Youtube sensation and Cajon extraordinaire, Heidi Joubert, took some time out from her hectic schedule to answer a few questions we had for her.
MP: Your story seems like a fairy tale. Leaving home to move to another continent to go busk, picking up a new instrument and going on to become an international star. Was there any part of this that you could ever have imagined or was this all a well thought out plan?
I would say that it was something that I never could have imagined but at the same time it was a well thought out plan – it’s more about making plans as you go through life with the end goal in mind. Life happens, and you have to make decisions based on where you are at that moment of your life. When you say yes to something you’re saying no to something else. I’ve always loved singing and even as a small child growing up it has been a big part of my life. My dream has always been to help or encourage people in some way. This journey I’m on has made it possible for me to do so. If I look at myself now through the eyes of a four- or six-year old Heidi, I’d be smiling really big and be like ‘damn! I never thought that would happen’. But I dig it and wouldn’t want it any other way.
MP: Do you still busk from time to time or are those days over?
Busking has taken a back seat the last couple of years. There was a stage where I was busking each and every day. That was how I made my money and also how my first band of nine years started. These days I am traveling the world doing demos for Roland, Youtube videos, collaborating with other artists and working on a new album which scheduled for release at the end of 2018. I love busking and might be doing some busking sessions when we go on tour after my album release.
MP: Is there any part of street performing that you miss ?
Yes, there is a lot I miss about performing on the street. What stands out for me is the connection you have with people and the rawness or realness about everything. It’s pretty organic. You are absolutely vulnerable on the street, so you tend to just let go. I miss meeting random people that you otherwise would never have met. Somehow you connect with them and the music means something to them at that moment. You can’t control everything like you would on a big stage with fancy recording equipment. Your music has to carry that special magic to connect to a moving audience. Another thing I miss is the exercise. Walking the streets of London with a cajon on your back, an amplifier and a battery to power it keeps you in shape.
MP: What does your average day look like for Heidi Joubert?
My average day? I don’t think that exists in my life. It’s been one big whirlwind and I love it. There is always a new project or business expansion, writing new music and collaborating with other artists. At the moment my day is spending a lot of hours of composing, writing and finishing arrangements for my upcoming duet solo album, it’s very exciting!
MP: Who are you currently performing with?
Currently I’m working on my debut solo album. There are some amazing artists joining me on this project. Together we all breathe life into the songs I wrote. It will be quite acoustic and stripped-back with a gentle jazz-meets-soul-meets-world music vibe. I think it will show a side of me that many people have not seen yet. Most importantly I want to show to myself that I am happy to be myself on this first album as a singer songwriter. To put it short, writing is my very life. It is sort of like a personal diary written in music form. To share that intimacy with others is very scary and rewarding at the same time!
MP: You transitioned from drumming to Cajon, how did that come about?
I used to play the drums as a kid. I actually went to a music school in Johannesburg, South Africa and later on graduated on the drums at another school. I’ve always wanted to be a drummer even though singing was my first love. My brothers had a garage band and they taught me a basic beat and I would play along to songs from bands like Nirvana and Metallica, which I loved doing. As a teenager I had a love for the drums. I always had this attitude of ‘urgh percussionists’. You have to be a drummer! But when I moved to London, I had no space or money for a drum kit and had to improvise.
I started busking with a flamenco guitarist as a duet. We later had a band called Fernando’s Kitchen for a few years. He introduced me to the cajon and bought me my very first one from Spain. After one year of singing every day on the streets my vocals were exhausted. To give it somewhat of a break I switched over to the cajon. I loved it and the transition felt so natural.
MP: Do you still drum?
Yes, I do but my setup is a bit different to the normal drum setup. My cajon kit has a snare drum, hi-hat and bass drum pedals. I’ve been experimenting with the idea of building a bridge between a drum kit and cajon, where you’re able to play the cajon and utilise acoustic percussion while applying some drumming techniques. I think it is really good to have a solid coordination that you can apply to the cajon and take it to the next level.
MP: There seems to be endless possibilities of what can be achieved on the cajon and in music. How do you plot your path of what to work on next?
I would say that you have to follow your heart with what you really want to do at that moment. I have so much going on at the moment like performing, composing music, travelling, making youtube videos, teaching, my own cajon brand (Cruz Cajon), my cajon website. Between all of this I must prioritise according to what I feel is important at that moment… and for now that would be my album.
MP: Brands often get endorsement requests from musicians. Do you have some advice for them?
We are living in a new era where big brands have started to work with endorsees. Brands, like Roland, love to work with artists that have a strong online presence. Building an online brand is a must I’d say. If you have something great to share with the world, success is inevitable.
MP: Has the advent of social media had a change or effect on how you market or present yourself to the public and/or sponsored brands?
It certainly has had a major effect. Social media plays a major part in the fact that I do what I do. In a way it has changed how the music industry works. I was never exposed to the old ways of doing things like endorsements or how it works. Mostly everything that came my way was because of my social media presence. A strong online presence and following means you get approached and not the other way around. I love all the new opportunities the internet has bought artists, and I count myself blessed that I did not have to deal with the old way of doing things (recording contracts, loads of formalities, no personal connection with your fans and followers etc). Before, there was so much red tape and the record companies owned you and how much exposure you could get. These days if you upload something online, you instantly get exposed to people around the world. People that you’ll probably never meet are able to buy your music, like or watch your video, become a fan and follow you as an artist. They can even come watch a show. We live in a time that it is indeed easier than ever before to grow a fan base of people that really love what you do from all around the world. Instantly. Boom.
MP: For a drummer or percussionist wanting to move outside the confides or the most common beats and grooves, what would you say is the next thing they need to work on?
A fun thing to start off with are polyrhythms and coordination patterns. Basically, playing a subdivision of two on the right hand and subdivision of three on the left hand. You can also apply your feet by adding in a cowbell pedal, putting down the 1 and 3 on a funk pattern and incorporating some of that in your playing. You can also try to put the 2 and 4 on a swing groove and so on.
MP: What music will we find on your iPod if you gave us a peak? (music / bands / artists)
At the moment I’m in love with Etta James’ version of ‘Sunday Kinda Love.’ It’s a real old school song. There is also a band which I discovered recently which I’m digging, called Keane, with an acoustic version of their song called ‘Bedshaped’. Lauryn Hill, Tigran Hamasayan, Miles Davis, oh and Shai Maestro is one of my new favourite Jazz world music fusion composers and pianists out there. There’s a ton more really. I don’t really stick to the same music at all! It is constantly changing.
MP: Which drummers have influenced your playing the most?
There are so many. Buddy Rich. What inspired me about him is his work ethic and discipline. He is absolutely a class showman. Vinnie Colaiuta who is just a genius on the drums. Jeff Ballard, and a really cool guy called Dave King with a youtube channel called Rational Funk.
From a cajon player perspective, my inspiration came from the people of Africa and the culture. Growing up in South Africa, hearing the lady in our house singing catchy rhythmic African songs and just being in a musical family with my brothers playing the drums. Having no TV or Radio growing up I did not have any influence from the outside world, so most of my influences came from the people around me. In later years there were cajon artists like Paquito Gonzalez, Borina, Rubem Dantas, Alex Acuña – beautiful people who I have absolute respect for. The list is endless.
MP: You are self-taught. Do you feel that there are advantages / disadvantages to this?
I think there are advantages as well as disadvantages to both. Although I am self-taught on the cajon, I received lessons on classical piano when I was six years old. This helped me to utilise similar piano practicing techniques when I started studying the cajon. The two years of rock school also helped ☺. I think it is cool If you’re exposed to both. Some people find it hard to find the music inside themselves, which is such a natural thing. For them using an already written structure or pattern helps them bring the music out. I find this the case with a lot of classical musicians that I know.
Music goes much deeper than what has already been discovered. I believe that music goes so deep that there is something for each and every one of us to discover and then to ‘manifest it’ through music, or sound waves. I don’t think it’s in following a method or applying a certain schooling, even though that could help you on the journey of finding your sound. The ideal or ultimate goal is to create something that no one else has thought of or created yet. I think it is so important for any artist to be able to go beyond the confinement of their schooling. There will always be those that will never respect you because you are self-taught, no matter how good you are. You have one life. You might as well do what you want to do and love doing it.
MP: Most valuable piece of advice given in life or as a musician?
My mom has always given me this most valuable advice: ‘Just be yourself’. It has been one of the hardest things for me to do but that’s when the real beauty shines through. Another thing she taught me was to always wear comfortable clothes when on stage. There is nothing worse than getting on the cajon and you’re so uncomfortable that you can’t breathe or move around freely.
MP: Sitting down to practice, what would you work on typically?
I love to focus on technique and sound. Because I play the cajon while singing, it’s important for me to keep a steady groove while having a good time. I work on basic technique exercises with a metronome in front of a mirror. I start out slowly and adjust the speed as I progress. Adding different Roland pads, foot pedals, cymbals and percussion pieces, I also focus on coordination that keeps my playing fun and interesting. Oh, and I’m absolutely in love with the congas. They really spice up your drum and percussion life. Nothing like cuban rhythms on congas and getting that fat conga ‘Slap’ sound.
MP: Apart from drummers and music, what do you feel inspires you most as a person?
Everything and anything! I try to be inspired by a wider spectrum of things and not just one thing. Nature, being inspired by its beauty and people that love me. There are some really good friends in my life at this moment and their love for me inspires me so much. The Holy Spirit, God and Jesus who is my everything and in everything and for everything I do. I try to find the Spirit of the Creator in everything I see and do, whether it be going out for breakfast, a walk in the park or visiting my family.
I think the most important thing is to love people. If you are faithful in the little, you’ll be faithful in much. Having meaningful interactions with people inspires me. Even having a chat with the cashier behind the counter at the grocery store can be magic if you allow it to be. Simply seeing others as the unique precious beings that they are and taking the time to love others can create a moment of inspiration and creation.
MP: What are your hobbies / things you like to spend time on?
I love to go out, have dinner, travel, learn new languages, discover new cultures, go to wild exotic places, swim and scuba dive, dance, cook… anything really, I do like adventure and new things as I’m pretty much never bored haha. My main love is writing and composing music. Expressing myself in a new creation is like giving birth to the unseen, and it is beautiful.