Norwegian pop sensation a-ha is touring South Africa and we know what we’re doing for Valentine’s day 2020

a-ha is a three-piece synth-pop band from Norway who rose to international fame in the mid-80s. Their big hit Take on Me (which is teetering on 1 billion views on Youtube) secured them Top 10 spots across the charts, and they’re bringing their music back to South Africa for a two-date tour early 2020.

We got Pål Waaktaar-Savoy — guitarist, songwriter, backing vocalist and percussionist — on the phone to talk about their three-and-a-half decades of music.

Very casually, he greets me with a “Hey, how’sit going?” He’s done this before.

I break the ice by double-checking the pronunciation of his very Norwegian name, to which he insists that I “Call him whatever [I] feel like”. Normally, he and his family live in New York, but they were spending this particular Summer back home in Norway.

I tell him I’m jealous because Cape Town’s winter has my fingertips blue and frozen, but reassure him that their return to South Africa will be in the height of Summer.

a-ha has played in South Africa before, in 1994. While I was only three at the time, Pål remembers it vividly.

“That trip for us was really special, and we remember lots about it. It was obviously a unique time. There was this energy everywhere which felt very special. We had a few days off for safari and exploration,” Pål says. “We went up Table Mountain and we saw as much as we could with the time we had.”

He laughs when I ask him if he remembers where they played in ‘94 and he admits that he “…can never be trusted with details like that.”

“We’ve always wanted to go back to South Africa, but you have to find the right time for it. Next year we’ll be doing more touring than we usually do, so we’re very excited about that!”

I ask about the music industry in the ’80s, when they were kids and just starting out.

“Coming from Norway, that was not the place that most bands came from in those days. We just kept asking ourselves ‘how do we do this?’” he recalls. “But you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, so we bought a one-way ticket to London, bought a newspaper, and started looking for companies to send our demo cassettes to.”

We compare it to the music industry now, where it’s the easiest thing to get your music out there. The downside, he agrees, is that “now you’re competing with 40 000 people who sound similar.”

He continues: “The music in the ’80s was also exploding with catchy pop songs, so we were surrounded by this and it became a big influence for us and our sound. We were ready for the adventure, and we never really thought about it going wrong.”

I wonder about blurring the lines between friendship and business, and what toll that must’ve taken on them.

“Well in the beginning we were living in the same apartment and at one point [all three of us] lived in one room… but you can’t do that for 40 years. You just have to know when you need to respect each other’s space. And you just have to find other things to fill your time with.”

By now they’ve perfected it, touring a few months in the year, and then returning to their separate family lives, music collaborations, and everything else they need to stay stimulated. He adds: “Stuff like the Unplugged tour, using different bands to perform with…It’s always been about reinventing the sound for new adventures.” 

He elaborates on the success of their recent MTV Unplugged tour: “We always knew it would work because that’s how we write the songs, on piano and acoustic guitar. It’s fun to see people’s reactions when you do a well-known hit like Take on Me differently because it doesn’t have to sound a certain way all the time.”

Their upcoming tour early next year is a celebration of the 35th anniversary of their debut album Hunting High and Low. “We’re at the age now where every week there’s a new anniversary to celebrate,” he laughs.

I ask him what we can expect from their repertoire, and he says: “The whole idea is to take everybody on a trip through the album. We’re really excited to show people where our heads were and the feelings that we had when we wrote the album. We’re still getting a kick out of performing the music, and that’s what the tour will be about. And that’s what we want the fans to experience.”

Tickets are now on sale.

a-ha play Hunting High And Low live – South Africa Tour Dates:
14 February 2020: Green Point A Track, Cape Town
In association with Kfm 94.5
Tickets on sale on Wednesday 26 June from 10am

15 February 2020: Marks Park, Emmarentia, Johannesburg
In association with Jacaranda Fm
Tickets on sale on Wednesday 26 June from 10am