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We caught up with Jimmy Nevis for an intimate Q&A

2015-01-20 08:12

Cape Town – Sitting in the foyer of African Pride 15 On Orange - where Jimmy Nevis is preparing for a "beautiful, emotional" concert on Valentine’s Day – we asked him about becoming the person he’s always wanted to be.

You’ve been interviewed so many times. Which questions are starting to become old?

"What’s playing on your iPod right now?" It’s boring for me, but I suppose people are always curious. But the one question that drives me nuts is "What’s your favourite colour?" I mean, seriously?

What kind of a kid were you?

I grew up in Athlone and I went to primary and high school in Pinelands.

I had a very strong and easy cross-cultural upbringing, we’re a close family and music was our life. Everyone at home knew that I could sing and I was outgoing and happy at home, but at primary school I was shy and overweight and even maybe a little bit bullied.

When I went to high school, it was the same and I was very quiet. But then one day I decided to audition for the cabaret group.

At Pinelands High School it’s a very prestigious group to belong to, with all the school’s best singers. They used to have a five-night concert once a year and every night was always sold out.

Nobody knew I could sing, even though I’d missed school for a week to take part in the South African champs. Anyway, I was asked to sing my audition song at assembly. After that my life changed.

I could hardly walk down the corridor after that assembly, I was just mobbed. Everyone was telling me how wonderfully I sang and they seemed so happy for me.

I also had this girl I liked, so I took a decision to lose weight and within three months I was slim and trim. My life changed completely and school became a very happy, very busy time for me.

Music was so important to you that you wanted to study it after school, but life didn’t have that planned for you, did it?

Actually, my first career choice was architecture. I could draw very well and it seemed like that was what I was going to do.

Later I decided I wanted to study music, but I didn’t get into the course that I wanted to at UCT. So then I went into journalism and did a bachelor degree in Social Sciences at UCT.

I graduated last year.

Interestingly, what I studied has had an important and interesting influence on the music I write. Whereas my earlier stuff was pure pop mostly, now there are new layers, and I’ve realised that, in a way, I can almost practise journalism – or certainly much of what I learnt about communication and about social problems – through music.

In my second year – early in 2012 - I realised that if I didn’t do something with music too, I was never really going to be fulfilled.

That’s when I drove around with my demo of Elephant Shoes and punted it to all the radio stations and things just took off from there.


A photo posted by @jimmynevis on

You’ve released two albums since then, and you’ve travelled far and wide to do gigs, promotions and interviews for the albums. How did you manage all of this while still studying towards your degree?

When you love something, when it is your passion and you love what you do, you are able to give an extra five percent.

That extra five percent is what makes the difference between succeeding and just cruising.

I suppose I have to give up a lot and I don’t have as much time with my friends and family as I’d like, but my music is too important to me. But if there’s one thing I can do it’s prioritise. If I need to stay up all night to finish something or study, I do it, even if it means drinking coffee or Red Bull late into the night.

It sounds as though your parents and your teachers always supported you in your music although it is not generally considered to be a "sensible" career choice. How come no one tried to convince you to do "the sensible thing"? And do you think their support is part of why you’ve been so successful?

Oh, I see this all the time! People who are good at the arts are urged to do something sensible rather.

Music is not "logical". Art is not "logical", so people sometimes fail to understand their value in the world.

I understand where older people come from with their concern about their kids’ careers, but I will never stop being grateful to my mother, father and sister for always supporting me. They took an active interest in my life and challenged me.

We had good conversations about my future and my career and they listened to me.

My teachers – especially my music teacher Garth Kayster and the dance teacher Jeanine van der Rheede – always pushed and always supported me.

Teachers like that, that allow you to be the individual you are, but also steer and guide and teach you, are like gold.

Apart from the Valentine’s Day concert at African Pride 15 On Orange coming up soon, what else is happening in your life this year?

I saw Prime Circle here at the hotel at the end of last year. What an amazing place for a concert. It’s so stylish and the acoustics are fantastic. I’m really looking forward to the Valentine’s Day concert.

People have no idea how much goes into making each gig special and smooth and that’s what I’m busy with right now.

Valentine’s Day is going to be about a beautiful, emotional concert.

It’s not about money and fame and hotels. It’s lovely and I’m not complaining, but the music is what I care about. I’m always writing, always working on new ideas and I’d like to take my music further afield.

When I say that, people often say that’s unpatriotic or that I must calm down, but I don’t know why. If you love something you want to keep growing and growing in that field.

Maybe 2015 is the year for making my music travel to other countries.

Jimmy is appearing at African Pride 15 On Orange on Valentine’s Day, 14 February at 19:00.

Tickets include fine bowl dining and a complimentary bottle of bubbly. To purchase tickets, contact Lauren at the On Orange Hotel.
Read more on:    cape town  |  music  |  local music
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