South Africa's DAVE ORNELLAS came to Cross Rhythms '95 and blew everyone away with his blistering pop rock and praise. He was interviewed by Trevor Kirk.
I was full of good intentions about the things I wanted to do and the people I wanted to see at my first Cross Rhythms Festival. The only problem was, the Lord had other ideas. The very first place I went on the Friday morning was the worship tent, and I got blessed to bits by the ministry, testimony and songs of Dave Ornellas, his wife Loretta and his son and daughter Daniel and Beshara. I found myself throwing away my pre-planned schedule and went with them to a quiet spot (and any CR Fest veterans will know that there ain't many of those to be found) to have a chat. In fact, we ended up talking in Dave's car, he and I in the front seats, Loretta, Daniel and Beshara in the back! I was anxious to find out more about this guy with the gravely Joe Cocker-style voice and his gift of ministry through song.
First of all, family history. "I used to sing in a band called Jo'burg Hawk," said Dave. "We toured in England in 1973, we were with Charisma Records at that time, the same company who used to have Genesis and a few other big bands in their stable. But by 1976 things had got so bad -because being a rock musician and a family man doesn't really work, not if you're working for the Devil like I was! -that my family and I went our separate ways."
Loretta joined in the conversation: "We separated because of his lifestyle. He was into drugs and alcohol, really in bondage to all the things of the world, and I was just a sweet home-farm girl. I just couldn't take it because he'd gone back to the rock band and the children and I were living in Zimbabwe. I came down and thought we'd try and get it together for the children's sake, but when I saw him I thought, 'No, I can't do that.' Then I went with someone to a church meeting and got born again, radically born again, fell under the power and God gave it to me all at once. It was wonderful. And I said to Dave, 'I don't ever want you back again.' He couldn't believe it, because he'd believed in all sorts of things - he'd been into Buddhism, eastern religions, he stood on his head, he was a vegetarian, and all the time he'd been into those things I'd not believed any of it. So when I was born again he said to himself, there's got to be something in this.' He did some investigation and got born again as well! Since then, we've never looked back, it's been the most wonderful 20 years!"
I wondered what sort of attitudes the children had to all of this. "My dad's a wild man," said Daniel. "His hair's longer than mine! I think he's very relevant for young people and it's a pleasure and a privilege to be on the same stage as him. I don't think his music style is outdated in any way, I really enjoy playing with him and we all have a wonderful time together." "I feel the same way," said Beshara. "My mum and dad are very hip, very cool, we're very proud to have parents like them. They're the best in the whole wide world. Daniel and I have been away in the USA for a year and it's great to get back together again to sing together. I believe we've many more years of this ministry; our little brother and sister are six and I believe that they'll grow up and join us eventually and we'll just go on and on singing together, because my parents will never get old!"
The line up for the family is Dave on amplified acoustic guitar, Daniel on bass guitar, Loretta and Beshara (and occasionally Daniel) backing Dave's growling lead vocal. If it has to be categorised, call it amplified acoustic rock praise with an R&B attitude!
Dave told me that when he first began to play he sang hippy style stuff, with the songs of Bob Dylan very prominent. During his time with Jo'burg Hawk he wrote most of the material the band used. As for subject matter - "Mainly what I was feeling strongly about at the time! Ecology and all that sort of thing; don't kill our animals. But then once I was born again, after I had that radical experience with Jesus, my life was so changed I made a quality decision on my birthday (21st January 1976) and said, 'Lord, I've been living my life to please myself, now I'm gonna live my life to please you above myself.' I wrote a song straight away, called 'Signs Of The Times' all about having my life changed after giving it all to Jesus, and ever since I've been writing songs about Jesus. He's the one we're excited about and he's the one we write about, about our experiences with him, so it's wonderful. The children have kinda grown up with it, we used to get them up on the stage when they were small, and now they're both good musicians. Daniel with his bass guitar and Beshara's done a solo album of her songs, she's really singing well." How well I was soon to learn, as on Friday night in the Mega Tent one of the highlights for me was Dave and Daniel performing "Hearts Of The Sons", a song of reconciliation between a man and his son - "Just like my father before me, I never had much time for my son/I was so busy doing my own thing that I never saw the harm I had done" - and then from the son's viewpoint - "When my dad really needed a friend, I was out on the town/I was painting it red, but I could see by the look in his eye he was lonely..." Thank God, I prayed on the Sunday morning, that I have managed to avoid that sort of problem with my own son; in fact, he was there alongside me listening! Definitely Touched By That Song, me!
As a souvenir of our interview, Dave very graciously gave me his CD
'Plugged In', 15 tracks, nine written by Dave, and a few illustrious
names among the other six, including Alvin Slaughter, Tom Inglis and
Carman; appropriately, after hearing Dave's testimony, "Radically
Saved". Dave told me about some of the songs on the album. "Since
we've been born again we've done four albums, and this CD is a kind of
a sampler, 15 of our best songs, and I think it's a good cross section
of our music over the last 15 years. You'll find some of the African
songs like 'Building A Nation', that's my latest song. I wrote it
during the South African election time, when everyone was praying for
our country. We're so thankful for everybody in the United Kingdom for
praying for us during that time. We were left with absolutely no doubt
in our minds that God was very much a part of that whole election
process; the feeling of peace there was so awesome, it had to be God,
and 'Building A Nation' is all about that time. And the last two songs
in a medley called 'African Praise' are worship songs in the Zulu
language, 'Bayete Inkosi' which means 'I Salute You Lord', and
'Jabulani Afrika', a well-known South African song, which means
'Rejoice Africa'. Now we're singing it in England it's 'Jabulani
England', rejoice England, the Lord your God is risen upon you. It's