Born in Cape Town in 1961, Paul Hanmer began classical piano and theory lessons in 1970. After two years at the University of Cape Town studying for a B.Mus degree, Hanmer left to work with guitarist Paul Petersen, spending the next six years in various ‘top-40’ bands. In 1987 Hanmer moved to Johannesburg where he was influenced by bands such as Sakhile and Bayete.
In Johannesburg, Hanmer formed “Unofficial Language” with Ian Herman (percussion and drums) and Peter Sklair (electric bass). The trio recorded ‘primal steps’ in 1994, featuring Sklair’s song “Tender Mercies”, and a second album, “move moves” in 1996.
Hanmer has recorded with Tananas, Miriam Makeba, Ray Phiri, McCoy Mrubata and Pops Mohamed and formed part of Tony Cox’s ‘Cool Friction Band’ in 1996. In 1999 he performed and recorded with Sheer All Stars and produced Gloria Bosman’s debut album “Tranquillity”
Sheer Sound released Hanmer’s first album as a leader, Trains to Taung, in 1997. The album features Denis Lalouette, Jethro Shasha, Louis Mhlanga, Basi Mahlasela, Neil Ettridge and Andre Abrahamse. Since then he has recorded five more albums, Window to Elsewhere (1998), Playola (2000), Naivasha (2002), Water and Lights (2005) and Accused No 1: Nelson Mandela (2006). A duo album featuring Hanmer with McCoy Mrubata entitled “The Boswil Concert” was released in June 2011.
Hanmer has written a string quartet for the Sontonga Quartet and a clarinet quintet for Robert Pickup, principal clarinettist with the Zurich Opera. In addition he has composed a suite of duets for double bass and cello for Leon Bosch of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, completed three pieces for two tubas and accompanying instruments for Anne Jelle Visser of the Zurich Opera and Sérgio Carolino, principal tuba with the Oporto National Orchestra, and written two duets for violin and harp commissioned by Marc Uys.
Hanmer’s list of SAMRO commissions include “Elegy: 24 Maraisburg” for cello and piano, written especially for UNISA’s 2010 International String Competition, “Zimnastics for Gentlefolk” for viola and piano and “Yet Another Look” for violin and piano. In addition, he wrote “Trackways”, an orchestral song-setting of texts by Nils Aslak Valkeapää, for Gothenburg-based singer Eva Rune.
Hanmer recently completed “The Pilgrim”, a commission from Anne Jelle Visser for 2 tubas, piano and two percussionists and a piece for 2 tubas and 9 trombones entitled “The Breakfast Song” requested by Sérgio Carolino.
In February 2011, Hanmer’s clarinet quintet was performed in South Africa by Robert Pickup and the casalQuartet and his “Elegy: 24 Maraisburg” formed part of visiting Russian cellist Georgi Anichenko’s repertoire.
Pickup and cellist Peter Martens also premiered a new commission named “The Game Reserve Effect” in Cape Town in February 2011
Hanmer recently completed an orchestral commission from Miagi called “Halogram” to commemorate his 50th birthday, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of Gustav Mahler’s death.
In August and September 2011 Frank Mallows (vibraphone) and Magda de Vries (marimba) performed several concerts featuring a new commission for their duo entitled “Victoria-West”.
Occupying him at various points during 2011 and 2012 were several large-scale arrangements for chamber orchestra & rhythm section commissioned by Emmanuel Getaz for the “Viramundo” project – a documentary film and sound recording venture- as well as ‘live’ performances at the Market Theatre, Jhb (May 2011) and the Montreux Jazz Festival (July 2012) featuring Gilberto Gil with special guest Vusi Mahlasela, bassist Peter Sklair, the MIAGI Youth Orchestra, the Sinfonietta de Lausanne, etc.
Hanmer was selected as composer-in-residence for the 2012 Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, for which he composed a fantasy for flute and strings – Nightjar Breaks – as well as a triple concerto – Nachtroep – for trumpet/flugelhorn, violin, piano and strings.
Hanmer was also appointed conductor of the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band for 2012, which involved performances at the Grahamstown Arts Festival, the Joy of Jazz Festival, and 2 weeks of performances & workshops with young musicians in Sweden during September and October 2012.
He completed a single-movement work for large orchestra – Manga Manga-ung – in January 2013 and 7 Winter Episodes – a concerto for solo basset-horn and orchestra- in October 2013. The latter was commissioned by the Stiftung Künstlerhaus Boswil for the 2014 Winter Tour of the Youth Symphony orchestra of Aargau – with soloist Robert Pickup, conducted by Hugo Bollschweiler.
In addition, Hanmer completed a short work for horn and percussion duo – Die Dans Vannie Flaamse Flamma-Fink, commissioned by Katryn van Bergen (Oct 2013).
He continues to perform as often as he can with long-term collaborator McCoy Mrubata ) and recently performed with Mrubata and Carlo Mombelli in separate ‘cinema improvisando’ appearances at The Bioscope, providing improvised soundtracks to silent movies in an ongoing project devised by the artistic director of the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, Florian Uhlig.
Hanmer is spending more of his time writing music, often to commission. Most recently, he has been putting the finishing touches to a new quintet requested by Leon Bosch, which has been supported by a commission from SAMRO.
He hopes to record further projects with a ‘live’ improvisation outfit; vocalists Khanya Ceza and Eva Rune; Ian Herman and Peter Sklair of ‘unofficial language’; and McCoy Mrubata.
He continues to enjoy performing on acoustic piano, accompanied by other acoustic instruments, whenever he gets the opportunity.