Thursday, November 27, 2008


Sure he may not be the hippest cat to visit our shores in recent times, but there's no denying Lionel Ritchie is legendary. This man has won an Oscar (for Say You, Say Me from White Nights) and Grammy awards (a handful), yet he is as warm and approachable as if he were an old friend. Plus he could show celebs of today - his daughter Nicole included - a thing or two.

He looks good for a 59-year old, really healthy - like he's taken care of himself (or had lots of work done!). His charismatic personality also makes him a likeable guy. 94.7 Highveld Stereo's Rude Awakening held its version of Idols - called "Lionels" - where each member of the team sang Lionel's hits for him to judge. Lionel played along so well - such a good sport! When Sam Cowen threw off the wig she was wearing to declare how much she loved him, he went along with it - even running around the room so she could chase him. When Bongani Nxumalo sang All Night Long he joined him to make it a duet. And when, at a tree planting ceremony, he made a whole lot of journalists move over to the other side of where we'd been standing, he apologised - genuinely. Not that he even needed to. He's Lionel Ritchie, he can go where he wants, right?

Contrast that to some of the younger celebs I've had to work with, er, I mean, chase. Ex-Destiny's-Child-now-solo-singer Kelly Rowland comes to mind. Last week she kept journos waiting at least two hours in the evening for a press conference that still entailed watching an hour-long documentary before she would speak. Knowing what the doccie is about, I understand. Walking into the venue and then going to have some dinner while we all wait, I don't.

Hmmm, wonder if Respect is a song only the likes of Aretha's generation knows the lyrics too...?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Madonna and Me

So I just finished reading Christopher Ciccone's book, Life With My Sister Madonna, which I was reviewing for Jenny Crwys-Williams' show on 702. I'd read another biography of the singer written by the British music journalist Lucy O'Brien a few months ago, but this was a totally different take on the Material Girl.

And what a take it is! This is no holds-barred look at what it's like to be Madonna's brother. To live in the long shadow cast by her superstardom. I found myself wanting to skip through the parts where he describes how his passion for dance came about or his first gay relationship, and just get to the parts where he talks about Madonna. And I suppose that right there shows just how far that shadow extends. We don't really care about him - we want to know all about Her!

Ciccone alternates between loving words about his sister and bitchy remarks - like this one: “I hope that it is Kabbalah’s lesson that she is not the center of the universe.”

He details the fortune Madonna has made as the highest earning female singer in the world and contrasts it with his meagre living as an artist and interior decorator. He did the decor for many of Madonna's houses, but she was terrible in paying him. In fact, in one instance, he bought a painting she had requested for about sixty thousand dollars, which he paid for expecting to be re-imbursed. But when he presented her with it, she told him she didn't like it anymore and wouldn't pay for it. And apparently Sotheby's does not accept returns!

He also talks about her adoption of the little Malawian boy David Banda and the controversy that erupted. I remember rushing off to the airport when Madonna's people were taking the child from Malawi to London via Joburg. There were about ten people looking after him and trying to shelter him from the paparazzi flashes (and my microphone!). Her brother says it was all done to keep up her image in the public and that she is indeed trying to "one up Angelina Jolie". It's that age-old debate of celebrities endorsing charities - who benefits who?

Speaking of celebs who're into charity: what an amazing performance by Annie Lennox at the American Music Awards! I am so used to seeing her championing HIV/Aids for the past few years that I almost forgot how beautiful her voice is. She didn't perform at the recent 46664 concert I covered in London, but only came on stage to compare pictures of a little child who wasn't on ARV's with one of another child who is on ARV's (and posing cheerily with Annie) to urge support for adequate treatment to be in place. Her performance of Why that night was a wonderful reminder.

Monday, November 10, 2008

R.I.P Mama Afrika

An early morning call - with a question I had to find the answer to: has Miriam Makeba died? A listener had sent an sms to 702, saying she had suffered a heart attack after a concert in Italy last night. And when another call came through with confirmation, it was off the gym treadmill and onto autopilot for me.

Writing up stories for the bulletins, interviewing fans and friends, doing live crossings from her home in Northriding. The emotion comes later.

I interviewed Mama Afrika, as she was affectionately known, in March last year when she celebrated her 75th birthday. Sitting before her, I felt somewhat nervous. I've interviewed the likes of Will Smith, Billy Joel and Annie Lennox but Miriam Makeba is up there when it comes to the star-struck scales. This is a women who was revered the world over; who worked with jazz greats Dizzy Gillepsie and Harry Belafonte; who had paved the way for so many of my favourite local female musicians. She had had a tour schedule to rival artists half her age and a work ethic double the size. But she was incredibly down to earth and humble; saying her children were her greatest achievement and that she had no use for being called a celebrity.

It's always something I think about after the beast of radio news has been fed for one more day - how do you sum up someone's life in 30-40 seconds? It's both radio's gift and curse: the message gets out there quickly and succintly, but more often than not it's a shortened form of what you wish you had so long to say. At the end of it all -perhaps the most effective words are indeed the shortest: Rest In Peace Mama Afrika.

"She was South Africa’s first lady of song and so richly deserved the title of Mama Afrika. She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours."
- Nelson Mandela

"...Our world was slightly better because of her serenading and we are poorer for her death. We give great thanks to God for this tremendous gift of Miriam Makeba. May she rest in peace and rise in glory."
- Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu