Rebel woman: Breaking out of the covers

In Memoriam: Janine Bartlett

I wrote this profile in 2007 on promising musician Janine Bartlett. How sad to hear that she died this past weekend at the young age of 39. Janine was a special person and if you ever get a chance to listen to her music you’ll be touched by her combination of lively but haunting folk poetry, solid guitar playing and beautiful voice.

Cover of “Echoes off The Wall”, Janine Barlett’s debut album.

By Chesney Bradshaw

Janine Bartlett and her band Jamalru are experimenting with acoustic folk rock sounds that are wowing audiences in Bloemfontein. Now she’s working on her debut album and wants to spread her wings.

Janine Bartlett, short ruffled blonde hair, tight-fitting knitted mauve cotton vest and blue denim jeans, strums her acoustic guitar accompanied by a piercing violin. Her voice raspy but with the smoothness of bourbon floating down her throat bursts through the clatter of the audience at their tables with the opening lines of her new song, a reggae influenced tune called “Your soul”. The din dies as the Friday evening crowd takes note.

She began playing cover material with her band, Jamalru, but to stand out introduced a fresh style of easy listening acoustic music with a mix of string, wind and percussion instruments: guitar, violin, harmonica, and djembe. Jamalru’s polished music has attracted a grass roots following from young revelers at the many vibrant music venues and restaurants in the town to those with more discerning music tastes at the classy Sterrewag Theatre.

Janine, constantly experimenting with new instruments, has this year introduced her own songs. As well as “Your soul” there are “Going Places” and “Somewhere in Ireland”. Local audiences have responded to her demo CD; now she’s working on her debut album.

Brought together by their mutual love of blues and folk rock, the band’s name Jamalru combines all three musician’s names. For them it’s come to mean “live your dreams”.

Janine, 27, lead singer of Jamalru, formed the acoustic folk rock band in 2006 with Ruan van Dorsten, 25, a classically trained violinist, and Malcolm Aberdien, 47, a seasoned bass guitarist.

Janine was born in Bethal, Free State, but with her father being a Presbyterian minister the family “moved around a lot”. Her love of music began at five years old when her family moved to Gonubie, East London. She would play a tape recorder, use a table spoon as a microphone and stand on a desk in front of her parents, mimicking pop songs.

She was rebellious at home and hung out with the rebels at school. She ran away from home with a friend “but we got caught by the police and were taken home in two squad cars and a police bakkie”. “I was often called to the head master’s office during assembly.” 

Frustrated after she left school her parents encouraged her to go work in the UK in 1999. Her interest in the guitar was ignited when she saw a man playing the instrument on the beach in Newquay, Cornwall. “I bought a second hand guitar, quit my day job and taught myself to play.”

Back in South Africa she started playing with bands and solo at clubs and restaurants in the Free State and Swaziland. While music is her main passion, she’s completing a four-year degree in nursing. When she finds time to relax, she plays guitar in the bathroom. “It sounds wonderful and the echoes are beautiful,” she says.

Violinist Ruan is excited about what she does. He has played in several orchestras, is now with the Free State Philharmonic and has performed with Karen Zoid, Amanda Strydom and Mean Mr Mustard. “Jamalru is very earthy,” he says. “Janine’s vibrancy and energy is contagious.”

Hanelie Louw, 22, has a degree in drama and is now studying music for a degree at the University of the Free State. A regular with the Free State Philharmonic, she stands in for Ruan in Jamalru when the later is engaged with the orchestra. “I enjoy all the band’s improvisation,” she says.

Malcolm has been in the music business for 25 years, playing bass guitar and drums with many bands including Larry Amos from Baxtop and Wendy Oldfield. He formed Cape Town band, the Swamp Sunk Quartet and produced the debut album for the band Fetish.

Janine’s taut, energetic playing was sharpened by performing many late night gigs, working her way through small towns and seedy venues in Standerton, Bethlehem, Harrismith and Bloemfontein.

She says it took a while for Jamalru to find the right sound. They started out playing covers and still perform some to please audiences. “But it’s difficult trying to sing pop when you’re born to sing the blues,” she says.

The songs she’s writing now mainly come from her personal experience and experiences of people she knows. “They’re about being real … being yourself.”

 She composed “Your soul” during a two-month stay in Swaziland. “The song’s about what love should feel like,” she says during a break in the evening. The gutsy lyrics of “Going places” suggest her defiant side and attitude towards television and society.

 From an early age she was influenced by her parent’s music. The covers the band plays shows her pull of 1970s and 1980s sounds; Creedance Clearwater Revival, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Cat Stevens, and the Eagles. Bob Dylan has inspired her most. She enjoys local artists Arno Carstens, Springbok Nude Girls, Karen Zoid and DNA Strings.

Her main goal now is to complete writing the songs for her debut album. She’s written about half a dozen about relationships and “getting in touch with your own feelings and desires” and is excited about incorporating more instruments such as the banjo, flute, djembe and bouzouki.

Malcolm, Janine’s mentor, producer and sound engineer, believes her music has strong appeal. “She has a fantastic voice, a bit like Nora Jones and the music is accessible to many audiences.”

Janine, having proved that Jamalru is now making the music that she’s always dreamed of playing, trusts her creative instincts and is eager to get her first album out. With the band’s live energy and local credentials, Janine’s girlhood folk rock fantasy looks set to come true.

Chesney Bradshaw has written on music for national magazines and his feature articles have appeared in many publications.

Do you value your independence as a small business owner enough?

As the years of recession role on, it’s so clear how important growth and having cash reserves are in your small business. How can you have a sustainable business if you don’t have growth and if you don’t have cash when you need it to perhaps invest or fix things up? How can you have sustainability without economic growth? Okay, some environmental economists have looked at what prosperity could look like in a finite world with limited resources and a population expected to exceed 9 billion people within decades. It’s not an easy question to answer, especially when you are working in an old paradigm and you have to make decisions in the here and now.

But you see companies that have a mandate to pursue the growth agenda taking risks in markets far away from their home markets as shareholders put pressure on them to grow. When the cellphone and service provider market saturates in a home markets what can you do to increase revenue? Jack up airtime rates and because data demand is increasing spike that cost up too. But how far can you go? Next thing you start to look outside in so-called underdeveloped markets where the risk is higher, including regulatory risk.

Now, a small business owner does not have the same shareholder pressures unless he or she has investors in his or her business. A case in point: a small business owner in this economy has expanded no less than three times, making those three decisions himself. His business continues to grow, because he has discovered a growth niche and is providing value that the major national chains can’t match.

The other area is cash reserves. For the listed company the problem is that because of financial rules and regulations only so much cash is permitted to be kept in reserve. Without cash reserves the larger mining or industrial companies find it difficult to maintain operations. In a resources commodity down cycle, you might think that it’s a good idea not to invest in your plant and equipment. But if you don’t, it’s going to be far more expensive down the line when demand for resource commodities increase. Yes, you can find different ways to raise finance later on, but it will come with an added cost.

For the small business owner who has built up reserves, a cash kitty, he or she has flexibility to invest, replace outdated or worn equipment and, when necessary, bring in new technology. Another case in point: a small printing business has bought a new flat-bed, A3 scanner to improve reproduction quality for customers. Without a cash reserve, the scanner would cost double if it was bank financed.

Are you as a small business owner taking advantage of the freedom and independence you have to make decisions about growth for your business and are you building up a cash reserve or cash kitty to make improvements in your business?

The one idea mistake you can’t afford to make in your planning

A couple started a hand and body lotion manufacturing business, which is still going well after a number of years. They started selling at Saturday morning markets, found there was a demand for the product and started developing their business. Now, they still sell to Saturday morning markets but also have stockists at retail stores and sell online.

This is a success story. But it doesn’t always happen this way. We know that the majority of new business ideas fail. Why is this so and what can you do about it? What can you do to ensure that your promising business idea will produce results?

The short answer is to do your homework. But what does this really entail? Unless you know what to do, you could follow the route of so many other one-be start-up ventures and land up with egg on your face. It’s no laughing matter. You would have wasted your time, energy, resources and perhaps feel embarrassed and disillusioned.

Before you even produce a sample or prototype, you need to check if there is a market for your idea. This may involve formal or informal research. You need to check in the existing marketplace to see what products are available and also do searches online to find out if such products or services are available. Depending on the nature of your product or service, you would probably also want to look for advertisements for similar products in general or specialised magazines.

Next up, would be to evaluate your idea to determine if it is attractive. What is your unique selling proposition? What benefits are potential customers looking for? How will your product or service offering reduce perceived risk, especially if you are a small business. Unknown, untried and untested? There are just too many products on the market to leave this step to chance.

An important stage is to test your idea to see if there is demand. This may involve producing a sample or prototype that you may want to take out into your defined niche market and test for buying intention. It’s no use receiving opinions and comments about how good your product is – the only thing that really counts is if people are willing to buy. The best form of testing involves actual purchases.

A stage that is often overlooked is feasibility planning to determine if you could establish a business based on your idea. Here you would look at a source of local suppliers, whether you have to manufacture the product yourself or not, how and where you are going to distribute it and whether you can do it on your own or need others to help you. I think this is an important step before producing a business plan because it gives you a rough guide of critical areas.

You would then prepare a business case for introducing your product or service, which would include a marketing and sales plan. Whether you are introducing a new craft beer, body or hand lotion or a specialised pet care service, it makes sense to come up with a brief business plan to help minimise your personal risk. Some may scoff at written down business plans, but how can you keep all the details in your head without forgetting important elements?

Next time you come up with an exciting new business opportunity. Don’t make the number one idea mistake which is not to do your homework beforehand. Get ready for your biggest step towards generating and implementing your own ideas for success. Why not use proven sources to build and target a product or side income asset of your own? Click on the books page to order your copy of “Breakthrough Ideas” now.

Can you really grow a “super brain” that helps you discover new ideas?

You’ve had a busy day. Your mind seems to be in overdrive, buzzing at the level where it almost feels numb. In this “beta” wave state you’re in a mental busyness where you can’t really think. Messages come in from everywhere, your radio, smart phone, television and people such as colleagues, family and friends. Everything seems to be coming at you, demanding your attention. Fragments of conversation during the day, conflict that has been unresolved, remarks people made are all still hanging out in your head. You find it difficult to relax to calm down and slow your brain to a pace where ideas start to flow.

Continue reading “Can you really grow a “super brain” that helps you discover new ideas?”

How to avoid start-up ideas that fail

Coming up with new business ideas is the exciting part. You are charged with energy. You see possibility in your new idea. But before you run out to build a prototype or sample and test your brilliant new idea it may be useful to look at why some start-up ideas frequently fail.

On the Quora site a start-up founder, consultant and adviser mentioned that almost anything selling technology into restaurants will likely fail particularly if it solves a problem for diners rather than the owners. As he says, ideas that failed include cheque-splitting, menu systems and order-from-your-table systems. It makes sense because will these new concepts bring in new business for the restaurant owner. If your product can reduce costs or increase sales for a restaurant, then it’s a different matter.

Continue reading “How to avoid start-up ideas that fail”

How to accelerate sales when your business is in a slump

I got a tough assignment once. It was to establish a prototype mini distribution centre in the general trade in the Roodepoort area of Johannesburg. It was just me and another person from the Eastern Cape who had experience in distribution. In those days we refer to anything from Roodepoort out to Randfontein as the “Wild West”. Making sales calls at general dealers, cafes and fish and chips outlets taught me more about hand-to-hand, face-to face selling than anything else. Textbooks and popular sales paperbacks don’t cover that type are selling. The main thing that I learnt is to keep selling relentlessly no matter what the circumstances.

Continue reading “How to accelerate sales when your business is in a slump”

Red Monkey Tales – Rumble in the small business jungle

I was worried about competition to my small business when Red Monkey dropped in to say hello but all his frivolity didn’t cheer me up.

“I’m glad to see that you doing something constructive toward your small business but you sure look down in the dumps. What’s chewing you up?”

“With things as they are now, more small businesses are opening doors and competition just seems to be increasing.”

“Oh no. I thought we were going to have some fun. I’d rather be up in the trees eating berries and feeling safe than he down here with you in your gloomy mood.” Continue reading “Red Monkey Tales – Rumble in the small business jungle”

Comebacks in small businesses can be a hard and long path

I met an entrepreneur the other day who lost everything in his small business. At one time the small business was highly successful. He took a back seat, moved to a another town and went into semi–retirement. Disaster struck. His manager who he’d trusted to run the business stole everything out of the business until there was nothing left. Continue reading “Comebacks in small businesses can be a hard and long path”

How did you get yourself into this situation?

What keeps you awake at night? Is it the rise in your expenses? Is your rent going up again? Or, is it your flat or townhouse levy that’s been spiked up again? Do you lie awake listening for criminals outside who you think might come again to rob your property? Are you in a state of high anxiety because you will have to turn to family and friends to pay for your excess on your motor vehicle that was broken into the previous night? Are you worried about the dangerous times we are living in with people eager to tear things down like some sort of bloodsport?

Continue reading “How did you get yourself into this situation?”