Mick Raubenheimer’s ROUND CORNERS mini-interviews situate given artists outside their medium, whilst peeking into their various worlds. He sat down in the cyber realm with guitarist Vuma Levin, whom those in the know are paying careful attention to, to chat about inter-genre inspiration and the impossibility of spotless minds.

Guitarist Vuma Levin
Guitarist Vuma Levin

When did you first identify as a creative artist?

My journey to music was a strange, indirect one. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a physicist, or, if that didn’t work out, an economist, political scientist or historian. I also went to a school that didn’t have an official music program. Instead it had a very strong academic focus and I excelled in all of my subjects.

I always loved music and I remember experiencing it in a way that was quite different to my friends. I could easily spend the whole day listening to music and often the experience of doing so was an emotionally immediate and overwhelming one. When I left high school, I had to decide what I wanted to study and after taking a gap year I went with music. Like most major life choices, it was most certainly an impulsive decision and probably one that I took for all the wrong and right reasons.

Outside of your medium, what branch of art most stimulates you?

Literature and movies.

Which artist/s in said discipline have significantly inspired you, and why?

I really love Charlie Kaufman’s movies. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind is his famous movie, but  Adaptation and Synedoche, New York really stand out for me. I love Zadie Smith’s novels, in particular On Beauty and White Teeth.

Other than that, K Sello Duiker, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Mohsin Hamid and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie come to mind. I’m drawn to writers who deal with the experiences of the Other. Living in the Netherlands for as long as I did I became acutely aware of my status as black immigrant and the sense of alienation that comes with that.

Reading is an exercise in empathy, and reading these authors helped me to understand, feel and see my condition more clearly.

What, to you, is art’s most important function?

I think Professor Achille Mbembe said it best when he said, “The job of the artist is to translate society to itself”.

Local creatives (in any medium) that currently excite you?

William Kentridge is a genius.

What specific work – be it in literature, music, or visual art – do you return to again and again, and why?

Once I’ve been through the experience of an artwork, I don’t tend to go back to them, as I prefer to move on to the next thing. Having said that, I often return to Radiohead albums, to remind myself what it felt like to be a child in music, art and life. I tend to go back to books, movies and music that have become inextricably linked to strong psycho-emotional moments in my life. So Kaufman movies, Zadie Smith novels, Messaien, as I said, Radiohead, singer-songwriter music like early Coldplay, Blur …

The Magic Lantern and Snow Poet are recent discoveries which are absolutely incredible. I’ve had them on repeat. Then in the jazz world, I’ve been listening a lot to Reinier Baas and Ben van Gelder. Reinier’s album Reinier Baas vs Princess Discombobulatrix is in my opinion a proper work of genius.

Any current project you’re unveiling/wrapping up?  

In April 2020, I’ll be launching my 4th album as a band leader. It’s going under the title Antique Spoons: Chapters on Love, Loss and the Politics of Memory. In November 2019 I’ll be touring with my In Motion ensemble in Switzerland, featuring musicians from Switzerland, Hungary and New York.

In May 2020, I’ll be part of the launch of the Amsterdam Modern Orchestra – a jazz, pop, classical orchestra based in the Netherlands. Also, in October 2019 the Stockholm Saxophone Quartet will be performing a composition of mine.

Who: Guitarist Vuma Levin