A little girl sits on a high branch of a tree, gazing at the horizon. She wonders what lies beyond the edge where the sky swallows the sun each evening. More than twenty years and thousands of kilometres from where she was born, she will find herself married and writing songs about the adventures that led her on the journey of her life. Her story is important, not because it’s special but rather because she dared to go beyond that childhood horizon and make her future happen instead of waiting for it to happen to her.
Katelyn Convery was born in Portland, Oregon in the USA. Raised as an Evangelical Christian, she no longer practices the religion but can thank the church for exposing her to music from a young age. She also credits the blind faith of Americans, who will show support for pretty much anyone with a guitar and a decent singing voice, for building up her confidence on stage and preparing her for her adventures into the great unknown. It was her innate wanderlust that set her inner compass facing “anywhere but here” and after finishing her Journalism studies she packed her bags and left the USA. After not making the cut for the Peace Corps, Katelyn found herself teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. During this time she met and became friends with a group of young and diverse South Africans, this group included the man to whom she is now married.
Becoming friends with a fully integrated group of South Africans from different cultural backgrounds, but all possessing the same education and skill levels, gave Katelyn the impression that South Africa was the future, that an actual rainbow nation existed.
Upon arrival in SA she was greeted with the harsh reality that being exposed to a particular cross-section of a nation, when those citizens are abroad, does not constitute a reformed country. Understanding the complicated tapestry of integration, diversity and equality or lack thereof, is what helped Katelyn explore her songwriting with more depth. That, combined with a feeling of isolation, being an American married to a South African and trying to succeed as a musician here, led to intense introspection and eventually, inspiration.
Immersing herself in songwriter and session musician circles in Cape Town introduced her to the vast amount of talent in the city and assisted her in aligning with the right people when the time was right to record an album. One such collaborator is Motheo Moleko – you may know him as the smooth MC that joins Jeremy Loops on stage or from his own band, Momentss. Katelyn saw him perform, came in contact with him and Motheo proceeded to assist her in sourcing a producer, musicians and other creatives to help her throughout her album making process. Katelyn ended up working with Cedric Samson to produce her album, which included the skills of his talented sons as session musicians. Through a crowd-funding campaign Katelyn was able to raise all the funds she needed to make the entire album here, while most of the funding was sourced from America, she did receive a lot of contributions from South Africa too.
The music Katelyn makes is her art, she wants it to speak to you. She wants to be able to relate to an audience with resounding effect. Her greatest apprehension is apathy, rather tell her you hate it so she knows where she should improve, a lack of opinion or emotion towards her music is the only failure she fears. Each of her songs is a story, each story reveals a part of herself to the world.
Our conversation goes off on tangents about feminism and travelling and countless other subjects, but Katelyn always returns to the key point. She cannot stop explaining how in awe she is of our local musicians, how much respect she has for the amount of hard work they put in and how grateful she is to have been able to be part of that energy, for even a short time. Coming from someone who could easily run home and play music in Portland and be adored by her hometown and not give a damn about anyone or anywhere else, we should be proud to impact a person’s life so deeply.
The lesson learnt, in Katelyn’s eyes, is that without moving to South Africa and having to earn her way, without struggling and playing countless unrewarding shows before the rewarding ones came around, she would have no grit, no character in her music and her soul wouldn’t be rich. As she returns to the USA, a piece of her will always remain here because it was created here, “I went to South Africa and it tore my heart out… I would have been a shadow of myself if I had not.”
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Listen to ‘Unarmed’ below on Deezer.