Hennie Bekker (born 1934) is a Juno-nominated,Zambian-born composer, arranger, producer and keyboardist based in Toronto, Canada. His career has run the spectrum from jazz fusion and film scoring to New Age and techno. A Juno Award winner for his work with techno-driven trio BKS, Bekker also helped pioneer melding soft melodies with the nature-driven environmental recordings of Dan Gibson, founder of Solitudes.
Bekker composed, arranged (in the case of the public domain classical works), and performed the music on the first 14 albums in the Dan Gibson's Solitudes - Exploring Nature With Music series, including the 1989 best-selling, quadruple-platinum Harmony. Named “one of the most prolific and successful figures in contemporary Canadian pop music” by Billboard and well into his sixth decade of musical recording, Bekker has issued over 60 albums – the most recent on his own Toronto, Ontario-based Abbeywood Records – and is still prolific, recording and issuing an average of one to two projects a year.
Born in the Zambian Copper Belt mining town of Nkana Kitwe, Bekker was raised 48 km down the road in Mufulira, also home to another future rock notable, songwriting producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange. Bekker first became enamored with piano when, at the age of 6, he heard his aunt Ria play the instrument. After his parents bought him a small piano, Bekker taught himself to play, at first leaning towards pianists like Carmen Cavallaro, Eddy Duchin and later the sounds of the jazz greats like Art Tatum, George Shearing, Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans for inspiration. In 1945, the family relocated to Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (later christened Zimbabwe). He attended Milton Junior School and then the Bulawayo Technical High School.
1950s to mid-1960s
At age 15, Bekker and five of his friends formed a band called “The Youth Marvels” playing the hits of the day. At age 22, he worked with band leader Gerry DeVos for a few years until he formed his first band, the Hennie Bekker Trio with bassist Noel Kidwell and Drummer Eddie Van Diermen. Bekker then moved to Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare). During this period, he also served as a resident pianist for the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation’s morning show featuring Rhodesian radio icon Leslie Sullivan. In late 1961, after a three-month stint in Elizabethville (now called Lubumbashi) in the Congo (the gig was cut short due to the Katanga war), Bekker decided to move to Johannesburg, South Africa, where he became a session musician. He returned to Salisbury in 1962 with his band to play at the Bretts supper club there until the end of 1963. Bekker then moved to Luanda, Angola with the his band (Doug Graham bass, Eddie Van Diermen drums and Derek Graham vocals) for a short stint at the Club Naval. With the band's return to South Africa in 1964, it was booked into a successful 18-month residency at the Riviera Hotel in Durban.
Mid-1960s to late-1960s: The hotel circuit, Gallo
In January 1966, after the Durban gig, the band did a one-year stint at the Mikado night club in Johannesburg. Bekker went on to front a number of bands bearing his name, and played the South African hotel circuit, notably 'Bretts' at the Criterion Hotel in Johannesburg. He followed that up by becoming a staff record producer and music director as well as working with record producer Billy Forrest at venerable Gallo Africa, the eventual record label home of such international superstars as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Juluka, Lucky Dube and Letta Mbulu. During this period Bekker's skill as an arranger would become evident, and in the years following, and well into the 80s, he arranged, and in some cases produced or co-produced countless works for well-known South African artists. Also during this period (and into the early 70s) he released a number of solo albums (LPs) on labels such as His Master's Voice, EMI and Gallo.
Early to mid-1970s: London, Arrangements, Teal
In 1970 Bekker travelled to London, where he worked as musical director and played Piano in Galt McDermot’s West End show “Isabel’s a Jezebel” at the Duchess Theatre. He also did TV work, and on occasion, played keyboards with the band in “Hair” and the show "Promises, Promises”. During that time he also did arrangements for various producers, and played solo piano gigs in hotels. After five months in London, Bekker returned to Johannesburg to become musical director for Billy Forrest’s newly formed “Intercontinental Record Company” (IRC). In 1972, IRC was bought by Teal (then a Polygram company), and Bekker became musical director for the Teal Group. Bekker continued to be very active in Teal, producing and arranging singles and albums for well-known South African artists, many of which were engineered by Grammy winner John Linderman. Bekker then jumped into the electronic-based world of the jazz rock hybrid fusion. A residency at the renowned jazz club "The Branch Office" was one of Bekker’s regular gigs, having such talents in his band as guitarist Johnny Fourie (a Billy Cobham sideman recommended to Chick Corea by John McLaughlin as a potential Return to Forever guitarist) drummer Tony Moore and bassist/arranger/composer/producer – and future Juluka collaborator – Johnny Boshoff. Simultaneously, he became a master jingle writer, and over the next 12 years, would compose over 500 of them to air on South African Broadcasting Corporation, recording the same jingle in the nine different African languages besides English and Afrikaans in order to meet the SABC policy of servicing the nine different African nations within their broadcast area.
Late 1970s to Mid-1980s: London, Album production, Jingles
In 1979, tiring of the scene, Bekker traveled to London and, with future Pat Travers producer Emil Zoghby, co-produced and played keyboards on the 1978 album Prisoners On The Line by the U.K. based folk rock group Magna Carta, and arranged and conducted pianist/bandleader Stanley Black’s 1979 LP Digital Magic. He returned to Johannesburg in 1980 to score a handful of motion pictures, most notably Tigers Don’t Cry, starring two-time Academy Award winner Anthony Quinn. In the seven years that followed, Bekker continued working as a jingle writer, and composed, recorded and performed music for local and international Television shows. He also worked on a number of albums for South African artists. While Bekker, by this time, had established himself as a sought after arranger, accustomed to writing scores by hand, he had always used the latest in audio recording and processing equipment, and was used to working in large studios, but it was during this period that would bring with it the greatest change in the way Bekker composed and recorded music. Bekker was to truly establish himself as an electronic musician, becoming the first Synclavier owner in South Africa. Many of Bekker’s early New Age albums were composed on Synclavier, and he continued to use it until the mid-90s. Other album projects done in the early 80s included New Age style score for an early IMAX type show at Sun City called "Solar Vibrations", the soundtrack to which was released as an LP.
1987 to present: Relocation to Canada, Solitudes, BKS, Junos, African Tapestries
In 1987, Bekker and his wife Jacky immigrated to Canada, hooking up with John Parry Music and a steady gig providing cue music for production libraries. In 1989, he was recruited by Somerset Entertainment Producer Gordon Gibson to add music to his father Dan’s Solitudes environmental recordings. Their first collaboration, Harmony, sold over 400,000 copies, and Bekker provided the music for 13 more gold, platinum and multi-platinum Solitudes titles before striking out on his own with 'the first album in his Kaleidoscopes series, Spring Rain with Holborne Distributing and later, Tranquility, through Quality Records.
His Quality years also led him into the BKS techno-dance trio partnership with DJ Chris Sheppard and Greg Kavanagh, churning out three albums – For Those About To Rave, We Salute You (featuring the Juno-nominated dance chart-topper “I’m In Love With You”), Dreamcatcher and Astroplane, which contained the Juno-winning 1997 Best Dance Recording track “Astroplane (City Of Love mix)”. The trio toured across Canada, filling dance clubs from Halifax to Vancouver, and spurred more gold and platinum certifications of several dance mix compilations.
During the BKS days, Bekker continued to work with Dan and Gordon Gibson - putting out a further five albums in the Solitudes series. Having established himself as a top Environmental / New Age composer, he also had the opportunity to continue to compose, arrange and produce further soothing, meditative, nature-inspired albums that were distributed by Holborne Distributing Co. Bekker incorporated his unique interpretations of familiar classics, carols and lullabies on various albums including Lullabies. Albums in the “Classical Tapestries” series, Relaxing Pachelbel, Bekker's own rendition of "Vivaldi's Four Seasons" and "The Classics" built on the success of the Classical based "Solitudes - Exploring Nature with Music" albums, including the million-plus selling The Classics. Many of the albums distributed by Holborne were sub-licensed to Northword Press (NatureQuest/Northsound) and released under different names, including several of the Tranquility albums. Between 1993 and 1996 Bekker added four more albums to his Kaleidoscopes series (Summer Breeze, Autumn Magic, Winter Reflections and Christmas Spirit). The multi-platinum-selling African Tapestries series, a fusion of New Age and World music interwoven with the diverse sounds of the African wilderness, was created in 1995, with the release of the first album, Temba. Following the shutdown of Quality Music in the late 90s, Bekker reissued the Tranquility albums, incorporating them into a new series, the Hennie Bekker’s Tranquility series. He also composed a further three albums for the series, namely Essence of Romance, Romantic Classics and A Time for Romance.
In 2003, following the shutdown of Holborne Distributing, Bekker began reissuing the albums previously distributed through Holborne (including reworked versions) on Abbeywood Records. In 2009 Bekker released the latest album in the African Tapestries series, Amani, and incorporated the African inspired album “Jabula”, previously licensed to Somerset Entertainment, into the series. In the same year, a limited edition five CD box set, the African Tapestries collection, including all five albums was released. Also in 2009, Bekker released what could be considered his most contemporary album since he began working with Dan Gibson in 1989. The album, called Moving On saw Bekker combine his relaxation and world sensibilities with his foundation in jazz to produce an album that truly represented his depth as an artist. Bekker brought in top Canadian musicians, including longtime collaborators Greg Kavanagh, EVI and trumpet man Bruce Cassidy and saxophonist and EWI John Johnson, to perform on the album. While maintaining his integrity as a New Age artist, on this album, Bekker moved on from the primarily electronic albums of his past, using acoustic drums, electronic wind instruments and guitars. A compilation entitled Spectrum - An Anthology of Relaxing Instrumental Music, featuring fourteen tracks from eleven different albums was released in August 2011.
Bekker has 23 Canadian album certifications, including gold, platinum, double and triple-platinum.
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