Telling stories through music

Jerome Rex.

Lyrics Still Matter, a performance where artists share how music and lyrics have shaped their experiences of growing up in Cape Town, will be staged at the Artscape Arena tomorrow Friday May 24 and Saturday May 25.

The show was put together by singer and songwriter Nadine Matthews, and Ghoema Award winning artist Jerome Rex. And while these singers come from different backgrounds, with different styles of music, they have put together a show that shows the diversity of the performers, allowing them to express themselves in their art forms.

The line-up includes a live band, a scratch DJ, a saxophonist, a flamenco dancer, four vocalists and two back-up vocalists – who are all up-and-coming artists.

Nadine, who is from Surrey Estate, grew up in Kensington. She started singing in Grade 5, when they were asked to perform at school and she sang Whitney Houston’s Saving all my Love for you.

“That was the most authentic moment of my life – I sang my heart out. Before I knew it I was in the church choir and the school choir.”

She went on to study IT and got a part-time job to pay for vocal training at Waterfront Theatre School, which she still goes for today. She then found her way into jazz and started singing at gigs all over the city.

Nadine then moved to London, and studied jazz part time. “That’s the thing about studying abroad. There are so many options if you want to pursue music.”

When she came back, she did a short stint with hip hop group Brasse Vannie Kaap, as she was good friends with the late Mr Fat, and also sang for a lang-arm band Ikey Gamba.

“I always call my journey into music the scenic route, because it took such a long time for me to realise that I have a gift, and I should be reading and writing my own music.”

Nadine has been working on her album, which is set to be released later this year.

And while she has taken the “scenic route”, it seems Jerome has taken music head-on.

Jerome grew up in Elsies River but moved to Kuils River. He started singing in church and school talent shows at the age of 8, but never took it seriously. In high school, he joined a local B-Boy group called Project Break Free, and started dancing with the crew at carnivals and gigs. “We weren’t actively looking for gigs – it was a matter of people just taking our numbers and contacting us to perform.”

Jerome studied education and training after school, and by day, he develops and copyrights learning material.

In 2012, he started working on his own album, all while picking up gigs, mostly in Long Street as the hip-hop scene was big at the time. “At the end of 2013, my album Jerome & Geselskap was released, and I spent a year or two promoting that album.” From there, Jerome’s music career took off, until he released his second album, Al-Jerome, which led him to win best hip-hop album of the year 2019 at the Ghoema Awards. I was nominated with the likes of Early B, Hemelbesem and YOMA, and it was exciting when they called my name. The best part for me was that I got to bring the award home to Cape Town.”

The album sampled music from the late soul singer Al Jarreau, to which Jerome wrote lyrics.

Last year, Nadine and Jerome, who got to know one another through networking, started chatting about a concert where they would give artists a chance to tell their stories. “When an artist performs, most of the time they are confined to what that show needs, instead of just freely telling their stories,” said Jerome.

He said they chose a mixture of artists and put on their debut performance of Lyrics Still Matter in Green Point. He said the show was then pitched to the Artscape, who wanted it too. However, the show has changed a bit. “This time, the show is more theatrical, and there are more stories about how music affected us as the artists throughout our lives.”

Nadine said the show will feature a song that she had never performed before, as well as a song with Jerome called Taller, written by him.

She said some of the artists who have been performing with her for years came onboard, and some artists came from Expression Session Kuils River, a monthly platform co-hosted by Jerome for creatives to share their talents and connect socially.

Asked about the music scene in the city, Nadine and Jerome said that it is healthy and thriving. “A few years ago, we were spoiled for choice of where to perform. It took a bit of a dip, but it has picked up again. It’s nice to also see young artists taking up space because it encourages collaboration,” said Nadine.

Jerome said the hip-hop scene was alive and well. “Everyone is writing and producing, and there are so many opportunities for people to get on stage, with everyone trying to incorporate live music, and First Thursdays as well.”

Lyrics Still Matter will take place at the Artscape Arena on Friday May 24, at 7.30pm, and Saturday May 25, at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets cost R150 and can be booked at Computicket.