11th April 2021
A South African band that truly deserve the recognition they received is Henry Ate, the hitmaking outfit founded and headed by vocalist Karma-Ann Swannepoel and Julian Sun. From the duo’s first live appearance at Wings Beat Bar in Johannesburg in 1995, they went on to become one of the country’s biggest hit machines, holding their own on the charts against the slew of international acts over the years.
Soon they had formed a six-piece band and the chemistry and unique talents of these diverse musicians imbued them with a sound that ticked all the boxes for local listeners. The debut album ‘ A Slap in the Face’ was released in 1996 and the single ‘Just’ soon became a festival anthem and shot to the top of the 5FM charts. As popular was the hit ‘Hey Mister’ which can still regularly heard on local stations.
The success of Henry Ate saw them open for international acts like Skunk Anansie, Garbage, and local icon, Johnny Clegg. A decision to change the band’s name from Henry Ate to Karma caused a lot of confusion amongst fans and the media, and although the second and third albums were released under ‘Karma’, in the eyes of locals they were still (and always will be) Henry Ate.
Let’s start with that perennial favourite ‘ Hey Mister’
Although there may have been confusion about Henry Ate / Karma, it didn’t prevent Karma from winning the 1999 SAMA Award (South African Musical Rights) for Best Pop Album for the second album ‘One Day Soon’. The album contained four hit singles “Dr Pepper”, “One Day Soon”, “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Seconds Count”, and proved that the band wasn’t flailing under a confused identity.
By this time Henry Ate had stopped existing as an entity and saw a change of line-up. Julian Sun was joined by Peter Cohen (Bright Blue and Mango Groove), Brendan ou Tim on Bass and guitarist Max Mikula. Willem Moller and Marvin Moses were included as a part of the production team that took the album to the top.
Although Henry Ate / Karma were considered one of the hardest working of the time, with a near constant touring schedule, Karma found time enough to compose a batch of new songs for the 2000 release ‘Torn and Tattered’. Her songwriting style has been called mature, but never cynical, and is part of the magic of Karma’s remarkable talent.
The Torn & Tattered album contained the hits ‘Madhatter’, ‘Saints & Sinners’ and ‘Prayer’. Here’s my favourites from the secons album. Here’s ‘One Day Soon’
By 2002 the band, with its chameleon identity, had racked up enough hits to fully warrant a Greatest Hits album, and “Henry Ate – 96-02 The Singles” celebrated the career of a band that over the space of 7-years had almost become a part of South African pop DNA.
Karma-Ann Swannepoel moved to the USA in 2003 and started to establish herself as a solo act under the name Karma. It didn’t take long for her to become a popular attraction on both the US music scene and the UK circuit.
As a surprise to local music fans, Karma returned to SA in 2017 to play with a reunion of Henry Ate as the opening act for the band Texas at Kirstenbosch Garden in 2007.
On checking out what had become of Karma, I was glad to find this 2020 clip of her first release in 10-years, ‘Hold on Me’. It was recorded in one take at her home studio in Portland (I think), and features an older, more mature version of the elfin featured singer we knew, but it is still distinctly Karma.
Whether this is a taste of post-COVID future material, I can’t tell, but it would be wonderful to dive into another album from this remarkable talent. I hope you enjoyed this quick dip into some local music history. Here’s ‘Hold on Me’.
Catch you soon.
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music’s Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that does more than just share a song.
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Words © Andrew Knapp 2021