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:

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

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

Branden James – Voice of an American Angel In Our Town!

Branden James is a young man with a lot of soul in his eyes and the distinguished classical voice of an angel.  He’s one of the Twelve Tenors and was a finalist in America’s Got Talent Season 8. It’s said that he has a voice for all seasons, but I think he has a voice for all time.

I normally post a lot of pics but with Branden James, his music talks better than pictures, so please listen to the clips I’ve shared.

Listen to this and then read on.


 
 
You can witness this for yourself at 3pm on Sunday 14 September when he performs in Branden James – Up Close and Personal at the Auto and General Theatre on theSquare in Sandton. 

He is described as a highly acclaimed international classical/crossover tenor and he  will take you on a heart-warming personal musical journey encompassing his love for all music styles, most especially classic, theatre, jazz interspersed with well known pop numbers. He’ll perform together with Cito from WONDERboom and British Diva vocalist Alison Ward. The audience will be treated to instantly recognisable hits like You Raise Me Up, Nessun Dorma, I’ve got you under my skin, New York New York, Desperado, Rocket Man, Your Song, This is a Man’s World, Ave Maria and The Prayer to name but a few.

branden collett and meI met with Branden and Collett Dawson from TheCoLab Network in Rosebank on a gorgeous spring morning where the scene was set for me by a busker playing his guitar in the parking lot at The Zone.
I’m told that in Branden James – Up Close and Personal, we can look forward to a heart-warming personal musical journey encompassing your love for all music styles, most especially classic, theatre, jazz interspersed with well known pop numbers. What’s your favourite style and what drew you to classical?
I would say classical pop. I was probably one of the most frustrating students for my piano teachers, because I didn’t always want to play what was on the sheet, I would play my own and then they would say I wasn’t practising.  But I soldiered on and I learned some of the popular songs and other pieces.  I think my voice is geared towards classical. It took me a while to get into singing, but I would do it by myself in the school gym and in the car, and then I almost fell into it by accident. A friend overheard me and convinced me to audition for the school choir so I did and it went on from there.  I do songs like “You Raise Me Up”, I would almost say I’ve become quite synonymous with that.

And with good reason:



What are you looking forward to about doing Up Close and Personal?
I’m happy that there will be something for everyone.  I’ve been to check out the Auto and GeneralTheatre on the Square and it’s so intimate so I’m looking forward to sharing all different styles of music.  And I will have the honour of performing with Cito from WONDERboom. Not everybody will be able to go back to the States and say they’ve been able to do that.  I’ll also do some originals – I usually like to just sit down at the piano and see what it feels right to play on the day.  Also I made a lot of friends and connections here and I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces in the audience.
I’ve heard that you might be doing Desperado – that’s one of my favourite songs of all time. I heard it in a documentary in like the late 90s and we didn’t have the internet then and it took me about a decade to find out that it was the Eagles. Is there any particular reason for that song?
Yes. I’ve always had the influence of country music. My grandfather was the country singer Jimmy Smith and I grew up with him. My father was and still is a huge Elvis Presley fan and so I had quite a large honky tonk influence.
You’re doing a lot of TV and radio appearances while you’re here.
Yes. In fact I’m going to a TV show tonight which will be on SABC – so everyone can see it. It’s called Tongue In Cheek and I’ll be doing an original song on there as a guest artist. It will go out on air on September 16th.
You were a finalist in America’s Got Talent last year.  Obviously your career had started before that so this wasn’t a career launching entry.  Why did you want to enter it and how did it assist you?
I’d always had an obsession with these types of shows. I actually was interested in American Idol and The Voice and they said I was good but maybe my voice didn’t quite suit the format of the show. That’s also what prompted me to explore other styles. And then a friend of mine suggested that I try America’s Got Talent, because it wasn’t only about pop it was about all different styles and different forms of entertainment. And it took me three years to get the nerve up to try and when I did it was so worth it. It just increases your audience and the benefits of doing well on it are incredible. I mean the audience is up to about 14 million.

What advice would you give to people looking to enter a show like America’s Got Talent?
Just be your most authentic self. TV audiences are no dummies. You have to be on top of your performance.  And social media has changed the way we view TV – even to the point of how people vote in shows like AGT. You don’t only SMS in now. You can vote on Twitter or other ways online.


What were highlights for you of your Twelve Tenors tour to SA in 2010?
I loved it. It was the final stop on a world tour we were doing.   I just loved the spirit of the place. It’ unparalleled. And Collett organised so many great things. She took us to so many places including a place called Glen Afric that was just so amazing. The South African audiences are so appreciative.  People were actually screaming for us and they really showed how much they liked us. Also the guys were so great.  People would ask us whether we all got on, and we did! There was nothing wrong, we are more like brothers actually.  And I had worked with some of the guys before. There are times when I miss working in a big band of guys like that because of the camaraderie.  Also the food in South Africa is amazing. I’m a foodie and I grew up in New York City where the food is very diverse and when I came here I was expecting it to be a bit bland and more like British food  but I was very surprised and pleased by the different foods here.
Do you have a favourite song?
That’s a difficult question for a musician to answer because my taste is so varied and it changes on a weekly or bi weekly basis.  But I just heard a song called Family by aSowetan band called Soil this morning and that’s going to become a favourite for the next while. I’m going to download it as soon as I can get to some wifi. I also like jazzy songs like My Funny Valentine (Recorded by Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Andy Williams, Miles Davis, Nico and Chaka Khan. The song is a popular jazz standard, appearing on over 1300 albums performed by over 600 artists.)
I’ve heard that you kicked off games for the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Cubs, and Chicago Bulls with your rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. Are you a sports fan yourself and what’s it like performing in front of a sporting crowd?
I’m actually not much of a sports fan but I enjoy the atmosphere and it’s nice to sing the national anthem. Also with games like the Lakers, they have a huge celebrity following and I like to look for the famous faces in the crowds.



As with all of us I’m sure you’ve had setbacks or difficulties and times when it’s hard to push on. In those times what pushes you?
Every artist struggles at times because they are professional and perfectionists so sometimes it’s just about thinking about not being good enough. Actually one of my favourite quotes is by Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Do one thing every day that scares you”.  So I constantly put myself in places where I’m scared, to push myself to grow further.
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to stand up in front of a large audience and perform. I don’t think that I could do it.  Are you a natural with that or is that something that might be daunting?
It depends a lot on the context, but I think I am quite natural. And writing and playing music, sitting down at my piano, that’s my place of calm. That’s what gives me peace and strength.
I love America at least what I know of it. If I could have my choice of place to be, I’d be living in California near Santa Barbara or Santa Monica. I see that you come from Orange County. I know they’re quite a jump apart,  but have you always lived there and can you tell me something of your experience growing up as a classical musician there?

Branden James and Me!Although Orange County is in California it is still quite a world away from LA, they are really two different worlds. Orange County is more like a family community and I think it is almost because there is quite a lack of creativity. I’ve also lived in New York for a while and sometimes you have to wade through the Hollywood stereotypes.  The culture and creativity is there, but sometimes you have to drive to find it.
I believe that musicians, artists, actors etc have the ability to tweak the golden thread of humanity with their art – it goes across generations, nations, races.  You can move people, and make them think more about things – inspire people.  Is that something that you aim to achieve with your music? Do you want to do this for other people or is it something that you need to do?
Both. Expression is important. And I often get people contacting me who are say they are inspired by my story who say I have helped them deal with certain issues. I think I’ve been quite open with my sexuality and I don’t mind if I’m seen as an LGBT activist even though it’s not my primary purpose.  I sometimes even get people contacting me from the Middle East and places saying that my story inspires them . I come from a strong religious background and it was quite a struggle with my parents when I came out. Slowly things are mending, and I want to be a comfort to people and be able to tell them it won’t always be that way.  I like knowing that people can take comfort from my story.
There shouldn’t be any issue about people’s sexuality. I mean, who cares. It should be that anyone can be who they want and shouldn’t feel the need to come out to anyone else. Do you think that there will ever be a day when that kind of acceptance comes?
I’m an optimist, so I’m going to say yes. I have a love for humanity, not taking into account people’s sexuality. Also with social media we’re able to make immense strides and break down barriers. So I’m going to say that that day will come.  
What’s up next for you after Up Close and Personal?
Well after this I’m going to Reykjavik. I’m doing the show on Sunday at 3 and then getting on a plane at 7. It’s a long journey. And then after that I’m doing some shows on a ship and then heading to New Zealand, I’ll be doing some shows in Auckland.  There’s  a lot going on. And I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces on Sunday at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square.

As I left Branden gave me a hug and I know that I’ve been hugged by a man with one of the nicest voices in the world today. 


BRANDEN JAMES – Up Close and Personal
One Show only!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Auto and General Theatre on the Square 

BRANDEN JAMES – Up Close and Personal

BRANDEN JAMES – Up Close and Personal
One Show only!
Sunday, 14 September 2014
 
 
Do not miss this exclusive and intimate performance by America’s Got Talent Finalist 2013Branden James, as he performs just this ONE concert while on holiday in Johannesburg, on Sunday 14 September at Auto & General Theatre on the Square, Sandton, at 3pm.
In Branden James – Up Close and Personal, this highly acclaimed international classical/crossover tenor will take you on a heart-warming personal musical journey encompassing his love for all music styles, most especially classic, theatre, jazz interspersed with well known pop numbers.
Remembered as one of the popular Twelve Tenors when they performed to a great response and critical acclaim in Johannesburg in 2010, Branden has been wanting to return to the city and country he fell in love with whilst here, ever since.
The audience will be treated to instantly recognisable hits like You Raise Me Up, Nessun Dorma, I’ve got you under my skin, New York New York, Desperado, Rocket Man, Your Song, This is a Man’s World, Ave Maria and The Prayer to name but a few.
Joining Branden on stage will be British diva vocalist from Liverpool, Home of The Beatles, Alison Ward for a few numbers, as well as a special guest appearance by local rock legend, Cito.  Superb accompaniment will be performed by Wayne Purchase on piano and Elena Zlatkova on violin, ensuring a night to remember for all those in attendance.
 
James states;  “On my first visit to South Africa in 2010 with The Twelve Tenors, I instantly fell in love with the country. There is a spirit in the culture and the people of South Africa that is unparalleled. I find the political history and triumph over struggle so incredibly fascinating.  I’ve dreamt of my return to the heart and soul of Africa for many years now and I cannot wait to share an afternoon of song with you. My audience can expect a concert filled full of stories and humor and various musical genres with some very special surprise musical guests. I’m grateful to be performing once again in your glorious nation. May it be the first of many return trips.”
Branden James – Up Close and Personal is presented by The CoLab Network who have a strong commitment in regularly pairing inimitable entertainment concepts with live local venues thus providing guests with a one-of-a-kind music experience. 
Says Executive Producer, Collett Dawson; “I worked closely with Branden during his Twelve Tenors tour and was instantly impressed by his vocal dexterity along with his wonderful innate charm that instantly resonated with the South Africans watching him. I’m thrilled that The CoLab Network has now been able to facilitate his return for our audiences to enjoy a more in-depth experience of this incredible talent, alongside some other fabulous local musicians as well.”
Branden James – Up Close and Personal is on for ONE PERFORMANCE ONLY on Sunday 14 September at 3pm at Auto & General Theatre on the Square, Sandton.
Tickets are R150 and can be booked on 011 883 0606 / 082 553 5901 or online at www.strictlytickets.com
For more information on Branden James, visit his website at www.brandenjames.com, follow him on YouTube at www.youtube.com/brandenjames and twitter: @BrandenJMusic