Smoke the Guitarist’s life story reads like an intriguing script of a Hollywood thriller, except that it’s all true.
Nico Lawrence was born in Durban (South-Africa) on a 1st January at 12 o’clock at 7 months, two months before his time. He was raised in Nqabeni, a farming community in KwaZulu-Natal where, at the age of four, his father, a pastor preacher, taught him to play guitar.
When he was in grade 4, he heard Bob Dylan’s Meet Me in the Morning. According to his words, “the song had a sound that captivated me. It stuck with me. I was listening to lots of different genres both local and international but could not find the sound I was hearing in my head”. On the other hand, his brother-in-law, who was living in the United States at the time, returned home with two cassettes of Eric Clapton and BB King and “that was it, I was sold to the blues”.
Nico continued to play guitar during his childhood, but at 15 decided to pursue professional football, since he seemed to be a gifted player, and put aside his music career. Unfortunately, those times in sports didn’t work as expected and he had to deal with some personal issues until he decided to make a 360º turn in his life.
He gave up football and moved with his wife to Marburg, where he ran a recycling and waste management factory. But, only eight months after they started their new life, a bush fire razed their complex. The tragedy left them with only the clothes they had on and guitars he hadn’t played for years. It was a devastating loss as they had invested their life savings into the business.
When within the misery, Nico and his family moved to Johannesburg in search of a new job to start a new life from the ashes. At the beginning, he couldn’t find a job and, following a friend’s advise who told him to “use what you have”, he picked up the guitar and begun to practice again.
After one year of struggle, Nico found a job in a tuckshop at the Edenvale municipal pool, and it was then when he realised that he could play like a professional musician. He used to pull the roller door halfway down and practise. Whenever he did that, he realised that sales went up. When he opened the roller door fully and started singing, sales shot up. Parents going to the swimming pool said they came for the the music and their kids were only the excuse to be there.
So, he got into the music scene and joint some bands. It was while playing with Alfred’s Band, when he got his nickname “Smoke” from his way of playing the guitar. He reluctantly accepted the nickname as for him it evoked pain due to the fire in which he had lost everything he owned.
Today, Smoke J. Lawrence is making his living from music. He performs like a real blues man from the Mississippi Delta who understands the healing and unifying power of his genre. Through a catalogue of authentic blues compositions that were born out of unfathomable hardships and harsh discriminatory laws, policies and colonial atrocities, Smoke attempts to capture the reality of life in his native, now democratic, country of South Africa.
Introducing blues music to the masses, most of whom have never heard of the blues, is a key focus point of the “Smoke Train Blues Movement of Africa”, a mission Nico has taken up to keep the blues alive, educating African audiences on the power of call and response as it is of African culture so embedded in his genetics that they don’t even have a name for it, which he plains to spread across the continent of Africa.
Smoke J. Lawrence (voice and guitar)
Llorenç Barraquet (guitar)
Vicent Rebull (bass)
Vicent Soler (drums)