The Arrows, one of Durban’s newest bands, finds itself in much the same place as internationally acclaimed rock band Tree 63. Band members are accomplished musicians who just happen to be Christians.
But that is where the similarity ends. While Tree 63 is all about rock with a distinct U2 tinge, the Arrows has a versatile blend of music styles culminating in what band members describe as an eclectic mix of jazz, pop and indie. They do not turn out stereotypical gospel and cringe at the thought of playing cover versions of clichéd Americanised worship tunes.
“It is about the lyrics, but it is also about the music. I’ve been a professional musician all my life and I just wouldn’t let myself get away with that,” says Pam de Menezes, the singer and front person for the band. She has been writing music for about 12 years.
“Each band member brings an individual musical background. Our music has moments of jazz improvisation mixed in with tightly arranged choruses. That is what creates the contextual dynamics of The Arrows. It’s really all heart music to us, with quirky one-liners thrown in the mix,” says De Menezes.
De Menezes and drummer Christie Desfontaine say that most young people are tuned into music that sells a culture of chaos and presents pain and brokenness as the norm.
“I can’t tell my friends – whether Christian or non-Christian – to go out and look for something different if it just isn’t there. It was fine to listen to simple worship songs at the beginning of my Christian journey, but when I was hungry for something else, I couldn’t find anything [more sophisticated] that grabbed me, which is another reason I started writing.”
Desfontaine says that their music, like mainstream love songs, is based on personal experiences and a relationship with a real person, which is probably why people connect with the music.
They play in both secular and church venues and are about to embark on a national tour that includes Cape Town and Johannesburg. They are not preaching to their listeners, according to De Menezes. “People are not being Bible bashed and they are not irritated by what we are playing.
“But we are not under cover by any means,” emphasises Desfontaine, drawing on one of their most popular numbers, In The Words Of Satan, as an example. De Menezes wrote the song in September last year. She says it is one of their most controversial and describes it as a strongly-worded attempt to expose different worldviews and the lies that she believes people have been fed to disillusion them about the things that band members believe to be the truth.
Feedback during the initial stages of their national tour – in Durban during September – has been extremely positive and the band leaves for Johannesburg shortly, followed by Cape Town, where they will play until mid December. They will return to their home turf to play two gigs at the beginning of November and are looking for venues inland, especially in Pietermaritzburg.
The three band members have interesting musical pedigrees. De Menezes completed her BMus (jazz performance) degree at the University of Cape Town, has performed in jazz venues all over South Africa and has worked with highly respected musicians. The highlight of her career was performing with Darius Brubeck at the 2007 Cape Town International Jazz Festival.
Desfontaine has been playing drums for about 10 years in venues across the world, including the Caribbean, Hawaii, England and Australia.
Bongani Zondi has been playing bass for four years. Like Desfontaine, he has worked with young people in the church. He has joined a number of mission trips, including one to Albania in 2005.
“Musically, I come from the school of the street. I didn’t go to music school as such, but what I know I learnt with my ears and my heart.”
Their publicist Tanya van Agthoven adds: “This young, vibrant, down to earth trio know exactly where they are going. Having positioned themselves perfectly, they are neither purists nor ‘lame brain rockers’. Rather, they are refreshingly quirky and each exhibits an individual style on stage that brings them together ultimately and uniquely as ‘The Arrows’. There isn’t a look. There doesn’t have to be.”
Their tour follows this month’s launch of a five-song EP, which was recorded at Northwind studios in Hillcrest under the watchful eye of American producer Tim Heintz.
The band met up with him after a gig last year and they began working together in September.
Band members say this collaboration gave them access to a good studio, top backing musicians and a great deal of encouragement. A follow-up album is already on the cards for production in America and will coincide with an American tour that is already being discussed.
Further information on the band is available on their MySpace page and on their website www.thearrowsband.com
The Arrows’s EP is on sale online and at gigs.