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Russell Herman: 1953-1998
Russell Herman
Guitar, producer

Born: December 24, 1953 in Cape Town, South Africa
Died: October 5, 1998 in London, England

Guitarist Turned Producer

Copyright © 1999 

The Scotsman, 1998

Herman, Russell The premature death of Russell Herman from heart disease has robbed the South African music scene of one of its most respected advocates. A talented guitarist in his own right, Herman gave up playing after moving to London in the early 1980s to help promote the talents of other South African musicians, notably pianist Bheki Mseleku, and more recently in encouraging the new directions being explored in the fusion of jazz and African music in London and in South Africa, as well as working with the Asian flautist Deepak Ram.

Herman was born in Cape Town, and grew up in that city's notorious ghetto, District 6. Both his parents died in their mid-40s when he was a young teenager, and he lived with his older brother before leaving school at 15 to concentrate on music. Although self-taught, he studied both jazz and classical guitar assiduously, and named one of his earliest bands, Estudio, after a study by Andres Segovia.

He quickly earned a considerable reputation on the Cape Town scene, both for his imaginative guitar work and his interest in introducing musical influences from well beyond the normal confines of township music. He cut his teeth playing with the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim (then still known as Dollar Brand), Basil Coetzee and Tony Cedras (who later worked as an arranger on Paul Simon's Graceland project), and co-founded several bands, including District 6, Spirits Rejoice and Oswietie.

Estudio is remembered as a particularly ground-breaking unit, a mixed-race band in which saxophonist Robbie Jansen and pianist Tony Cedras were heard alongside the classical violinist Louis Wald and flautist Qadir Khan. Herman did much of the writing and provided the impetus for the wide-ranging directions of the band's music, but they left almost no recorded legacy.

He moved to London in 1982, and began playing with many of the South African expatriates there, including Brian Abrahams's well-known band, also called District 6, and his own group, Kintone. In the mid-80s, however, he took the decision to stop playing and concentrate on music production, working tirelessly and with relentless determination on behalf of the musicans whose cause he championed.

It was his connection with Bheki Mseleku which sparked that decision. Herman had worked with the pianist in the Spirits Rejoice band in Cape Town, and when Mseleku arrived in London in 1987, Herman took up his cause with promoters, record companies and journalists, and did much to lay the foundations of the pianist's subsequent international success. Mseleku eventually returned to live in post-apartheid South Africa, but Herman remained active on the London music scene, and had completed recording projects with Deepak Ram and percussionist Vusi Khumalo.

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