The following interview was taken by David Katz and published in the "Musical Root 2" magazine around 1991.
Originally from Johannesburg, Aura Lewis has been a singer-in-exile for over twenty five years. Having lived in such cultural hot spots as New York, Kingston and Paris, Aura has assimilated a wide variety of musical styles into her work. Perhaps the hardships she has known ande her many changes of residency have contributed most to the shaping of her works.
Although she has worked with a number of internationally acclaimed artists such as the Brotherhood of Breath, Mory Kante, Maxime Le Forrestier and fellow South African exiles Malopoets, Aura has only managed to issue two twelve inch extended plays of her own material on the French Blue Moon label.
Many Musical Root readers may be familiar with Aura through her work with Lee "Scratch" Perry from the late '70s.When I met Aura recently at her home in Paris, she explained the very complicated story behind the recording of the songs issued (in fragmented form) as "Aura Meets Lee 'Scratch' Perry" more than ten years after the recordings were made. She also told many other tales of travels and of her involvement with music in various parts of the world, living a life full of experience.
DAVID: How did you come to be in Jamaica?
AURA: I was in school, in the States, when I first became aware of Jamaica and eventually of reggae music.
In '72, we saw Bob Marley with the Wailers in New York at Max's Kansas City, a small club. Since then, of course, I was totally knocked out by reggae music and the lyrics, so I gradually started listening, and wanting to know more about it.
In '76 they were having the big Carib fest in Jamaica and I decided to take advantage of that occasion to go there. That's how I came to Jamaica the first time. In America, I was in Hunter College, trying to get my first degree in the Arts. But because I had to take care of living and all that, I was working at the same time and I got married to a jazz musician.
A year after I was in the States, I got involved in the music scene, more on the jazz and r-n-b side of things. What I got to learn about reggae, it was in between. I worked with a group called Aboriginal Music Society and I belonged to a theatre workshop which was called CART - Caribbean American Repertoire Theatre. That was how I first found out about Carib fest actually, we were all looking for-ward to seeing the cultural aspects of the Caribbean presented at this festival.
DAVID: How long did you stay at that time?
AURA: I enroled in school, because after Carib fest, I decided I wanted to stay for a while. I enroled in the Jamaica school of Arts, in the Drama Department in Kingston, in order to stay. At the same time, I was working quite a bit with United Africa with Cedric Brooks, 'Im' Brooks.
While I was at the Jamaica School of Arts, it was also a time when I got to move around and check out the studios in King-ston.
There was Joe Gibbs, there was the one in Half Way Tree, there was Black Ark, Channel One .... and at that time, there used to be a little restaurant, some ital restaurant that was in New Kingston, not far from the Jamaica School of Arts, which the Manley government closed. It was a place called Cafe D'Artique, or something like that. This was a cultural centre, where in the front, they had all magazines selling and Jamai-can crafts.
Kiddus-I had a little ital kitchen, and Jacob Miller had a little studio there. It was a place wheremostly all the people in the arts, all the way from the bourgeois arts all the way down to the roots musicians, everyone sort of met there. Kiddus-I's kitchen in the back was where the roots thing used to be, and Cafe D'Artique was where the brass of the business met.
I met a lot of people there, especially at Kiddus-I's place, where I met Jah Youth, Dennis Brown, Bunny, Gregory Isaacs, because everybody used to hang out to drink ital soup and exchange views.
It was during this period that I met Jimmy Cliff. I used to pass his house on my way to school and I saw him one day working in his garden. When he found out I was from South Africa, he said "You must come after your class this evening and have dinner with us so we can discuss things." He had just been invited to South Africa, in fact, so he wanted to talk to me and find out what I thought about it. And that meet-ingled to my working with him.
When I finished my course in '77, we took off for Francophone West Africa- Senegal and Mali, Gambia and Sierra Leone, with the group from Jamaica. Sly was in that group, Chinna, Sticky, and the keyboard player who used to work with Lee Perry at Black Ark ... I forget his name.