By Edward Tsumele
“My life was complicated, and I was down and out, and therefore decided one day to pick up my guitar and went into the streets performing. I had lost everything in my life and the only thing that seemed to matter to me at that stage was the guitar,” he said and never explained further.
And then fast forward this to March 2020 in a Maboneng restaurant where I am face to face with blues musician Smoke Lawrence.
“The whole journey of blues music started in 2014, when my life seemed to disintegrate, my business having gone up instantly in smoke, literally. I was left with nothing, and my wife who has since been a pillar of my strength.
This happened when his recycling business, which was doing well in KwaZulu-Natal where he hails from, was destroyed overnight.
“The recycling business in Port Shepstone was thriving. Then one day the warehouse where my stock was stored was gutted by a mysterious fire. And because the family was also living in the same warehouse, even our clothes were destroyed. I was left with the clothes that I was wearing, and one friend of mine whose brother passed away donated his clothes to me as we were the same size. Life was tough.
“Then one day I just decided to play my guitar as a form of healing, playing blues music. Then suddenly people started forming a long line…
“But what I did was to have a serious conversation with God, and he communicated a message to me that I will never forget. I asked God and said please God take me for there is nothing left for me. God said to me, I can take care of your family better than you can and He has not forgotten his promise. That conversation transformed my life.”
Edenvale in Ekurhuleni became his home, and with the assistance of the local authorities, Smoke was able to get back into business when they gave him space at the Edenvale Municipal Pool to open a tuck shop to put bread on the table as he was steadily getting to regroup himself.
With the support of his family, his two children and his wife life had purpose again.
“When I started the tuck shop, I was making very little money at the beginning, something like R100 per day. Then one day I just decided to play my guitar as a form of healing, playing blues music. Then suddenly people started forming a long line, buying from the spaza shop. I made R1000 on that day. The following day I made R2000. That was really amazing and it just demonstrated to me that my music was my bread and butter I have never stopped playing blues from that day, and I get to perform at venues around Edenvale as well as at prestigious blues festivals locally and internationally,” he reveals.
Among the festivals where he has performed his music, is the annual Festival of Lights in Edenvale, The Durban Blues International festival in 2017, 2018 and 2019, while also last year he recorded and toured with Argentinian band Yamil Jacobo Trio.
“People just fell in love with my music. I played with a band from Argentina, and even though we did not understand each other because of our different languages, the chemistry on stage was just incredible. Actually, I do not call the people I play with a band, but a Movement because that is what we are,” he says.
And as Smoke’s music is getting more and more appreciated, international invites to perform at prestigious blues festivals keep on coming.