It’s not too difficult to put a descriptor to the name Alistair Izobell – he is an ENTERTAINER.
Yet, there is a whole lot more to the man than simply describing him as an entertainer. He is as multi-talented as they come. Sure, he sings and dances. But there are many more strings to his bow.
He writes songs, he produces shows, he hosts radio programs, plays multiple instruments, has a finger in the pie with soapies. Well, he was a child prodigy.
Now he is the foremost producer of stage shows (musicals) in Cape Town with his latest effort, Remembering The Lux, opening at The Baxter this week. It will almost certainly be a sell-out by the time the run ends in six weeks.
All this at the tender age of 40. No doubt, the prodigy is gifted – in so many ways.
One special gift that Alistair does have – and not in a bad way – is the gift of the gab. The man is s-m-o-o-o-t-h. Loquacious. Garrulous. Prolix. Engage him in conversation, hit the “on” button and . . . SHOWTIME!!
I chose to interview Alistair for this blog that was created primarily to document the life stories of Cape Town’s veteran entertainers. But, you say, he’s not even 40 (he hits the big 40 next month), hardly a veteran.
Think again. He has been in the music business for a tad over 30 years. And, one could say, Alistair had a dream start to his career with the role of the young newspaper seller, Broertjie, in Taliep Petersen and David Kramer’s District 6 The Musical back in 1987.
He is only too happy to recount his introduction to his chosen profession. Let the tape roll . . .
“As I child, everyone knew I could sing. I was the party trick in the family.
“The audition for District 6 The Musical is one of only three auditions I have done in my career. A friend in the neighbourhood in Mitchells Plain where I grew up brought the local newspaper, The Plainsman, to my family. She said they were looking for a Broertjie and suggested I should audition.
“At that stage Loukmaan Adams and Jodie Abrahams were the two Broertjies and they were en route to Edinburgh. Jodie’s voice had broken.
“There were 51 hopefuls at the audition and I remember Taliep with his huge smile, and David turned to him and said: ‘This voice is just angelic. I can’t believe how this boy sings like an angel’.
“That was the Friday. The next night I watched the show and the Monday I was at rehearsals.
“It all started back then and Loukmaan and I, we’ve been doing stuff ever since.”
Music and entertainment coursed through Alistair’s veins.
“My entire family was musical. My dad had his licentiate in classical music. He played violin, cello, and guitar. My sister and I are wind instrument players, flute and recorder. My two brothers play guitar.
“So there was a sense of musicality throughout our family including our extended family who are all part of the Apostolic faith. Everyone plays organ or violin. But I’m the only professional in the family.
“It was organic for me to become who I am and when I reflect on it now, not only organic, pre-ordained. This is what God intended me to be.”
Aaaah, God and religion. Key words in any story on Alistair Izobell. Is he a deeply religious person?
“Well, I wouldn’t say deeply religious, I am the kind of person who absolutely lives by faith. The nature of my work, I’ve got to trust God for every conceivable thing that I have. I do have my quiet times and I do believe that nothing that I do is without God having sanctioned it.
“The affirmation that I’ve had and the incredible moments of completely being bowled over by the transparency of how God has operated in my life, I cannot not be faithful and believe in him.”
Anyone who has had a look at Alistair’s Facebook of late might get the distinct feeling he is understating the role of faith in his daily life. Every day is greeted with thanks to his Maker and a mini-sermonette. Evangelising? Proselytising? Maybe. Here’s a taste of what starts his first foray on his FB page most days:
Lord I honour and glorify you this morning with gratitude for your many blessings and mercies in my life. Thank you for the countless miracles I forget to praise you for. This morning I invite you to be the centre of my day my life my work my thoughts and actions. I am grateful this morning for the gift of life, my health, my family my friends. May I be a blessing to someone or many today.
Interestingly enough, his surname, Izobell, is a form of the Italian word “Isabella” which translates to “pledged to God”. Alistair says his family dropped the “a” at the end. There are threads of Japanese and Italian in his family history and, as an aside, he says his mother’s three sisters are married to his dad’s three brothers. Alistair was born in Sunnyside Athlone and the family moved to Mitchell’s Plain in 1979.
Telling the stories of the people
Although he was just a youngster when he got his start in District 6 The Musical, it has had a long-lasting influence on his thinking and the need to “tell the stories of the people”.
“I have no memories or references as to what District 6 was and what the big fuss was all about. When I saw the show on that Saturday night, before starting rehearsals, it still . . . when I think about it right now as I’m talking, my hair rises. It was such an incredibly moving production, it actually made me understand the enormity of what apartheid was all about, that very night, sitting there and understanding why everyone was emotionally attached to this piece of theatre.
“Do I reflect on it now and think it was an exceptionally romanticised version of reality? Yes, but it allowed people to start their healing process and actually gave them something that celebrates the return. Even if they didn’t have family there or any association, there was some kind of ownership, there was some kind of celebration between this Jew and this Muslim which created this incredible production.
“That was the foundation of me understanding why it is important for us to tell our story, why it is important to tell stories.”
Alistair says he has had an incredible relationship with David Kramer over the last 31 years. “Often now I as an adult male producer who is saturated in theatre, it is the one thing we continuously talk about, the one thing that he makes me understand and imparts his great wisdom . . . ‘tell your stories, it doesn’t matter if someone else doesn’t think it is important, if it is important to you, tell your story’.”
His acknowledgement of the influence of others on his career (and that of his constant partner on stage, Loukmaan Adams) is effusive. He tracks it back from the time of District 6, the Buddy Holly Story in which he played Richie Valens, the time in Japan in 1989 with Stevie Wonder and when they were part of a child theatrical group that Loukmaan’s dad started, called Kinders vannie Ses.
“Loukmaan and I journeyed together, whether I got the job and brought him in or he got the job and brought me in,” he says.
“All along this journey there were people like Sophia Foster, Alvon Collison, Terry Fortune, Basil Appollis . . . there were all these people in our lives who were constantly forcing in little whispers how it is a huge responsibility to be an entertainer. And did we take it all in? Yes we did, even to the extent of soaking up their performing idiosyncrasies or how they operated. Subconsciously, I found myself doing little hand gestures that Terry Fortune did when I saw him the first time when I was a 10-year-old boy. Even the way I would pull my mouth.”
Alistair says he was like a sponge, he soaked up everything from the veterans.
“Loukmaan and I were every lucky to be surrounded by people who had struggled through those times.
“They might not have received the recognition that we today celebrate but the recognition is now when I do things like Music Alla Kaap which is my big production at Grand West.
“When I did Zane’s 50th anniversary tribute I decided let’s just bring the whole lot of them. I had Richard Jon Smith, Ronnie Joyce, Terry Fortune, Zane Adams, Sophia Foster Leslie Kleinsmith all of them were on there.
“What I decided to do with Music Alla Kaap is to create a platform to celebrate and reflect on these people of colour who have done amazing things, yet never recognised and never celebrated. It is important for me to validate these people.
“When I did the Zane production for his 50th anniversary, not only did he get more work than he did in his entire career, but people started sitting up and reminding themselves of the importance of what his footprint was.”
Although Alistair is big on telling these stories for posterity, there is no plan to make it available on DVD for others to enjoy. “I don’t do DVDs anymore. There are too many issues. I do have archive copies of shows. I have it as part of documenting my journey. I also did shows for Alvon Collison and Percy Sledge, his last performance before he died.”
One could be forgiven for thinking at times that it isn’t all about Alistair Izobell. It’s all about the rest. He is a big fish in a little pond, but he could be an even bigger fish in an even bigger pond. Why not?
“I guess I am one of those people who journeyed throughout this wonderful career that I could never have asked for anything better. It has allowed me to validate people. It allows me to express my absolute joy of what I was lucky enough to be surrounded by.
“I don’t aspire to be a huge international star; I stopped that 25 years ago. It wasn’t important to me.
“I love what I do now, even with Remembering The Lux. It’s important to go back, we need to be reminded of the great joy that we experienced because we have one journey and all these things play such a major role. When I sit back one day, I want to know that I have been part of tracing history, tapping into the memory of things they might have forgotten about.”
It is the story-telling and the nurturing of the new generation that is central to the direction of his career these days.
“I am so completely grateful that I have the opportunity to work with these young ones. They have all been catapulted from the stable of Alistair Izobell. That’s my joy, creating platforms for young people.
Duty to impart knowledge
“You’ll notice when you are on my FB page there are always young people. Nur Abrahams, Felicity Kiran, Edith Plaatjies, Robin Peters . . . all of them started with me and I make sure there are opportunities created, like now all of are working with David Kramer in his Orpheus in Africa production.
“It’s that kind thing where my duty is to impart the knowledge that I have, my duty is to create platforms for people and my duty is to make sure that I don’t keep them in a nest where I don’t allow them to go out and fly and experience what their destiny is supposed to be.
“With all these things, I’m humbled by it because it has organically happened, purely because it was pre-ordained. I never started directing, all I do is I impart my knowledge. I don’t like to label it direction and producing and all that. I do what is required to create a fantastic product.”
Alistair tried his hand at hosting a radio program and by all accounts, he wasn’t lost for words. Turn on the mic and it was. . . SHOWTIME!
“I don’t do radio work because my career doesn’t allow for that anymore, as much as I like the medium. I think it is it an incredibly powerful medium, it is such a wonderful way to connect with someone who don’t respond to you but yet they are so affected by what you say.
“Hence, the reason I believe what we do as journalists or radio personalities or actors or performers, comes with huge responsibilities. You affect someone’s life by what you write, speak or what your opinion is.”
There many signal and serendipitous moments in Alistair’s that bears re-telling, some of them quite moving given the main players are no longer with us. His first foray onto the international stage at the Tokyo Festival in 1989 is a case in point and involves singer Ricardo who died last week.
“Attie van Wyk and the late Al Etto had seen me in the Beach Boys Minstrel group. They were involved in a boy group called Ricardo and Friends that was breaking up . . . because of voices again, voices that broke. That was the one thing about my career that is quite interesting – in the industry, as jou stem gebreek het, is djy uit! That never happened to me. It was fantastic. Everything that happened to me after Broertjie and D6 was organic and I was perfect for next role.
“Al Etto asked me to be part of this group. I remember as a child, singing Julia, and I Love You Daddy in our lounge. I would stand at the top of the stairs and walk down the stairs as if I’m performing I Love You Daddy and Julia.
“Months later, I got this call, would I be part of Ricardo and Friends. It was just phenomenal how that happened. I did all the necessary things and found out they needed a third person. I introduced them to Loukmaan. The next thing we were en route to Tokyo.
“A lot of things that happened in my career were always intertwined with some moment that happened before. “
He was involved around 1991-92 after a second trip to Tokyo, with a young group called Mu Fancy. The Rockets had written a few songs for them and they we did an album called Please Spend the Night.
“We had always gone on tour with the Rockets. Either the Rockets or myself and Loukmaan or Romain would tour with PJ Powers. We always had this long association with them. At some stage or other, the Rockets needed a new singer, and, Marlon, Ricardo and Theo, we became the frontline for the Rockets.
He left the Rockets as lead singer in 1993 when he was recruited for the Buddy Holly Story (’93-’95) that also involved David and Taliep.
His association with the Rockets never stopped, if and when they need someone at short notice, he would fill in even though his “brand” had changed.
“I had a great period with them. They were part of my journey of understanding. It gave me a great insight into what recording was all about and live performances. Djy kannie stil staan nie, djy moet sing.
“I keep reminding myself how lucky I have been to be surrounded by these fantastic people who oiled the mechanical things in my life.”
In the ’9Os it was Tokyo, the Rockets, Buddy Holly, the Doo-Wap Boys, all hugely successful steps in his journey. It laid the groundwork for his transition from solely a singer to more theatrical stuff and producing his own shows down the track. It led to shows like Some Like it Vrot, This is My Life, Let’s Make Music Kaapse Stoep Stories, and The Comedy Festival.
“Each was memorable for different reasons. For example, I always told David Kramer I wanted him to write a character where I could be in a dress. Well he wrote it, Some Like It Vrot, it was fantastic. I loved every moment of that three months being in that beautiful sequinned dress, it was absolutely stunning.”
Wearing a dress would have come naturally to him, after all, he learnt at the feet of the master (should that be mistress?), Terry Fortune.
“Terry Fortune has been a constant in our lives . . . Loukmaan, Jodie Abrahams and I. He didn’t impart a lot of industry knowledge in our lives because he was always travelling but he has always been a constant in our lives.
“They day we walked into the rehearsals for District 6, Terry took charge of us. Since then he has never been out of our lives and we’ve never been out of his life.
“What I could do with feather boa and everything was because, as a child when Terry was playing Sofia the hairdresser in District 6 he always had this feather boa, and nine times out of 10, I would be in the dressing room – when I wasn’t on stage – in the high heels and Terry’s feather boa.
“It always amazed me – we laughed about it recently – that it was absolutely normal for me to do it, nothing strange about it. Now he has Wasief Pekaan under his wing.”
Alistair has a particularly soft spot for singer Karin Kortje, a sensational singer on stage but someone who is prone to attracting the headlines for all the wrong reasons since she burst onto the scene a few years ago.
“Karin is probably one of the most incredible vocalists that SA has ever experienced,” Alistair says. “She just doesn’t understand the incredible power she possesses with her ability and how people are emotionally overwhelmed when she sings.
“Unfortunately she’s been part of bad publicity around her life, and always by association with others, never what Karen did. I wanted the opportunity to create a product where she could be on stage where no one could talk of her or about her, where she could talk and everyone was quiet and they would listen, where she could say, ‘yes I messed up but this is the real story’.
“I have produced many shows but that was a very special one for me. People forgave her and they forgave themselves for blaming her for things. That was absolutely wonderful.”
Kaapse Stoep Stories was also quite special for him. It was such a daunting exercise that, he says, he actually had a bad attack of nerves hours before the opening and wanted to run away.
“It was the first time I had really challenged myself. It was the first time in my long career that I was going to walk on stage – alone – and tell my story. It wasn’t biographical; it was about this wonderful street I lived in Mitchell’s Plain, Koringhoop Rd in Westridge.”
Alistair’s 30-odd years in the industry has given him a good insight into what it takes to put on a big production. He has worked with prominent players in the industry, people like Pieter Toerien, on shows that require significant financial injection. He has no hesitation in telling you that finance is a major stumbling block.
“I will tell that it is still exceptionally difficult for people of colour to get funds. Whether it be corporate or otherwise. It is still very difficult. It is a huge challenge, the cost in having to produce it, having 15 to 20 people just in roles besides the band, besides all the other things. We don’t have access to that kind of money.
“But I don’t feel the need to take people out to lunch to convince them to give me money. My reputation speaks for itself and the work that I have done speaks for itself. I just trudge on and do my own stuff. There are huge challenges in having to do that because you don’t always have R500,000 lying around so that you can put it into these projects.
“I work hard and I give the young people the platform to express themselves. It doesn’t perturb me because the journey is so fantastic. The outcome is just so rewarding that by the time I get through the challenges, I’ve forgotten about that and I’m onto the next one.”
No need to do anything serious
With all those shows under his belt and much of it that can be labelled under the same genre of light “Cape Flats” entertainment is their any desire to take a different tack, something with more serious content that challenges him in a different way?
“I don’t feel the need to have to do anything serious. For one reason, I feel that life is absorbed by things that are serious and heavy and emotionally taxing. There are not many celebratory moments in peoples’ lives.
“The one thing that people want in their lives in Cape Town, is having some kind of emotional attachment to the piece that they are seeing and understanding what they are seeing. People need to hear their own stories, they need to be validated. This is how they speak. And these shows, I allow people to laugh with and not at themselves.
“I’m not a producer of serious theatre work and it is not important enough yet for me to do things like a musical on Zane Adams’ life. There are a host of challenges when you tackle a project involving other peoples’ life story.”
But what if he did have easier access to funds? What would he do with it to make his creative juices flow?
“If someone gave me enough money where I didn’t have to concentrate on creating work for other people – which I do, I could very well go on stage and sing with a backing track and make all the money like the old days, But no, I find it important to create working opportunities for young people.
“I might also spend a year with one of the three real big projects that I have in mind. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. It is going to come; but it is not going to be someone else’s money. It is going to be my money. I’ll be able to write the things that I want to put onto stage.
“One of the things that I do want to do out of the three projects is do a fantastic celebration of the musical thread between white, coloured, and black – make people understand how exceptionally similar we are with one thread between all that music and we should be doing it, we should cross-pollinate each other’s ideas.
“But who knows, I might just trip over someone in the next year and find that they have an idea that they need me to be part of and grow that.”
Alistair says he has stopped recording and aspiring to be a star or a singing sensation. “Is te veel werk to be cool, just get on with it and work and love what you’re doing. I don’t write secular stuff but I still record very often at home with friends that I trust.
“My last album, called Just Me, was an album that threaded my journey, the anecdotes in my life, and I put it into song form.
“Now I’ve done some work where I have written the title track for some soapies. I’m still singing but I don’t do it unless I am moved by a particular moment or want to do a recording project. I’ll always record, but not for secular reasons. It’s not up for sale anymore, it’s not what I do, I don’t chase that part of the rainbow.”
Alistair’s Facebook page these days is all about his current show, Remembering The Lux, faith – and family, his two children and wife Kim Goldberg, a woman he describes as “a solid rock foundation in my life, I couldn’t have asked God for a better partner”.
He met her on I8 August 1993 and Mr Motormouth goes into overdrive when he talks about their relationship.
“It’s probably one of the most amazing partnerships . . . of someone who cares, who doesn’t care, who understands, who doesn’t understand, who likes, loves and dislikes me. It’s an incredible partnership where we accept our responsibilities and our roles in this relationship and we both know we are never going to leave each other.
“This is the partnership we want. She completely understands my job, she completely gets what I do. She completely is not interested in it, so you would never find Kim at a theatre hanging around. Most times she comes to the theatre on the last night because, shit, she forgot about it – and I’ve been running for three months!
“She doesn’t get involved. If she wants tickets, she phones up herself and gets it. She is one of the most incredible human beings, one of the most beautiful people, an amazing mother, and an incredible wife and a solid rock foundation in my life, I couldn’t have asked god for a better partner.
Last year’s production of Kaapse Stoep Stories, saw multiple references to Kim and her family. As he puts it, “she is Caucasian, Jewish by faith, from Johannesburg – sy is a normal wit Jode meid!”
He is quite clear why he included that part of his life in the show. “The reason for that was to explain to people how incredibly similar we are and yet so completely removed from each other, that all the idiosyncrasies of my family that I think is normal, is completely abnormal to them and vice versa.
“I have never been hung about being involved with a white chick. No, this is just a person in my life that God decided to throw into my path. It’s been my stable villa and, as you know how fickle this industry is, it is so fickle that it affects your marriage. Very few people who are married in this industry stay married.
“It’s because she’s not hung up about who I am and what I do, she just gets on with her life because she’s responsible for her happiness. There’s a great understanding of our individuality.
“Her dad was an incredibly humble man from De Aar. There was no issue about who I am and why she was involved with a coloured guy – none of that. It was never important because we both come from families who are incredibly understanding of humanity.”
Alistair is busy researching his family tree at the moment particularly the Japanese influence on his mother’s side. “That is of real importance to me to understand that whole thing. I’m also going to do, in the next couple of months, a DNA screening to get all that because I want know everything. Maybe that’s also one of things I want to tap into as a writer, make people understand their historical journey because it is important to know where you come from. I want my kids to have a complete understanding of their roots.”
Switch to ghoema
Recently Alistair, along with Loukmaan, performed to a packed house of ex-patriate South Africans (mainly Capetonians) in Sydney. They performed the usual diet of funk that these Galaxy-type jolled to back in the day and the dance floor was reasonably busy
It was when they switched to ghoema – Daa’ kom Die Alibama, Dina Kanakia etc – that the jol really rukked. What did Alistair think of that?
“That to me is very interesting again. People need to belong and it doesn’t matter if you emigrated 40 years ago or 12 years ago or yesterday, you would never be able to cut off your roots from where you were born, from the soil that you come from. You are always going to be associated with it.
“It doesn’t matter if you twang or get a bit of the Australian accent or English accent or an American accent, you will never be that nationality other than the nationality you were born with. From the day that you are born, your soul is in a relationship with that air, that tree, the soil. That’s the relationship and you will always have the stronger emotional sense to be attached to that.
“That’s why people come back to Cape Town every year at Christmas and New Year because Australia is not where their soul has a relation.”
Can I get an Amen!!!