Passenger Profile: Karma Ann

#1 Folk Singer in South Africa Comes to the U.S.A.

By Kenny Kerner

Taxi Member Success Karma
By the time Karma Ann reached her mid-twenties, she had won just about every music award South Africa had to offer. She signed with indie labels and was successful and then signed on with the majors and continued her success as both a record seller and performer. Her story is a fascinating one filled with the joys and pressures of the business:

At what point did you first begin playing a musical instrument?

KA: My parents bought me an acoustic guitar for Christmas when I was six. I was just learning chords but that lasted a very short time before I started giving my guitar teacher too many problems. Also I didn't want to practice. I liked playing a lot but I didn't like playing Spanish guitar riffs. She taught me all of the basic chords and then ran out of things to teach so she started showing me these Spanish guitar riffs.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?

KA: I was about nine years old and it was a song called "Friends." It was a song I wrote about my best friend with the repetitive line—"We'll be friends forever..." It was really crap, actually.

At what point did you begin to take writing and performing seriously?

KA: It was when I was at university, actually. I wasn't in any bands at all in high school. My friend in college talked me into getting up on stage and playing a song at this club. Afterwards, the club owner came over and told me I could come back and play there. While I was at the university I worked as a waitress so I needed to get paid for the club show. The owner agreed and I came back to play for two Mondays in a row. He agreed to pay me the equivalent of about $20 which was more than I made on a Monday night.

Did anything come of your shows?

KA: I played three shows there. When I got there for the third show I noticed there was this surge of people from all of the record companies who were there to see me. It was just me and my acoustic guitar being accompanied by a friend on acoustic and everyone was giving me his business card. I thought this was strange.

Did you decide to sign with anyone there?

KA: BMG was there offering me a three year deal but I decided to go with an independent company. I didn't know too much about the music business so I kinda held with the theory that the more you offer me the more you plan to f#*k me over. I signed with this tiny indie label called Tic Tic Bang and I recorded my first CD called Slap in the Face. It was an insanely low budget CD that did extremely well. I released that album when I was twenty.

I later signed a deal with a company called Primedia which is the South African version of Clear Channel. They were like a media empire and the pressure that was put on me was excruciating. There was no room for failure or error. I did an album for them called One Day Soon that nearly killed me.

That experience really tainted my view of the industry and I was no longer interested in being a recording artist. I asked to be released from the final year of my deal. Battle upon battle later, I was released. It was ugly. After that, I took some time off and began writing songs about that phase I was in. Those songs became the next album I released called Torn + Tattered. It centers on the theme of emotional destruction. The record company I chose to work with for this album was EMI. That was my final album recording in South Africa.

I understand that you have been called the Number One Folk singer in South Africa?

KA: I have these really strange titles—I've been the Number One Pop Artist even though I don't write pop music; I've also been the Number One Female Rock Artist and I didn't think my album was rock, either. I think the title that I most enjoyed was when somebody called me South Africa's finest wordsmith.

When did you move to America and how did you hear about TAXI?

KA: I actually heard about TAXI before I came to America but at the time they didn't have the online submissions and if I began posting packages I would have missed every deadline. When TAXI and Broadjam got hooked up it made sense to join. Also, the membership rate of $299. American dollars really was about $2000 to South Africans. I joined because I need to use every resource available to me and also to get the feedback about my songs. So far I have found them very beneficial.

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