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From Amsterdam with love

Raymond Vuyo Matinyana was born and bred in Port Alfred. He now calls Amsterdam home where he has established himself as one of South Africa's most successful drag imports. Robert Colman spoke to the innovative creator of "Miss Thandi" and discovered that there are many more feathers to this drag's boa than meets the eye.

Is this a work trip or a holiday?
I am here to record a CD of original material plus my Miss Thandi routine,as a marketing tool. To sell after my shows and to use as demo. The South African craze is over and I have to try other avenues. I'm also doing for the Afro Vibes Foundation. An organisation which promotes cultural exchange and supports educational activities. I have the connections and network and so I established Afro Vibes. We have just sponsored our first scholarships, sending three students to university. And we're working on our first cultural group that's coming to Holland at the end of March.

What is it like being back in South Africa?
I always discover something new when I come back. The streets are always different and I always have less friends. A bit of me has become Dutch so I don't fit in as easily. Sometimes I want to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

What frustrates you about life in South Africa?
The black and white thing. For instance, you go to the Market, it's black. You go to Sandton it's another scene. People don't yet realise that we're all South Africans. Why don't we appreciate and learn from each other? There's no need to pull apart. It doesn't work. I find myself wanting to go to Sandton now and again and get to Sandton and it's like, what am I doing here? Living abroad you learn to know yourself and to appreciate other cultures. Travelling is the best way of learning. Living outside of your own culture you become a better person. People become people, not a Xhosa or an Afrikaaner or whatever. At the end of the day the body has few needs which we all need.

How did Miss Thandi come about and where has she performed?
Miss Thandi was lots of different people before she became Miss Thandi. I knew there was this character, but I had to find her. I had to knock my head against a few walls first. I had to go through the Shirley Basseys, Diana Ross's and all of that. What I found with drag is that it is a shock, at first, that you are wearing a dress. You have to get used to that. Then you put on your heels and you have to get used to that. Finally you go out to the people and you have to talk to the people and you have to find what's comfortable. It can take years before you can really say, "Okay this is the character". So I mastered, found, Miss Thandi, through different stages. I've since performed in South Africa, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and America.

Do you also perform as Raymond?
Yes. As I discovered Miss Thandi she managed to find Raymond the performer. Drag has it's excitement, then you realise it's actually a job. It's not a diva thing. So through the discipline I came to appreciate the performer in Raymond. I also run movement and choral classes and every now and again I work as a tour guide, bringing Europeans to South Africa.

What do you miss when you're in Amsterdam?
I miss the spontaneity of people and familiar black faces. There are a lot of black people in Holland but they're not South African. I miss home, the trees and the hills. And my family. Sometimes I've just done a show and I'm surrounded by strangers who don't speak my language or know where I come from. And I just have to be nice and keep up my "employ me again" smile. I miss the music. Everything there is so fast. Lot's of techno and house.

What is your philosophy on life?
Keep it simple and appreciate the people around you.

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