Following the success of AMAZING GRACE last year, popular pianist Rocco de Villiers is back with the sequel – AMAZING GRACE 2, a brand new show.
The show consists of Rocco and his piano (or two), Lizelle le Roux on violin, Robert Mitchley on guitars and gospel singer Noxolo Hlatshwayo.
Do you remember the moment when you realized you had this special relationship with the piano?
“I don’t remember because I never wanted to do music at all. The subjects I was interested in at school were Maths and Science, so all my life I wanted to be a doctor. I also loved Chemisry, and wanted to one day run my own pharmacy. I think it fed my OCD, because then I could organize all the pill bottles in different colours, when everyone went home after working hours.”
“The interesting thing is that somewhere out there, there was an energy guiding me. Even though I didn’t want music as a career in my mind, every time I played, every time I put my hands on a piano, someone would pay me to play; people gave me either money, or sweets or chocolate as a youngster. That made me think differently and made me realize that I moved people by playing the piano, and I also moved them to give me something as a thank you (which I liked a lot).”
“That is how it started. I only really became a professional musician, when I moved to Johannesburg in 1989. I worked at a cult cabaret club called Club 58 in Hillbrow, that is when I realized, when people paid me properly for my show, that I was in the right place at the right time (I still feel this now), and that I should play as a career.”
“I actually didn’t want to study music at all. In matric I had a fight with my teacher over a questions he asked me, and I thought he would fail me. The next morning my mother got a phone call from the University of the Orange Free State (back then), to ask if I would study music there and that they would pay for it.”
“Then I realized I had a musical talent where I can make people happy, I can entertain them, I can make them think and hopefully change something in their lives.”
You started playing piano at the age of 4 – was this initiated by your mother ‘making’ you learn piano?
“My sister was 21 years older than me so I basically grew up as an only child. We had a piano in the house, but in those days, my parents used to keep the piano locked, so that the children would ruin it. I had a Sotho friend from the farm who played with me, he taught me how to swim, play the bicycle…. One day I asked him to help me break the lock of the piano. I remember he broke the lock and I started playing. By then I had perfect pitch, and then already I had ‘recorded’ all the music from the radio in my mind. One of the first things I played on the piano, was ‘I’ll be your longhaired lover from Liverpool’ – an old song that my parents used to play at home. When we opened the piano, I started to play. My mother was the one who decided I should then learn piano and the rest is history.”
“My first photo shoot was in 1990 with Adele Hamlin who is now Robert Hamlin, (an important artist in the LGBT community). Then, Adele took my first professional pictures and when I got those pictures, I realized that I needed to do something with them. I have an innate understanding of marketing. I thought what am I going to do to bring the picture to the sound, to the person. So I decided to record a CD, with the picture as the cover – that became the ultimate business card. When I made my first CD, I knew that this was real. It is now my world; I do 120 performances a year, my CDs sell well and my shows are instrumental stage productions with theatrics and stories from mostly my past. I am trying to make sense of the future by looking at the past.”
Tell me about this year’s show?
“Last year was very tongue in check, this year is less so. Amazing Grace 2 deals with the taboos of the old South Africa and how we in the 60s and 70s, living in a Christian community, wouldn’t do anything on a Sunday; you couldn’t go shopping, drink alcohol…. 40 years later and those things have disappeared. It is also how I grew up, what I experienced when I was small. People who lived an alternative lifestyles then, all wanted to be accepted and acknowledged. There is a strong humanitarian slant in the show.”
“Since I started with my last CD, the business card, I always had a show connected with the CD. The show then sells the product and vice versa – with theatre struggling, you have a back up with the product selling after the show if the house is not that good. That’s my business model. It is also for people to buy a memory.”
“Last year’s show was themed in the 19th century, in a church and we all had big costumes. Amazing grace 2 is modern, pop and I left the hymns out. The new show is about what I think should be sung in a church, like ‘Down By The Riverside’, ‘Amen’, ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’. We are focusing on popular religious music and the American spiritual. I have Noxolo Hlatshwayo singing and she is going to blow you away. The focus is on the music more. It’s quite a styled show – every scene is another colour.”
Most of your shows are religion orientated – are you religious, and what is your connection with this topic?
“I am not religious at all. Only lately have I included the religious slant to the show, but Amazing Grace 2 will be the swan song of that. Plans for the future – I am only going to play my music and not other people’s music. Last year I had a lot of my own music and people responded so positively to that.
The religious thing was never planned, it just happened. I wanted to bring out an album with the hymns I grew up with because the tunes were so incredible, and so that idea turned into a show.”
AMAZING GRACE 2 is on at the Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre from 3 – 13 August 2017. For further details and to book, click on link: