Selected Reviews

HA!Man concert enthrals Port Alfred

Rob Knowles - Talk of Town - february 21, 2013


A whistle, it's haunting notes echoing through the speakers, a bow strike across the strings of a cello, the pseudo - orchestral sounds of synthesised keyboard and a mysterious and wistful melody line introduced the amazing performance of the Ha!Man at Richmond House last Thursday evening. Part of the Classics at the Castle series of concerts, the Ha!Man show - With love, on Valentine's Day sent many in the packed audience into raptures, most even singing along to Francois le Roux's Lekker, Lekker Cape Town, the final song of his performance.


The strange and wonderful Ha!Man ( le Roux ) is an exceptional cellist who has taken the instrument to an entirely new level. Together with his partner, Belgian - born Joke Debaere who performed spontaneous poetry accompagnied by le Roux's experimental improvised music, the concert was a not-to-be-missed opportunity to experience something completely different on the musical front. Aside from le Roux's obvious talent, the evening was enhanced by Debaere's improvised poem about her Belgian childhood ( which might be named Spoken silence or, alternatively, Pancake on my head ) and her reading of a poem by Nizar Qabbani in Flemish highlighting the senseless suicide of the poet's sister, which the Afrikaans speakers in the audience could understand and appreciate.


Playing live cello over the pre-recorded keyboard tracks, the Ha!Man shared emotions, thoughts and ideas, enhanced by the small, but intimate venue. Le Roux builds a rapport with his audience, and is unafraid to show vulnerability, even down to performing contemporary dance as those watching hold their collective breath in anticipation of what next to come. Le Roux redefines the modern South African musical genre, rocking the roots of traditional African rhythm and challenging any preconceived ideas about what one is allowed to do with two keyboards, a speaker system, a descant recorder, a live cello and voice.


Together with Debaere the performance was exceptional in terms of quality and originality. It is seldom that artists give so much of themselves in a performance as this pair did. The Ha!Man is a musical revolution and le Roux and Debaere's performances are as memorable as they are emotive.



A Rare Recital!


Colin Lang - 7 Aug 2005


It is rare in a lifetime to encounter a composer/ performer in full flight, as a handful of folk did, at one of Francois Le Roux's recitals in Knysna this past weekend. It was a golden Sunday afternoon at Parkes Manor when Francois [inexplicably the Ha! Man] gave a ninety minute recital of his own works in the garden gazebo.


Rare indeed is the sight and sound these days of a 'macho'/sensitive instrumentalist, in this instance, primarily on the 'Cello, which he handles with both freedom and intensity. It is as if it is a component of his own limbs, so integrated is he physically to belly and bow!


Every textural sound that a cello can create was evinced by the artist in cantilena and spiccato passages and precisely controlled glissando. Unlike the famous cellist Pablo Casals who grunted in his advanced years, Francois deploys the most telling vocalization from lips, tongue and glottis, as well as his lips to whistle to delineate rhythms and give peculiar colour. At other moments he sings in a perfectly pitched baritone.


As to the music itself, it would be fair, if inadequate, to state that he brings a most imaginative fusion of classical and contemporary melody and harmony to his highly varied conceptions, which is not at all derivative.


Spontaneously in the foreground, is the cello voice against a variably, layered synthesized background of obligato instrumentation of his own devising. This may comprise other strings or woodwind or keyboard as the thematic material demands. One gloriously sustained cello 'lied' was played to the accompaniment of realistically recorded birdsong. Equally evocative were a favourite lyrical song for solo cello an d others with huge chorale potential to almost symphonic backdrop [entitled e.g. "Beautiful Land" and "Africa"] These were emotively overwhelming and truly beautiful. Someone commented that these pieces could serve well as a national anthem or theme for a world cup event.


To add to our gathering astonishment Francois played with bravura, a contrapuntal piece of his own on an electronic keyboard on which he later improvised brilliantly to notes given at random by the listeners as well as


instrumental combos. suggested by the audience. At the outset he performed for us music he composed for a ballet sound track at Rhodes University, deeply atmospheric and beguiling with overtones of Tibetan chant; towards the close, to a layered backing of recorded engine rhythms, he produced themes of both introspection and almost ethnic beat; one item at the keyboard staggered by being pure tribal percussive.


Overall, the very fresh sound of original melodic invention and pulsing rhythms is utterly absorbing, as is his attractive and expressive body language and voice. His personality comes across as one that is profoundly thoughtful, musically lucid and thorough and showing sustained love of all creativity.


Kindly note that the "Ha! Man" will be in recital again on Friday the 9th September, at the same venue, in the evening!



Ha!Man back in Lady Grey

Reporter, 20 Feb 2010


On 20th February 2010 the Lady Grey Art's Academy's new concert house held its opening show, featuring internationally acclaimed cellist Francois le Roux, known as the Ha!Man. He was joined on stage by the he Altech Concert Choir and the male vocal group, Indomitus, from Grey College, Bloemfontein.


Members of the Altech Concert Choir attended a workshop given by the Ha!Man on the morning of the concert. This exciting, challenging and at some points baffling session was truly unique and inspired an enthusiasm for improvisation. The workshop focused on building presence as a stage performer, which dramatist and musician learners alike found helpful. Most of all, the workshop emphasised how easy improvisation can be and how important it is in creating a great performance


The Ha!Man dazzled everyone with his natural improvisation throughout the concert, even including some learners in his pieces! He gave a captivating show, with his cello centre stage and a keyboard and sounds effects box just visible in the atmospheric light. His music moved between percussive, disconcerting sounds to flowing melodies and quick rhythms that showed the versatility of the cello as well as its player.


As for the Altech concert choir, they performed two pieces composed by the Ha!Man. The first was for female voice, called 'Child of the World' and Lisa Ferreira and Itumeleng Rantsane accompanied the choir with beautiful solo lines. The evening was ended with their second song called 'Her Time has Come', promoting union and a joint responsibility for Africa as a whole.


We hope that the Ha!Man's special relationship with Lady Grey Arts Academy continues and we look forward to many more exciting prospects in the future.



Blown away by the HA!Man


Port Alfred reporter - 26 July 2009


No set programme, spontaneity the order of the day, and a prolonged standing ovation at the end of an outstanding Soirée left even Tiny Steenkamp speechless. Suitable adjectives are difficult to come by when it comes to describing the artistry of Francois Le Roux (a k a HA!Man).


Alone on the stage, save for his 'talking cello', a keyboard, computer and 'black box of tricks', along with a recorder, and variety of tiny instruments, a nose flute and an ocarina, Le Roux proceeded to bring a full-blown orchestra into the St Paul's Hall, thanks to the intricacies of sound techniques.


He explained that he never plans a show. He has a pool of accompaniments on his computer, which he brings into play as he proceeds, and as the audience interacts. All music used consists of original recordings of his own compositions. His father taught him to discover music from within as well as without, and as he develops the numbers he improvises with layer upon layer until the finished product.

The artist composes himself, eyes closed and breathing deeply, relaxes and then begins with an eerie, high-pitched whistle to accompany the recorded piece. Then comes the talking cello with its lovely deep sound, and the introduction of different verbal sounds. The whole builds to a crescendo of remarkable sound. So the Soirée has begun.


A melodious piece illustrated the miracle of sound recording, with a duet by piano and Le Roux on cello, joined towards the end with flute strains.

Then the audience was transported into the full-bodied sound track of an epic film, complete with chases, background noise, and the artist's voice and whistling introduced, with an imagined happy ending. Only afterwards did he reveal that in fact the item had been included as the sound track on a documentary about Knysna Elephants! The audience had 'been there'!


Then Le Roux urged the audience to 'hold onto their seats' as he played a rhythmic number called Salsa, which he had composed during a gathering with poets in Chicago.


Next, what started out as a classical, folk-dance-type introduction turned into a stylised, 'orchestral' rendition of a very impressive Sarie Marais. No 'squash box' here.


Turning to the grand piano tucked away behind him, this versatile musician performed a beautiful, masterful classical number, before turning his keyboard across the stage into a marimba band. Unbeknown to the audience, this number was recorded, and they were invited to suggest which instruments they would like to hear layered into the marimba tune. Percussion and flute sounds were added, together with a solo performance by Le Roux on the recorder.


The next item was a preview of a very special number composed by Le Roux for the 60th Anniversary of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria on 7 November, to be performed with a massed African choir. Called 'Afrikaner is my Naam', it explores the liberation of oneself and the opening of the heart, asking 'who are you in South Africa'.


The chorus of Liefste Madelein was suggested as the background for another of the artist's improvisations, and turned into a masterpiece .

Then, stripped down to tights and top, with magnificent striped socks, this amazing HA!man proceeded to perform a spirited dance/movement item to the beat of the keyboard and clapping of the audience, and ending in him collapsing in a heap on the hall floor.


The piéce de résistance of the afternoon was this modest young man's vocal performance of his Voortrekker Monument composition, with his instrumental recording in the background. An absolute show-stopper, and surely destined to become the new Afrikaans 'hit parade' number one.

What a privilege to have such a highly-acclaimed, international artist performing in Port Alfred. Thank you Francois and thank you Tiny Steenkamp.



Ha!Man: spontane kreatiwiteit


Carina van der Walt - LITNET 2010-05-11


Onlangs het Ha!Man, oftewel Francois le Roux, weer 'n keer opgetree in Zuid-Afrika Huis aan die Keizergracht in Amsterdam. Buite was die lenteson die oorsaak daarvan dat baie Amsterdammers met hulle bootjies op die gragte rondgedobber het. Vir 'n oomblik het ek gewonder of ek nie 'n fout gemaak het nie. Dit lyk darem baie verleidelik! Wie is hierdie Ha!Man nou eintlik? My nuuskierigheid het tog die oorhand gekry.


Die klein gehoor vul die ruimte. Francois le Roux stel homself voor as 'n musikant wie se musiek nie maklik gedefinieer kan word nie. Hy speel die tjello, vleuelklavier en blokfluit en maak gebruik van elektronies-ondersteunde byklanke. Self fluit hy, maak allerhande spontane mondklanke en dans as die ruimte dit toelaat. Kreatiwiteit is vir hom soos 'n vars appel. Jy moet dit gou eet, want dit hou nie lank nie. Volgens hom trek sy vertonings altyd terug na intiemer gehore, soos ons wat nou voor hom sit. Sy naam, Ha!Man, verwys na 'n asemteug.


As Ha!Man op sy sokkies agter die tjello inskuif, sluit 'n paar mense om my hulle oë. Die openingsklanke is 'n kombinasie van tjello en … fluit hy of is dit die tegniese ondersteuning? Maar dis duidelik die roep van 'n visarend oor die Umtamvuma. Ek is terug in Afrika! Die stadige, diep tjelloklanke sleep jou 11 000 kilometer ver weg. Nou verstaan ek al die toe oë om my. Die gehoor is nie hier nie, want van buite sypel gryswit lig in en 'n meeu skeer verby die venster. Ek word vasgevang in 'n spanningsveld van bekoring. Die eksotiese Afrikaklanke speel spontaan op my trommelvlies, maar op my netvlies hang gewels, kaal boomtakke en refleksies uit die grag.


Al vinniger en vinniger speel hy. Ha!Man neem ons op 'n "trance" wat my herinner aan die deurnagdans van die Khoi-San om 'n vuur in die Kalahari. Skielik word die ritme driftiger en die klank harder, byna kakofonies en met ondersteuning van die klavesimbel. Ek's terug in romantiese Europa met sy swaar Barok, Bach en Goethe. Dan word die musiek weer ligter, stadiger en sagter. Met trekklavier-byklanke sleur Ha!Man my ondergronds na die moltreingange van Parys. Heimwee. Le Roux toor met sfeer. Hy maak jou huil of lag sonder dat jy weet waarom.


Na pouse skuif hy agter die klavier in en vermaak ons met 'n swaar, klassieke verwerking van "Sarie Marais".Die show word Afrikaanser en sentimenteler. Le Roux vertel dat hy sterk identifiseer met die lewenshouding van Die Antwoord - musici by wie die keuse om permanent uit Suid-Afrika te trek, nie naastenby oorweeg word nie. Hulle eien vir hulleself Suid-Afrikanerskap toe met 'n aggressiewe, nonkonformistiese houding van: "Hier is ons. Afrikaners. Ons sal nie weggaan nie. Ons maak dinge werk." Dit bedwelm.


As Ha!Man daarna "Boereseun" op die tjello speel, rol die trane onbeskaamd by een van die vroue in die gehoor. Dit word duidelik: Le Roux bespeel die melancholieke snaar van sy gehoor. Op versoek improviseer hy spontaan met blokfluit en tjello op tipies Suid-Afrikaanse naggeluide. Hy het ook gedigte van George Weideman en Carina Stander getoonset . Verskeie CD's is gemaak, onder andere saam met die bekende komponis, pianis en jazz musikant Paul Hanmer. Ha!man toer die afgelope dekade baie in die buiteland met sy unieke vertonings. Hy het ook al opgetree by KKNK en die Grahamstadse Kunstefees. Sy eie jazzagtige verwerkings met refreine soos hier onder sorg vir groot vrolikheid:


"Everybody wants to be in the beauty spot of the world. Lekka, lekka Cape Town."