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Meet Claire Johnston - Meet Claire Johnston

2006-03-29 11:01

MWEB: Do you ever get tired of being a nice person? Every interview with you I've read is about how friendly and lovely you are...

CLAIRE: Ag what a lovely thing to hear!

MWEB: Do you ever get record company people saying "Oh, for God's sake Claire, give these pathetic entertainment journalists something to work with. Shag Steve Hofmeyr, or something?"

CLAIRE: (Throws her head back and laughs)
NO, but it's a very good idea! No I haven't. I've thought that myself - I've thought "I wonder if I'm boring." And then I think to myself, "You know what? I don't care." I'm private. And yes I've got my past but I try not to air my dirty laundry in public. I don't' think it's appropriate. Other people handle it differently. I wouldn't cope. I think I like people to like me. Which doesn't mean I'll lie.

MWEB: Do you think it works as well for women to be rock n roll stars? I'm not really talking about the musical style. More asking: can, say, Courtney Love snort drugs off a male model's butt and really get away with it?

CLAIRE: Much harder. (Turns out she's not referring to the complexities presented by body hair here.) You'll be judged much more harshly. It's like anger in women. An angry woman is considered very unattractive and very inappropriate. And women are capable of huge anger. And somehow we are not allowed.

MWEB: What's your favourite thing about the new South Africa. And your least favourite thing?

CLAIRE: Oddly enough what I miss is - the way I experienced it - there was a greater melting pot in the old South Africa. I don't know why but I think maybe because the market was less streamlined and niched the way it is now. And I think now South Africa's come to be a normal country, with markets. So it's quite cynical and it's all about money. Whereas in the past there was a fuzziness and solidarity. I tell you what I miss? In a concrete sense there were incredible music festivals where you'd have ... a mish mash of artists, and somehow it worked.

Ah, there's so much of it. From getting to choose who your president should be to... the flipside of what I was saying before, about markets. There's just so much going on.

MWEB: How has the music business changed? Is South African music becoming marginalised.

CLAIRE: I don't know where the problem starts - or ends. I just know there's this collusion going on between the public and radio stations. It's a vicious cycle.

MWEB: So then how do you make your living - from corporate gigs, album sales or live shows?

CLAIRE: Mixture of live work and album sales.

MWEB: I know Mango Groove did a Coca-Cola advert. And a lot of people who hadn't heard of you before got to hear of you that way...

CLAIRE: Yes, ya, we did two! I remember after the first one being in a cinema and being completely blown away when the ads came on and people clapped.

MWEB: I've heard rumours that you are going to do an album with Mango Groove. True? And will you be playing live?

CLAIRE: There's a very good chance of that. We're definitely testing the waters and getting back into working together and it's wonderful. It really is for me my favourite way of performing. We hadn't done a public show for a while and we did one in Durban recently, and it was amazing because the entire audience sang almost every song.

MWEB: I was driving through Parow (in Cape Town's Northern suburbs) the other day and "Special Star" was playing on my stereo. Strangers of all origins driving in their cars looked at me and smiled. Mango Groove can be such a nostalgic thing...

CLAIRE: I find that amazing. There's no escaping "Special Star."

MWEB: Most of the tracks are Latino and American - but the album's called Africa Blue? The presence of typical african musical influences is quite subtle. Why did you choose that name?

CLAIRE: All the tracks actually have their origin in Africa. The slave trade - you know the hideous legacy of that - it's created magic. I like looking at life that way. At amazing things coming out of bad things. If you look at so much of modern music today it had its roots in Africa. And I suppose I would like people to realise that. Even songs like a Doris Day classic actually has roots in Africa.

Claire Johnston's just released her second solo album, Africa Blue. We spoke to her about being a public figure, her music and what's so African about Doris Day songs.
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