Matinyana Fund home pageCue Magazine

Review in the festival paper from the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, South Africa.
Thursday 8 July 1999

By Anton Burggraaf, Cue guest writer

Something special happens when the drag sangoma is around

I don't know of another performance at the festival where the audience has spontaneously broken into three-part harmony. Perhaps it was just this audience but I'm told something special always happens when Miss Thandi is around.
A previous evening saw Miss Thandi's mother in attendance, enjoying the repertoire of African songs, her son's slander and elegant body swathed in lavender and blue with the longest false eyelashes this side of the Kei.
This is drag, remember, and despite mom's attendance, it seems very far from the home fire. Or is it?
Born and bred in Port Alfred, Miss Thandi now lives in Amsterdam. She is supported by a five-piece band and thrills with renditions of South African songs from the quaint to the sublime to the transcendental: "Sarie Marais", "Mbube", the "Click Song" (as white people call it) and "Bayesa Kusasa Bayesa". Two other songs of incredible power and energy were a knock-out Nigerian rock song and a Senegalese woman's empowerment number.
The SA medley at the end which included slightly over-traded "Shosholoza" and the national anthem, revealed the exotic origins of the show and I thought she could happily let it go.
There is something for everyone and I mean that literally.
I did wonder whether this soft-spoken diva would fare so well with mainly white audience. But: "You know," Miss Thandi says blithely, her little finger on the corner of her mouth, "I'm a white woman too, I'm Dutch."
In many respects it is the audience that makes the show work so well, as she cajoles them into becoming her dancing queens. It is not a reason to stay away though, in fact I would go as far as to say that this would be the reason that I would go back, just to get up there and perform with her.
The participation is fun therapy. Interviewed in Cue, she explains she comes from a family of traditional healers, and that connecting with an audience as she does is fulfilling the same call.
Which brings me back to the home fire. As we know, sangomas are special people and the respect their community has for them transcends their appearance, demeanor or gender identity.
In a way, Miss Thandi as at the interface of these two specific cultures and the result is an extremely salient and enjoyable marriage.