But back to Brian:He also plays drums, and piano – and probably a few more instruments we didn’t get to talk about. So basically, he’s just one of those guys who picks up an instrument and learns to play it in five minutes. You could hate him for that, but on top of all that he’s also just a damn lovely dude, which makes that kind of impossible.
And, not to forget, the music he’s writing now is also pretty amazing. I’ve heard Brian play a few times, mostly at open mics and at a few of his bar gigs around town (Vancouver, that is, not much town around where I am now), but I only heard him play his originals at the very sweet but since discontinued showcase called Goblin Cabaret, hosted by Tyrant Studios above Penthouse Nightclub (which is SO worth a visit or three, not just because of the plainly hilarious as well as legendary location). This might be partly due to a somewhat recent change in lifestyle for Brian, whom I often met at open mics, which then sometimes turned into somewhat rowdy nights ending at the Met or some other dingy dance/party location. That was back in the day when he played a lot of, while well-paying, not necessarily creatively challenging restaurant and corporate gigs – meaning, mostly playing covers while a bunch of people not really all that interested in live music eat food, chat, and occasionally clap.
The good thing about those kinds of gigs, aside from the fact that they pay the bills (and save money on drinks, because they’re usually free), is that you can use them as a public rehearsal space (if you’re as good as Brian, anyway) and that you can have a bit of fun with people’s inattentiveness. Like that one time, when Brian played the same song four (!) times in a row, to see if anyone would notice. Granted, each time the genre in which he played the song in was different, but still. And he even made announcements, saying something along the lines of “You might recognize this one…”. Do you wanna bet how many people caught on? I’ll give you a hint: A group of dudes at the bar noticed. That’s about it. And they loved it. Naturally. And bought him a drink after.
Despite all the fun, however, Brian eventually realized what he really wanted to do was take himself more seriously as an original musician and share his art by playing his own music – and not even so much in front of people, necessarily. “I don’t want to be a celebrity”, he says, which may seem weird to some, considering he chose to make music his vocation a long time ago. But then, if you met Brian, I think you’d get it. While he’s a great entertainer and – I may have mentioned it before – a tremendous musician, he doesn’t come across as someone who needs the spotlight, who craves the attention of ten thousand people throwing their dirty undies at him across a stage pit stacked with bulky security people.
So he’s writing a lot, and has been for a long time – basically since he started playing guitar in his teens. Yet somehow, it’s only been this past year that he felt like putting something of his own out there that’s representative of the “chill, introspective” style that he took on. And the goal is to keep doing just that: Write, and start putting “as much music out as I can”. Which brings us to the current events that spurred this fairly impromptu (for my standards, anyway) interview and blurbicle (because, you know, it was meant to be a short thing, but then I don’t seem to be able to do short. Ah well.): His new single “Puzzle Pieces” that will be released on, well, Puzzle Day, of course! And if you’re going to google when that is right now and will find contradicting answers – I guess that’s part of the puzzle. The one Brian is going with is National Puzzle Day in the States, which is January 29th, just to avoid any confusion, and Puzzle Pieces – which is, by the way, completely self-produced and recorded in Brian’s bedroom (which you’ll find hard to believe, given the production value of the track) – will be out on Spotify, where you can actually pre-save it now! Which, you know, you should totally do, because it helps to get it onto all sorts of playlists. It’s all about them algorithms these days.
“I just wanna get all my music out into the world – I’m finally at a point where I’m happy with it”
What’s most amazing to me about Brian’s story is: Although he has struggled with wishing that sometimes he “didn’t wanna be a musician”, because the whole starving artist thing isn’t – surprise, surprise – always the easiest way to live, especially in Vancouver – he stuck with it, after venturing into other fields like the aforementioned graphic design and getting into fitness, pondering going into personal training. But “You’re a musician, you’re supposed to be doing this” was a mantra that just kept coming back, no matter how hard he tried to ignore it. And he still managed to get to the parts of what might be considered a “normal” life he wanted to achieve, of which his daughter Tegan is living proof. Yet he always returned to music. And when he met Jesse, his friend who inspired him to just pour his heart and soul into putting all of his music out on Spotify, because it allows him to live off his music without the daunting prospect of having to tour non-stop and be followed around by a bunch of screaming teenagers – things just clicked, and started to fall into place (yes, this is a puzzle reference). Not that he’ll stop playing live – but this way, he can focus on the enjoyment of expressing himself on stage and figure out what that means when playing more original stuff rather than covers, without having to worry about ticket sales. And can play shows where people actually come to listen to the music – which, in Brian’s case, you really wanna do. No puzzles about that one.