Nyte moves

S. Africa alt-rock pioneer finds his inner American

“I suffered music addiction from a pretty young age,” says Ashton Nyte, who performs a free show Saturday at the Highlands Taproom. The son of a travel agent, Nyte was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, but spent his formative musical years in Johannesburg listening ad infinitum to Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

“It’s probably the most vibrant place to be in South Africa; the closest equivalent of what New York is to the States in terms of musical melting pot,” he says. “There’s a lot going on there.”

He’s partially responsible: In 1995, Nyte formed The Awakening, a goth-rock group credited with introducing South Africa to alternative rock. The group’s fame spread thanks to a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence.”

With Nyte as principal songwriter and producer, The Awakening released nine albums, headlined the country’s largest alternative music festival, RAM Fest, and at the peak of its popularity, drew as many as 30,000 people for a single show. In 2001, in response to South Africa having the highest reported incidents of rape worldwide, Nyte organized the first of three Rock Against Rape concerts to benefit women’s rights groups.

On The Awakening’s inaugural U.S. tour in 2004, Nyte met his future wife in St. Louis. He moved there last year and is now a permanent resident, “what you need to be before you become a citizen,” he says.

He’s navigating U.S. immigration procedures on his own. “If you concentrate and do your research and fill in the 3,000 forms you need to fill in, you can avoid an attorney right now. It’s a lengthy process, but I’m getting there.”

Recorded in Johannesburg shortly before his move to the States, The Valley, Nyte’s fifth solo record, is a dusty postcard. Spare arrangements complement Nyte’s baritone, lending credence to his homeland title, “Johannesburg’s Bowie.” Overall, the record is more Man In Black than Ziggy.

“Musically, it’s the most American album I’ve made, in terms of my fascination with American music culture,” he says. “I wanted to create something that was sort of my version of an Americana/alt-country/lo-fi type of experience, partly because I’m coming from somewhere completely different, seeing with completely different eyes.”

He’ll be using that lens for some time. “In the past when I released solo albums, they ended up feeling like side projects, whereas with The Valley, I put everything on hold.”

Translation: The Awakening is on extended hiatus while Nyte devotes more time to solo work. And a side trip to Graceland in August with some friends from back home.

“We’re like kids in a candy store when we travel around the U.S., because growing up, it’s one of those mythical places that you finally get to visit.”

Ashton Nyte
Saturday, July 17
Highlands Taproom
1279 Bardstown Road • 459-BEER
Free; 9 p.m.