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.

 

 

Yvonne Chaka Chaka – A Night With the Stars

YvonneSometimes, when I’m interviewing for my site, I can’t believe it’s actually me doing the things I’m doing.  I’m just an ordinary average person, not affluent and just ‘ordinary’. Yet, music and the arts have the power to make me feel alive! And I believe it’s this that is what appeals the most – to touch and BE touched by the souls who tweak the golden thread of humanity.

More than that, there are some things that would just have been physically impossible just a few years ago. Before the fall of apartheid, it would have been very unlikely if not impossible for me to talk to Yvonne Chaka Chaka!!  The Princess of Africa! And I find myself feeling SO GRATEFUL for our freedom, even if we have many challenges facing us today.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka has been in the music business in South Africa since 1985. She is is an internationally recognised and highly respected South African singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, humanitarian and teacher. Among many other successes, the song “Umqombothi” was featured in the opening scene of the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda.


Even though I have done a number of interviews, I still never fail to feel nervous when I speak to people I hold in such high regard. This interview was no exception, but Yvonne put me at my ease right at the beginning. The reason I’m talking to her is because she’s about to be in a show called “A Night With the Stars” (June 27 and 28) at Joburg Theatre (book here)with the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra and the moment I spoke to her, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the youngsters will be immediately at their ease and be able to do their very best. And one of the injustices of the past is that Yvonne’s songs simply weren’t played on the so called ‘white stations’. So I thought that a good way to honour this profoundly talented and longstanding lady who makes me proud to be South African would be to let you hear her songs so this post has more videos than pictures (please listen, and DON’T download them from here, go get them from iTunes).

What was your original motivation? What is your motivation now? To get in to and then keep creating music.  Do I detect a soul influence, and possibly an influence from 60s / 70s pop bands?

I think it’s influence from the 60s and kind of soul music influences me, I want to think so.

All the stuff in the media about a fire pool made me think of your song I’m Burning Up.


 What’s that song about – the video looks so much fun, please tell me about the process of that song and video?

It was actually written for me, when I started singing most of the songs were written for me. I never contributed anything, I just went into the studio and sang. It was only later I started contributing and having a say in everything that I did.

What made you decide to get into that?

 When I started singing, music was not something I wanted to do. I always wanted to be an accountant. My mother wanted me to be a lawyer. For me this was a totally new thing. I sang in church and school. But it was not a career that I anticipated. I did not think there was anything in this kind of life so when I got into it, I thought if it’s done well, it looks like there is longevity. So I thought let me try my luck. It’s influenced by the see and feels around you and I started travelling, going to places like Kenya, Tanzania. Experiencing other people’s lives. I wanted to write about the things I saw. Attie van Wyk and all the people that I worked with, they gave me a chance to be able to write about my experiences.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Being an artist of more than 27 years standing, you have seen the best and the worst of South Africa.  You have been a wonderful ambassador for South Africa and are one of the people who makes me proud to be South African. Thank you for that, from me.  Let’s say you were a teacher (which you are) and South Africa was your student, what would you give us on your report card today, and why?

I’m humbled by that. I really think we as South Africans have come a long way. I’ve been in the music industry for 30 years. I started singing in 1985 and 10 years since I became a UN goodwill ambassador. Being a South African born during apartheid you could only imagine these things. I think to myself I never anticipated this, never thought I would be in New York. You can only imagine some of those things. In 1963 when Miriam Makeba was at the UN talking about what was happening in South Africa and you can only imagine that this was a South African talking at the UN Chambers and now today I say I’m in that position. It can only be something that God has planned. I say to myself being a South African and we look and say so much has happened to us. We are able to talk about it. Today you and me are talking, you’re white and I’m black and we’re talking as equals about our country. Not yours or mine. So for me we’ve come a long way and we’ve learned to tolerate each other. If we write a report we’ve come a long way, we can never be the same, but we can learn from one another.   We always paint each other with the same brush, which is terrible.

We have some challenges as South Africans. High levels of crime, high unemployment, levels of dissatisfaction at corruption. What can high profile South Africans, as well as people on the ground, do to help our country from the position we’re in now?

I think what is good now is that freedom of speech is here, people are able to say whatever they want without being scared. People are able to say we don’t like what we see or hear. Ages ago we didn’t know what was happening in our country. Whether there was corruption or whatever, we were not allowed to talk about it. We were not part of the system. There’s even an Ombudsman. So now that we know what our rights and what is corruption, we should not allow it to happen. Our country should be growing not with the slow pace as it is. We can’t afford to retrench people. We need more people being employed. We are getting more young people in Africa so we can’t afford to not empower them. We need to ensure that SMMEs are upskilled and young people are given the skills they need.  We can’t wait for government.  We need to go back to the drawing board to see that we are able to walk freely to do things we need and get rid of crime and corruption. Am I able to do this or that that I need to do? You need people to be efficient to do ordinary things as if you can’t do ordinary things it becomes cumbersome. We need likeminded people to be able to do things above board.

As I get older I realise more and more that as white South Africans we lived an incredibly sheltered life. I get more and more annoyed about it because it prevented us from mixing with ALL South Africans, from learning their languages, learning their cultures, befriending them, and – listening to their music. Back in the 70s and 80s, what sort of support did you receive from South African radio and TV stations? Could radio and TV have done more to integrate society and break down barriers? Could they do more now?

Well I wish more could have been done. Music becomes a universal language. With music you disseminate information but obviously during those times,  we were rebelling and telling the world about the atrocities happening in South Africa. So some of the music was not played because either they did not understand or felt it was not acceptable to them.

Music is universal. When it hits you you get healed. It was sad because there was music for black people and music for white people. It’s sad. I would appreciate my music to be played everywhere, on Radio Five instead of categorising music like a language. I don’t think there’s white or black music.  One thing that was advantageous to us is we were forced to speak English and Afrikaans, French and other languages, it was advantageous and white people could only speak English. We could interact very easily with other people.

I started my website because I’m interested in the golden thread of humanity – as singers, artists, writers, etc, people have the ability to touch others across generations, nations, genders, and race. To inspire people. A song you sing today could inspire someone in generations to come – who isn’t even born yet. Is this something that you think about when performing your music?

Everybody does – like you, you may think you’re not, but the fact that you’re going to write, someone is going to pick up your article and be inspired. I really think everybody out there in their way does inspire people. I always think because I’m in the limelight and I travel a lot and I’ve been given my platform by the people who support me. I don’t think I’m a celebrity I don’t call myself one. (we do!) but I always respect people, it doesn’t matter who they are. You learn from different people every day and for me I always love being inspired and learning from others.

Throughout your life and career you’ve been a wonderful ambassador for South Africa and have broken down barriers. 

  • You were the first black child to appear on South African TV.

Some say I was the second, others say I was the first, it doesn’t matter to me.  It was in 1981 when Black TV started, with TV 2 it was only between 6 – 8 and it was just cartoons and there was a programme called The Conquerer, a guy called Bernard Joffe. It was a Talent Search programme which he put together and it was a singing competition. There were young people playing instruments and dancing. I was the first one there, and he paid us. He paid me R500. That was a lot of money then. My mom earned R40 a month and I made more than her. I was walking with my shoulders up there. He paid us so much money. So I think when he packaged that whole programme he put me first. It was just one of those things.

  • You’ve performed for HRM Queen Elizabeth II, US President Bill Clinton, South African President Thabo Mbeki and a host of other world leaders. Please tell us about these experiences. How does it feel for a girl from Soweto – the Princess of Africa – to perform for the Queen of England?

 Born in Soweto, my father died when I was 11, I never once thought I would travel and see all the faces that I’ve seen or touch them or be amongst them, so for me – to get invited to the White House – perform for Madiba, performing for the Queen, I met Michael Jackson and Whitney. It’s like I kick myself and I think you can never let your background deter you from wanting to be what you want to be. You can never take anything for granted. Everything that you have or that you are has always been planned for you. I constantly say thank you to God.  I’m a strong believer, I’m a Christian.  I never take anything for granted. I had my feet firm on the ground and worked hard, I never thought I had to be there. I never think like that. You never know. What goes up must come down. I never take anything for granted. I’m grateful for the little I have.

You’ve seen a lot of changes in the music world. From vinyl to cassette to CD, with videos too – to mp3s and the internet.  And back to vinyl! Do you find issues like piracy to be a problem – in that it affects your income – and how do you counteract this? Do you think the advent of iTunes and other legal downloading options in South Africa have helped counteract piracy, having made music more accessible?

Oh yes. I really think that’s the biggest problem that we have. When we started singing there is no social media that there is now, which is a great tool to expose music.  These young people with music now, there’s so much exposure, that’s very good but on the other hand, other people explored those avenues for bad reasons. I’m on Google Alerts, and in a day I find my name more than 40 times. They put my music there, upload all your stuff there and you don’t even know who uploads all your stuff. Piracy is at its worse. And that’s stealing someone’s livelihood. In some of the other countries rules are being adhered to but in Africa, most of our stuff is being pirated. They’re stealing our intellectual property and that’s why some artists end up dying like paupers. I think it goes back to education. If you are being educated that you are buying something that’s not authentic, it’s stealing.

On 27 and 28 June you are performing in “A Night with the Stars” with the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra Company. What does it mean to be performing with these young people – possibly born after the fall of apartheid – during Youth month?

When they approached me, for me it’s like giving back and actually encouraging these young people. Like me wanting to perform with my idol. I think these young kids; you can have ambition, because they do have the talent. I have a problem when the jobs want people to have experience, where are they to get it if they haven’t worked? I want to say I’m here; you can work with me as well. I’m prepared to come down to your level and you can work with me. I’m putting myself in your shoes and sitting here with you. Whether they make mistakes, I’m saying it’s okay, I’m going to be there with you. If you are going to go up with me, it’s okay. If you are not it’s still okay but this experience means you can say I did perform with Yvonne Chaka Chaka. It’s during Youth Month, for me it’s supporting these young people. Saying we know you’re young but in 5 – 10 years they could be in the main orchestra or whichever. I would like to encourage other stars to avail themselves for the youth. To be there. I say to myself if you don’t give them a chance who will.

Is there anything else that you would like to bring across in this interview?

 We need to encourage young people, they need to work hard. I’m here to mentor them and I’m sure I was also mentored. I didn’t just wake up and become what I am.  And maybe when they’re older they can do it for others.  They have so much talent.

Book now for A Night With the Stars! 

Catching up with Gaynor Young SA Actress

Gaynor Young glamGaynor Young is a name that will stand out to all lovers of South African theatre. 

A well known South African actress in the 1980s and currently the author of her own blog Ear Ear Blog, her inspirational story is one that should be shared and remembered, in order to help others facing challenges. 

My parents were theatre lovers back in the 80s and as such we went to a lot of plays, in all the theatres in Johannesburg including the Alhambra, Market and Rex Garner. At these I was privileged to see many South African actors of the day including Gaynor Young – extra special to me because she is my namesake, and being a shy young girl it’s nice to know that an accomplished actress also has your name! –  

Our whole family was very saddened one day in 1989 when we heard of a terrible accident Gaynor had suffered falling down a lift shaft during one of her performances. It was touch and go as to whether she would survive and we listened to the radio daily for news of her condition. Survive she did, but 
she suffered brain damage and deafness. 

She chats to us about her life and how she has managed to overcome adversity. 


“I  have a great faith, I am very stubborn, determined and extremely vain! But perhaps most importantly I loved life before my accident and I still love this incredible thing called life with all its ups and downs.”

Gaynor Young Dandini in CinderellaYou were known as the darling of South African theatre, I remember seeing you when I was a young girl in Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie, and Deadly Embrace. Have you always lived in South Africa and how did the places you lived in influence your acting?


I was actually born in Nakuru, Kenya, but moved to South Africa when I was 18 months old. I spent two years in England when I was 5 and then returned to SA where I have been living ever since bar working in London as an pair for six months when I was 21. I grew up in Apartheid South Africa and that certainly contributed to who I am. 

I don’t think I have a particularly strong SA accent and I am good at mimicking foreign accents!

How did  you get into acting – do you come from an acting family and do you have anyone else in the family who acts?

I don’t coming from any sort of acting background, but during my childhood, at Christmas time we all went to the yearly pantomime. I always delighted in watching the stories of Peter Pan, Aladdin, Snow White, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk unfolding before us. It was a total enchantment! I remember thinking: “One day I will be up there! I am going to become an actress!” I wanted to be part of that magical world that gave so many people pleasure. And so…..I became an actress!

You studied at Durban University – what qualification did you obtain and are there any special teachers or staff members who had an influence on your life?

I got a BA in Drama and English and then studied honours Drama and attained a cum laude. Peter and Margaret Larlham were two very special people at University. Peter was the senior drama lecturer and Margi taught movement.  Margi along with Jil Hurst  liberated my voice and body, so that I was free from inhibition. They taught me that ‘nothing is gained without risk’. Pieter Scholtz the Head of the drama department also played a large part in setting me on the acting pathway.

You haGaynor Young as Biancad some roles on TV – Harry’s House and Playing with Fire to name two. Which was your favourite medium – TV or theatre?

Theatre because it is the one I did the most of. Since my accident because of my brain damage I can’t remember much about the TV work.

Were there any pivotal roles in your career – the role as Bianca in Othello perhaps?


I played Dandini in Cinderella. I guess this role was pivotal as Rex Garner saw me, and on the strength of this performance cast me in my first role in Johannesburg in The Runner Stumbles for Pieter Toerien. The first of many roles for Pieter.

I loved playing Bianca in Othello. This role in itself however was not particularly pivotal, but being directed Dame Janet Suzman certainly was. I learnt an incredible amount from Jan.

And then came the moment when you were understudying the role of Guinevere in Camelot. You fell 18 m during a blackout in the theatre, into an open lift shaft. You were in a coma for quite some time, suffered deafness and brain damage. Yet, just a few years later you were able to star in a one woman show about the accident, and write a book about it. Can you remember anything of the performance or the accident?

I actually remember nothing of this evening, in fact I now remember nothing of my acting career, but I was told afterwards that I was absolutely “Fan…..bloody…..tastic!”

Tell us about the period afterwards – what type of treatment and recovery did you undergo?

After finally leaving hospital I returned to my parents’ farm in George, and for two years had every sort of therapy invented! Occupational therapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy, psychotherapy. I loved the weekends they were therapy free! At the end of two years I moved to Headway in Johannesburg, a rehabilitation centre exclusively for brain-damaged people. I stayed for a year.

Where do you find the mental strength to get up and carry on?

I have a great faith, I am very stubborn, determined and extremely vain! But perhaps most importantly I loved life before my accident and I still love this incredible thing called life with all its ups and downs.

What inspired you to write your book and your play? Did these help bring closure to you?

Gaynor Young with Jan ShapiroI have always enjoyed writing. After my accident I discovered it was something I was still able to do although I had to learn to write again with my left hand and typing became a one fingered affair!  I wrote regularly to my great friend Shirley Johnston about how my recovery was progressing. She wrote encouraging replies. One day however her reply was filled with criticism. ‘ Damm cheek’ I thought, but after reading what she wrote, I realised she was right. I guess that day I decided to write my book and that I needed Shirley to be my editor. The process of writing my book gave me my ‘history’ back. So many memories were brought back to me.

As for my one woman shows: another great friend, Maralin Vanrenen, phoned me and said, ‘I know you told me that because of your accident you would never act again, but, you can perform as Gaynor Young, telling your story! You open in six weeks at The Civic Theatre!’. So I had to sit down and write My Plunge to Fame and then later my second show Gaynor Rising.

If there is anybody reading this who has suffered such an accident or is facing such a challenge, what advice would you give them?

Don’t listen to anyone telling you that you can’t do something. Deciding that you are going to try is 60%  of the job done. Don’t take no for an answer.  Yes, there is a point at which you have to accept. But, never accept without first trying. My friend Kate Edwards after my accident said to me that one day a cure would be found for my deafness. Since then cochlear implants have come into play in South Africa, and now after two operations I am able to hear again in both ears using my CI’s. No, my deafness is not cured but……… I can hear again!  Kate was right!

What do you see the future holding?

Well, I live one day at a time, but because of my love of writing (and to be honest my need to try and earn some money), I decided to start blogging at the end of March this year. I blog about the issues in my life, my deafness, my Christianity, my brain damage,  my personal perspective on the world – my complete love of life! And, it would seem people like what I am writing. I am fast becoming a major player in the SA blogging arena.  Last week alone over 24k saw my blog posts via my associated FB page, and my last blog to do with Movember (http://www.earearblog.com/grow-grow-2) got 21,200 views just over the weekend Read ‘ear ‘ear blog!

Where can people follow what you are up to now and order your book?

My book, My Plunge to Fame is available via my blog ‘ear ‘ear (www.earearblog.com) which I also keep up to date. 

Related post: Amy Yasbeck chats to us about the John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health