Whenever I interview someone, I always try to bring something to the party – in other words, I like to help the artist who is tweaking the golden thread. But when it’s somebody like the inimitable Timothy Moloi, I know there’s not much I can do except try to spread the word about what they’re doing to a wider audience than he already reaches. His art on its own needs nothing else. And when it means I’m going to get to spend half an hour chatting to him in a Sandton coffee shop – I feel like it’s Christmas!
Add to this the fact that Timothy is about to do a show in tribute to the wonderful Luther Vandross and it means we have a lot to chat about!
Growing up in Soweto, everyone loved to listen to Luther. At the time he was one of the biggest artists and he literally influenced a whole generation of singers. When I heard him sing he made it sound so easy. At the time people were doing things that where formulaic, but he approached R and B and soul from a place of honesty. He loved music so much that he immersed himself in it. In many ways, with music and the church and how he started with his backing vocals, he had a modest start which was relatable to me. And then he landed up having such an amazing career and collaborated with so many people.
He started the Patti Labelle fanclub, which I think says something about his character.
Luther always worshipped Patti Labelle and at the time she wasn’t as mainstream as Diana Ross and Chaka Khan. He administered the fan club for a very long time. They were big influences on each other. And something that I admired about him was that he managed to keep his life private. There was a mystique about him which made him interesting. I think it’s an old school type of thing which I prefer. When I do music it’s a place I go to to work then it’s good to switch off. He really was all about music. His talent was so far reaching. That’s how he became so influential.
I know Dance With My Father was one of the last things he did.
Even that is interesting because he co wrote it with Richard Marx.
Wow I didn’t know that but now that you say that you can hear the influence – they have a similar sound.
They collaborated quite a bit specially later in his career. They fed off each other. Richard Marx went to an accept an award for Dance With My Father posthumously. It’s simplicity, but there’s a purity as well – when you think of Waiting for You, that’s one of my best songs of all time. I’m looking forward to the show so much. Everyone is so excited for it. We’re literally like –
A few years ago we wouldn’t have been able to do this one.
I did Motown Magic at the Lyric, Sinatra, but there hasn’t really been much that I’ve seen or heard of someone doing a Luther tribute. It’s never something I do consciously but people have always mentioned that I remind them of Luther. I’ve heard it throughout my career. I think maybe they’re hearing something. I don’t try to imitate anyone, but whenever I perform, I’m hard pressed to find a time that someone doesn’t say ‘you remind me of Luther’.
I saw the Marvin Gaye one with Lloyd Cele. It was awesome.
I was sad to miss that one. But I knew Lloyd was going to be amazing.
I don’t think Luther had it so easy with his father who passed –
Dance With My Father is probably one of the few autobiographical songs that we know of. He was an entertainer, and his music and his legacy was influenced by the music he loved. He didn’t put himself in or expose himself so much, which was the error of the time. You were supposed to be mysterious. A lot of the time you can read things into songs, but what I loved about his approach is it was all about the music. For me music is much bigger than that. It transcends our own experiences. Especially for someone who collaborated so much and he was an interpreter of songs, he sang songs like Evergreen, Superstar and Aint No Stopping Us Now. There was an album of covers and he drew from so many various experiences. There’s beauty in finding out where someone is going to take an idea that you have. They add to it, bring something that you might not have thought of. And that’s my approach to music. There are so many talented people out there with many different gifts, that I just like to collaborate. For example the musical director for the show Llewellyn George helped with one or two of my songs on my original album. He’s very young, from Cape Town and Cape Tonians love Luther.
And when Collett Dawson from The Colab Network came along it was amazing. She’s driven, but she’s driven for the right reasons. She wants to do good work and I’m very fortunate that I’m working with her. Her coming on board is what facilitated the whole thing happening. So much is because of her belief in me. I’m very grateful to her and very inspired working with her and Cito who will be directing the show. It’s a whole group of talented people coming together for this. I could not ask for better.
You introduced me to Collett the first time and I’ve met so many people through her, I’m so grateful.
She loves the work so much and it takes a very generous person to connect and network people. It’s all about delivering the goods and she does. Her heart is in the right place and she’s nurturing. I could have a dream of doing amazing things, but it takes meeting someone who believes in them and takes a chance for it to happen and I’m grateful for that. Working with her has been a blessing.
I can’t say enough about them, they make these amazing things happen.
It’s all about work and the reward is seeing the work shine and come across well. And we have to appreciate everyone, it takes a village and we all play a different part. Goodwill begets goodwill.
I see you’re a big sports fan.
I’m disappointed that the cricket guys got beaten by Bangladesh.
They didn’t have a couple of their main people. You have to take the wins with the losses. For me when I’m not working, it’s such a good way to unwind. When people are representing us like Kevin Anderson (tennis player at Wimbledon). It was so heart-breaking (after he lost in five sets to Novak Djokovic).
And like you said at the end of Wimbledon he was the one who took Djokovic the closest.
And if he could have got past Djokovic he could have gone all the way. It’s nice to be represented in the international space by people who are excelling and doing so well. We need those few people who excel to inspire us to reach those heights. And he is still fighting and representing SA and he says that will never change. Sometimes at his own expense – we need to appreciate the fact, and he is inspiring a lot of athletes. And hopefully Serena (Williams) can get her calendar slam. I’m enjoying watching her, because there will come a time that she doesn’t play any more. Every time I watch I think we’re going to miss watching her. Garbine Muguruza was good. She beat Serena last year at the French Open. And there are a few people coming up which is a good thing. You want all the younger people coming up.
How did your interest in sport come around?
I always had an interest. Growing up I couldn’t partake in sports, but I began to really enjoy watching it. I had an uncle who was sports mad and a lot of the people I’m friends with love sports and say did you watch that match, even something like World Cup soccer. If you were a sports lover it was a great thing. If it comes in our country it’s once in our lifetimes, but to have been part of it was, to this day I have goose bumps, specially in this month June and July. I keep seeing memories I had in the World Cup. I was able to watch the open match which was exhilarating to see that first goal by Tshabalala and we did go to one of the quarterfinals as well to see all the international – and so many people doubted we could do it. And we did it well. I saw an interview with someone saying he thought the South Africans did it well. We excelled, and we can be proud of ourselves. It put us on the world map as a country. This is a modern country that is equipped. This is a country, even though they call us third world, I think we’re first world.
A young woman told me that we’re like a middle economy between first and third.
Sometimes labels don’t do us justice, we compete on the world stage and we excel. Even after studying in the States, I came back. People were like why didn’t you stay there, and I was like I was away long enough, five years is long enough and I needed to come back. Since coming back I haven’t looked back. For me personally it’s the most exciting place in the world.
If you step out of your comfort zone a little bit and you go find stuff – you know it’s easy to sit in the suburbs and listen to all the negativity. But then you go and – step out of your comfort zone.
I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time. We’re very lucky to have someone who led like Madiba did. He led by example. There were hairy moments, we didn’t know what was going to happen but because he steadied the ship and told us to hold onto our horses, calm down and be classy. It’s a miracle that we had him and to this day, we feel the effect of his legacy and it will stay with us for a very long time. Some people go through a lifetime without experiencing something like that. He built the bridges. And when you travel to other countries and see that it’s not necessarily better. Every country’s got its own challenges.
I wanted to chat to you about the initiative you’ve been involved in 67 Blankets for Madiba Day.
It’s been amazing – its on-going and it will not stop, and it’s wonderful, specially in this time when it’s cold. Something you can do with your own hands, at your own pace, your own time. When you see the blankets you made with your own hands, there’s nothing that beats that feeling. But you spend a week, day, month, and that’s for me what encouraged me, it just – you think it’s something I’m doing with my hands. I can put my trust in it and it’s something I can sustain and more and more people are coming into the fold. Specially with the records shattered. Already the effect of it is big. The Mandela Foundation is aligned with it and they only align themselves with things Madiba would support. That endorsement means the world and it’s what caused people to come on board. Young men in particular. When people say they say they don ‘t have time to learn to knit, I say do it in your own time. Whoever wears or uses that blanket, you are part of their life and they are part of yours. It’s not just disposable and it means you have to commit your time and follow through. You commit and do it, and the more you do it the more satisfying it is. And I’m faster than I was before I started. And Carolyn STeyn has led by example to. She could do anything, but she lives for THIS cause. It shows whatever background you come from, you do the right things for the right reasons. I think that’s why we’ve all been won over. The message resonates. It’s something anyone can do. You don’t have to be rich. And it’s a life skill that you learn, it’s so rewarding to teach someone. And what I like is a lot of them support the shows we do. It’s such a nice synergy. And it’s time for us to stand up, take initiative, not complain and rather, instead of complaining – do something. Be the solution, which is what I always strive to do. I want to be an asset.
Well we think you already are, Timothy Moloi!
See Timothy in Always & Forever – A Tribute to Luther Vandross is on for one night only at The Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City on Friday 14 August at 8pm.