Maqoma’s Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero Mourns Death Magnificently

 

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The memorable Cion conceived and choreographed by Gregory Maqoma

 CION: REQUIEM OF RAVEL’S BOLERO

Conceived and choreographed by: Gregory Maqoma

Creative input and rehearsal director: Gladys Aghulas

Music composed and directed by: Nhlanhla Mahlangu

Dancers: Vuyani Dance Theatre

Singers: Soweto Gospel Choir

Musical assistance: Xolisile Bongwana and Sbusiso Shozi

Costumes: Jacques van der Watt and Black Coffee

Set and technical direction: Oliver Hauser

Lighting: Mannie Manim

Sound: Ntuthuko Mbuyazi

Choir under direction of Bongani Ncube

Venue and Dates: Nelson Mandela Theatre until September 15

 

 

DIANE DE BEER

It is such a strange time in the world, with the arts perilously balanced with all the usual stumbling blocks. Add to that the decimation of arts writing on all the traditional platforms with nothing in its place – or where there is, no way for possible readers to find it.

With the result that everyone is battling to get their stories out there. I was at a National Theatre Live screening of The Lehman Trilogy with Sam Mendes directing Simon Russel Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles last week.

There were five people watching this majestic piece. No one I asked knew about the screening and I spoke and wrote about it because I love sharing the arts because of the impact it has on individual lives.

Hopefully similar things will not happen to Gregory Maqoma’s sublime Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, currently on at the Joburg Theatre until Sunday in celebration of the vibrant Vuyani Dance Theatre’s 20th anniversary.

In an amplified version (“death needs amplifying in the present circumstances,” says the choreographer) which starts with bone-chilling sobs drenched by shafts of sharp light from which the dancers emerge, the tone is set as the heartache of those sounds find solace in the rhythms of Ravel’s Boléro. As the dancers start moving as one, they sweep your emotions along.

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It is a mighty piece on multiple levels and even though it is inspired and based on two Zakes Mda books, Ways of Dying and Cion, the strength lies in  the complexity of the whole with the evocative lighting, the heightened sounds of the Soweto Gospel Choir as the dancers bring their own singing to create specific rhythms and textures, all contributing to the enormity of what Maqoma is dealing with.

Enveloped in this grief, the production is mesmerising and astonishing in its excellence. From Black Coffee’s costumes, the diversity of the music and the singing, the Ravel rhythms often suggested by the dancers’ clicking or tapping or a drumbeat, the melancholy and sometimes even merriment of the production are completely overwhelming in its brilliance.

We are living in a world that takes dying lightly. Just the last few days in our country underlines that in different ways. Gender-based abuse has again galvanised women to step out and shout while simultaneously a young man is being sentenced for raping a 7-year old girl in a toilet at a restaurant.

A young mother kills four of her children with rat poison and goes out partying.

Shops in both Joburg and Tshwane are set alight and burnt to the ground while politicians argue whether this is xenophobia or not. People are dying because they are hungry and the root causes are never addressed.

Schoolchildren fear for their safety at schools while others are kidnapped on their way or back home.

In the rest of the world, refugees are growing in numbers as they flee from their countries because of war or dictatorships and some are simply banished because they’re not wanted. “We are forced into mourning,” says Maqoma who tells the story in the way he best knows how.

And yet failed leaders are mourned in their death and feted while their people suffer and eventually flee their land.

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Scenery and lighting extraordinaire

It is against this backdrop that Maqoma creates a visual spectacle that grabs you tightly around the throat and never lets go. The dancers move, en masse it feels, yet are given individual moments, from Afro fusion to a nod to the classics but in contemporary and fast- changing style, everyone on stage is celebrated and contributes to hold their audience in complete awe.

The beauty, the execution, the quality and excellence unfolding underline the talent of our artists who are out there fighting and creating on their own. If this is what they achieve while struggling, the heights they could reach are staggering.

But that is the world of the artist. He can’t help himself. As Maqoma suggests, with individuals who are daily running the Vuyani Dance Theatre, he has been encouraged and allowed to dream, which he fortunately does on grand scale. He doesn’t hold back and does it the only way he knows how

There are only five performances left. It’s one of those landmark theatrical experiences which is on its way to London to be staged during the Dance Umbrella festival at the Barbican. Those performances will be packed and so should they be back home.

It’s accessible, the music is mindblowing and Gregory Maqoma’s talent and collaboration genius should be witnessed again and again. His artistry is recognised internationally but he insists on staying and performing at home.

I am eternally grateful. Seeing Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, not once but twice, has been a theatrical miracle.

 

 

Little Nataniël Waltzes With Giants

If you know Nataniël, you won’t be able to resist his latest season. If you don’t, DIANE DE BEER coaxed him to share the story of his upcoming show:

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The title alone will stop you in your tracks: When Giants Waltz – 12 Monumental Concerts by Little Nataniël.

But that has always been his power – getting you to gasp – at his costumes, his words, his gestures – or simply the spectacular staging of his shows.

Not this time says the performer – but we won’t quite take his word for it.

The title dictates that the costumes will be monumental – and that is where he starts – always with the way he looks when on stage.

 Singer, songwriter and storyteller Nataniël returns to the Theatre of Marcellus for his 17th production at Emperors Palace after a year’s sabbatical. This latest creation will first be staged at Artscape, one of his favourite theatres, from September 10, with a smaller band but the same set, props and costumes as well as script to be presented as 12 concerts from October 4 to 27,  Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm.

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A typical Nataniël year consists of three original stage productions, one at Artscape, one at Emperors Palace and one at the Atterbury Theatre. The rest of the year is filled with numerous concert tours.

These concerts (“the friendly shows”) are as structured and detailed as all his work, but allow him more freedom for improvisation and informal banter. For the first time he will present this format at Artscape and Emperors Palace.

And as a bonus, there will be as many costume changes as he can manage! With the show title as an example, he is going grand and gigantic. “Expect them to be epic,” he says. “I can hardly move them. Every time I do, I find myself with a sleeve in my hand.”

Last year’s sabbatical (only from the grandly staged shows) obviously gave him the chance to reassess. He believes audiences prefer his solo stories rather than a single story told from the beginning to end of the show.

This also gives him more time to play around, allows for a mini-sermon slipped in at some stage which also gives you a measure of where his head is at for the moment – always a bonus.

But then the title should do that too, he explains. “When giants waltz, the earth moves. Apparently,” he says, “size does matter!”

“As far back as your childhood, everything is a battle between big and small. This is my chance to lead a well-dressed rebellion against institutions. I despise any structure that involves a boardroom. Some people, however, will be victims of this stupidity.”

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If all of this simply sounds too serious, don’t fear, the shows are focused on entertainment yet “from a pedestal of profound values and issues,” he says with what may to some sound like a heavy heart.

“It’s fun from beginning to end. If we can’t have fun in this mess …” And if anyone can turn the prediction of the end of the world into something hilarious, Nataniël is your man.

The way he thought about this season was to start with a costume that he imagined as the outfit he would wear at the last ball held on the Titanic!

Staged with his trademark stylish lighting, he has visualised this concert as a series of portraits. It reminds him of those tableaux from a time, long, long ago when photography was in its infancy. “It will hopefully remind people of paging through an album,” he suggests. “When the lights go on, everything stops on stage! In the dark, out of sight, is when everything happens,” he notes. “During the blackouts we move.”

With his stories, he isn’t only comparing big versus small, but also the constant struggle between the indestructible and the threatened, the always present war between the individual and the establishment, and the exhausting debate between the political and the intelligent.

Nataniël performs music from an endless catalogue of blues and jazz evergreens, pop classics and original songs.

This time even the music has been simplified and made as accessible as he knows how.

And no more choreography. While some will miss those quirky hops, skips and jumps so beautifully executed with often military precision, he feels as if someone has handed him his freedom. “I would panic through every show that I would forget my steps,” he explained. “Why did I do that all these years? What was I thinking?”

He shares the stage with his brilliant band led by Charl du Plessis (keyboards), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Brendan Ross (keyboards, saxophone and vocals), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums), and on vocals, Dihan Slabbert and Nicolaas Swart.

The minimalist set (notwithstanding the multitude of props) will be complemented by another collection of extraordinary costumes created by Floris Louw, Nataniël’s award-winning designer of the past 18 years.

Describing this as a concert for the connoisseur, he never fails to entertain. His stories and songs, the staging and the costumes, when they all come together – that’s showbiz, and perfect for these tough times.

Cds, dvds, books (including his brand new book – a memoir in Afrikaans and English), ceramics and products from Nataniël’s lifestyle range will be available at all performances.

*Artscape, Cape Town; September 10 to 15.

*Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace; October 4 to 27, 2019

Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

12 concerts only; 90 minutes long; no interval; no cellphones, sandals or shorts; no children under 15.

 

Bookings at Computicket.

 

 

Choreographer/Dancer Gregory Maqoma and Vuyani Dance Theatre Celebrate 20 Years, Spotlighting Zakes Mda’s Cion

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A scene from Cion ©Siphosihle-Mkhwanazi

Choreographer/dancer Gregory Maqoma and the Vuyani Dance Theatre are celebrating 20 years in the contemporary dance sphere in South Africa and abroad. DIANE DE BEER speaks to him about a reworked Cion, the piece he has selected to showcase their accomplishments in the Nelson Mandela Theatre from September 5 to 15:

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Gregory Maqoma in Cion

 

“I’ve just kept working,” says the explosive driving force behind Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT), founder and creative director Gregory Maqoma, when reminiscing about the achievement of their 20th anniversary celebration with the already celebrated Cion at the Joburg Theatre starting on September 5.

Five years ago, the company celebrated with Full Moon which dance critic Adrienne Sichel lauded as “flights of conceptual fancy, wrapped around a creation myth, tap into South Africa’s diverse dance lineage ranging from classical ballet to contemporary African dance.

“Maqoma’s aesthetic plumage and Afro-classicism don’t ignore the Odette/Odile legacy but neither does he forget Africa’s ornithology.”

At that time, they didn’t have any backing, and not much has changed since. “It hasn’t been easy,” says the softly spoken Maqoma but argues that it speaks to their resilience. Then they were looking at their 15-year achievement, already a major feat for a local contemporary dance company, but this time round it’s #Vuyani20 and for the future, #ShapingTheNext20.

As they have done in the past, when it seems like too much of a struggle, they simply go bigger. And that’s not only into the future but also with what seemed to many the perfect production. For these current festivities, Maqoma has decided to amplify Cion because he believes that in current circumstances, death needs amplifying.

He is doing this by adding dancers as well as voices – and no less than the Soweto Gospel Choir – to this extraordinary performance. “It’s about legacy,” he says proudly.

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He points to their future and a combined invitation from “Sadler Wells, Theatre de la Ville and a Dutch company for performances of four shows two years hence.” That’s the luxury that he knows dancers in South Africa seldom have. “It gives us two years to just think,” he says. It also brings financial muscle and support, something that is sadly missing at home.

“We need acknowledgement of the spaces we find, as well as support and marketing,” he adds almost mournfully.

Everything happens here with little rehearsal time and much ingenuity as audiences can witness in the reworked Cion. That’s the way they roll. It’s not that he doesn’t speak loudly when given the opportunity, but from government they have had few favours.

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Cion

Artists/directors like James Ngcobo and Idris Elba (whose currently running production Tree Maqoma has just choreographed) know what the man is capable of and so do international audiences. But fortunately, Maqoma keeps coming home. This is where he dances and teaches with the company whose trainees will also be participating in the pulsating production on the Nelson Mandela stage in September.

His work has always been about challenging a Eurocentric way of structuring and to give it a contemporary African edge – with conviction – while at the same time honouring black artists. “We want to take control of our own craft,” he says. “It’s about validity.” And the fact that he should still be seeking that at this time, says so much about the world we live in.

If anything, Cion is proof of so much more than that.

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Gregory Maqoma (front) in Cion

 

When it was first performed at the Market Theatre in 2017, he explained the creation thus: “I am drawn to Zakes Mda’s character Toloki the professional mourner from his beloved Ways of Dying as he further uncovers in his book Cion the story of the runaway slaves.

“In my interpretation, Toloki rediscovers death in a modern context, inspired by the universal events that lead to death, not as a natural phenomenon but by decisions of others over the other. We mourn death by creating death.

“The universe of greed, power, religion has led us to be professional mourners who transform the horror of death and the pain of mourning into a narrative that questions what seems to be normalised and far more brutal in how we experience death and immigration.

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“I am creating this work as a lament, a requiem required to awaken a part of us, the connection to the departed souls.”

And about that first season: nothing prepares you for the performance by Maqoma who has gathered a group of dancers, musicians and singers who mourn death in a way that both embraces and expunges the horrors of this world.

“From the design to the dance to the magnificent music and singing, Maqoma transports you to a place of healing by tearing the horror apart – step by step, note by note.

“If you ever see Cion is being performed anywhere, don’t hesitate, just go. It’s world class and feeds the soul.”

That’s what I wrote two years ago and that’s why it’s thrilling that he has decided to stage this majestic work at this particular time. If you see anything this year, it should be this.

Maqoma’s whole life has been about pushing boundaries and acknowledging himself and the company. “No more gatekeepers,” is his rallying cry.

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In full flow, Gregory Maqoma in Cion with singers in the background

And even though he laments the lack of support in a larger sense, he feels blessed for the support he has in the company. “I’ve been able to step away from the day-to-day running,” he explains. That gives him the luxury of time to sleep, to strategise and to dream. It also means he can make all of those a reality.

Vuyai Dance Theatre has become a machine that can function without his daily attention – and that, more than anything gives him great joy.

When he talks about going bigger, their first step towards #ShapingTheNext20 is to start laying the bricks for their own building. “If we’re able to cross borders, what is stopping us to lay those first bricks in our own country? We are fighting for our own space.”

In conclusion, he declares that he has been pushed post-apartheid to recognise the many atrocities including the senseless killings at Marikana – hence Cion. “It needs a strong push,” he exclaims, “we need to raise questions and we need to be loud.”

Government-funded art centres have not embraced their own he feels, and any plea from artists is landing on deaf ears. In the coming years apart from building VDT and working towards further success, he will also be developing a curriculum as a training institution and documenting the choreographic methodology of his and fellow choreographer Vincent Mantsoe’s work which will establish their own technique internationally.

It’s all about ownership, ownership, ownership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sima Mashazi Makes Whoopee with the Music of Mama Africa – Miriam Makeba

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Simangele Mashazi celebrating the life and music of the legendary Miriam Makeba

A show celebrating the life and music of the legendary Miriam Makeba, My Miriam Makeba Story, will be presented in Gauteng this weekend by Sima Mashazi accompanied by Cape Jazz pianist/composer and musical director, Ramon Alexander. Having seen the show and encouraging you to go, DIANE DE BEER gives some background on the performer:

Her first interpretation of Miriam Makeba was  in the first musical about Mama Africa  a few years back (touring US and SA), which deepened Sima’s admiration for Makeba’s music and the woman behind it.

Sharing the themes in her music and life that touched her and bear similarities to her own journey, this first solo show followed. She includes songs of her own that relate to Makeba’s story and pays tribute to an historical figure who spoke truth through her lyrics and gave hope to so many, amidst her own struggles.

Rising star, says the press release and because I had first experienced her and this solo show at this year’s Klein Karoo Arts Festival, I asked her about this particular status.

She is better known in the Cape, that’s where she lives and performs now, but is hoping to change all that with these two Gauteng performances (see dates and venues below).

“That’s an interesting label. I’ve been at this for some time so in that sense I’m not brand new to music. However, to say I’m not rising, might means that I have arrived and I’m far from that. There are so many milestones to reach still, so much growth still happen, so much work to still be done. I really do hope to keep rising, “ is how the singer who was nominated as Best Solo Artist (US Woordfees 2018) for her performance in this show and then walked off with the Kanna Award for Best Music Production earlier this year.

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When you look at the list of festivals she performed this show, she worked the circuit and must have made her mark with those audiences. And she certainly is worth listening to.

Aside from having heard her music growing up, her journey with Makeba began when she got the role of the young Miriam Makeba in a musical about her life called Mama Africa  – The Musical in 2016-2017.  “I rediscovered some of my favourite music and discovered music I hadn’t heard before. I also understood her life better and a whole new appreciation of her and her work grew in me,” she says.

“It has been an amazing experience portraying her and I have learned so much about her that I didn’t know,” Sima says. “I love how she used her voice to speak the truth of her reality and instigate change”.

While their life journeys are not similar, there are some things that she, like many others, can relate to. “A journey as a young black woman in music, a journey made possible because people like her paved the way,” she says.

“Experiences of loss in my own life that hit me hard and reverberated when I had to portray hers in the musical,” she explains. “I found it overwhelming to imagine how she endured it all on top of the grief of being exiled from her country.”

In her research, she read more about Makeba’s life and connected to her as a person with aspirations, fears and everything else that makes us human. “Instead of only seeing the formidable icon I was inspired to believe that I can be extraordinary in spite of what I experience as my human inadequacies.”

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Sima Mashazi

Sima’s childhood was filled with music. She grew up in Newcastle and was born into a family that sings. “Singing together as a family is one of the experiences in life I hold the dearest. Throughout my preschool, primary and high school life I could consistently be described as the girl who sings.”

She later moved to Stellenbosch to join a small music school . “I’m not sure what I thought my plan was but in Stellenbosch I met some of the people I work with even today, like Ramon (a jazz phenomenon) and started what I now call a career in music.”

Since that initial start, she has grown from the young, inexperienced girl who first met her accompanist/director who she regards as her mentor, to someone who is richer, more versatile.

“He is one of those people who believes in me even when I don’t see my own potential. When I met him, I was this young girl with talent and very little experience. He introduced me to jazz among other things. He opened my eyes to what’s out there and taught me so much and after roughly 10 years, I’m still learning from him,” she says with obvious admiration – as she should.

They complement each other in astonishing ways which gives the performance a wonderful edge.

“I came to recognise that I too have things to say, and I started and continue to grow my identity as a songwriter. I released two singles in 2017 (Bashadile and I still miss you) available on I-tunes and other online platforms. I also perform these two songs in the show.” As well as some of Makeba’s more familiar and perhaps less well known songs.

“While doing this particular show, there are other aspects of myself as performer that I’ve discovered, like storytelling, and I would like to grow further into that as well,” she says.

And exploring her future she explains that one of her passions is academia, linguistics in particular.

“I look at different aspects of language in society and factors like multilingualism. Music was my gateway and attempting to engage with people in their own language is a special gift we can all offer to each other. Even in the smallest gesture like a greeting, it means a lot to people. It says ‘I see you and you matter’”

“My next thoughts are towards making these two worlds merge in a complementary way (don’t’ ask me how just yet). These are messages that the arts convey better than even the best academic paper I could write.”

Amen – as long as it keeps her performing, telling her stories and singing with that magnificent voice. She’s a real force.

 

 

Performances in Gauteng on the weekend:

July 13: Pierneef Teater, Mogg Avenue, Villiera, Pretoria

Doors Open: 6pm; Show Starts: 7pm

Ticket Price: R140 (Adults), R130 (Pensioners & Children)

Bookings: 012 329 0709 / Info@Pierneefteater.Co.Za

 

July 14: Foxwood Theatre @ Foxwood House, 13 5th Street, Houghton Estate, Johannesburg

Doors Open: 2.30pm; Show Starts: 3pm

Ticket Price: R150

Bookings: 082 712 5680 / Theatre@Foxwood.Co.Za

Lunch Available at additional R180pp. Booking Essential

 

A Perfect Night to Catch The Music

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The gang from The Buckfever Underground with Toast Coetzer responsible for the spoken word.

Diane be Beer

 

What does one do on an Easter Sunday night in Tshwane?

The city is empty – ish. Of those left, most are doing the family thing and then an unexpected house concert is announced in Rietondale.

Journalist/editor Marguerite Robinson is hosting the affair and The Buckfever Underground (with SkreeAlleen for this leg of the trip), would turn up and around in Tshwane for the final leg of their most recent tour.

Timing was perfect and even if the weather promised to deliver a storm, it was one of those nights where the wind lights up for a brief moment and then disappears. The rest of the evening had signs of the winter chill but nothing too hectic and under a large avocado tree in a quiet suburb, a group of music/poetry enthusiasts turned up with their chairs, cushions, snacks and wine for an evening interlude of poetic musical bliss.

Vocalist/performer Toast Coetzer (with Stephen Timms on drums, Michael Currin on guitar and guest artist, Gerhard Barnard, on bass, previously from Brixton Moord en Roof) calls Buckfever a random spoken word band which captures it best, but without thinking too much about it, their performance was perfect for that particular night on that particular weekend.

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Producer Giep van Zyl in charge of the lights.

While gathering around, fairy lights were being added for festive effect and someone was heard murmuring about sound checks which might be more effective. But none of this had any impact and the lights brought magic and lightness while the sound was perfection – under the night skies.

Art was the genie on the night, a random night with a random band but nothing about the spoken word or the underpinning experimental music was any of that. It was balm at the start of a chilly season, had everyone smiling, gasping and simply listening to the random yet thoughtful words held by music that seemed to attach to those thoughts and prevent them from flying off without just some space to linger a little longer.

It is about what takes our hearts and minds a’wandering, how these sentences strung together in simplicity but also words selected with care and cunning, allow us to view things anew, from a different stance or simply just to listen and allow them to wash over you.

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SkreeAlleen

Artists at work are always a sight to behold and on this particular night it started with SkreeAlleen (Willem Samuel), a  guitarist/songwriter whose name captures his style with an offhand charm and embracing style which does its own special thing under a tree in a suburb somewhere on a Sunday night. His songs on the night were mostly around the theme of love – whether lost or found or simply explored.

But then to taking on a completely different rhythm, dominated and determined by both voice and  music, The Buckfever Underground get rocking, gently, while Toast Coetzer speaks in words that sometimes sing, at others sting or stupefies and stuns – all of these.

If on a night you slip into a chair and listen to a solo performer and a random spoken word band, neither of which you know, it is especially meaningful to listen, the be given the glimpse of the minds of others, to catch something as offbeat as a protest smart phone song reminiscent of Johannes Kerkorrel’s Sit Dit Af which was more personal because he was referring to PW on the TV – or was it. Smart phones are as invasive, persistent and sustained as politicians selling their usually self-serving wares. The more things change, they say…

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Captivated by the music.

Fortunately everyone listening would have attached their own thoughts to the Coetzer lyrics – as poetry often does, it allows for that, almost like slipping down a rabbit’s warren.

Luckily that’s not all the night was about. It reminded one of how easily one can escape in the arts, how it takes you off and away and how hard artists have to work, just to make a buck – and hardly living.

But these talented performers all have many strings to their bow, and probably the musical one is also their escape. After all, The Buckfever Underground is celebrating 20 years and they would be doing this for love rather than money.

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Chef Hennie Fisher’s brilliant garden picnic food

That’s what artists do. They put their wares out there for you to catch if you can. And like on Sunday night, we were the blessed ones.

Catch their final show in Darling on Freedom Day or check them on the internet if you don’t know them. They’re quite something.

Here’s to another 20!

 

The Arts Show Us The Way – Joyously

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The Voice SA with Riana Nel, Ricky Rick, Lira and Francois van Coke.

There is so much to celebrate when we consider our country and our people and the arts have a huge role to play says DIANE DE BEER:

 

Watching the first season of The Voice SA some time back, the overwhelming feeling was surprise at how specifically the format impacted this country.

It wasn’t that race or colour was an issue, it was precisely because it was taken out of the equation, with the judges turning their backs on singers vying for contestant status, that the magic happened and just kept rolling in.

With this current season and a change of judges with an unexpected dynamic, the impact seems even more emotionally driven. Lira is the only one from the first round and she is joined by Ricky Rick, Riana Nel and Francois van Coke. The fact that she speaks Afrikaans adds another dimension, but it could just as well have been Riana speaking Zulu, a similar impact would have occurred. As South Africans we know these cross-cultural exchanges are still too rare and always hugely appreciated and acknowledged.

The audience shows that all the time and just seeing South Africans come together with such gusto is such a treat – especially now. It’s a reminder of who we are which isn’t always the message out there.

I haven’t calculated or counted but it feels as if the majority of contestants are either of colour or Afrikaans-speaking and that also makes for some fascinating stereotypes biting the dust. And the reaction of the judges as well as the audience which is as mixed as it should be, reflects the importance of reconciliation – still.

There’s huge reaction when a black contestant for example translates a popular Afrikaans song into Zulu because she loved the song but didn’t understand the lyrics, or when a prospective contestant chooses a judge and that choice seems at odds with their race. When someone singing in Afrikaans for example, goes for Ricky who doesn’t understand their home language, it is powerful in the context of our country. And then Francois van Coke remarks on the lyrics of a Zulu song obviously understanding the language. It’s lekker!

Mentioned in any other context, all of this would be difficult to understand, but in a country with our past, small gestures still have massive impact and what should be expected is still unexpected. Yet the goodwill is overwhelming and in our current climate of political chaos and upheaval, like a breath of fresh air on a Sunday night.

When people are in a creative space and left to their own devices, it seems to result in only good things even when there’s a competitive edge. Especially in this country where the arts had such impact during the struggle years, we should not be surprised by the healing impact that is possible even in these random spaces.

Hugh Masekela used to say that white people were also deprived during the apartheid years because they were cut off from the creativity of most of their countrymen and when you listen to the music and how it is interpreted by different language groups and the impact that has on everyone, it reinforces the strength of diversity. Music in all its different forms (like sport) is a universal language which is again so clear as this one plays out.

It’s such a neutral space for people to come together to play and that’s where South Africans show how their diversity comes together powerfully and why people are truly the strength of this country. When we get together and embrace, we can truly be proudly South African – and are.

The arts are in dire straits in this country because funding has been impossible in these dire times. Yet even with these odds, artists will find a way to perform and get the message out there. That’s also in spite of arts coverage which has dwindled disastrously in traditional media. So strange that because I would have thought especially die-hard newspaper readers would want more of that.

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Rooilug with Jefferson Dirks-Korkee Picture: Retha Ferguson

Watching two recent performances from two young coloured men at consecutive Afrikaans art festivals, both dealing with what felt like very personal stories if not of them individually, from the community or perhaps both, the power of storytelling and eventual healing for both performer and audiences was rewarding.

Both Jefferson J Dirks-Korkee with his luminous Rooilug at the US Woordfees and Carlo Daniels with the innovative Klippies van die Grond at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) announced their strong presence in this artistic space with stories that were self-written or with some help.

The talent though was evident in these two young men who entered a world outside their comfort zone, though one that had flung open its arms to encourage new voices from a wider South African community to tell their stories. This is how we get to know and understand one another. That’s always been the most positive strength of the arts in this country.

It is in our stories that we find common ground and empathy for the other’s circumstances. That’s what especially these Afrikaans festivals have done almost unwittingly. Because there’s a real desire (growing stronger in this past decade) to be inclusive, people get to hear from one another and more often than not, it is the similarities rather than the differences that come into play. But it is also the chance to acknowledge the humanity in us all that adds to the insight.

Living in a country so fraught with racial inequality – still – where one group remains empowered to a much greater degree than another, it is in the arts where we can stand still, tell our stories, reach out and start understanding and embracing the lives of others.

Embracing diversity is not encouraged in our world today, but our past has handed us some insight and the gift of understanding how easy it is to turn our backs but how rewarding it is to celebrate the diversity.

With yet another Freedom Day on the horizon, it’s about time.

Viva the Arts Viva!

 

 

 

 

2019 US Woordfees Meets Expectation with Excitement and Exploration

Samson picture by Nardus Engelbrecht
Brett Bailey’s spectacular Samson Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht

DIANE DE BEER

 

When a festival in these lean times boasts two productions the scale of the Marthinus Basson-directed MI(SA) and Brett Bailey’s Samson, there’s a certain expectation and excitement attached to the execution.

And the performances were no let-down. But it’ s also the magnitude of the input from many and on different levels to produce these shows that’s humbling.

Economics prohibit more work on this scale, especially as many of these shows don’t have a future because of costs, which makes a Bailey production, the first time at the Woordfees, so extraordinary.

MI(SA)4
Marthinus Basson’s luminous MI(SA) Picture: Retha Ferguson

MI(SA), for example, was the brainchild of the CEO of the National Afrikaans Theatre Initiative (NATi) Cornelia Faasen, who initiated (and sponsored with Woordfees and Suidoosterfees) the production, which included the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Missa Luba, the Argentinean Misa Criolla and a new work by South African composer Antoni Schonken with a text Die Nuwe Verbond – ‘n misorde vir die universum by Antjie Krog.

That’s quite a mouthful, also to watch and experience, but so beautifully conceived and executed with a brilliant creative team from design to choreography to a choir who worked tirelessly to perform not only one but three different compositions in the same concert – which is what turned this into such a special encounter.

The nature of an arts festival isn’t always ideal for spectacle or pieces that ask much, but without them, it would disintegrate into a popcorn affair which would leave many dissatisfied. One simply has to bite the bullet to reap the rewards. And this was how I experienced this one.

I am a music lover rather than someone with the knowledge to review/critique but often in these instances, I think it adds rather than detracts from the experience. Listening to those who know their music discuss the merits of the production, there was both apprehension and certainty in equal measure, but I wallowed in the three different approaches, the rhythms, the instruments, the choreography by Ina Wichterich and Sifiso Kweyama (including a contortionist telling a compelling visual story in a completely different medium), Amanda Strydom who has done the Criolla before and with her distinctive tones could also recite Krog’s inventive text, the courageous choir, the soulful soloists and the splendid orchestra, who all contributed to something special.

I would have liked a second viewing, once was perhaps just too expansive to take it all in, but what was there to be absorbed was the perfect start to an arts festival. It will be performed again at the Suidoosterfees on April 28 at 2pm at Artscape.

And with Brett Bailey the conclusion, who could have asked for more. In typical fashion while describing the whole process in the festival paper, he also said in a discussion after the first show that he settled on Samson as the story because of the Pointer Sisters’ song Fire and he starts singing Well, Romeo and Juliet, Samson and Delilah…

But that’s Bailey who puts on a show with such fire that at first viewing one can’t help burning up. It took a second viewing, a luxury at an arts festival, to take in the full scale of this massive production. It can be overwhelming but once you sit back and allow the story to unfold with everything available; a compelling narrator, a brilliantly animated backdrop, actors/dancers/singers, music and musicians, in typical Bailey fashion, it’s all there as  he deals with a dysfunctional and destructive world in a way that tears at your heart.

It’s going to the National Arts Festival where most of his works have been shown locally. If you’re going feel blessed and book now.

Stof picture Retha Ferguson
Stof with James Cairns Picture: Retha Ferguson

Apart from these two superstars, Basson and Bailey, the festival also showcased some feverish solo productions from both experienced and young performers; James Cairns cleverly translating his Nick Warren text Dirt to Stof and thus finding a new audience in his faultless Afrikaans, directed by the innovative Jenine Collocott who also guided the bubbly Babbelagtig;

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Johnny Boskak with Craig Morris Picture: Retha Ferguson

Craig Morris who returned with old favourite Johnny Boskak (which he has also translated into Afrikaans for Oudtshoorn’s KKNK this week) and proves that a good performance will make a play last forever;

Rooilug picture Retha Ferguson
Rooilug with Jefferson Dirks-Korkee Picture: Retha Ferguson

and a new voice from Jefferson J Dirks-Korkee with Rooilug, an authentic tale of abuse and a performance of endearing charm.

Tien Duisend Ton picture Retha Ferguson
Tien Duisend Ton with Cintaine Schutte and Albert Pretorius Picture Retha Ferguson

Two-handers also held sway with Cintaine Schutte (opposite Albert Pretorius as the perfect foil) giving an astounding performance that leaves one breathless in the Nico Scheepers directed Tien Duisend Ton;

Die Road Trip met Brendon Daniels and Waldemar Schultz picture Retha Ferguson1
Die Road Trip with Brendon Daniels and Waldemar Schultz Picture; Retha Ferguson

with Brendon Daniels and Waldemar Schultz strikingly coming together in Die Road Trip, a festival winner with a clever text and a buddy theme that never alienates women, quite a rare thing. Both will be on show at the KKNK.

The other big production hitting hard was Sylvaine Strike’s magnificent vision of Beckett’s Endgame, never an easy text to engage with or execute. But with a blindingly brilliant performance by Andrew Buckland as Homm, the seriously silly adjutant played by Rob van Vuuren, as well as the hysterical Antoinette Kellerman and Soli Philander whose exquisite hands do most of the expressive talking, it was mesmerising in visual and emotional context.

Toutjies en Ferreira
Toutjies en Ferreira

Saartjie Botha’s Toutjies and Ferreira arrived with big-time Fiësta accolades in what could almost be described as a double bill, so different are the two halves. They’re even directed by different directors with Nicole Holm in charge of the first madcap backstage romp, while Wolfie Britz pretty much plays himself in that and then directs the emotionally charged stage show starring a luminous Frank Opperman and Joanie Combrink as parents who are packing up the belongings of their recently immigrated last child.

Two others are already settled in different countries with Combrink’s character confessing that they have children and grand-children on four continents. It’s an emotional rollercoaster with Kellerman’s director proclaiming madly that the theatre cannot exist without ladders, all of which flows into the loss of grieving parents unable to see that other avenues could make their load lighter.

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Die Gangsters Picture: Natalie Gabriels

Marthinus Basson describes Die Gangsters as one of his favourite productions giving a nod to the writer, Dr Ben Dehaeck. The piece was first performed at the Breughel Theatre in Cloetesville in memory of the inspired theatre maker and teacher, and now two years later it has returned with new life and an ensemble cast who sparkle and shine as they take ownership of a story with great gusto. Audiences responded in large numbers and the piece blossomed with creativity and cunning performances.

Katvoet Foto Nardus Engelbrecht 3
Katvoet with Tinarie van Wyk-Loots Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht

Unfortunately, at art festivals, some productions are too big to see at the first performance and yet, the programme is so hectic, there’s no other option. Everything about Katvoet excited me about the prospect of witnessing another performance at the KKNK, which I will do. It starts with the robust adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Nico Scheepers and a cast featuring Marius Weyers (Big Daddy) and Marion Holm (Big Mama) as the battling parents, Tinarie van Wyk-Loots as Maggie, Laudo Liebenberg (Boela), Albert Pretorius (Buffel) and Martelize Kolver (his wife Jollie).

Adapting and reimagining a classic is a tough ask, but here it is viewed from a new and younger perspective with less angst about the prescriptions, which offers different insights.

It was an exciting theatrical selection but that’s just some of what was on offer at a festival which started out celebrating books. It still does that while embracing the full spectrum of the arts wholeheartedly. It’s become one of our most important festivals not only because it is based in and attached to a university (although that helps) but also because of the spirited leadership of Saartjie Botha who is constantly pushing the envelope while ignoring the parameters.

That’s what the arts should be – a platform for all artists.

Uit Die Bloute Hits All The Right Notes

DIANE DE BEER

Bloute In Paly Paul du Toit and Jenna Dunster
Paul du Toit and Jenna Dunster in Uit die Bloute

 

UIT DIE BLOUTE

DIRECTOR: Henriëtta Gryffenberg

CAST: Paul du Toit (actor), Jenna Dunster (actress), Leon Ecroignard (bass guitar), Jahn Beukes (percussion), Lizanne Barnard (keyboard), Pyjama Shark (acoustic and electric guitar)

TEXT: Adapted from two Eugène Marais stories

MUSIC: Lizanne Barnard

CHOREOGRAPHY: Ignatius van Heerden

PLACE: Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria

This latest production reminds those of us who saw the original show just why it is such a special production. It’s innovative, playful, imaginative, dramatic and as a bonus, has a sensational soundtrack.

It also has a warm heartbeat at its centre. Du Toit and Dunster are two young actors who might not have been the obvious choice and that especially makes it exciting. It’s about the unexpected which suits the piece.

With a text magnificently adapted from Marais’s much-loved Die Lied van die Reën and Salas Y Gomez, an unusual story of struggle for what is precious to you, this is  a performance that is delightful in its presentation of both the remarkable words and the addictive music.

Bloute with Paul du Toit and musos Lizanne Barnard and son
Paul du Toit and musos Lizanne Barnard and son Pyjama Shark in the background

The music/percussion sets the tone with its African slant which also bleeds into the percussive use of emotions from a knock at the door to a sudden movement exaggerated by clever use of a rhythm or a beat. This group of musicians is something special, starting with Barnard who has taken her compositions of 11 Marais poems and contemporised them with African and sounds and rhythms, so perfectly suited to the Marais words in both the poetry and the storytelling. She has also done three new compositions for Skoppensboer, Dieprivier and Eonone.

Bringing much of this to life is percussion genius Beukes with the help of the wacky Ecroignard, who adds to the depth and playfulness with the contemporary edge of the production pushed brilliantly by Barnard on keyboards and Shark on acoustic and electric guitar. They build a musical landscape that holds the production while adding detail while brightly colouring the edges. Then there are the songs beautifully interpreted and sung by Barnard with the depth of male voices introducing even more texture. I’m hoping for a CD.

Telling the stories, Du Toit and Dunster are energetic and enthusiastic as they embrace the performance gymnastics with gusto. It’s never easy when you have such a rich text to combine that with clever choreography, all of which has to unfold seamlessly to make it work.

But they do and it is the combo that turns this into compelling theatre with the two actors creating a comfortable rapport as they move between two quite different tales in both approach and dramatics – and they never lose sight of the text. There’s a wide-eyed deliciousness in Dunster’s performance while Du Toit goes full tilt, especially when in a persona more peculiar than his regular routines.

uit die bloute
The artists from Uit die Bloute

They get it right in a production which has put emphasis on the playfulness to balance the more serious tone as the second story unfolds.

Gryffenberg has pushed the performances and has been rewarded with a production that has everyone on and off stage engaged and entertained. It reminds one of the escapism offered by good theatre, in a way that doesn’t ignore quality and never opts for the lowest common denominator. It’s simply the best.

It’s the full package: starting with a good text, sublime storytelling and a cast of players, musical and dramatic, who can deliver and unwrap this gift they have been handed in spectacular fashion.

  • US Woordfees March 6 (12.30) and March 8 (8pm), 21, 22, 23, 24 March at KKNK, 15-19 April at Oppiewater Arts Festival

Nina Simone Four Women Gives Young Black Women A Powerful Platform To Speak Their Minds – It’s About Time

Busi Lerayi with Tshepo Mngoma, the piano player in performance
Busi Lerayi with Tshepo Mngoma, the piano player in performance

DIANE DE BEER

NINA SIMONE FOUR WOMEN

DIRECTOR: James Ngcobo

PLAYWRIGHT: Christine Ham

MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Tshepo Mngoma

LIGHTING DESIGNER: Mandla Mtshali

SET DESIGNER: Nadya Cohen

COSTUME DESIGNER: Onthatile Matshidiso

CAST: Busi Lurayi, Lerato Mvelase, Mona Monyane Skenjana, Noxolo Dlamini

MUSICIANS AND SINGERS: Bryan Mtsweni, Ezbie Moilwa, Mpho Kodisang

Smanga Ngubane, Sam Ibeh

VENUE: John Kani Theatre at the Market

DATES: Until February 24

 

With Artistic Director James Ngcobo’s tradition of commemorating Black History Month, his pick of this play starring mainly women is, as Nina Simone so aptly said, about “an artist’s responsibility to reflect the times”.

With the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements in everyone’s consciousness (or it should be) the Simone-driven play is a clever choice with a cast of powerful young actors strutting the stage.

And even halfway into the run, the theatre is packed with a young (mainly black) audience and they’re enraptured and engaged as these women speak to them with great gusto.

It’s not for the lily-livered because in the main, women haven’t had a voice and black women especially were never invited to speak their mind and tell their stories.

It’s their time and it’s like its all spilling out with an anger that’s palpable but covering a pain that so’s deep and so sore, it breaks your heart while listening.

In song Noxolo Dlamini, Mona Monyane Skenjana, Lerato Mvelase and Busi Lurayi
In song Noxolo Dlamini, Mona Monyane Skenjana, Lerato Mvelase and Busi Lurayi

When Simone slips into a quiet moment and opens her heart about her own experience of living in a world that seems to hate and discard her, it’s like an open wound she exposes to everyone willing to look more closely.

On September 16, 1963, the day after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Simone shifted her career from artist to artist–activist. This is where the play begins, in the church with riots outside and the pain of four little girls killed in hatred etched on everyone’s mind. She is writing a song when three diverse women enter and engage about their lives as black women.

But so deep is the self-hatred and lack of confidence, they turn not only on those who mean them harm but also on each other as they compare shades of skin colour and the intent with which each lives her life.

Interwoven with much talk is Simone’s haunting music dominated by Mississippi Goddam, Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair and closing with the obvious Four Women, the song from which the women in the play were drawn.

And it is this mix that moves in and out of the consciousness. While the songs complete the conversations of the women, they are more contemplative if heart-breaking before the next storm unleashes as the women twist and turn in their tension and anguish of years of abuse punctuated by the current attack.

Busi Lurayi as Nina Simone surrounded by the rest of the cast.
Busi Lurayi as Nina Simone surrounded by the rest of the cast.

It is a sparse set by Nadya Cohen yet effective in its symbolic power and the women are encouraged to fill the stage, which they do with great abandon. Ncgobo obviously wanted them to embrace their power in this moment – and they do.

The performances are sometimes uneven, Lurayi perhaps hampered by capturing the Simone kinetic energy, but she soars in the quieter moments and in song. It is quite a presence that she has to establish, and the deep timbre of her voice works in her favour. Mvelase, the most comfortable on stage, inhabits her Aunt Sarah, a domestic worker, with quiet dignity, while the young Dlamini is passionate in her rebellion.

Then comes the abrasive whirlwind Monyane Skenjana to perform in the person of an unapologetic prostitute who believes in disarming if not disabling before an offensive can begin. It’s a tough performance to catch but in the mix, it brings the chaos of their lives into sharper focus and adds some light relief to what could become too much to witness and bear.

Cushioning all that is the piano playing of Brian Motsweni supported by a trio of other musicians and two singers, all adding to the depth of the soundtrack. Other sounds like the sudden rush of the riot don’t get the balance right and while the two singers worked well as they sat to the side, the look was confusing. Perhaps they would have slotted in more smoothly as part of the musos rather than characters, but not quite.

Quibbles aside, the importance of the production, what is said and who is saying it, right now, taking into account what is swirling around in the world currently, this is a majestic production.

Theatre is struggling more than ever with little help from anywhere. Even newspapers, their traditional support, are dwindling with less and less art reporting. Yet the audience who were there to look and listen, were predominantly young and black, probably the most sought-after demographic.

And they were delighted – with reason.

Nataniël’s Second Phase Will Have Him Playing On Many Different Platforms

optog kombi and nataniël.pic by optog
Optog kombi and Nataniël. Picture by Optog!

Showman Nataniël is embarking on what he calls the second phase of his career with quite a few tricks up his sleeve. He tells DIANE DE BEER about his future plans:

 

It took only four phone calls, says Nataniël, to cut his salary by half but this drastic measure was necessary for him to get things going in a different fashion.

It’s always been part of his strategy, not to keep doing the same things all the time. Leave before they’re tired and start something completely different.  “I am not going to do anything that I’m not in control of any longer,” he says hence all the changes. And money is no longer a driving force.

As someone who prefers being the one responsible for something he does, whether good or bad, he says it is time out for projects where he is involved with egos bigger than the talent. “It’s not that I am all-powerful, just tired of all the bull!”

“I am back to earning all my money in my own head,” he notes, but he’s used to creating his own world and then sharing it with the rest of us.

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Men in black – Erik, Nataniël and Nicolaas

He and his assistant Nicolaas Swart are currently in Nantes, France (arriving back this week) where his most recent four-season television series (Die Edik van Nantes with his bro which also evolved into his latest cook/lifestyle-book released just before Christmas) was shot, and while this is a well-earned break, it is also a time to scout for new ideas with his brother-in-arms Erik le Roux who lives in Nantes.

“We love working together, so we will come up with something new,” says Nataniël, who has just started his own YouTube channel, something which is part of his plans but will also prevent one of his huge irritations, people randomly posting show videos or unwanted clips of him on the popular channel. “Once you have your own channel, you can remove any illegal ones,” he says joyously.

nataniel slow tear
Nataniël in costume.

He will also be shooting a music video for this platform while in France, the first he has made in 20 years. “We’re going to do it with cell phones,” he says, and it will be a short art film with music rather than a traditional music video.

Importantly, he will be focusing on finding creative outlets that make him happy. What he has discovered in especially Nantes, a creative city, is that he has been allowed to film and introduce basically anything to his local audience. “There’s a pride and a generosity which makes everything accessible and it is such a pleasure to work in a hassle-free environment.”

On the performance side locally, he starts his year on a new platform called Optog (March). The brainchild of producer/pianist Matthys Maree, it is described as one huge concert tour on wheels travelling through the whole of the country and beyond, running from February 14 until December with artists like Nataniël, Karen Zoid, Jo Black, Laurika Rauch, Coenie de Villiers and Deon Meyer, Vicky Sampson and Corlea Botha, all on a musical note with a few theatre productions also going on the road. Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Rustenburg, Polokwane, Welkom, Sasolburg, Kroonstad, Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Durbanville, Port Elizabeth, East-Londen, Potchefstroom, Durban, Windhoek and Swakopmund are all on the map.

Nataniel and Erik in Nantes
Nataniël and Erik in Nantes

“I am visiting rural towns I have never been to,” says Nataniël, one of our best travelled artists locally – and something he will again do more of in the future. He will be performing in three shows: Nataniël Gesels (talks) where he will be presenting one of his famous talks in theatres, something he tested at the end of last year for the first time; Nataniël Unplugged accompanied by Charl du Plessis, which is a more intimate version of his larger shows; and Four Loud People with his full band, the Charl du Plessis Trio and representative of his shows compiled of stories and songs in both English and Afrikaans.

Check out the website for more info and dates (www.optog.co.za) and hold thumbs for their plans to give new life to existing performance sites and halls in the platteland which might generate more platforms for artists everywhere.

In April he will be presenting a show at Artscape titled Anthems. And we’re not talking national flags or such like here! Nataniël describes it as “songs that singers claim as their personal anthems”. It will be in the style of his classical concerts of the past two years and he can be viewed as songs for grownups. “The songs usually represent an era, a life or an event,” he explains, “but anthems can also be attached to movies.” And he will be showcasing a few of his own.

Nataniel
Nataniël at Emperor’s

Later in the year he will return to Emperor’s where he has been performing annually for just short of two decades taking a break last year and this time the run is planned to play almost like 12 individual concerts. As always with Nataniël, what that means exactly will only become clear once we see the latest spectacular extravaganza so much a part of his annual showcase.

For the first time he is also in the throes of writing an original book. “I have written many, but these have always been compiled from either columns or my show catalogues,” he says. This is something different, a kind of memoir, and more than that he isn’t willing to reveal, only that it will be published in both English and Afrikaans and this is the first time he has sat down and written an original book. He’s excited but also nervous while working hard on a Nataniël voice that works as well on paper as in performance.

On the food side, he will do a few kitchen demos – usually presented at the Atterbury Theatre in Pretoria and booked out as soon as the announcements are made – but much more than that he hopes to avoid. “When you have just finished a cookbook, food is the last thing on your mind,” he says, although his Nataniël Collection (food and kitchen products and tableware) in Checkers is going to be expanded and has been doing well around the country. They will be appearing in every shop and he is hoping to add a few new products, something he always enjoys doing.

And in private time, he will be battling cell phones (mainly in shows) and plastic. “Botswana has banned single-use plastic! Surely, we can too. What makes us so special that we keep destroying the planet?”

He argues that nothing usually comes from the top and a minor anti-plastic violence in shop queues, isn’t a bad thing. “Little old ladies should just hit those using plastic bags with their handbags,” he says. “They can get away with it.”

“It’s not that anyone listens to me, but to remain silent isn’t an option any longer.”