Doc Maclean Talks About His N’ganga Blues Tour [Interview]

Doc Maclean Tour 2020

A tossing of the bones. The storyteller returns…

Doc MacLean‘s fourth African tour, N’ganga Blues, kicked off on the 10th of January 2020 in Pringle Bay. This tour finds him returning to many of the places he visited on his previous adventures. The “World’s Biggest Little Blues Tour” will touch most parts of South Africa, covering some 20 thousand kilometres by land, and will include some 60 shows.

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I caught up with Doc to find out more about this incredible tour and what he will be getting up to while on the road:

I believe this is your fourth tour around Africa; tell me a bit about it and why you named this the ‘N’ganga’, which means ‘healer’, ‘Blues Tour’? I’m sure there is a story behind it?

Thanks for asking this leading question! In America blues music had long been associated with voodoo traditions and practises – but really, these were the medicine men and women, the midwives, the healers. Blues has always been a healing art. Blues is always fashioned from stories: stories through which we discover and release ourselves and through which we feel less alone: universal connections that provide salvation of sorts through the power of the human spirit. When we find the courage and learn to tell our own stories-recognising our own thread on the tapestry of life – we are at once less alienated from the world, more at one with our brothers and sisters who share similar stories. As I approach half a century of exploring the blues, I find that blues is as much a condition of the spirit as it is an art form. My story, returned to Africa: rolling the bones, celebrating the healers of the world. N’ganga.

I’ve also read that you will be writing some new music on this tour. What do you have planned around this and when are you planning to release the new material?

It’s always difficult to carve creative time out of the tours, but I’m planning some write-and-record sessions with a number of my South African friends. I’m now in Africa enough that I’m beginning to treat it like home – and I feel the need to honour the scene hereby committing to its studios and writers and everything else. I’m actually into Sharp Street Studios in Cape Town tomorrow and then I’ll be recording in Johannesburg later in the month. It’s a pretty wide range of west African influenced music: a youthful, guitar wizard-like Albert Frost collaborating with me on one side, a veteran pop artist like Tim Parr on the other. We’ll see what happens! I think I’ll release single tracks as they strike my fancy – that could be right away – we’ll see what we catch. It’s a bit like fishing at this early stage.

You also mentor South African artists. Tell me a bit about this.

Well, we do trade some music, but most of my mentoring here has been on the business side: how to book tours, how to travel internationally, how to actually make a living at this. I’m shocked at how little some artists know about the nuts and bolts of it all. I come to South Africa and play 60 shows, back to back across the entire country. I’m teaching artists how to build a database, how to package and market a tour, how to pitch it, and how to organise the logistics on the ground. Some need quite a bit of help, others look at my tours and tour schedules and begin to emulate my model. I’ve noticed a real increase in packaged, multi-date tours over the five years I’ve been working here.

Doc Maclean Tour 2020
Nick Harding photographer. Paid for use, Aug 2013.

You play a show almost every day on your tours. How do you keep the energy?

Playing the shows is generally the easy part! The rest of it is work! I’m recovering from an injury now, but my usual routine is to run 5- 10 km each day. When I come in off the road I work out at a gym. I train for my work. Health is the only pension most artists have.

That’s amazing! What is it about South Africa that keeps you coming back for more?

Stories! Real stories, close to the bone. The bar is set pretty high here for all of the arts. Pretenders don’t last. I learn something every day. Every day I’m reminded about the stark differences between having and not having, between life and death. And I like the weather! It’s a land of storytellers, and people get what I do.

And what are some of your favourite parts of South Africa?

Always the place I’m in when asked this question! I’ve seen more of it than many South Africans- I think I’m coming up on about a hundred thousand km, self-driven across the country.

For all your fans, what do you have planned for this tour and what will be different at the shows this time around?

Always a few new songs and a bunch of older, favourites. More stories. More pop-up guest appearances by great, SA  artists.

Lastly, what else do you have planned for this year?

Looks like I’ll hit the North America west coast in time to enjoy a spring/early summer tour there. I’ll also play through the Canadian west and pick up the British Columbia interior, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Long term: Australia is calling for a serious tour, and I’ve decided to return to the Yukon for a few shows…

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