The Color Purple SA 2018

The Color Purple, as an event, was something special for me. IMG_5888I’d essentially taken a break from Pop Speaking and theatre, and probably won’t be back in any full capacity until sometime next year.

However, when something like The Color Purple happens along, you’ve got to make an exception – and what an exception it was. Firstly, I’ve always said that Joburg Theatre is one of the few amenities in Joburg which can actually lay claim to the moniker “world class” and the opening of The Color Purple was no exception.

In a South Africa which, let’s face it, has its challenges, The Color Purple and its South African team give us a reason to be proudly South African again.

My son Brandon accomIMG_5880panied me to the production and when I asked him if there had been any highlight for him, he said no – he loved everything equally. I agree with himIMG_5879

Thankyou to B Sharp Entertainment and everyone who has been involved in bringing this production to us.

And as a director, Janice Honeyman has done it again.

This is an important event in South African theatre because of the size of the production, the subject matter, the cast and the crew.

IMG_5881 As a reviewer, it was hard to find any criticism. My son and I discussed this on the way home, and after some consideration, we agreed that the seats could have been a bit more comfortable. But we were too busy enjoying the show to really notice. Although there is one thing I’d like to say – I always find it’s a bit limiting when theatres don’t let the audience photograph the production – although I do understand why.

“What is set to be the highlight of the South African theatre calendar in 2018,” says Bernard Jay, Executive Producer of the South African premier production of the musical The Color Purple, “will thrill, excite, engage, enthral and emote audiences like no other musical before it.” (Joburg Theatre).

There are really no words that can adequately describe the experience of being in the theatre watching the show. So book now – The Color Purple is on from January 31st to March 4th 2018. Book here.

Wilhelm Disbergen on lighting, set and theatre design

Quite obviously, theatre cannot happen without the magic that goes on behind the scenes. The writers, directors, costume designers, make up artists, set designers. These are people who often go without credit and yet without them there’d be no theatre.

I’ve long been fascinated by theatre lighting and when I got the opportunity (through Bronwen from B Sharp Entertainment) to chat to Wilhelm Disbergen, the Managing Director of Yellow Bunny Productions NPC, ahead of Impact No 1 on at Joburg Theatre from 18 – 21 August, I keenly grabbed the chance. As per his website, Wilhelm Disbergen is a theatre set, costume, audiovisual, and lighting designer.  He has designed more than a hundred productions locally and internationally, mostly at the Market Theatre and South African State Theatre. Video clips posted on here are taken from Wilhelm’s website and there are more available there. 

Artscape Theatre Cape Town

As I understand it, (from lighting designers create the light plot or outline for a show. They create a lighting design that will properly showcase the performers
and the setting, varying the design throughout the production to meet the action on stage. Firstly, do you agree with this assessment?

Yes, every production is different. The story is different and things happen in different places. The mood is different. The production might be abstract movements or a story ballet.

How do you come up with the effects you are looking for / feelings you are trying to create?

The production dictates what I will be doing. Is it a realistic approach with an actual set, or is it a theme or mood or colour? Some productions are very literal, and some more about the body in space, line and movement.

Describe, if you can, the intricacies of obtaining a balance between working with entertainers and other theatre staff to achieve the effects you are looking for.

The crew is a team of people with skills that help in their particular way to assist in creating the production. Some are highly skilled artists while others are more technically abled. Some drive heavy stage lifts or fly bars and make sure no one gets injures by these machines. Each one brings experience and knowledge to any production and without them, big productions and design would be impossible.

Artscape Theatre Cape Town I’m fascinated by the way lighting interacts with the audience – reflections off jewelry, pans the crowd, etc. It can make an audience feel like part of the show. Is this something designers take into account?

It again depends on the production: Do we need to Razzle Dazzle them or do we want them to be quietly pondering whatever is being presented? Are they watching through a ‘fourth wall’ or do we want them to actively feel part and engage in the event?

Could you describe the different approach one might take to theatre design dependent on the various different genres? For example, I’m thinking that if you were doing something like Spamalot, for example, or the Queen It’s a Kind of Magic Show, you might take a completely different approach.

Dance and drama and opera and farce all have their own specific requirements and work best using particular codes and conventions. The interesting thing is breaking these conventions or using one set of conventions particular to a certain genre and applying them in another.

Do certain colours / effects / patterns invoke feeling and help convey a message?

Circular shapes, symmetry and soft pastels are great for even moods. Angular / linear shapes, assymetry and strong colours evoke similarly strong emotional responses

The Mandela at Joburg Theatre is an amazing venue and I’ve spoken to international acts who have said that the lighting and technology there is world class. Are you looking forward to working there for this event? Are you working on both lighting and set design for the event?

It is an amazing venue. Probably one of the best in the country. Yes I am doing both set and lighting. I usually do both.

You’ve worked a lot of theatres around the country. Do you have a favourite theatre to work?

Artscape is very nice but the Joburg Theatre is just the best.

What would a typical day as a lighting designer for Impact No-1 look like? How big is the team that you’d be working with and what roles would they play?

I probably will have a team of about 20 technicians and crew. Many of them have to lay ballet mats, reshuffle enormous and heavy curtains. Others will be preoccupied with lighting – getting the right light in the right place plugged in and working before focussing it in a particular way with colour being added last. Along with several assistants, the lighting cues can then be created, programming with a dedicated programmer, one light to the next…. One light at a time.

This is a collaboration between three dance companies, doing different works. Do you face any particular challenges working with three different companies?

I have worked with all three companies and it was my suggestion that these different companies that almost always work all by themselves, in a joint program. To break the barriers that have traditionally existed between competing companies, and unify them, without any agenda, in one evening of dance. This joint performance is a complete novelty and it is really nice that we are the ones bringing everyone together for the first time.

What would you advise any youngsters wishing to get into the industry?

Go and study. Whether at Technicon on at university or at a local drama school. There you will encounter things like lights and paint and wood and artists you may not have encountered elsewhere. Perhaps you like one thing more than another. Great. Focus on that and learn all you can about it. See as many productions as you can and learn from other’s mistakes and successes.



Book now for Impact No. 1 at the Joburg Theatre. 



Uga Carlini (Alison: The Movie) on the spot!

The story of the brutal attack on Alison Botha is one that must never be forgotten.  In 1994, she survived being kidnapped at knife-point, taken to bushes outside of the city, and raped and stabbed by two men more than 36 times.

The film depicts the events of the night as well as the impact the events have had on her life through the years.

I was first reminded of the story when I saw the play “I Have Life: Alison’s Story, 20 Years On,” after which I interviewed Suanne Braun who played Alison, and Zak Hendrikz who played the psychopathic attacker Frans du Toit and who reprises his role in the movie.

The film has achieved the following accolades, so don’t just take it from me it’s going to be good.

Take it from these people too:


  • OFFICIAL DANCES WITH FILMS FILM FESTIVAL 2016 official selection – pick of the fest Enclave LA.
  • OFFICIAL ENCOUNTERS FILM FESTIVAL 2016 official selection – sold out.
  • OFFICIAL CAYMAN ISLANDS FILM FESTIVAL 2016 official selection.
  • NDONESIA 2016 official selection – winner best documentary.
  • MZANZI WOMEN’S FESTIVAL 2016 – opening film.
  • SILWERSKERMFEES – official selection
  • WORLD HUMANITARIAN AWARDS – official selection


Alison 2
Alison Botha

I want to address the reluctance people may be feeling in seeing a film (released to coincide with Women’s Month) with such a heavy subject matter (especially South Africans who may feel that it’s very close to home). Let’s face it, it’s not an easy story to watch in any form, whether on stage or on screen. But there are a number of reasons that it’s important to support the film and watch it anyway, even though the thought of it may scare us. One is that the rapists keep on coming up for parole and they need to be kept in jail. Keeping the story alive and in the minds of the public will help achieve this. A second is that violence against women is STILL WITH US more than 20 years after the attack on Alison. We think we’re moving towards a more enlightened society, but if women are still being brutalised, we are not. As parents and society we have a responsibility to raise good men, and strong women too to move humanity forward. The fact that these atrocities still occur mean that we haven’t succeeded in this yet. Stories such as Alison’s help imprint how inhumane this type of crime is on the public’s mind, and ultimately bring down the crime rate. And my last point is that it’s not just Alison. It’s Reeva Steenkamp, it’s Khwezi, it’s Sue-Ellen Sheehan, and it’s the 40% of South African women who are raped at least once in their lifetime. So I’m watching the movie. For them.

I’m privileged to speak to Uga Carlini of Towerkop Creations (and thanks to my friends Lornette Joseph and Alison Roberts for contributing questions).

Uga Carlini

Has making the movie affected you personally and how?

It was up and downs of the most glorious moments (Alison’s bravery and my incredible crew) and soul destroying moments (the pain of the story and so many survivors around us if 1 in every 3 women we know about are raped every 20 seconds in SA) all at the same time but it always ended with hope, with upliftment. With absolute inspiration and awe of the good around us, the good in people and how that MUST remain the focus, no matter what. The bad apples are a handful, and we tend to give them way too much glory, press and airtime. Let’s start doing it for the everyday heroes instead because they take my breath away, drive me and is the reason I made this film.

Why do you feel it’s important to keep Alison’s story in the limelight?

I know some might feel Alison’s story is one of many but that being said, Alison was the first ever South Africa to publically say, “I WAS RAPED”, “THIS IS NOT MY FAULT” AND THAT “I’M GOING TO NAME THEM”. And she hasn’t stopped since, giving a voice to most who don’t have that kind of courage. Her voice is so important; more than what’s obvious – and we need to keep that voice going so other voices can join. In fact, my hope is that we will unite our voices with her, even if we are not survivors ourselves, but for the sake of other survivors so that the voice becomes the biggest ROAR echoing through the planet and galaxies…. The sky should not be the limit!

What made you decide to do this story in particular?

In 1999, someone gave me the book. In the same year I went to listen to Alison speak at my old high school, soon after reading the book. So many people turned up, that they had to move it from the school hall to the rugby fields and there, with Alison so far away from me that she was a mere speck, but with her voice right by my ears from the intercom system, her story changed my life. And when I looked around, I realised, I wasn’t the only one. On a beautiful summer’s evening, in more ways than one, on sportsfield of DF Malan High School in the Northern suburbs of Bellville, I made a pact with myself, that come rain or high water, disappointment or challenge, I WOULD be the one to share what I felt with others through film. And here we are.

Are there parts you would rather have left out / parts you DID leave out?

What’s left out is left out for a reason. It’s about what went in 🙂

The subject of violence against women is something which should be discussed with South Africans, particularly the youth, and perhaps even more particularly, young boys. What is a good way to introduce this dialog to the youth of SA?

I’m a filmmaker, so that’s how I do it. And then there is the #butterflyrevolution… (see below)

The by-line on your email signature is ‘Specialising in female driven heroine stories.’ Is there something that drives you specifically to go for this type of story?

Yes. I love them, they inspire me, they keep me going.

I should imagine after a story like this you may want to do something lighter next. What’s up next for you?

I am still deciding. Either some lions, some mermaids, a car guard with a dream or a chef who made his dream come true….

So how can the public help?

PLEASE GO WATCH ALISON AT NU METRO CINEMAS THIS FRIDAY. It will depend on how many people go in opening weekend for them to keep it on circuit.

And …. please join the #butterflyrevolution:

In the Spirit of Women’s Month 2016, Towerkop Creations & Left Post Production will roll out the #butterflyrevolution campaign on Monday the 1st of August where we asked well loved South Africans, like Justin Bonello, Kim Engelbrecht, Victor Matfield, Elana Africa and Sandra Prinsloo – to name a few – to come on board as ambassadors for the #butterflyrevolution as we take a very personal stand opposing violence against women and children.

By choosing to take action, however small, you can change the course of events.  We want to remind everyone that we can inspire each other by being silently brave or publicly revolutionary.  Collectively, we all have a responsibility to treat one another with respect.  So, this is what we  are doing.  What about you?

Follow on social media:

butterflyrevolution video channel

Find out more about the The Butterfly Revolution.



A chat with Tracey-Lee Oliver of Supreme Divas

I love going along to the Bluberry Entertainment Studios (where Kurt Herman and Tima Reece have their base). It’s a place of calm and of discipline, and you just know magic is happening there, including the wonderful Lions anthem which Kurt wrote and performs in.  Magic was happening there on the day I went through too, as it was the first day of rehearsal for SUPREME DIVAS! If anyone can produce an event with big songs, these guys can.

Taking centre stage will be the insanely talented vocalists Tia Herman, Lelo Ramasimong, Tracey-Lee Oliver and Elizca Coetzer, with Marianthe Panas.

It’s another incredible collaboration between Joburg Theatre and The Colab Network and there are just four performances from 11 Aug 2016 to Sun 14 Aug 2016, so make your booking now by visiting Joburg Theatre or calling 0861 670 670.

Tracey-Lee Oliver, born and bred in Grabouw, has been on stage for many years as a session singer, the lead in musicals and as a casino singer. Recently, she ventured into musical comedy with the assistance of well-known stand-up comedian Jason Goliath. She’s also recently performed in The Voice in which she auditioned with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, one of her father’s (who passed away four years ago)  favourite songs. It was also played at her parents’ wedding.

Please give me a background – you’re in singing and comedy and TV. What would you say is your background?

Definitely the singing. I started with singing in church and in school. When I was 25 I came up to Joburg. I’ve been here for like 10 years. I think I had a real hunger to kind of just explore what was outside of Grabouw (where I was born and raised) because I knew that wasn’t just it. I wanted to see the rest of the world. Cape Town have more independent plays and things than what we do up here. I feel like it’s a bit more commercial up here.

Would you say Afrikaans Idol was your introduction into the industry?

No, I did a reality show before that – in 2004 I did a reality show called Project Fame and it was on M-Net. There was only one season of it and it was a cross between Idol and Big Brother, because they had this concept of putting contestants in a house and putting 24 hour cameras on them. I actually made the top 5 in that one and did Afrikaans Idol in 2006. I think at the time I wasn’t actually as sure as I am now what it is that I want to contribute to the industry and to music, so I think it was just another opportunity to have exposure and reintroduce the people to who I was at the time. 


Do you prefer TV or live?

I’ve been very blessed to be able to get into the television scene. I’ve always been curious about TV, but definitely live performance, because it’s a bit more dangerous and risky but the payoff is immediate so you get an immediate response from the audience. And since doing my comedy, I think that has just taken me to another level based on my observation of how to read a crowd. It’s gotten me a bit better, because with comedy if they don’t laugh then that’s it. It’s over and then you have to deal with embarrassment.  Comedy is way more terrifying than singing.  Jason Goliath was the one that got me into comedy. We met and basically got along very well and he told me you’re actually a funny girl and you sing really well. I think you should do musical comedy and it worked for me because. I’d always done impressions and been the kind of kid who had entertained herself in her room. I didn’t really have any friends growing up. I think that was a choice that I made. Playing with kids wasn’t as stimulating as me sitting in the room and entertaining myself. I had one brother and a sister who are way older than me and I’m the baby of the family. Comedy is brutal but it’s the best pay off. When you hear that laughter from a joke that you came up with that’s the best.

Do you have a favourite out of the three things you’re doing?

Singing is the easiest, but I don’t know if I want to go with the easiest. I think I’m really finding my niche with the comedy. I get to do both – make people laugh and sing. It’s comedy and singing. I get the best of both.  My favourite comedian is from Durban – Celeste Ntuli. She is A-MAZING. She has this very heavy Zulu English accent which you really have to concentrate but she is my favourite female comedian.

It must be quite a demanding lifestyle. How do you stay disciplined and balanced, and fit?

Fit wise, I got it from my mom. My mom was very slim when she was my age. But not talking is one thing that I’ve been doing that I didn’t even realise was a discipline but whenever I’m not doing shows I stay at home and don’t talk the whole day. I’ll pick when I go out and hang out with friends.  Not singing or talking on the phone. Nothing. I’ll tell people to Whatsapp me. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years and I just thought I was being grumpy to be honest. But I realised it was my body saying to me shut up for two days so that you can preserve your voice. Our industry is very demanding in the sense of socialising. It’s also networking in a sense, and I know how taxing that can be on artists. Sometimes you can say no – sorry I have to chill or I won’t be able to make it. You don’t have to tell them more.  Rest is so important.  I call it spiritual management and intellectual management. It’s like you need to give your psyche a rest sometimes. As good as it is to be together and hang out together it’s also important to get your privacy and just recharge. People don’t do that any more.

What can we expect from Supreme Divas?

You can expect five very talented South African ladies who are going to blow your socks off and show you that we are absolutely and utterly on par with international acts. (or better than – PS) People are going to come out and hear and jam to their favourite tunes. And get up and dance. It’s going to be an awesome show and it’s great working with a very old friend of mine Llewellyn George who is the musical director. I’ve known him for ten years and now is the first time we get a chance to work together.

How did you become involved in the Supreme Divas show?

This is when you have great friends in the industry. I’ve known Collett Dawson for five years now since we did Knights of Music. She’s just the greatest warmest person and always the same. We just hit it off when we met and always liked each other. She sent me a message saying I need to meet with you urgently, and I was like ‘what’s going on?’ So I met with her and she asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t even think twice about it. I know the quality shows that she puts on.

Is there anything else you’d like to get across in the interview?

You get four chances to come and watch the show and it’s going to be great value for money.

Catch Tracey-Lee in Supreme Divas 11 Aug 2016 to Sun 14 Aug 2016.  Make your booking now by visiting Joburg Theatre or calling 0861 670 670. For group bookings of 10 or more, please contact the theatre directly on (011) 877 6853/6815.



Gone Fishkin with Mike Fishkin and iDobi!

I was so excited to get a request from Rebecca Kovach to interview Mike Fishkin, a young man who hosts a radio show Gone Fishkin on Idobi Network.

As an intro, idobi Radio ( is a modern rock Internet radio station focusing on new pop punk, alternative music and power pop musiMike Fishkin 2c. The station broadcasts over the internet via its website, iTunes and SHOUTcast. idobi connects listeners with artists through interviews and up-to-date music industry news, and by giving popular artists their own radio shows. The stream has an excellent track record of playing tracks from top unsigned artists, many times before they make it onto terrestrial radio stations or MTV rotation, most notably having featured artists like Good Charlotte, Fall Out Boy, and All Time Low prior to the bands’ mainstream successes.

Gone Fishkin is here to bring listeners songs they’ve never heard and songs they’ll soon fall in love with. Straight out of Los Angles, Gone Fishkin interviews both rising and established artists and entertainers. Mike’s not afraid to tell a joke, be awkward, or get the party started, so be sure to listen every week because who knows what he’ll do next.

Mike Fishkin’s passion of loving to promote up and coming bands, giving them as much exposure as possible, resonated with me as it ties in with the premise of my site – to celebrate those who tweak the golden thread.

You can listen to his show here

Mike recently helped organize an event in honor of his late father Stuart, who passed away from pancreatic cancer last year, and succeeded in raising over $50K for Atalie’s Hope.

Hi Mike, and welcome to Pop Speaking. You and I share a common interest – you love to interview bands you grew up listening to, too. What drives you to do this?
Yoooo! Thanks for having me! That’s dope, what really drives me is my love for music. I’ve been listening to music since I was born basically. Whether it be in the car with my Mom while she’s blasting Goo Goo Dolls and Bon Jovi (exclusively) or when my Mom wasn’t around my Dad blasting Eminem, NWA, some old school punk or the calmer more family friendly The Go-Gos, I always found I loved music more than almost anything (food is a close second). I tried being in bands from basically 6th grade till my freshman year in college and it never really worked for me, neither did working for bands. As much as I loved doing it I couldn’t see myself doing it full time or anything so radio is a dope place for me where I can help any bands that hit me up basically and I get to share music people love, will love, or forgot they loved with them. gone fishkin 3Tell us about “Gone Fishkin” and your involvement with idobi Radio?
Gone Fishkin is my show I’ve been doing on idobi for about 3 years now. Gone Fishkin was actually my fantasy baseball team’s name about 5 years ago and I thought it’d be a cool name for my show when I started it. The show is my way of expressing myself because I hate writing so I get to talk on air for 2 hours which is better than a Tumblr post or a long Facebook status that’ll annoy people in their feed. I have a lot of roles at idobi besides Gone Fishkin! I host idobi Warped Radio, so I headed out on Warped for the third straight year to get all the interviews we needed for the summer again, I’m our social media manager so any typos you can blame on me haha, I’m our founder and CEO Tom Cheney’s assistant, I prep some shows for air along with making them podcasts, so basically anything that needs to get done I’ll get done for us.

How did you get started in music and get into internet radio? Is there a particular reason you prefer internet radio to more traditional forms of radio?
I got started in music after I heard “The Anthem” by Good Charlotte. I was in 5th grade and made my parents get me a guitar for Christmas. I took a few lessons and hated taking lessons cause I hate the idea of a school like setting so my neighbor taught me some basics and then from there I looked up tabs for some of my favorite songs and just ripped those songs off playing them a few steps down haha so that’s basically how I learned how to play music. From there I put demos on MySpace where I learned to promote and what sucks and doesn’t suck. Worked for some bands in high school and college after the band thing didn’t work out for me and then started doing radio! I like internet radio because there’s basically no rules when it comes to what I can play and what I can say. Being on college radio was stressful because one wrong word could cost me way too much money. Since I started idobi they’ve basically given me the freedom to keep my show the way I want to keep it and they’ve made parts of it better but never were like “You have to do this or else” type thing. That’s what I love about idobi.

You recently organised an event in honour of your dad Stuart, who passed away from pancreatic cancer. Please tell us about this event.

This event took place about a week before Thanksgiving so I flew back to Long Island for it. My Mom and close family friends did most of the work organizing sponsors and the event in general. They did an amazing job. It was great having a tribute to my Dad while knowing we were helping other families going through a similar situation by raising $50K for them. 

What is Atalie’s Hope?
Atalie’s Hope is a charity we teamed up with to throw the first annual event for in honor of my Dad. The money was donated to grievance groups for families who lost a love one. They were great at showing us how these things work but we’ve since decided to start our own charity called Stu’s Helping Hearts.

I have also heard about the Stuart Fishkin Memorial Scholarship. Can you tell us more about this?
This was started by some of my incredible neighbors, the Marra family, who’ve been there for us through anything since I was born. They used to baby sit me while I was a kid too. They started it in honor of my Dad for a one student a semester at the college I went to and Jess Marra teaches at: Nassau Community College. Gone Fishkin 4You strike me as the kind of person who would also (like me) be interested in the golden thread of humanity, which is what inspired my website. It’s (as described by John Ritter) a thread which runs through generations, genders, nations, and decades, and makes people think and feel. For example, an actor who did a show in the 1970s can make generations from today and those yet unborn, laugh, love and feel. Is this something that interests and inspires you and do you like to celebrate others who do that?
I love timeless classics and respect the people who did things before anyone else did. I love playing bands that were the bands that inspired most of my guests that my listeners may not know about. I have a sister who’s 10 years younger than me and it’s cool seeing her reaction hearing songs I heard for the first time at her age and hope other people have the same reaction hearing songs I play on my show. I could only dream of having a legacy like that.

You also travel around a lot and cover big music events. Is that a passion of yours?
Yeah! I always wanted to be in a band so being able to travel like I’m in a band and work with so many incredible artists is something I definitely LOVE!

How would you advise anybody wishing to get into either music or internet radio today?
Know your place. You’re going to start out and be at the bottom of the totem pole. You’re not going to get to work with your favorite bands at first but just keep at it and grow with the people around you in the same situation. It’s not a competition we’re all in for the same reason so help everyone out. I hate when people say “don’t be a fan” while talking to bands because what’s the point of lying? If you love a band tell them, don’t try to “play cool”, if you want a picture after the interview ask for one, you’ll remember it forever. Don’t over step any boundaries like if you have someone’s number for a phone interview or a contact for an on site interview, don’t hit them up unless they say you can. Be nice to everyone because everyone knows EVERYONE, the one bad thing you do can easily overshadow every other good thing you’ve done.

Is there anything else you’d like to bring across in this interview?
Thanks for taking time to learn about me! It’s always cool being on the other side of the interview. Tune into Gone Fishkin every Thursday night at 9PM ET on idobi Radio ( and keep up with me on Twitter,

Branden & James at Feast!

You start a pop culture website, you’re asked to interview someone in 2014 and you do a bit of research and go to the interview, and you come away a fan, for life. That’s what happened to me when I met Branden James (tenor, America’s Got Talent finalist) for the first time.  That’s all well and good, and you follow his career since then, and cement the fandonship, and then … the opportunity comes along to chat to him AGAIN … you go along and act like a gibbering 13 year old and hope that at the end of the day you can make some sense of the interview.

This time round Branden and his partner, cellist James Clark, were part of an event organised by the Feast  organisation and this allowed them to be part of a wonderful giving initiative in the most beautiful setting of The Venue in Melrose Arch.

When we arrived the guys were still busy with the sound check, which added to the experience for us as it gave us an insight into the background of the event. It was a bit like having a private Branden and James concert! It was also my first time seeing James Clark in action and it was a privilege.

IMG_3541We then had the opportunity to catch up with what they had been doing since 2014.

Welcome back to South Africa. It’s your first time isn’t it James?

James: It’s my first time yes. It’s been so great. I’m from Adelaide South Australia originally. We’re cricket playing friends. I like to bring that up. I don’t want to mention the rugby though. I’ve loved it here.

How did you get involved in cello playing, James?

James: It’s something I’ve done since I was about 9. But I was already having piano lessons and the school offered violin lessons and a year into that my teacher said I think you should play cello because there will be less competition for jobs and you’re going to have the fingers for it. It’s all about hand span on the cello. You need to be able to reach certain things. It was under her guidance and every kid wants to be unique, I thought I don’t want to be like everyone else. I’m going to play the cello. Now it’s been 20 something years.

IMG_3544You’ve done other shows in SA. Are there more people can look forward to here?

Branden: This is our last public show here. We’re doing a private event tomorrow at Steyn City. It’s a big place with great acoustics so it’s always really nice.

James: Then we leave here July 19th, we’re also recording a music video in Joburg on Sunday and Monday so we’re packing in as much as we can.

Branden: It’s called Juego Cruelle, a Spanish cover of Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game and we’ll be shooting the video here in Joburg in a couple of different locations.

James: It will be coming out very soon.  Then yes we do head back to America on the 19th and we are in Los Angeles for a couple of weeks before we head back to our residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico. During that time we’re also going to South America for a week of performances and to Hawaii four times. 

Branden: We also recorded seven new songs while we were here over four days in the studio.

I saw you had a fainting episode on the plane coming over. 

IMG_3539Branden: I did. I had a throat infection before I left and the doctor put me on steroids, but I didn’t tell him that I was flying and I guess you’re not supposed to fly when you’re on those kind of steroids, so I fainted. It was definitely scary.

James: I wasn’t that nervous because I was taking photos. After he got the help and some oxygen I could see the colour come back to his face, I thought it was time for some selfies.

I’m glad that you come back here every couple of years!

Branden: Me too. We hope to come back more often.

How did you get involved with the Feast initiative?

Branden: Feast is an organisation that is headed up by someone I call a friend now Christophe Juet, and his mother owns a catering company called the French Corner and she was at my shows in 2009 for the Twelve Tenors and she’s been a big fan ever since. It was her 65th birthday a few weeks ago and she flew us down to perform at her birthday party and was the initial reason why we’re here.

James: They provide scholarships for underprivileged students who want to get into culinary arts. 

Branden: Because Christophe is involved in the events and catering business as well, it’s sort of intermixed with his mother’s business, events are their specialty so I think this is their perfect situation for a fundraiser. 

IMG_3552You were on safari, how has your experiences been?

James: It was like a bucket list type thing. Many Australians were delighted to go on safari so I was delighted to have the opportunity to go.  I was very excited to see lions, wildebeest, warthogs. And we were at Shambala a fabulous property and the staff were very kind to us. We had a lovely experience.

What’s the Need Your Love campaign about?

Branden: We recorded a song and a video, Unchained Melody, which I think you’ve seen, and we wanted to create a campaign around the song. It was the 50th anniversary of the original song.

James: It was a campaign that we really ran intensely over the holiday period last year, and we really just wanted people to spread some love and to be kind one another.

Branden: We need it now.

James: It’s still happening. People can’t seem to learn the act of love, it was an initiative to get people to do nice things and be loving to everyone. We started another social campaign about music since February, #OurMusic but we’ve still been putting the Need Your Love thing through as a general message and I think it will remain as part of a general social message that we have, with our upcoming single You Belong.

Branden: The new single You Belong really just tells the story about how everyone has a place and that we’re all the same and it kind of ties into Need Your Love and it talks about treating people with human dignity and respect and all those things.

James: You don’t have to be everyone’s friend but you can still be good to them.

IMG_3537It’s so nice that you guys are working together now. You weren’t when I met you last time.

Branden: No. I’d just met James, and we became romantic partners and then started playing music together.

James: We met online, we didn’t have any clue about the music thing but it seems like it was meant to be. It kind of happened very organically. I was still studying my masters and Branden was doing freelance work and we just kind of tied up together and did a gig together and people seemed to like it and the more people liked it the more that’s come of it.

When it seems like daily or weekly there is some form of terrorist atrocity, we all need some love and kindness and to do what we can to encourage people to live with love and kindness.

Here’s more about The Branden James duo #ourmusic


You can follow Branden and James on any form of social media where they are very active:




Feast – eat good and do good!

When America’s Got Talent finalist Branden James contacted me to let me know about an event he  and his partner James Clark would be involved in in my country, South Africa, I was immediately taken by the Feast organisation and their aims.  From their website: Feast hosts regular events where lovers of the culinary arts gather to explore new restaurants, incredible wine, and to celebrate life. But the events are more than just a celebration of food and wine, they are a for a good cause. The money we raise through these events ensures that we are able to give back to the hospitality and culinary industry we love so much, by offering the opportunity for growth; both of the restaurants, venues, caterers and wine estates we support and the young aspiring chefs we sponsor.

An invite to such an event is something one can’t say no to, and getting Branden and James to perform at the event (which was held at The Venue in Melrose Arch) was a stroke of sheer mastery.

We arrived rather early as we were to conduct an interview, and we got exposed to a lot of the preparation that went into the event, which is always interesting for me. The professionalism and enthusiasm of the organisers and those involved was evident from the start. The stage and venue were laid out with art wIMG_3544orks surrounding them, which were to be auctioned off to raise funds for Feast.

At the beginning we got to hear a bit about what Feast was about from organiser Christophe Jouet who has found a wonderful way to combine his culinary and events management talents and in so doing give back to the community. He also mentioned that they had recently employed Linda Mongala and that this was her first event and I want to give special mention to her – she did an amazing job!

We were then treated to some amazing food including starters and a main course, and the wonderful performance of Branden and James who did a lovely set of classical and popular songs which included a tribute to those who passed away in the recent terrorist attack in Nice (more on this later).

The event was well organised and planned and ran well from start to finish, and the food was good too.  We felt quite spoiled! We IMG_3535were seated at a table which included a lady from Albania, some gentlemen from France, and some South Africans. So the conversation was fun and diverse and quite different to what this untravelled South African is used to experiencing. These were good people who were here to make a difference in my country.

After the main course we were told more about the students that Feast has already sponsored, and the art works were auctioned off. Then I got to thinking about how any of these people could be affected by the atrocities going on in the world today.

The Feast event was held a few days after the attack in Nice, on the same day as a military coup in Turkey, in which more than 80 people died. Without going too much into it on a positive post, I wanted to express the fact that the unrest in the world today is terribly upsetting. It goes against what organisations like FIMG_3546east are trying to achieve, what musicians like Branden and James epitomise, and what Nelson Mandela stood for, and the golden thread that my site honours..  As citizens we are left feeling helpless and sad. To those causing the trouble: Just stop. Stop. Live and let live. Live with love and laughter. But even more, to organisations, celebrities, entertainers and the every day citizen who want to stand in the face of the unrest and promote peace: Just keep doing it and do MORE of it. Your tributes make a difference. Your acts of peace matter. Your acts of reconciliation and kindness count.

Considering that it’s 18 July today, Mandela Day, it seems like a good day to promote love and peace, and feature Feast on Pop Speaking. For more opportunities to do good and follow what Feast is up to next, check out their website

Daniel and Bongi talk Saturday Night Fever and more!

Saturday Night Fever is going to be on at the State Theatre in Pretoria from 13 September to 9 October. It features a high calibre cast and I had the honour of chatting to Daniel Buys  (Tony Manero) and Bongi Mthombeni (Monty).

Neither of these young entertainers need any introduction to the South African public: you know each of them from successful times in Idols – Bongi from 2010 where he made it to the top 8, and Daniel was a finalist in 2007. They’ve been in many other productions, and each of them has been a Prince Charming in a different pantomime – eat your hearts out ladies!

They’re performing for the first time together in Saturday Night Fever.

To Daniel:

I see you’ve played Danny Zuko and Tony Manero. Are you a John Travolta fan?

DB: It’s hard not to be a Travolta fan. He seems like such a lekker oke. And the music. He is so charismatic so it’s hard not to be a fan of him.

Bongi and Daniel SNFSAI have watched Saturday Night Fever but I’m not as familiar with the story as I am with Grease.

DB: I must be honest I haven’t watched it. I’ve read the script obviously. I’m interested to watch it but I’m apprehensive because it might influence the way I do it. Not that it’s some deep work that you can delve into this deep psyche but still you want it to be your own.  I’ve been taking some dance classes, modern jazz classes, for SNF. When I did Grease it was more for a community production, and you go as far as the choreographer needs you to.  I would like to continue classes. I enjoy it a lot. Your body gets fit.

The character of Tony goes through quite an evolution in the show and you’ve also always played big characters and big musicals. Is character development and trying to inspire people something you’re keen to do as a performer?

DB: I think it is a lovely pay off when you do see impacts that you have on people and sometimes you do inspire people and it’s a wonderful feeling and it’s a nice thing to know that the work you do is not just for yourself. I think initially I got into it for myself. You can’t help but gravitate towards it if it’s something you enjoy so it just happened. So it’s a nice pay off that other people get something from it too. Thank goodness otherwise we’d have no work.

You also trained as a chef. Is that to have something to fall back on?

DB: I knew I wanted to do music really, and I wasn’t sure what to study within music but it seemed the only thing available was a B.Mus, heavily theory based and it seemed to qualify you to be a teacher, basically. I probably should have done it or at least gone and studied jazz or something but I wasn’t interested in that then. I didn’t know what avenue to take and my only other passion was cooking. It’s also expressive and quite a buzz. It’s the same sort of feeling, you go onto stage and get this buzz, and you finish late and then you still want to like have a beer and have a little wind down. It’s the same kind of lifestyle. Except as a performer you can sleep in a bit later than a chef.

Daniel Buys as Tommy de VitoYou’ve also been in Jersey Boys – to mention just one thing. Your career must have taken you to some places! Do you have any highlights to mention?

DB: That was probably the most phenomenal experience of my life. It was quite a coming of age process. It was such a whirlwind. I went with the two guys who played Frankie. We went to NY to working on the show with the creatives there, prior to starting working on rehearsals in Joburg so it just felt amazing, to be rehearsing in the middle of Manhattan. You felt like you’d made it. Once it got off the ground we opened in Singapore, played here and Cape Town. We did Istanbul. Not places you would expect. Off your own bat you probably wouldn’t go there. We kind of lived the story in real life. You’re on tour with your band, we shared life together and had tumultuous events. It was great.

To Bongi:

I saw you in Aladdin as Wishee Washee. You are madly talented. It was the first time I’d seen you but I see people say they were surprised by this role. Were your other roles more serious and did this represent a growth in your career?

BM: In terms of pantomime, most of them were. My first pantomime I did was of Cinderella and I was Prince Charming. It was very challenging, what Janice wanted of that character was not me. It was my first time doing theatre so the stage and everything was new to me and after that I did Jack and the Beanstalk, and then Aladdin. That was the most energetic and after that was Peter Pan, an old man. Nine shows in a week, I tell people you better go and do it but be mentally and physically fit.

Wishee Wasee
Bongi as Wishee-Washee in Aladdin

Then I saw you in Spamalot which had me laughing from start to finish.

I think most of the productions I’ve done, they are all challenging. I’ve never done a production where I had to do the same or act the same. It’s an English thing from overseas and I had to train as best as I can. Bongi loves talking, and that character didn’t talk much but was always on stage. I talked with my body, which also played a big role in me growing up as an actor. I had to listen to a lot of English theatre, listen how they speak. I was given coconuts to hit together and keep in synch to make the noise of the horse.

Your entry into the field is quite unique – could you describe it for us?

Wow! I’m going to try hard. It all started being born with it. And word started spreading when I was selling toys at the Rand Easter Show. Apparently there were two shops selling exactly the same items but because I have that edge with people, we made triple the money that the other shop made by myself, and then around the corner was a Yamaha store and I got on that stage and started playing. Most of the time I got in trouble with my boss because I would stay there over my lunch. That’s where the manager of the store saw me and took me in and started making me gig, taking me to Cape Town. That’s where it started, doing shows for schools. Then my mom lost her job and I had to move back home to help but luckily from doing that, two years later they came and said Bongi there’s a new studio that is opening in Pretoria. I went there to be a music arranger and arranged music for Afrikaans artists mainly.  I did backing vocals and then went to audition for Idols. It was raining and we slept there and I was like 50 in the queue and the next morning everyone swarmed in and I was about 250. It was very annoying, but then I had to take time off and I had to decide what I wanted to do as a career. I loved what I did in the studio, I learned a lot. I loved what I did but I thought my career had to grow and that’s where I did Idols. And that’s where I met Bernard Jay who told me he wanted me for pantomime. I didn’t know what on earth Pantomime was and he explained it to me and that’s when it started and I took it and I ran with it.

And with that the guys were off to the first photo shoot for Saturday Night Fever!

Catch both these talented performers in Saturday Night Fever on at the State Theatre in Pretoria from 13 September to 9 OctoberTickets are on sale now at Computicket from R150.  Visit   Terrific group party discounts for all performances are available from Melissa Lai at or on 082 881 6688  or Winnie on 083 266 9768.


Shrek The Musical at the Lyric

We’ve all seen and loved Shrek the movie. Now it’s time to see and love Shrek the Musical! Taking your child to see this is a great way to introduce him or her to theatre and nurture a lifelong love of the arts – or to reinforce the love you’ve already introduced! This is the ideal answer to the dreaded “I’m bored, what can I do?” question parents get during school holidays. And if you don’t have a child, just go and see it for yourself. It’s not only for kids!

Shrek The Musical is on at The Lyric Theatre in Gold Reef City from 24 June to 17 July 2016.

I had the opportunity (with thanks to The Colab Network!) to chat to Jessica Sole, who plays Princess Fiona, and Rowan Bakker, the Music Director.

The part of Fiona must be one of the most fun things to do

Jessica: Ja it really is. When we first did the show in Durban I didn’t realise how much of a character development she has had from the movie. She’s actually got a relatively small part in the movie and she’s a much bigger part of the story in the musical. And they’ve given her so much depth and sass and she’s really fun. So when I had the opportunity to revisit the character I was thrilled. In the original production Dreamworks was involved in the production of the musical so they saw it is an opportunity to create a more substantial role model in the show for young girls.

Rowan: But it’s also taking an 80 minute movie and expanding it to a much longer show. You need to flesh out those characters a lot more.

Jessica: We’re so starved for decent female role models for young girls.

fionaRowan you’re the musical director. Is it all coming together well?

Last year I did Shrek Junior for the children’s theatre, the reduced version of the show and I’ve loved the score ever since I heard it. It’s phenomenal writing, very witty writing and I just relate to the story when musically it takes you on such a fantastic journey. If you’ve been bullied or been the underdog and I think every kid can relate to that. They get bullied at some stage and the music just brings all that to life. What’s on the page is amazing, to interpret and give it to performers is amazing.

How did you get started in it?

Rowan: I did classical music for many years as a kid and when I finished school I went to study drama, and I landed up combining my performance with music and learning how to do drama through music. It fell into place, I was in the right place at the right time.  It’s a lot of work. People don’t realise how much work goes into what we do. They see the finished product on stage and don’t realise the amount of training that’s gone in.

Jessica: The amount of rehearsal time and the time making sets and props and costumes so when people say R150 for a theatre ticket is a bit steep, they don’t take into account all the work that goes into it.

Rowan: Whereas the price of the Tony winning musical on Broadway now is $850.  Our shows are way cheaper.  Which is why they tend to send out South African tours of shows because we are much cheaper.

shrek 2You’re not only seeing the show; you’re supporting the people. Did you find attendance was good in Durban?

Jessica: Initially bookings were slow because I think people have this idea I’ve seen the movie, what can the musical possibly have to offer on stage that the movie didn’t, but what they don’t realise is that it’s a totally different kettle of fish. The characters are the same and there are a lot of the same gags and the atmosphere of the show but all the music is original for the production.

Rowan: The show has got lots of heart. The movie’s got tons of heart and then you watch it live and your heart breaks for these characters. It’s living in the moment. It’s exciting.

I suppose anything can happen in South African theatre like load shedding.

Jessica: Ja we had a lovely experience of that when I did Orpheus in Africa. They had a backup generator luckily and a lot of theatres don’t. But when the power goes out for about eight seconds, it takes eight seconds for the thing to kick in and the audience was just like so there with you and I think that’s the power of theatre. You really draw people in and get them on your side.

You come away feeling like you’ve been part of something.

Jessica, how did you get started in acting?

I was really fortunate in that when I was in primary school I had a really great drama teacher who put on really excellent shows every year. We took a little kids show to Grahamstown the one year and the next year they organised this little tour to the UK where we took a show and performed at schools. And when I was in high school there was this thing called the Unilever Young Performers Project which was a professional level musical that was directed by professional musical directors. So we really got very good experience and then at University I had the opportunity to audition for a Kickstart show and they do most of the really great work in Durban. The big hit musicals and stuff. It was called I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change.

What have been highlights and challenges of being Fiona?

The biggest or scariest thing for me is the quick change from being a princess into an ogre. I think it’s about 38 seconds and there are three people helping me and for some reason you know every second night something happens and it’s absolutely terrifying but you make plans. Somebody finds a massive safety pin and sticks it in and you go on stage. I think this round Rowan has been challenging me vocally quite a lot which has been so nice,to explore different parts of my voice and different modes of expression which I’ve kind of shied away from and Rowan has really helped me to kind of explore.

shrek 3You’ve worked with guys like Roger Taylor. Which has been one of your favourite musicals to work on?

Rowan: We Will Rock You because it was my first big musical and my favourite show that I’ve worked on. Working with Roger Taylor and Ben Elton you can’t complain. Every show is a different challenge. Like doing Sister Act was a huge joy for me. Every show, I invest 200% in what I’m doing. I love what I do. It very rarely feels like a job.

Jessica: It’s such a luxury. How many people get to say the thing that they love is the thing that they do for money?

Rowan: As hard as the work is it doesn’t feel like work when you enjoy what you do. It’s not easy. Sometimes you wonder when the next pay cheque comes in but enjoying what you do far outweighs those moments when you worry about things like that.

Is there a message you’re trying to get across to audiences with this show?

Rowan: Definitely. Everyone can be who they are without having to worry about what everyone else might think. Be who you are.

Jessica: There’s a huge message of tolerance and acceptance and of people’s differences and that being different is good, it’s something we should acknowledge, we’re not all the same. We don’t all have the same opportunities and backgrounds and values.

Rowan: And the way the story is told, it’s so much fun, go on this journey and it’s fun. And you understand and get over repression. Now let’s get on. A very submissive way of involving the audience.

Jessica: You have to come and watch the show. It’s great and it’s not just a kids show.

Rowan: The messages are universal and there are so many things kids will enjoy and so many things adults will enjoy.

Jessica: And young adults should come too, not only people with kids. Teens need to see it. I think teens suffer the most. They should realise they’re not alone. There’s always someone out there.

Shrek The Musical:  Show dates: 24 June – 17 July 2016

Show times: 14h30 (matinees) – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and 19h30 (evening performances) – Friday and Saturday

Venue: The Lyric @ Gold Reef City Casino 

Tickets: From R 150 to R 290.