In conversation with Keenan John Meyer

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.

Martin Luther

One such prophet is seasoned and sought after pianist, composer and traveler Keenan John Meyer. Over the past year, not only has Keenan’s debut album The Alchemy of Living gained recognition on both a national and international stage, it has also transformed the lives of many. I had the privilege of conversing with Keenan over a cup of tea and scones about some of the experiences that carved this album that we have come to love and enjoy.

Photo by: Vicky Lee Sheelongo

The Alchemy of Living has grown so much in the past year, it’s almost as though it mutates with time and your audience along with it. But I want you to take us back to when you first conceptualized this album. When did you start working on it and what sparked the urge to put this album together?

I don’t know. I have no recollection of it. For example, I can’t tell you when I started and finished working on Santa Theresa.

Santa Theresa sounds so tropical to me, I imagine you basking in the sun, cocktail in hand and music playing somewhere in the background. Am I accurate?

[laughs] Not even. I was a different Keenan back then, fresh out of Honours, when I first experienced Santa Teresa in 2018 but it wasn’t until recently that I came to understand the significance of that trip.

Let’s expand on that. What have you come to understand about the experience(s) that lead to Santa Theresa?

Well it was in Santa Teresa where I was introduced to the practice of meditation. The day before I visited Santa Teresa it was storming! I had never experienced a storm like that before, but at the same time it was so beautiful and refreshing. The rains were calming and it was there that I was introduced to meditation as an active participate. We walked up one mountain in the wee hours of the next morning to watch the sunrise and when we got to the top of the mountain, the facilitator, asked us to remove our shoes so we could be one with the soil. I love new experiences so I was happy to comply. To be still in the presence of nature and just listen is a wholesome experience. It was in that moment that I was reborn, even though I would only come to understand it years later. Thereafter, we went to one of the most beautiful waterfalls and true to my water nature, I was deep within the waters. I suppose that’s the experience that comes through as that tropical feel in the song.

Image by: Mishaal Gangaram

Did your spiritual journey start before, during, or because of The Alchemy of Living?

My spiritual journey started in 2017 although it was unbeknown to me at the time. As I delve deeper into The Alchemy of Living, the more I get to understand the meaning of the songs beyond the tune. Although my journey thus far cannot be encapsulated by The Alchemy, it has definitely been an integral part of my spiritual journey.

Given your reverence for Abdullah Ibrahim, the inclusion of The Mountain in your debut album is fitting. However, did you expect people to be so drawn to the song that it becomes a permanent feature in their morning rituals as much as it has?

I included The Mountain in the album because of what it had done for me. As a scholar, I considered the song under the guise of healing and music psychology.

Can you unpack that for us?

The longest cranial nerve in the human body is the vagus nerve. Any and every trauma implicates this nerve. We can heal this nerve by humming, and through humming we can start repairing; slowly though but still. My inclusion of The Mountain was to get people into the chants, through chanting we stimulate the vagus nerve and in so doing, we start repairing the damage done by the trauma we have experienced as a people.

Was that the same school of thought that birthed Healing?

Healing is a loaded song. It is me swimming against the tide, showcasing that there is no rigidity in creativity.

What are you healing from?

I am healing from a lot of things. The Alchemy has been instrumental in my healing journey but there is still more healing that needs to take place, for me and for us (as a people). Through this album I have been reintroduced to myself at a deeper level, I have come to appreciate the history of my people and I have accepted the call to heal the wounds of my ancestors so that I may be whole. The Alchemy of Living continues to bring forth new epiphanies to me about my life. When I compiled this body of work I was certain about what I was doing but I can’t say I fully understood the why. It is that why that continues to unfold before me.

Do you think there is room for The Alchemy of Living to be explored in a scholarly setting?

From a scholarly point of view, it could be considered under African Pianism which is a combination of traditional characteristics combined and placed inside a classical idiom or Western art idiom. If you listen to Healing you will notice that the homophony of it is very clinical which is something I learnt from my years of studying classical music. So if you are to consider such elements then yes there is room for The Alchemy of Living to be discussed and explored under the guise of African Pianism.

Photo by: Tatenda Chidora

Let’s talk Moonchild. How did your collaboration with Keorapetse Kolwane come about?

I first heard Keorapetse on Viwe Mkizwana’s album African Skies and I instantly loved her voice. So when I was working on Moonchild, I knew that only her voice would be able to capture the delicateness of the lyrics. I approached her, she agreed to collaborate, and that’s how Moonchild came to be as you know it.

You mention the delicateness of the lyrics to this song. Is Moonchild a love letter?

Yes it is. Moonchild is how I got to confess my love for you and you can’t fight it because it’s my art.

Since all your pieces are connected to people or experiences, who is Majoro and why does Majoro have a meditation?

Majoro is the person that catapulted me into my journey of self-discovery by asking me two simple questions which were ‘who am I’ and ‘where am I from’. At the time, I could not answer those questions with complete confidence and that got me thinking and searching for answers. This piece is my way of expressing my gratitude to Majoro.

Why did you choose a meditation to pay homage to Majoro?

Majoro’s Meditation is in the key of the heart chakra. It is a devotional piece that represents the fruits of a soul tie. With it, I invite the listener to encounter themselves and discover the wonderful truths that are seated in the story of their bones, waiting to be fed and given life again.

That is so profound. While I ponder on that for a moment, let’s talk about Komani.

Photo by: Andile Buka

Why did you choose Komani as your debut single?

I wanted my first offering as a professional musician to clearly articulate my musical identity. As much as Komani has a contemporary feel, it is also archaic. It is reminiscent and hospitable and that’s the overarching feeling that I wanted to imprint in people’s memory.

What is your musical identity?

I am a storyteller, an archivist, a re-interpreter and rememberer of music and the history of this country.

As we wrap up, my last question for you is: what would you like your album to do for the listener?

I hope that it will be a catalyst to them meeting God.

That was and continues to be my prayer for my work. I hope that through my music, people will come to know the Creator that created them. The intention of my music is to bring people into a space of being present, contemplative and still. It is in the stillness that prayers are answered because that is when you are in a state where you can listen and receive from God. Today I occupy spaces that 11-year-old Keenan playing on a broken piano during recess could only dream of. That, on its own is testament of the work of God in my life. The Alchemy of Living was my catalyst to communing with the Divine and I hope it can do the same for those who receive it.


The Alchemy of Living is for those who dare venture into their own darkness for the attainment of light, those who are brave to withstand and have withstood the drought of the soul; have endured spiritual barrenness and have kept the faith. It is for those who have lost and are lost, it is for those who need solace and an escape. More than anything, it is a reminder to myself that this gift, this calling on my life has been bestowed on me to share, so this is my offering and I invite you to make it yours. ~Keenan John Meyer~