BILLY SUTER interviews multi-talented ETHAN BRIGGEMAN, an 11-year-old musician from Durban North who is attracting a lot of attention. Perturbed by the global depression spurred by Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, Ethan (who turns 12 on Christmas Day) decided to write and record an inspiring song advocating optimism for the future. Titled Change Your Mind, it has him on lead vocals and rap – and delivering some impressive, blistering electric guitar. The song is now available for download on various platforms and the promo video can be viewed on Ethan’s YouTube channel – click https://youtu.be/ZQCx5Nlnlqk
AN EXCITING TIME FOR YOU – RELEASING YOUR FIRST SELF-COMPOSED SONG, “CHANGE YOUR MIND”, FEATURING YOU ON VOCALS, AS SONGWRITER AND AS LEAD GUITARIST. WHAT INSPIRED THE RECORDING?
While we were in lockdown, people were in difficult situations and some were in hopeless situations. I wrote the song because I wanted to inspire people to look to a brighter future.
IS THE SONG’S BLEND OF ROCK, POP AND RAP GOING TO BE YOUR STYLE GOING FORWARD?
I enjoy the combination of rock, pop and rap, so it is probably what I will continue with in my career.
YOUR SONG HAS BEEN AVAILABLE SINCE DECEMBER 3 ON ITUNES, SPOTIFY, APPLE MUSIC AND AMAZON MUSIC. ANYWHERE ELSE ONE CAN ACCESS AND DOWNLOAD IT?
Yes, there are over 150 digital stores – including the above and Deezer, Napster, Music Time and TikTok. The list continues.
ARE YOU FROM A MUSICAL FAMILY?
My dad, Edwin, has played trumpet as a hobby from a young age and was in a cover band in Holland called Zenith of Zeal – from 2000 until 2006, when he moved to South Africa. He also spent quite a few years playing in a Glenn Miller-style big band, then moved on to conducting that band. He still plays for fun now and then.
My sister, Emily, plays keyboards very well but my mom, Eloise, is not much of a muso. She is our organiser and a great support when my dad, sister and I sometimes perform as the Briggeman Band.
My mom is the founder of The Wellness Centre Trust, a non-profit organisation helping the homeless, and we have played for a few of that organisation’s events. We have also played at a wedding and performed at my mom’s 40th birthday party two years ago.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PASSIONATE ABOUT MUSIC AND WHEN DID YOU START FORMAL GUITAR LESSONS?
My parents bought me a toy guitar when I was very young. Then, when I was five, they bought me my first acoustic guitar. A family member gave me my first electric guitar when I was nine.
My first guitar lessons were with a woman called Cher in La Lucia, but that was for only a few months. In 2018, I started taking one half-hour lesson a week at Destiny Music Academy (DMA) in La Lucia, where I still take lessons.
My sister and I are home-schooled and my mom scheduled in a half an hour of music practise a day as one of our subjects.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE “CHANGE YOUR MIND”, WHERE AND WHEN WAS IT RECORDED, AND HOW LONG WAS THE RECORDING PROCESS?
It is difficult to say how long it took to write Change Your Mind as I was just playing around on the keyboard with a few beats and sounds, and played around on my guitar with the tune. Then it took only a few hours to match the words with the tune.
We recorded the song in a few hours in September, at Echoes Studio in Durban. Then we spent quite a few hours tweaking the sounds.
WHAT OTHER MUSICIANS ARE FEATURED ON THE RECORDING AND HOW DID THEY COME TO BE A PART OF THE PROJECT?
The drums in the backing track were from my producer Anthony Govender, who owns DMA, where I am a student.
WHAT WAS MOST FUN ABOUT MAKING THE PROMO VIDEO, NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE … AND WAS THE CONCEPT FOR THE VIDEO YOUR IDEA?
Our videographer helped with the video concept as, due to lockdown restrictions, there was little we could do about the concept I had in mind. I had hoped to use a larger group and film on the beachfront promenade.
The video was made by Patrick Royal. A few years ago, he voluntarily shot a short film for my mom’s NPO. It is a very impressive short film so we wanted to go with Patrick again.
Patrick suggested shooting in the Midlands as he lives there, and he had great suggestions regarding good nature spots for backgrounds. We shot the video in November, in Dargle, and it took half a day to film and a couple of hours to edit.
WHAT DID YOU MOST ENJOY ABOUT MAKING THE VIDEO?
The rap part of the video was the most fun to do. The video features my mom, dad, Emily and two of my friends who live in the Midlands, Keira and Michaela.
WHAT SORT OF FEEDBACK HAVE YOU HAD ABOUT THE SONG SO FAR – AND WHAT IS YOUR GOAL WITH IT?
Since posting the video on Facebook on December 3 it has reached more than 18 000 people and many have commented that it is a great song with a catchy tune.
My goal is to get people to have the tune stuck in their heads and to think positively. It was important for me to try to help people get over this year and start to look “to the light”, a brighter future.
HOW MANY SONGS HAVE YOU WRITTEN – AND ARE THEY SONGS IN ONE PARTICULAR GENRE OR NOT?
Change Your Mind is my first song. It came about because I wanted to inspire people in a positive way and also use lockdown time in a positive way. I haven’t yet explored another genre of music. I am enjoying rock music for now.
WHEN AND WHY DID YOU START YOUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL, WHERE YOU HAVE ALSO POSTED YOUR IMPRESSIVE GUITAR COVERS OF SONGS ASSOCIATED WITH LENNY KRAVITZ, THE SHADOWS AND THE BEATLES?
I started my Youtube channel only a few months ago. I wanted to get people to know me so that when I launched my first song I had already had some following on Youtube.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN HOME SCHOOLED AND WHAT ARE FUTURE LEARNING PLANS?
I have been home-schooled by my parents for the last six years. Next year, for Grade 7, I will be going to Reddam House in Umhlanga.
I currently take electric guitar with Alphanzo Oliver at Destiny Music Academy and plan to continue to learn more electric guitar, and also see what other opportunities there are when I go to Reddam.
On my most recent music report I received 98%.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME PERFORMING HIGHLIGHTS SO FAR?
I did a solo jam and also sang a duet and played electric guitar in a band for a 2018 DMS production called The Greatest Show. Both the jam and show were at Harvest Church in Somerset Park in Umhlanga. I also did a solo jam in March last year in front of about 200 people at Harvest Church. That was my own electric guitar compilation called No Place Like Home.
WHO ARE YOUR GUITAR HEROES – AND WHY?
Definitely Lenny Kravitz, because he does a variety of different types of songs. His technical ability with solos is amazing and an inspiration.
DO YOU PLAY ANY OTHER INSTRUMENTS (IF SO, WHAT, AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU PLAYED THEM? IF NOT, WHAT OTHER INSTRUMENTS WOULD YOU PERHAPS LIKE TO MASTER SOME DAY?)
I play around on the keyboard and I would love to play the drums and bass.
DO YOU HAVE ANY INTEREST OR ACHIEVEMENTS IN THE ARTS?
I am more of an athlete than an arts person. I belong to Aspire Athletics Club and I am passionate about track and field events. I have participated in triathlons and trail running, and I also really enjoy cross-country.
WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL WITH YOUR MUSICAL TALENT?
I want to be a successful businessman and also enjoy playing music.
HOW MANY GUITARS AND OTHER MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS DO YOU OWN?
I have one acoustic guitar and two electric guitars. We also have, as a family, a keyboard, hand-held bongo drums and, of course, a few trumpets.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU PLAY GUITAR EACH DAY? AND DO YOU HAVE ANY FORMAL VOICE TRAINING?
I practise guitar almost every day, I used to go for private voice training but that was only for a short time as I much prefer playing guitar than singing, especially in front of people.
WHAT NEXT FOR YOU?
I am probably going to record more songs and albums. I don’t have any appearances planned. However, I am open to that.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS?
I am a two-time South African gold medallist judo champ. Also, in August I won the national boys under-12, 3km Virtual Cross-country SACSSA Competition. I could participate in that competition as I was a home-schooled.
YOUR SISTER, EMILY, IS ALSO MULTI-TALENTED – VERY GOOD AT ART AND SOON TO PUBLISH HER FIRST BOOK AIMED AT ‘TWEENS’.
Yes. My sister was also part of DMA’s The Greatest Show production – and she and I recently entered as a duo in the Starz at Home Durban talent contest.
She is also a South African gold medallist judo champ and received the KZN Christian Schools’ Association award for Girls’ Junior Virtual Cross-Country Runner of the Year 2020. Even though we were home-schooled this year, she could still compete in that competition.
We are a close-knit family and do a lot together. We love to keep fit and all of us participated in the Tinman Triathlons together. We also love to travel together and explore other countries.
WHEN AWAY FROM MUSIC HOW DO YOU RELAX AND UNWIND?
My most relaxing hobby would be my vegetable garden. I have my own vegetable garden which we often get to eat from.
I also love to travel with my family and explore other countries, and I enjoy playing soccer.
WHAT PLANS FOR OVER THE FESTIVE SEASON, AND IN THE NEW YEAR, IN GENERAL? WHAT CHRISTMAS GIFT ARE YOU LIKELY TO GET?
Our plan is to visit my Ouma who lives in The Netherlands, and the Christmas gift I most likely will get is a bodyboard. I really enjoy bodyboarding.
ANY OTHER NEWS OR COMMENTS ABOUT YOUR MUSIC?
My hope for the future would be to meet Lenny Kravitz, have my song inspire people and be very successful.