Madeegha Anders . . . ‘I am woman, hear me roar’

Madeegha Anders . . . a bumpy road but with a voice full of confidence. Photos supplied

Madeegha Anders is her own woman. She has been that for a long time now. Yet, it wasn’t always so though. There was a time when the man she describes as “her rock”, took all the major decisions to guide her blossoming career.

That man was Taliep Petersen; the entertainer who plucked her from virtual obscurity doing club gigs and neighbourhood stage shows on the Cape Flats in the late ’70s to turn her into one of the high-profile female singers in the country in the next decade.

Taliep, she says, was her rock, her mentor, and her guiding light. He was also, eventually, her husband and the father of her four children.

For Madeegha, the world was her oyster.

Then it all fell apart. Her superstar husband found comfort in the arms of another woman who just happened to be her best friend, and it all ended tragically when that same woman hired killers who murdered Taliep.

That was 12 years ago next week. The world hasn’t forgotten Taliep, and, more especially, neither has Madeegha.

For a while after their divorce and again after Taliep’s death, Madeegha was a wreck. She was, in essence, a single mum with four young children to raise.

And that is more or less when Madeegha really became her own woman. She had started that journey in part when they separated and had to stay focused to protect her children.

Today she runs events companies and is much in demand as a solo entertainer and has also started performing with the children. Her son, Ashur, is as gifted a performer as his dad, Madeegha says, and plays every instrument, “just like his dad”.

Her career is still a bumpy road – recently she posted on Facebook: “Maybe I should just bite the bullet and go work overseas, not much happening here” – but she is better equipped to handle it.

Madeegha’s life as a performer began in Athlone more than 40 years ago. She was born Velma Anders in the Bo-Kaap but moved to Athlone at a very young age. As a child, she could not stop singing every song that was on the radio.

“My love for music started at a very tender age. I just wanted to sing,” she says. “In time, my mum made it clear: I could sing but schooling came first. I made sure I did my household chores so that I could sing.

Madeegha belting out a song at one of the many media appearances she does in Cape Town.

“My sister [Nuraan, born Desiree] is also a singer but I think I inherited my singing ability from my mum. She had the voice of an angel. My singing is God-given but it stems from my mum.”=

She exploited her talents in school concerts and the odd stage show on the Cape Flats. Because female singers were such a rare commodity around that time, it was inevitable local bands looking for a bit of diversity behind the mics would notice her.

One of the first people to experience her talent was jazz guitarist Harry Peacock. “I did my first cabaret with Harry at the Matador Lounge in Kensington. There weren’t many female vocalists around in Cape Town at the time, probably just Zelda Benjamin and myself.”

When Madeegha was 15, Trevor Parker, the pianist with the band Big Daddy, asked her to come on board. She did Friday and Saturday night gigs with Big Daddy at the Beverley Lounge in Athlone and cabaret and stage shows when they occurred on other nights

“It took a toll on my schooling; I got to bed late at night and missed a lot of classes. My mother eventually accepted that I was going to be a full-time entertainer.”

The seminal moment that led to her career taking off came quite unexpectedly. It came via one of the larger-than-life identities of Athlone club-life, Abduraghman “Laughings” Tifloen. He brought Taliep and veteran Golden City Dixies entertainer Dave Bestman to a stage show at the Panorama Cinema in Elsies River where she was performing.

“I did not know Taliep, I did not know Dave Bestman. I grew up very sheltered. I didn’t really know what was happening in the outside world. I had already done my act on the show when they came and they asked me to sing again.

“I must have impressed them because they then had some talks with my mum. I was only 17 at the time. The next thing, I was off to Swaziland for the show Carnival a la District 6 that Taliep had put together.

“I did it for six months and it was my first big break. It was 1979 and I turned 18 in Swaziland. I don’t know who was more scared about the whole thing . . . my mother or me. I had never been away from home.”

After Carnival a la District 6 ended its run, they formed a group and played the Holiday Inn circuit up north. It was a new scenario for Madeegha and she had to broaden her appeal for a new type of audience.

Madeegha Anders (then Velma Anders), second from left in front, as a teenage performer in Carnival a la District in the late ’70s-early ’80s. Taliep Petersen is at the back on the right.

“I was a Dionne Warwick girl and Diana Ross girl. I had to learn to sing a whole new repertoire to include the likes of Roberta Flack and The Carpenters.”

When they finished at the Holiday Inns, they came to Cape Town and did Carnival at The Three Arts for a while and then took the show on the road to little towns and up north.

It was followed by another big break for them when a spot opened up at the Southern Sun for a band.   They formed the group Sapphyre to handle that gig and stayed on the Sun hotels circuit for close on eight years.

But all work and no play makes for an unhealthy lifestyle. So when the band got a break in 1981, she flew out for a month in London, Paris and New York.

“I wanted to see musicals and broaden my musical knowledge. I overdosed on musicals. In New York, I didn’t have time to sleep. I saw every musical that was on at the time,” she recalls.

“The musical that actually changed everything for me was A Chorus Line. You have to act, sing and dance equally well. I knew I had to develop all these skills and more.

“I came back to SA and went to Port Elizabeth where we were the resident band and bought myself an alto saxophone. I also tried the flute, the bass guitar, and violin. They were all interesting instruments but the saxophone is what I wanted most of all.

[Click on photographs for captions and to enlarge]

“I haven’t played it in a while but I actually said to someone recently that I have to start practising again to get my fingers loose and the embouchure right so that I can do something with Ashur. Not many people know that I can play the sax.”

“Coming back from London, I reassessed everything. I realised that my job could not just be singing. I had to do acting too.”

Around the mid-’80s, Taliep started his collaboration with David Kramer that resulted in the creation of District 6 – The Musical. It opened at The Baxter in 1987.

Madeegha had one of the lead roles playing Mary, the love interest of the main actor, played by Leslie Kleinsmith. But she wasn’t slated for the role. Taliep wasn’t keen on it because he wanted to keep the band going.

“We weren’t married yet. We actually courted for eight years before we got married.

“I went to audition for the show, but Taliep wasn’t too happy about that. It wasn’t that he didn’t want me in the show; it was more a case of ‘who was going to sing with the band if I was acting in the show’.

“I didn’t get the part but I was persistent. I said I’d be one of the ‘sexy girls’ if I had to but I wanted to be in the musical. Then Murphy’s Law kicked in. Two weeks into rehearsals, my appendix burst. Murphy’s my best friend. Everything happens to me.

“When I was discharged, I asked them to take me straight to rehearsals. I just wanted to observe. I gave myself two weeks to recuperate and then went back to rehearsals.

“A few weeks later – three weeks before the musical opened – I got a call on a Sunday morning from the musical director asking to come in to do a specific scene. They wanted to see the difference between the two ladies. They then decided that I would be playing Mary.

                    

Taliep Petersen and Madeegha Anders as tourists when time allowed.

“I had three weeks to learn this entire script? That’s how I ended up dancing as well because I was a ‘sexy girl’. I was elated and shocked at the same time. I kept singing with the band but only did the last set once the night’s show ended. In essence, I was working two jobs.

“The whole exercise was an amazing learning curve for me. It exposed me to lots of other things I didn’t know in the theatre world.

“When we got married, I stopped working on the musical. I did session work and stuff like that.

“My heart still aches to do another musical and there is something in the pipeline. It a bit ‘commercial-in-confidence’ but it will focus on my life, my journey. Not as a married woman, my musical journey.”

She admits that because of her long relationship with Taliep, it will touch on some sensitive issues. “I’ll try to work around it because I have to protect the children.

“I try not to talk about it too often because, 12 years down the line, it still hurts.”

Madeegha worked hard to raise the children. She realised she needed to have a fallback income stream, so completed a public relations and marketing course through UNISA.

“I never really used it. I did a stint for three weeks and loved doing the marketing work. Music was still my calling.

“When we divorced, I had to do what brought in more money for me. I did as many gigs as I could. I had no time to mope about things. I just had to get on with living.

“It was the work that kept me sane after the divorce in 1996. I had to stay focussed for sake of kids. They were falling apart.”

One of the things she did back then was to open an events company.

She is slightly hesitant to talk about the tragic events of December 16, 2012. Part of it is etched in her mind, parts are just a blur.

What she does remember clearly though are the days before his death and how good their relationship was.

“He phoned me from London on the Tuesday before his death. We spoke for almost two hours on his cell phone. I tried to cut it short because those international calls are so expensive but he insisted ‘let’s talk’. We chatted about the kids . . . our relationship was getting better.

“He was going to do a performance for me at the Luxurama on the Friday night after he got back. He came to rehearsals the Thursday and was pissed off because band was late. He had a saying throughout his career: Djy’s reg of djy’s weg [Do it right, or you’re gone]. I have long adopted that same line. I learnt so much from him.

“And to think, I didn’t know Taliep from a bar of soap when I started.”

A woman confident behind the mic and confident within herself.

The anniversary of his death used to affect her deeply . . . “it’s getting easier as time goes on. I always work on that day so, I don’t have to think about it.”

Despite the runaway success of District 6 – The Musical, Madheega and her family have been unable to capitalise on it or derive much benefit in the 30 years since it was a blockbuster show. No DVD sales, no Version II, no follow up.

“It’s in David’s hands. You can buy the musical for a year for a certain fee. The schools bought the rights for a year, paid a couple of grand for it. I directed one of the shows.

“Taliep’s collaboration with David was so unexpected. I have never met anybody like Taliep and I don’t think there will be another person like him.

“He had a lot of things going on in his head. Taliep, being Taliep, knew everything about D6, When the time came to work on District 6, he had already had so many things that he wanted to use. He had written a lot of songs already, not for the musical, more for his own collection. So Long Goodbye, one of the songs in the musical, was written for me in 1984. Today, it plays out my entire life. Whenever I perform that song, I am emotionally drained. He didn’t know he was actually writing my life.

“There is such a big gap in this industry now since Taliep’s passing. Our people just didn’t know what natural actors and singers we had in our midst. We weren’t schooled.”

Madeegha is surrounded by her children – Jawahier, Aeesha, Ashur and Fatima – who share her love of music. She has started performing with them.

“I’d be telling Ashur, ‘I’d like to do this song or that song’: and he’d say: ‘sing vi’ my, sing vi’ my’.  He’d do it exactly like his father did, one finger and scale it down. His band backs me on stage; he is the musical director for everything I do.”

She’s has a new events company called S.A. Fire (as in Sapphyre) and has lined up six gigs over the holiday season.

It’s looking good. So has she changed her mind about looking for work overseas? “No, it hasn’t changed. I plan to either work on a cruise liner or go to Spain. Depends which one is financially more viable. I’m awaiting confirmation on both.”

No doubt, she’s a woman in control.

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