Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cape Town Has Interesting Taste in American (and UK) Music

Kris Kristofferson is a legend who never quite became one, at least not an iconic one on par with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson or even Waylon Jennings, his fellow "outlaw country" compatriots in The Highwaymen, a country-music supergroup that was active between 1985 and 1995. (He was to The Highwaymen what Jeff Lynne was to The Traveling Wilburys around the same time, bigger in accomplishments and reputation than in name.)

As a songwriter, he was responsible for some of the most enduring classics in the country-music canon (including "Help Me Make It Through the Night," "Me and Bobby McGee" and "For the Good Times," the latter of which was so memorably covered by both Ray Price and Al Green), while as a singer, he scored two Top 40 pop hits: 1971's "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)," which was stunningly covered and taken to No. 2 on Billboard's country singles chart by Tompall & the Glaser Brothers in 1981, and 1973's "Why Me," his only country No. 1 as a performer.



I remember Kris Kristofferson best, not as a singer-songwriter but as Barbra Streisand's costar in 1976's A Star Is Born, a film whose trailer once prompted my mother to declare "Her lips must stink!" as she glared disapprovingly at a Streisand/Kristofferson kissing scene. (They both won Comedy/Musical Golden Globe Awards for their performances.) Although he's had a lower profile than many of his '70s Hollywood contemporaries now in their 70s, Kristofferson, 77, has remained active as an actor over the years.

He also continues to release records to relatively little fanfare, but apparently, people still want to see more of Kris Kristofferson the singer-songwriter, even here in Cape Town, half a world away from Nashville. Last Thursday night when I was at the GrandWest Casino for Maxwell's show, I saw a poster promoting Kristofferson's upcoming March 26 gig there, presumably in support of his most recent studio album, Feeling Mortal, which came out in January on the almost-unfortunately named KK Records.

What in the world...?

"Is there actually an audience in Cape Town that's dying to see Kris Kristofferson in concert?" I asked the Cape Town-bred magazine editor I was having breakfast with a few days ago, shortly after she told me that Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges are here filming The Giver, thinking it was a rhetorical question.

"Now I'd love to go to that show," she replied proudly, without a hint of shame. "That would actually be pretty cool."

Huh, what? Someone told me that Dolly Parton is huge in Cape Town, so it's not surprising that people here would flock to a country-music show. (Incidentally, Kristofferson played Parton's late husband in the 2012 feature film Joyful Noise.) And the crowd at the Maxwell gig, and the ladies who were swooning afterwards while reminiscing about Joe's recent Cape Town show prove that the '90s are back in music as well as on South African TV, but I never would have expected Kristofferson to be much of a draw outside of the United States, where he hasn't had anything resembling a hit in decades.

I'm beginning to realize, though, that there's no such thing as out of style when it comes to beloved music in South Africa. Retro is especially in, it seems, when it comes to late '80s and early 90s R&B singers who were never major crossover stars in the U.S., like Tevin Campbell, Brand New Heavies, Cece Peniston, Robin S and Sybil, all of whom swung through in 2013. Many of them are still fondly remembered in Cape Town, which is only now getting to experience a lot of American music live for the first time.

Today's Nelson Mandela memorial concert at Cape Town Stadium featured such highly esteemed South African talent as Johnny Clegg and Ladysmith Black Mambazo as well as Annie Lennox, who I've been told lives here, so despite a relative dearth of Western stars coming through, there's always been plenty of great music to go around. However, that dearth is vastly improving for both Cape Town and Johannesburg: In addition to Maxwell's and Kristofferson's shows in both cities, Alison Moyet will be at the Liqui-Fruit Amphitheatre in Cape Town on Sunday, December 15, after a two-night stand in Johannesburg, and both Eminem and Bruce Springsteen are coming to South Africa for the first time in early 2014. (Fun fact: Dave Matthews, who performed his band's first-ever South African shows in Cape Town on November 30 and December 1, was born in Johannesburg in 1967.)

With all this great music on the way, I'm still most excited to see which vintage R&B star from the '80s and early '90s will be coming soon next. In the meantime, here's my Christmas wish list of five '80s and '90s soul divas I'd like to see rise again in Cape Town.

Toni Braxton Am I the only one who expected her heyday to last longer than seven years (1993-2000)? I recently caught her on an episode of Braxton Family Values, and I kept thinking, She deserves a better legacy than this.


Regina Belle A few months ago, I saw an interview with her on TV One's Life After series in which she talked about being diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2009. That's not even mentioned on her Wikipedia page! I guess that's what happens when you're an overlooked talent: You battle life-threatening illnesses, and everybody is too busy playing Spot the A-list Baby Bump to notice -- or care. She was supposed to perform with The Manhattans at GrandWest on October 26, but the show was postponed to 2014.


Angela Winbush Her Wikipedia page does mention her battle with ovarian cancer, from which she also made a full recovery, and if we're never going to get a follow-up to her self-titled 1994 album, the least she could do is come to Cape Town and take us to church the way she did when I saw her at the Beacon Theater in New York City all those years ago.


Miki Howard Because she's fierce, and unlike Braxton, Belle and Winbush, I never got to see her live in the U.S.


Stephanie Mills Ditto.


Rounding out my '80s/'90s diva acts-in-Cape Town wish list...

Cherrelle (with a very special guest appearance by Alexander O'Neal)
Pebbles
En Vogue
Jody Watley
Karyn White
SWV
Lisa Stansfield
The Jets
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