01 home | 02 discography | 03 tour dates | 04 lyrics | 05 reviews | 06 books | 07 gallery | 08 media
  Soundtracks of My Life by Carl Cleves  

Soundtracks of My Life

‘I thought I was into world music but I’m just floating on a rubber mattress in the shallows. What an overflowing cornucopia of stories and unheard-of musical styles you have produced. Absolutely awe-inspiring - your musical knowledge, adventures, friendships, and writing ability. Like the previous two books, Soundtracks of my Life deserves heaps of attention and appreciation, so may the Goddesses let it be so. I am gob-smacked… and actually so envious.’

Param Berg

‘Your trilogy is stunning, amazing, confronting, inspiring, so loving, caring and supportive towards indigenous cultures. I feel I know you now almost more than any of my close friends. Your episodes of sheer resilience, fierce individualism, illuminated obstinacy to live, love and play will always be in my heart.’

Monique Lavail

  Dancing with the Bones by Carl Cleves  

Dancing with the Bones

‘Dancing with the Bones is a memoir of the very best sort, a record of a life well lived, consciously, with wry intelligence and insight. Carl writes with lyric sensitivity of the minutiae of family life and his ancestry. It is also a love story, bridging family, the camaraderie of musicians, an unquenchable thirst for adventure and his inevitable meeting with the beautiful Parissa Bouas, musical collaborator and wife. I barely drew breath while reading these pages, so exotic was the imagery and intense the adventure. Yet again, as in Tarab, I marvelled at the fact that he is alive to tell the tale. Of course, there is so much more to the narrative. You must read it for yourself. It is funny, it’s moving, it’s breathtaking, it’s tender. I dare you not to love it.’

Jeni Caffin - ex-director Byron Writers Festival. Byron Bay Echo

  Before twilight turns to night  

Before Twilight Turns to Night

‘What an absolute treat it is. So rich with poetry, wisdom and beauty. A timeless and classic piece of art - very refined - complexity made effortless - in the same league and world as Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Serge Gainsbourg but like all of them- truly unique. This is the real cool - the stuff the rest of us strive for - honest, sincere, laugh out loud funny, touching, heartfelt, true, wise, poetic and beautiful.’

Andy Jans-Brown, musician and film director

‘Carl puts the ‘u’ in to human’  - Andrew Clermont, bluegrass star

‘As with its predecessors, "Before Twilight Turns To Night" is in a class all of its own. Often one has the impression that this music is made in the living room at home, among good friends, so intimate it feels. It reaches your ear quickly in a friendly manner and spreads just as quickly to your heart. Cleves presents it with great drama and, for me, it contains traces of the British folk scene of the Seventies, be it Pentangle or especially the Incredible String Band. Including the three cover versions, however, this music was created from a single source, and is once again a production with that certain something. It is also the protagonist's very idiosyncratic voice, which characterises this album. Sometimes he reminds me of colleagues like Lee Clayton or sometimes Tim Buckley. Well, given the many prizes that Cleves has already captured, "Before Twilight Turns To Night" is also eligible for another award.'

Rocktimes, Wolfgang Giese

'Craftsmanship is mastery' is a definition under which the name of Carl Cleves undoubtedly belongs and this sixth solo album is an affirmative proof of this.

Rootstime, Freddy Celis

  The House is Empty  

REVIEW: Audiophile Audition May 28, 2012

Carl Cleves – The House Is Empty – Vitamin Records, 46:03 ****
(Carl Cleves – guitar, vocals; John Hoffman – flugelhorn; Cye Wood – violin; Michiel Hollanders – banjobass, sandpiper shuffle, resonator guitar, double bass, claude viol, autoharp; baritone guitar,parlour guitar, Spanish guitar, velofoon; Parissa Bouas – backing vocals; Leigh Carriage – backing vocals; Kirk Lorange – slide guitar; Marc Constandse – bandoneon, percussion; Jim Kelle – electric guitar; Steve Russell – fretless bass; Pix Mason – backing vocals)

Carl Cleves has followed an unusual path to a musical career. Born in Belgium, the singer/songwriter migrated to London in the mid-sixties. There he performed in the club scene along with future stars like Paul Simon, Bert Jansch, Al Stewart and C. Frank. Being a bona fide troubadour, Cleves has spent many years traveling the globe (Africa, Middle East, Orient, Pacific Region and South America) and incorporating the diversity of global cultures. He founded The Hottentots with his wife Parissa Bouas in 1991, recording several albums. In 2010, Cleves and Bouas released Out Of Australia on German label Stockfisch Records, produced by Gunter Pauler. The blend of complex, rhythmic structures and travelogue narrative (inspired by his many experiences) garnered critical acclaim.

The House Is Empty, the latest project is an intimate collection of musical sketches. Primarily comprised of voice and guitar with subtle instrumental touches, eleven original compositions and one cover embrace the spirit of this unique singer/songwriter. The opening title track explores the melancholy nature of love (“…If we can’t fly together, let me fly on my own…”). Cleves’ voice is unusual, somewhat like Scottish singer Donovan. Laying down some bluesy folk strumming, he tells a simple tale. The addition of a violin (Cye Wood) and Flugelhorn (John Hoffman) provide suppleness. The final vocal chant with Parissa Bouas and Leigh Carriage is jazzy fun. A weary sense of loss imbues the melancholy “Leaving Byron Bay”. Michael Hollander adds texture on a variety of instruments while Bouas and Carriage engage in an ethereal chorus. Emotional ruminations permeate domesticity on “Lost In Leipzig”. The overall sound has an eerie gypsy quality with unison singing and nuanced play on bandoneon (Marc Constandse) and banjo-bass (Hollander).

Cleves has a distinct feel for traditional folk music. In “Dear Melanie” sentimental context (almost reminiscent of Irish songs) brings a sense of loss. There are many deeply introspective cuts that are personal. “House Of Sorrow” is effective with mere voice and guitar. The refrain “If my tears were dollar bills, I’d own a castle on the hill” is compelling, but wistful. Cleves takes a somber turn on “Prince Of Darkness”, but seeks redemption (“Who can heal you if you don’t want to heal yourself?”). The final song of the album is a haunting version of Jacques Brel’s “La Chanson Des Vieux Amants”.

Carl Cleves is a real troubadour. His musical narratives encompass the complicated themes of global travel and cultural interaction. For those unfamiliar with this artist, The House Is Empty is a succinct introduction.

TrackList: The House Is Empty; Gone Are The Days; Leaving Byron Bay; Lost In Leipzig; Way Down In The Mines; Dear Melanie; When The Going Gets Tough; House Of Sorrow; Martha Please; Prince Of Darkness; Lesson To me; La Chanson des Vieux Amants — Robbie Gerson


REVIEW: Alternative Music Press
Carl's new offering is a real feast for the ears. The bottom line is that this is a great album by a consistently strong artist. The eleven tracks penned by Cleves and the beautiful interpretation of Brel's classic La Chanson des vieux amants provide more than enough sonic and lyrical gems to satisfy. I was captivated from the first notes and I’ve listened to the album over and over ever since. Highly recommended.

Ben Kettlewell - Alternative Music Press


REVIEW: Folkworld

Carl Cleves "The House is Empty" Vitamin; 2012 www.carlcleves.com
When a Belgian-born musician from Australia makes an effort to mail me his latest CD, it is with some trepidation when I first pop it in for a listen. I am hoping it was worth his expense and effort to get me something that I will find above average and be able to write with some enthusiasm. In this case, I had heard Carl Cleves previously with Greek singer Parissa Bouas on a wonderful record, so I was fairly optimistic before putting this one on. And Carl Cleves has indeed provided me with an excellent record that I am quite happy to add to my collection.

He combines some excellent folk moves with a touch of the blues and even a bit of Jacques Brel (not too hard to detect that as he covers “La Chanson des vieux amants” superbly with a spacey psychedelic tone). “Lost in Leipzig” starts like a nice finger style folk song but adds great lounge elements and some haunting backing vocals. “Way Down in the Mines” starts off the same way but instead stays steady on course as a great folk song like something you would hear from Wizz Jones or Pierre Bensusan. A majority of the songs have this basic acoustic guitar and voice folk formula worked to near perfection.

This is a refreshing folk album with enough variety to appeal to those seeking some creative arrangements, while providing some original high quality folk music. I am so happy to have discovered this ‘missing link’ to the classic UK folk scene from the 1960s. Folkworld readers should read his biography at his website and take in some of this excellent music.

© David Hintz Folkworld


The Byron Shire Echo, September 2012



What inspired you to create The House is Empty?
The torments of my soul.

How would you describe the genre of this album and the songs contained within?
I struggle with genres, as they shift from album to album. David Hinz in Folkworld magazine calls ‘The House is Empty’ ‘the ‘missing link’ to the classic UK folk scene from the 1960s. The setting is acoustic, reminiscent of Dylan’s ‘Blood on the tracks’ and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’. I didn’t realize it when I recorded these songs during a 16-month tour with The Hottentots around the world, but in hindsight I realise that I was looking for the voice of my roots. I was born in Belgium, a tiny country in the heart of Europe and when I grew up I was exposed to all kinds of popular music on the radio: Italian and French hits, German schlagers, English rock music and pop and American R&B, broadcast from Luxemburg to the US soldiers in occupied Germany. The rawness of folk music and blues and the freedom of beat poetry gave me goose bumps. ‘The House is Empty’ does have a definite European flavour. I even sing a Jacques Brel song on the CD.

What is to you the essence of a great song?
To touch. To connect. A direct line to your heart, your hips or feet.

When you are crafting your music, what are the traps or obstacles that you try and avoid?
Leave your editing hat on the clothes hanger while you are in a creative mood and drive your car without brakes. Return to it later with a critical eye. Persist gently. Some songs take an hour to write, others take years.

Do you recognise a great song when you write it, or does that come in the playing?
Finishing a song is like having a baby. You admire it and wonder how you managed to create such a wonderful thing. You play it over and over in a state of bliss. After a couple of days of doing this, the umbilical cord is cut and you sober up and know whether it is truly great, mediocre or ready for the bin.

Who are the people who have influenced you the most on your creative path?
Big Bill Broonzy, Bert Jansch, Randy Newman, Jacques Brel, Leadbelly, Buddy Holly, Caetano Veloso, Bob Dylan, The Everly Brothers, Arthur Rimbaud, Sister Rosette Tharpe, Kurt Weil, Ray Charles, Parissa Bouas, Joni Mitchell, Corto Maltese, Townes van Zandt, Charles Bukowski, Woody Guthrie, Jules Verne, Milton Nascimento, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, The Beatles, Jack Kerouac, Tintin… Now you’ve got me raving, Mandy.

You are such a traveller as well...how does this reflect in your songwriting and storytelling?
A stranger in a strange land does not meddle, but observes and learns. A sense of humor, attitudes towards children, relationships, sex or music might change, yet every human being, anywhere in the world, has to tackle the challenges, potholes and car crashes of life. Having lived for long periods in foreign cultures - Latin America, Africa, the Arab world and Asia – I have not only enriched my emotional pallet and acquired a trunk full of stories but have soaked up song structures, guitar styles and rhythms. My song writing and story telling is constantly evolving.

What should we expect from your Byron show?
An entertaining concert with captivating stories, deep emotions and a fantastic band. I am thrilled to be joined by 10CC’s guitarist Rick Fenn, my Hottentots partner and favourite singer Parissa Bouas and Byron’s ace bass player Thierry Fossemalle.

Review by Mandy Nolan

  Out of Australia  

REVIEW: SMH Jan 7-8 Jan 2012
Carl Cleves is a rarity: a musician whose first language is Flemish (he emigrated to Australia more than twenty years ago) who can write compelling songs in English and who, after years of living in Africa, formed Australian world music group The Hottentots.

In his latest manifestation, he describes himself and vocalist Parissa bouas as “Australia’s definitive coffee house couple”, which is much better than the usual genres of “folk duo” or singer-songwriters”. The problem is that Cleves and Bouas’s music is genuinely genre-busting. Sure, it is crafted out of folk-roots but somehow Bouas’s vocals, which are sweet, rich and soaring, actually reach beyond the usual folk styles.

This is one album worth owning simply because there are a number of amazing songs. The Bethlehem Bell Ringer is a powerful political cry for some kind of humanity and sanity to return to the violence between Israel and Palestine. Set against the killing of a Christian bellringer in Bethlehem (true story), this song has the resonant chorus, “Oh Jesus, please help Palestine? Turn all that blood back into wine”.

No less powerful is Cleves’s stark account of the Coniston Massacre, the last mayor aboriginal massacre in the Northern Territory, and his melancholy story about black goldminers in south Africa, Way Down in the Mines. This is an original variation on folk and world music.

Bruce Elder




REVIEW: Carl Cleves & Parissa Bouas – Out Of Australia – Stockfisch Records
Musical travelogue is distinguished by stunning vocals and unique instrumentation. ****

Carl Cleves & Parissa Bouas – Out Of Australia – Stockfisch Records Multichannel SACD SFR 357-4060-2, 49:50

Parissa Bouas – vocals, guitar, shruti box, percussion, cachichi; Carl Cleves – vocals, guitar; Lea Morris – backing vocals; Peter Funk – dobro, guitar; Dominik Jung – guitar; Lucile Chaubard – violoncello; Christian Struck – cor anglais; Beo Brockhausen – tambura, jew’s harp, swarmandal, mbira, hulusi; Lars Hansen – fretless bass, electric bass, upright bass.

Flemish born singer/songwriter Carl Cleves and Greek-Australian vocalist Parissa Bouas have captured the hearts of folk enthusiasts in Australia. They are celebrated for their unique acuity for global storytelling, reflected in relevant social and political narratives. Together since 1991, as members of the Cleves-formed band, The Hottentots, the duo continue to perform and record together. In the tradition of authentic folk music, they travel extensively, integrating different cultures and auditory influences into original compositions. Cleves, who holds degrees in Law, African Music and Contemporary Composition, inhabits the aura of an international beat poet. Influenced by a collage of inspirational artists like Bob Marley, Abdullah Ibrahim, Arthur Rimbaud, Townes Van Zandt, and Kurt Weill, passion and conscience become recurrent contexts.

Out Of Australia, consisting of twelve original songs, is a ruminating perspective on worldwide society. Coalesced by folk-based guitar constructs and emotional vocals, each track has a unique feel. A centerpiece, “The Bethlehem Bell Ringer” examines the plight of innocent victims in the Palestinian struggle. Parissa Bousa’s incandescent voice is heartfelt, and the hymnal chorus, no less than exultant. The use of a tambura (string drone instrument) adds a somber Middle Eastern tone. The plights of diamond mine workers (“Way Down In The Mines”) in Johannesburg, and ethnic genocide (The Coniston Massacre”), are recounted without overindulgence. Framed by the steady guitar of Cleves, and his idiosyncratic baritone (not unlike Scottish troubadour Donovan), there is a consistent lyrical aesthetic.

Not all of the serious minded themes find a proper elucidation. “Graceful” attempts to juxtapose a breezy tenor and HIV reference, with incongruous results.
African spirit is rendered with joyous abandon on the folk chant “Mother’s Song”. Backup singer Lea Morris blends with Bouas in perfect harmony. “Sharpening A Knife”, an adaptation of a poem by Nanao Sakaki has a Gaelic cadence, with chorus repetition and a soaring lead vocal. In addition to the milieu of international social mores and politics, there is a sensitive coloration by various Middle Eastern and African instruments.

This nomadic anthology captures the pathos of the human condition with originality and verve.
Multichannel SACD is an ideal medium for this music. The understated nuances of the various stringed instruments are reproduced with clear acoustics, whether it’s a prominent rhythm guitar, or delicate lute. Tonal quality of the voices is flawless. The depth and texture of the vocals (in particular the ensembles) refine the musical eminence.

TrackList: Into The Light; Eclipse Of The Sun; Don’t Flowers Grow; Way Down In The Mines; House Of Sorrow; Mother’s Song; The Coniston Massacre; Graceful; Zeco; Sharpening A Knife; Carmen.

Audiophile Audition Published on September 24, 2010 Robbie Gerson


Stockfisch Records - 2010
This is a very nice folk record that has a classic UK style sound, yet is about as international as you can find. The excellent German label has released this record from an Australia-based duo comprised of a Belgian guitarist who has travelled the world with a female singer who was born of a Greek sailor and has toured through Latin America.

Not only do they cull all these influences together, they are able to focus this into their sound, rather than issue out a haphazard cultural stew. “Way Down in the Mines” could be snuck onto a compilation with Raven & Mills, Pererin, and the Watersons.

The lyrics are strong and the music is constantly involving, with some intriguing bass playing and sounds. This is a gem and moves to the top of my listening pile. If you enjoy classic folk duos and like the psychedelic influences on folk from the seventies, then you are certain to enjoy this.

Review by David Hintz


All alone




REVIEW 'All Alone'
Half of the Australian based duo The Hottentots, Carl Cleves is a veritable world traveler. One part of him is here, the other everywhere.

After four CDs with the Hottentots his debut 2007 release "All Alone" bears this out in a myriad of subtle ways. One can talk about the multicultural influences, the pensive quality of the title track which owes a debt to Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso, the homage to Sudanese oud player Abdel Gadir Salim "The Rose Of Kordofan" or the Caribbean, African and Brazilian rhythms that flow to the dictates of some of the songs, as these are natural things that come from Carl's travels.

I suppose you could call this release acoustic folk with touches of blues, country and jazz, but that doesn't really describe it either. Carl never ever tries to sound like anybody else. He has managed to absorb these other influences while retaining his own muse. As a result he is an uncompromising artist with a personal vision that is both whimsical and wise and yet he's not averse to injecting a bit of hokey fun into the proceedings. His melodies are memorable and moving. The supporting cast, including the remaining Hottentot Parissa Bouas on vocals, provides subtle and occasionally exuberant colourings on oud, viola, violin, electric guitar, saxes, trumpet, bass and percussion.

It would be remiss to omit mention of Carl's acoustic guitar playing that provides eloquent commentary in all 11 songs. It is utterly captivating and pregnant with unexpected nuance. In fact Carl is the only acoustic guitarist in Australia whose work I can detect after two notes ... his sound is that singular. Yet he never grandstands. To me that speaks volumes.

The songs themselves seem to be observations from some unwritten autobiography and are sung with the complete lack of pretense that is the singer's trademark. "All Alone" was awarded Best Lyrics 2007 by the Australian songwriters Association, which I hope gives some impetus to this excellent album. I know that Carl doesn't really like to consider himself as a world music artist, but the real litmus test is to blot out the meaning of the lyrics in one's mind as if they were in a foreign language and listen to the textures, rhythms and melodies. Well ... "All Alone" passes with flying colours.

Richard Jasiutowicz - Diaspora World Beat





Tarab - Travels with my guitar


REVIEW 'Tarab, travels with my guitar'
Moroccan singer Asmaa Lmnawar says that, Tarab "is a higher state that both the listener and the artist reach to". For her "it is when a singer provokes the listener to the point where her or his body is tingling, to where the listener even starts swearing". With this in mind I listened to the 2008 CD release from Carl Cleves: "Tarab/ Travels with my guitar", in anticipation of the tingle, though perhaps not the swearing. Cleves' quest for Tarab is that place "where music and poetry bestow true bliss upon the lucky one".

This is a lush CD. It is an amazingly rich tapestry of sound, an aural landscape that surges from Zimbabwe to Brazil, originating from Belgium and nestling in Byron Bay. It is instrumentally and lyrically diverse, borrowing heavily from the cultures of Africa and South America, expertly played and beautifully recorded. Cleves has distinguished himself with his compositions, having won Music Oz and Australian Songwriters Association awards, and this ability is reflected in the ten tracks on the CD (eight songs and two instrumentals).

For the most part, Cleves' lyrics are extremely well crafted and bursting with imagery: "From the Valley of the Moon to Corioco/Through the might magic jungle" (from "To Corioco"), "With the sound of the railway tracks/Only a tambourine is missing" (from "The Minas Train"), and "Xango, Exu, Yemanja/Were the mighty Orixa/Who travelled from Nigeria/To Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica" (from Party at my house"). We have an abundance of delicious syllables, words and phrases, highly evocative and redolent with the magic and mystery of far away places. "Trem Mineiro" is sung in Portuguese, and there is a dash of French in "Zimbabwe Zimbabwe" which add their own spices to this dish. Perversely, though, the strength of "The fire of liberty's blazing/In township and mines" is diminished by the somewhat pedestrian "I donÕt know why/My friend had to die" (from "Penkele") and the almost unbearably kitsch "TashiÕs song". The latter, though, is a bit of fun with his daughter, so I guess we can forgive that.

As alluded to earlier, the musicianship on this CD is first class, and songs are arranged with a skill that preserves the heritage underpinning each track, giving each its own particular flavour. They are cleverly layered, dynamically and rhythmically vigorous, with intricate harmony work, all resting on the solid foundation provided by Cleves' deft and resonant guitar work. A particular highlight for me is "Zimbabwe Zimbabwe". Running at over eight minutes, a song length most likely to tax my powers of concentration, we travel the length and breadth of the country in sonic textures, and there is musical interest in every bar. Of note is the rhythmic change at about three minutes which injects even more excitement, especially with the clever vocal interchanges and the keyboard punctuation marks.

Did I achieve Tarab on listening to this collection? Perhaps not quite. Nevertheless this CD is a delightful cornucopia of sound, imagery and life and forms a highly credible journal of Cleves' travels across this planet. It is worthy addition to anyone's CD collection.

Mike Raine


Tarab - Travels with my guitar


Tarab — Travels with my guitar, by Carl Cleves Transit Lounge Publishing
Known to many as the multi-award winning singer/songwriter from The Hottentots, Carl Cleves displays in Tarab his skill as a natural and masterful storyteller. With wit, intelligence, evocative descriptions, and an infectious curiosity, the author takes us on a remarkable 30-year journey through Africa, Europe, South America, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Australia.

Cleves describes himself as "a searcher and a learner". At the heart of his on-going quest is his love of and insatiable curiosity for music, and a deep understanding that music is not only a universal language, transcending cultures and physical barriers, but a unique expression of the human condition. You do not have to be a musician to be drawn into the extraordinary musical experiences that propel Cleves on his journey. A Sudanese singer unfurls his voice in the courtyard of a private home in Mombassa: "The first phrase was a question, the second an invitation, the third left us with an anxious expectancy, the fourth struck suddenly, the fifth bewitched." The song takes Cleves to a place the Arabs call Tarab, "where poetry and music bestow ecstasy and true bliss upon the lucky one", and inspires him to embark on a perilous overland journey through war-torn southern Sudan. He and his wife find themselves guests in the garrison of an Elvis-loving General before eventually making their way north to Khartoum where the finest singers and musicians in the land stage an unforgettable concert.

Whether it be the intrigue of an Indian harp and violin recital on an island in Lake Titicaca, the haunting laments of Huayno singers in Bolivia, or the search for traditional Senegalese rhythms, the thread of the musician's quest is ever present. But this is much more than a musician's memoir. It is a beautifully written and well-researched narrative revealing the philosophical, political and emotional journey of a man and his guitar traversing different cultures, extraordinary characters, near-death experiences, deep friendships, ill-health, a successful recording career, and perhaps the most enduring terrain of all, parenthood.

Beatrice, his first wife, is his companion through the first half of the book. The young Belgian couple flee their conservative home town to seek broader horizons. Powerful images are woven into these early journeys. Travelling by train from Bulgaria to Istanbul, "Farmhouses were covered up to their roofs with crystals of ice, spirals of black smoke rising from their chimneys, puffing periscopes in a frozen ocean." In Turkey there are "Steambaths in Istanbul, blizzards on the road to Ankara, the song of a Kurdish shepherd at a truckstop outside Ezroum." In Darjeeling "I breathed in the short-wave crackle of the crickets, the crash of wood splintering under the axe and the clang of a copper kettle by the spring."

The author's son Tashi, born in Australia, is his primary companion through the second half of the narrative. As a single parent with a 2-year-old child, Cleves follows his musical wanderlust and spends seven years in South America working as a musician in bars and clubs before becoming a successful band leader in Brazil. Remarkable, and sometimes foolhardy adventures are ever present. When Tashi is not quite four, armed with a "dirty page torn out of an exercise book" that contains some pencil scribbles, father and son set out with a Dutch friend to follow a disused Inca trail to Coroico, a small Bolivian town. The trio travel on foot from the thin, freezing air of the Altiplano into tropical forests 4000 metres below. With Cleves spinning endless tales to keep his son going they negotiate rickety rope bridges over precipitous ravines and loose rubble on steep slopes, finding giant butterflies and the ancient staircases hewn out of the rock face. This expedition inspired one of songs found on the CD (also called Tarab) released in conjunction with the book. Recorded in different countries over a period of decades, the author's music is the perfect accompaniment to his written memoir, illuminating how a songwriter translates his experiences into art.

This is a book to curl up with and be transported to other places and other times. The intimate tone gives the reader the feeling of listening to the melodious lilt of a magical weaver of tales. The rich prose is filled with images that will stay with you long after the last page. In Tarab, Cleves has shown himself to be a writer of great talent in prose as well as in song. More tales will surely follow.

Reviewed by Laurel Cohn - Byron Shire Echo July 8, 2008


Tarab: Travels with my guitar
By Carl Cleves

Transit Lounge Publishing, 267pp
We live in an age of faux travel writing. The great adventurers of the past – Wilfred Thesiger, Sir Richard Burton, Eric Newby – have been replaced by clowns who devise shallow rationales and write lame comedies that pass for travel stories. This thought occurred to me as I read this remarkable book by Carl Cleves.

Here is the story of a young Flemish man who turned his back on the security of an affluent middle-class European life and headed off with a young wife and nothing more complex than a desire to experience the richness of the world.

By any measure, Cleves deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Thesiger, Burton and Newby. He is an astute observer (his succinct explanation of the historic forces at play in Darfur and Sudan is exemplary), a passionate participant and a man prepared to undertake interesting, but never crazy, experiences.

His wanderings started almost as an accident. He had accepted a scholarship to study law at Witwatersrand University. On arrival in South Africa he realised he had made the wrong choice. Fortuitously, he changed to musicology, studied African music and headed north with his guitar to experience the music of the continent in all its diversity.

Along the way he deals with deep apartheid-era racism, the harshness of the virtually lawless military forces, smuggling bush babies across borders, almost signs on with a rabid racist who wants to sail across the Indian Ocean and all the time recounts his unique experiences in language so vivid you feel you are travelling with him.

Eventually, Cleves arrives in Australia, forms the world music outfit The Hottentots and, after some time in Sydney, heads for Byron Bay.

Cleves is a rarity. He is a true traveller in an age of holidaymakers and gawpers. He heads out to experience the world and reminds his readers that true travel is about sinking deeply into cultures and allowing unique experiences to change your life. The result is a journey that enriches Cleves and the reader.

Reviewed by Bruce Elder – Sydney Morning Herald –August 2-3 2008