Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Leopards, lizards and afterlives – Chris Chameleon on bringing Boo! back

PHOTO: Renée Frouws

With his many manifestations, songwriter, singer, presenter, producer (and erstwhile soapie actor) Chris Chameleon is easy to recognise and hard to reconcile with any single identity.

Better known as the ageless songbird of contemporary local-is-lekker listening, his definitive lyrics and licks are busy as an undiseased bee in Europe and Africa (apparently ours are stronger. Evidently we are unsurprised. I’m talking about bees, not live music audiences; that would be surprising). Quintessentially, his signature melodies boast intelligence and inspiration and his vocal chords are more likely misplaced hermaphroditic acrobats (and without having met the man, I know he could say those last 3 words seven times fast).

If you’re less an acoustic folk and/or treffer innie taal lover, and none too young, you’re more likely to remember him best as the lead lady of a wild trio of punky monks better known as boo! And even if you don’t, you’re going to get a chance to taste the legend (or at least listen to it) at Ramfest in February 2010, because …well, let him tell you why. His sartorial flair could teach Trish and Tramp a thing or two, but his sarcastic wit could cut an interrogator IN two. Luckily jezebel is a bit shifty, herself, and offers you a few of the many colours of a chameleon in a corner.

jezebel : is a boo! reunion a matter of synchronicity or publicity?

Chameleon : A problem I have faced almost constantly since expanding my career into its Afrikaans incarnation has been expressing the side of me that is decidedly boo!esque. I’m versatile and I don't see myself committing a career to one genre - I have no idea how artists do that. I am equally comfortable in Afrikaans volk, English folk, rock, punk and classical music and have applied myself liberally to all of these in the last 5 years since boo! My occasional forays into the wilder format have more often than not been met with shock and/or confusion by my new found (and largest) fan base. That’s when I realised that it would probably be best to express this side of myself through the name I built with boo! I put 7 years in 17 countries of my life into boo! And to let it slip is counter productive or simply stupid. And so I decided to revive boo! As a vehicle to more thoroughly express my full range without the damaging consequences of confusing an audience that has been spoon fed packaged and boxed commercial art for decennia.

jezebel : boo! parted ways hardly speaking to each other, and you've performed boo! material with aplomb without them since. So why did boo! agree to play Ramfest 2010? (Nostalgia? To boost the Chris Chameleon brand on the rock scene? to make peace?)

Chameleon : boo! didn't part ways. If you read the press release at the time you would have noticed the other guys 'announced their resignation'. If you resign from your day job at Debonairs pizza tomorrow it doesn't mean Debonairs pizza no longer exists or has the right to, you dark humoured bitch. The other guys resigned, boo! never ceased to exist. I own the boo! trademark and all boo! material was written by me and is copyrighted in my name. I love those songs and will always want to play them.

jezebel : for the fans, the real question is, are you considering seeing each other casually again?

Chameleon : Ampie and I have worked together extensively in the past year, notching up a Kanna award for the best production across all genres at the KKNK, and an Innibos award for most popular production. We are musical soul mates and have been making music together since 1988. In the space of 21 years four years constitutes a brief repose, hardly a quiver on the Richter scale. Leon and I had coffee last week. (ok, ok, I had coffee, he likes cola). Leon has moved on in life. He has become a major force behind the scenes in SA music and is doing a lot to formalise the business, ultimately for the protection of musicians and creating order in an industry that lags behind the rest of the world for exactly those reasons he is addressing. In ten years time his efforts no doubt will have changed the musical landscape in SA. And I hope he is remembered properly for his efforts. He is however beyond drumming now, and Riaan van Rensburg takes his place.

jezebel: if you were to reform even on a part time, fests-only basis like Lark does, what would you change?

Chameleon : there is no part time for us. Ampie, Riaan and I are all full time musicians. We're going to give this our all. What would change? mmm... I think I might not work in a dress anymore. But I am big on alien androgyny and will lean that way.

jezebel : At the last Boo! gig at Mercury, I bought what turned out to be an unofficial boo! release, awful quality - apparently something done without your involvement. Is that true?

Chameleon : at the time I was dulling the pain with a cocktail of substances, I can't remember what you're talking about.

jezebel : "Bootlegs" are a dubious form of marketing, because fan(atic)s will buy them just to check, even if they're poor quality. If they are kak, illicit recordings, it doesn't do the band's image much good. But it stands to reason that this form of unsolicited (and legally problematic) material reveals a certain enthusiasm about a band, a certain public impact. What are your feelings on fake takes and fan footage? (video and audio)

Chameleon : anyone who tries to stop the flow of information is an idiot. I’m not fond of having my worst moments on some crappy YouTube video filmed by a cell phone. But I wouldn't spend a second trying to stop it. The pros far outweigh the cons. Besides. This is the new big brother. The state needn't pay agents to sit in rooms full of TV screens a la George Orwell's 1984. The new big brother is your uncle and auntie and best friend and the guy next door with their video cam and their salary is the sensation-hungry audience being fed by the pony press and television. How do you fix that? Not by prohibition Mr. Kim Il Yong, but by being at the top of your game at all times.

jezebel : in keeping with this line of questioning/suggestioning, will there be boo!tlegs again? But perhaps high quality ones? Official unofficial ones? B-sides recorded over the years across Europe, maybe? It would be nice (and lucrative) if there were a RamBoo! to take home with us...

Chameleon : personally I’ll only put out stuff I think is good, that I like (having said that - the question remains: how did 90% of our albums get out then? We knew how to make bad recordings, that's for sure). But I can't stop the fans.

(to clarify : jezebel actually meant special releases by the band @ Ramfest, but perhaps that’s a premature expectation or something was lost in translation.)

jezebel : most people who deign to go to their reunion dress up to the nines. Please, please tell us you're going to wear your lingerie...?

Chameleon : I always wear lingerie. but not mine...


Find the pop version of this story in issue 17 of One Small Seed magazine. is for sale :

boo! is not (yet) but if you scream really loudly at ramfest, they might hear you. (and Johnny Foreigner, Pendulum and Lark and Tidal Waves and lots of others might, too!)

seeing as Chris had such nice things to say about Leon (and bands like Taxi Violence agree enough to go global with his company, Southern Pulse), perhaps we should give the mic to the man who's hung up his sticks to take SA music to the world...first and former boo! drummer Leon Retief presiding:

jezebel : i'm interested in what you think of a boo! reunion. Excited? Nostalgic? Cynical?

Leon : There is no reunion. Just a formation of Chris, Ampie and Riaan.

jezebel : As a visionary and facilitator for the expansion of SA music, do you think there's space for boo! in a global market? (now, a few years on)

Leon : That depends what the plans are. Things have changed a lot and in certain terms boo! was ahead of its time, but that too has caught up and surpassed the independent notions and philosophies of boo!
boo! probably still stands a better change of making it internationally than locally.

jezebel : in your professional opinion as a booker of bands and instigator of tours, will the boo! brand have suffered from what we shall diplomatically call its 'sabbatical' (as Chris was quite trite about it), or will it bounce back?

Leon : The challenge lies to convince the new generation of music lovers. I have no doubt that Chris and Ampie will do a good job, but whether the new generation will embrace this, we will see.

jezebel : Young bands abound and most of the people at Rocking The Daisies were under 24. Do you think the younger ones will consume boo! with as much appetite as the (now older) ones did before?

Leon : It is hard to say. Many young people listen to Madonna and U2, when these are even older than Chris and Ampie. However those bands stayed prolific and kept changing with the times. boo! was never period based, so this kind of originality works against the band. Chris has a very distinctive persona and branding as solo act, so it is even harder to shed. Having a wardrobe change is not enough and the younger generation will see through this. They would have to come up with a serious strategy and commitment to make it work. Ampie has always been a kid (in a good way) by heart, so I don’t think it would be difficult for him to relate to a much younger audience. I know I can’t party like I use to, so I know for a fact the after parties will be lot more tamed than way back in the day.....

jezebel : If you had time, would you don the monki-punk attitude and rhythm again, or do you apply it liberally to your current projects, anyway?

Leon : No ways. boo! was just way out crazy times....I loved it and had the best time of my life, but this to was only a phase of my life and I know when it is time to move on. I am very much settled in the world of less experimental ventures and more thought out projects.

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