Hezron Chetty: Pushing The Boundaries Of Classical Music

Blurring the musical lines between classical and modern, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Hezron Chetty combines an eclectic array of genres to generate his distinctively postmodern take on classical music.

With over 20 years of experience under his belt, Hezron primarily identifies as a violinist, employing a vast number of styles in order to exhibit the violin as an incredibly versatile instrument. I recently got the opportunity to catch up with the rapidly emerging artist and discuss the small comings of his musical career.

Skye Mallac: Let me begin by congratulating you on your album and recent endeavours in pushing the music out there since its release. I reviewed it last year and it ended up among our top 20 albums of 2015. The style you employ is quite unique given the fact that your music is primarily violin centric while still maintaining a modern undertone, what has influenced you to steer in this particular direction?

Hezron Chetty: I have always had a passion for creating something unique. Since I started playing the violin, I have had the urge to rebel against the rigid, old-school way that this beautiful instrument is being taught. I studied classical and jazz and got fed-up with the system. When I started playing in different bands, I needed to adapt my skills to suit punk, rock and folk. So I started incorporating different styles in my sound during my travels and have never looked back. I always like shocking people – and their response in turn motivates me to find new ways to spice up my style.

In this album I really got to be very experimental and push boundaries in terms of how the violin should be played.

SM: You also have demonstrated clearly the versatility of the violin. While it’s traditionally seen as a classical instrument, you use pizzicato (plucking) methods as well as a variety of others to create your music. This is some pretty impressive talent. How many years of playing and performance has it taken you to get to this level?

HC: I have been playing the violin for 23 years (I know I don’t look that old!). I played my first gig at the age of 19, and have been going strong since then. In 2014 I played over 250 gigs with different bands, so that’s a whole lot of hours!

There was a defining moment one day when I was jamming to Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven in a digs in London in 2007… and suddenly everything clicked! I realised that all my years of practice had paid off and that I could improvise! I changed to another track by Led Zepplin – When The Levee Breaks, and I could improvise to that. I then played Miles Davis, The Sex Pistols, The Doors, The Rolling Stones and Dizzie Rascals tracks and I could improvise to those as well! It was a magical experience that I will never forget.

SM: If find the album title slightly elusive in its meaning. It seems to be a somewhat metaphorical take on composition as a whole. Can you shed some light on your reason for choosing the title “A Fallacy of Composition”?

HC: My understanding of this term is that even if something is part of a whole, and used separately, it doesn’t necessarily change its original character. I use many influences from classical, rock, African, and folk music for example, and write compositions which are original but where these influences are still clearly heard. I embrace this, and therefore don’t have a specific genre to belong to… I believe that a ‘genre’ is too limiting for my style.

SM: Some fantastic African influences are blended with your sound on the album, with instruments like the marimba. Did you collaborate with many artists during the recording process?

HC: I set out to prove the versatility of the instrument and your question proves this. There is no marimba on the album and almost all of the sounds (besides the drums and bass) come just from the violin through the loop station; except the use of the ukulele and electric guitar in the track ‘Nancy’. I can strum and pluck the violin like a guitar/mandolin, tap on in percussively like a bodhrán (Irish drum) and even play bottom end bass sounds like a bass guitar. I collaborated with the producer Rudi on the song ‘Nancy’. Rudi is an amazing guitarist who also plays in a heavy metal band, and he added his flare on that track.

‘Nancy’ is the only song where I do not use a bow.

SM: The loop station you work with also gives the opportunity for a more versatile sound, with layers of violin work which can end up giving the impression there is a small orchestra on stage. Is this your goal as a one man violinist?  

HC: Yes most definitely, I create all the string arrangements and play them through the loop station live on stage. This gives me the freedom to build a song, then my drummer, Jeanre Leo, and bass player, CJ Duckitt, add the rhythm and drive to the songs. It really opens the listener and myself up to a whole new level of instrumental music.

SM: I have read that you have done a lot of travelling in the past. Which places you visited had the biggest impact on your musical influence?

HC: I would have to say London, Spain and India had the biggest impact on my musical influences. London taught me how to hustle and really work as a musician, it is such a small city with so many people and almost everyone is a musician. I learned very quickly how to earn money from playing or that I would go hungry. Spain gave me freedom in my playing – the Spanish people really enjoy life and taught me to not hold back on expressing myself with my music. India taught me to play percussive melodies: Indian music is very percussive and you really have to learn how to weave your melodies around that. One of the best experiences in my life was jamming with a gypsy named Lucky on the roof top of a hotel in Jaipur, overlooking the city. It was me on violin and him on the Naal (Indian percussion instrument). Lucky taught me how to play melodies in between the percussion… we played until the sun came up!

SM: You had the opportunity to play alongside Arno Carstens at Kirstenbosch last year. How was that experience?

HC: Arno is an amazing individual and musician, it was truly an honour. I grew up listening to his music and suddenly I was playing it with him! A definite highlight for me was when he asked me to play my song ‘Chasing Kings’ in front of thousands of people at Kirstenbosch Gardens… he got the crowd clapping while he and JC Visser from Mr Cat and the Jackal danced on stage. It was such a memorable moment for me.

SM: One of your songs was featured on a CD pool compilation alongside Jason Derulo and Kelly Clarkson. How did that come about?

HC: A few years back I set up a song-writing and production team called KrayZee-N. We wrote songs for established artists and then produced the songs and released them through relatively unknown distribution companies like Content Connect Africa. My business and song-writing partner at the time, Andrew Ord, flew to London to record the vocals. On the track we used a British singer I had worked with at the time, Clarrisa Mitchell, and producer Daniel Spiller. Clarrisa’s management company liked the track and asked Marc Jb who is part of the internationally renowned dance music group Bimbo Jones to remix the track. The track was remixed and we signed a deal with EMI publishing. The song then went on to be added to the CD pool compilation.

SM: The music video for ‘Chasing Kings’ is a striking piece of videography, blending the classical, civilised sound of the violin with a traditional African landscape. Can you tell us a little insight about the inspiration behind the video?

HC: Firstly I have to thank director Alfonzo Franke, videographer Imraan Christian and the team from Muti Films for an amazing collaborative effort. Alfonzo asked me to tell him my story, which he then let loose in his head and came up with this beautiful symbolic narrative. The King and his guards represent the oppressors in my musical career, always telling me the violin must be played a certain way. The queen represents temptations in my life, and the ethereal figure represents my late mother and the universe that are always there to rejuvenate me.

SM: So what are your plans for 2016? Where can we catch you and your music in the near future?

HC: I am releasing a new single and music video very soon for a new song called ‘See Journey’, also directed by Alfonzo Franke. My last album was sort of me flexing my muscles and showing the world that I am a great instrumentalist, this new single and album is going to show a darker side to my music. I will be performing in Johannesburg on the 15th and 16th of April, Outland Festival in KZN on the 25th of March, The Grahamstown National Arts Festival and plenty more.

Read our review of “The Fallacy Of Composition”.

Hezron Chetty