Chris Chameleon: The only way to be truly original is to be truly you

2016-12-01 08:50

Cape Town - Chris Chameleon is one of the most well-known faces and voices in the SA music industry. 

He is a singer-songwriter, TV and film actor, and performer extraordinaire. Multiple SAMA and Huisgenoot Tempo award-winner, he’s one of the few talents who have been successful in both the English and Afrikaans music industries.

Chameleon’s most recent release is the newly acclaimed English album Firmament. It is his first English album release since 2008 and upon its release, it raced onto the iTunes Top 10 album charts.

We chat to Chris about his new album:

You recently released your new album Firmament  – tell us why it took so long (8 years) to make a new English album?

Ya, it is a bit of a long time. I guess my only excuse is that I have been rather busy. Between tours to Europe, the UK, Dubai, Qatar, Australia and West Africa, as well as the four Afrikaans albums, three DVD’s and boo! album I have made in the last 8 years, I have battled to make time for a solo English album. I mean to not wait this long before the next one.

Tell us a bit more about the feel of the album? You say that you "feel like a different person in each of the 4 languages I speak fluently and it has the strange consequence that I subsequently express myself in dissimilar ways in each of these languages" – how will you sum up your "English persona"?

My English persona has the luxury of the English language at its disposal - its immense vocabulary, the varieties of cultural mentality that support it. I have always been acutely aware of the value of words, and this seems to be an awareness that sharpens as I continue to grow up. In fact, part of the challenge has become to not become obsessed with it. What I mean is that every word has a range of influences on its value. The particular context of its use, the subcultures that gravitate towards this particular word for many years, the stigma the word acquires over time; all these things add up and load the word with energy. It varies from language to language. My 'English persona’ is more verbose, but often socially more relaxed, less restrained by the cultural context of, for example, my Afrikaans upbringing.

How many albums have you recorded with producer Theo Crous and why do you keep working with him?

Firmament is our 7th album together. Why? For the same reason that in a world of 7 billion people couples choose each other and stick together: the marriage works. We’re very different people, with different views on life and the world, different interests and pursuits. But when we sit down to make music we understand each other, we communicate much without saying a word. We are a good example of how diverse people unite around the wonder of music.

You have been part of the SA music scene for almost three decades– how have things in the industry changed in these decades and how has it affected your music? 

I’ve been active in the music industry for 27 years. The biggest changes I have witnessed have been the change from analogue to digital. My first albums were recorded analogue, on tape. You only had 16, maybe 24 tracks at your disposal, and a limited amount of takes before the tape starts stretching and loses quality. Another change has been the accessibility of music through piracy. Making money from physical sales used to be one of the three legs a musician’s income stood on, that leg is now almost completely gone. Another change has been the access one has to people through the internet. There used to be virtually no way someone in Japan could get to know a South African’s music in 1989, now it’s just a click away. There have also been the usual shifts in tastes, in what becomes the dominating soundscape of the day. The only thing that as actually affected my music, as in from a musical point of view, has been the digitalisation of music recordings, which has opened up more sonic possibilities and given my creative expression more scope.

You have also been touring Europe for many years – tell us a bit about the European promoters and audiences? Are they very different to SA promoters and audiences? 

Every country is different. Especially in Europe it is quite incredible. The Netherlands and Belgium are neighbouring countries, but their system and audiences are completely different. The Belgians are very reserved, the Dutch are loud and enthusiastic. The Germans are rather critical, the Italians and Croats are jolly and jovial. 

We like the full circle ‘almost back to the Boo!’ feel with the music video for Hurt. Tell us a little more about the making of the video for Hurt.

I was a professional actor before I managed to perform music professionally. Acting has always been an important part of my expression and music videos are an ideal vehicle for my thespian aspirations. I liked the idea of showing a person developing through personages and some personal suffering towards a new sense of self. That’s what the video is about. After I had made the video the Orlando massacre happened. I dedicated the video to the victims of that horrible piece of modern history.

What is the strangest thing that has ever happened at one of your shows?

Some things are too strange to mention - this industry is remarkably creative in its ability to conjure up peculiarities and I can tell stories that are funny, grim or just downright unbelievable. But to keep it on the mellow side, someone once threw a panty on stage in Hamburg, Germany. Nothing exceptional, except it was not clean and it was the size of a two man tent.

What is the best compliment you were ever given after a show?

Occasionally someone tells me my music inspires hope in them.  

Any advice you can offer to new artists that have just started out?

The only way to be truly original is to be truly you.

What will you be busy with in the next few months?

I am in studio at the moment, recording my next Afrikaans album, in between touring Firmament. I will tour Europe again in February and March.

Firmament is available for purchase and downloads on iTunes or you can order you physical copy directly from Chameleon Productions at

Keep up to date with Chris on his official website, Facebook page and Twitter.

Read more on:    chris chameleon  |  local music

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