Since stepping onto the Jozi music circuit a good eight or so years ago, Werner Bekker, 26, has been playing the local singer/songwriter game and building up quite the reputation about it.
Son of renowned Afrikaans singer/songwriter, Gert Bekker, music has always been a big part of Werner’s life. “I think one of the earliest [musical memories] I have is falling asleep listening to music in a bar, like under the tables with my sister,” he recalls with a soft smile, but can barely control his outburst of laughter as he digs a little deeper into his musical memory, “Another [memory], I was in Cullinan Primary, so there were like five or six kids in the school choir, and I remember we learnt the song, “La Cucaracha” and I still remember all the words — it’s crazy man.”
Getting a taste of life on the road with his dad, Bekker played his first gig — an open mic — at 17, and since recording his first EP, he’s done well to hustle his way onto some fantastic lineups with big local acts like The Parlotones, Ard Matthews and Matthew Mole, and international synth-pop sensations A-ha. “Yoh dude, it was fucking awesome, with the crowd that A-ha pulled, by the time I went on stage there were probably about 3500 – 4000 people in the audience which to me is surreal,” he explains excitedly of one of his favourite gigs (read: musical achievements) yet.
Bekker reckons that he adopted his initial guitar style, as well as a fistful of his first chords, from his father, and explains how, when he decided it was time to study, Papa Bekker made it very clear that, in order to survive as a musician, you need to hold down a couple of hustles, “And I think that’s part of the reason I can do what I do,” he reasons before adding, “But from like the age of 20 it was pretty much me driving it, and my dad knew that that’s how I work. I didn’t want him to interfere, and he respected that so well, which is awesome.”
I point out that his most recent EP, in my cluttered head was released just in time to celebrate lockdown’s 1-year anniversary, and he tells me about some positives to come out of this pandemic. “Lockdown gave me the time to rediscover myself, and it gave me the time to get married, and to get to know my wife a little better as well,” he explains appreciatively, “ And creatively it was awesome because I’d been building up a little studio at home for five years, so it kind of forced me to start recording myself and that’s kind of where this EP came from — it’s all home-recorded, and I think that brings something special to the music as well because it’s so personal.”
Bekker explains how equally daunting and liberating recording the 7-track EP was, “Yoh, it was nerve-wracking, but it also felt really good because for the first time in the last five years I was kind of working on my own, producing it on my own.” He unpacks the process from conceptualising the lyrics to programming drums, from tracking instruments to getting feedback from other producers, “It was so satisfying just to be able to do that, and to be so proud of something that I sculpted with my own hands, you know?”
in my cluttered head is a collection of songs, some old, some new, the musings of a kid with a dream, traversing the twists and turns of life and love, stubbing his toes along the way but ultimately learning from his misadventures. Bekker explains that some tracks were written up to six years ago, but that he hadn’t formed an honest connection with the music until he stepped into the studio. Forming that connection, he explains, is a weaning process that you have to be patient with and open-minded about, “Often times you’ll go into the process of compiling an EP, and you’ll say that there’s something missing and so you try to write a song, but you can try all you want, what wants to come out is gonna come out — often times you wanna write a banger and then the saddest song comes out instead — it’s awesome but it’s not what you wanted.”
Bekker covers being brave enough to expand your horizons in “Daydreaming” and owning up to being an unnecessary dick sometimes in “To Memory”. He begs his parents to stay together in “It’s You”, and navigates the delicate balance of love and hate in relationships with “Thin Line”. He leans into his frustration and rebellious tendencies with “Howling”, relives his first love in “Back to You,” and taps out of a toxic relationship with “Let It Go”.
Laying his soul bare, Bekker narrates pages of his personal diary with delicate, well-honed skill not only as a vocalist and guitarist, but as a producer as well, a man of refreshing candour who isn’t afraid to admit his mistakes in a cohesive 7-track EP, in my cluttered head.