Al Bairre: An indie orchestra

Certain elements define each particular genre of music. In times past, for instance, it would have been uncommon to have a violinist playing in a rock group.

More recently, the fusion of different genres into often arbitrary music formats is ever-increasing. So much, so that classification systems may one day become null and void. The Cape Town band Al Bairre (pronounced “Al Bear”), are a sterling example of this. They are five people with completely different interests, met on matric vacation and decided to start a band.

“When I met Nick [Preen – guitar, percussion, vocals], he said ‘Hey, you play violin, don’t you want to be in my band?’,” Julia Johnson (ukelele, violin, keys, vocals) explains.

“I thought he was joking. Strings are not your typical band instruments. They are not considered hip.”

“I had a vision and I knew what I wanted,” Preen chirps.

“Tessa [Julia’s twin sister] and I have been playing music classically since we were three. We started on piano and later moved onto cello and violin,” Johnson continues.

“It’s only since Al Bairre started in 2012 that we realised this could be a career.”

As winners of the Vodacom In The City competition, Al Bairre were chosen as the only South African artists to play at the festival, alongside international guests Skunk Anansie, Alt-J, The Hives and Boys Noise.

The band say they didn’t even know about the competition until they were voted in the top five. The band’s booking agent had entered them into the competition without their knowledge.

“Every band in that competition was amazing,” Preen adds.

“We had to pretend for three weeks that we didn’t like them. We couldn’t post anything nice about them because it was game on. All we did for those few weeks was try and get people to vote for us. I guess it worked.”

For a band that appear to have come out of nowhere and have only been performing together for a little over a year, Al Bairre have speedily climbed the ladder of success. Maintaining that level, however, is a whole new challenge.

“We are very scared to just plateau,” says Tess.

“We are putting in a lot more work and thinking out the box.”

“I just don’t want to have to get a job,” Kyle Davis (guitar, percussion, bass) grins.

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