South Africa is a country with a rich and varied culture, renowned for its vibrant
music, ethnic diversity and an exotic cuisine that is only just beginning to
emerge internationally. lt is also one of the few African countries with a thriving
gay scene. I recently spent the weekend with Amsterdam's unofficial South African
Cultural Ambassador, the multi-talented Raymond Matinyana, aka Miss Thandi of
Lellebel fame. A consummate entertainer, philanthropist and an excellent cook,
Raymond/Miss Thandi (the Miriam Makeba of the gay world) is currently thrilling
audiences across Europe with his exuberant, exotic and exciting group Afro Vibes.
First off, thank you for the most amazing South African meal. Is cooking
one of your passions?
Yes, it's one of my hobbies and hopefully one day I will be able to have my
own kitchen and dining place with a little stage where, I can cook and once
in awhile show up and sing. It all goes together because music is food and food
can be musical.
Raymond, is South Africa really the gay capitol of Africa?
We have better rights than other African countries and a constitution that supports
it. The problem is the people have not changed. I mean it's there, but the gay
prides will only happen in the cities, you won't have a Roze Maandag in a small
little town like you do in Holland.
How was it for you growing up?
I grew up in a township where there was no visible gay life. I mean I didn't
know I could fall in love with a man. It was there inside me but I didn't know
that you could touch a man, walk with him, kiss him and actually sleep with
Did you have boyfriends in South Africa?
Yes, I have had relationships with black South Africans but most of my boyfriends
have always been white. The gay scene was in Johannesburg. I lived in Soweto,
so to socialize openly with other gay people I had to go to the city but then
1 had to get back home. One advantage to having a white boyfriend was that you
didn't have to take a taxi back home at 2am! I think part of the attraction
of the gay white people to us was because they were comfortable, and they were
out. You had things to learn from them. My coming out was within the white community.
Was it difficult to conduct an interracial gay relationship in an apartheid
It was very difficult. There were times when you had to sit in the back of the
car if you were driving with your boyfriend so it looked like you worked for
him. It was not necessarily that he was ashamed and it wasn't about degrading
yourself, you sat in the back because you wanted to have a conformable relationship.
It was also very difficult for us to come out within the black community because
it was not accepted. It was a double struggle being black and gay at the same
Do you have predominantly good or bad memories of your childhood?
I grew up on a township, that's not fun. I grew up in an apartheid system, that's
also not fun. I wish I was more conscious about my being an African when I was
growing up. I was born in a small town where the white man was king, he was
the boss. Almost every black person in the township had to go to town and serve
a white man and that was normal. I grew up like any other child in a township
but I think I could have had a better relationship with my mother and my family
if I had been more conscious of the hardships they endured when they left our
homes. Apartheid brainwashed our people so much that our parents did not even
want to share what they were going through at the time so we thought everything
was normal. We were not naive, it was just the situation at the time.
I never had a wish of being different to who I was then. The more you grow up
the more you learn about yourself and the situation. Eventuality there were
the uprisings and you became conscious of where you should be and where you
were not at. I think every child that grew up in my time was in some way involved
YOUNG AT LAST
Are you still politically involved?
How can one not he? Well for me the Afro Vibes Foundation is my way of contributing
and fulfilling the happiness I did not have as a child in South Africa. We help
young people with no hope and try and fulfill their dreams with education. It
takes two people to make a child but it takes a whole village to raise one.
The foundation is there to inspire other people. For us the Afro Vibes foundation
is voluntary work. South Africa has loads of problems. I'm here and things are
available here and people are giving, so why be selfish?
Raymond, when you were growing up did you ever imagine your life being any-
where other than South Africa?
Not really, no. Actually I was quite happy in South Africa until Up With People
came to my school (laughs)! They were interviewing people who wanted to travel
and perform around the world. I was one of the people they chose. It was not
my dream, it was an opportunity. I'm happy that I did Up With People because
I learned a lot and it was a wonderful experience.
What was the most important thing you learned in Up With People?
Actually what I gained was my youth. I got to be young. All of my life I have
always been an adult. I grew up in a society where you had the responsibility
as a child to be the mother or father to your sisters, there is no "youth" thing.
Also there was a majority of white people in the cast of Up With People, so
for me it was nice to learn about white people in a very equal way as opposed
to a boss/worker or "child of the maid" way. We had common goals.
How and when did Miss Thandi come into being?
In South Africa there used to be Hollywood Look Alike type of events in the
gay community. When I was still a student, there was a flyer that I picked up
and it was looking for participants and I thought, why not? It was not my first
time in a dress but it was my first performance. It was not Miss Thandi, I was
Dionne Warwiek. I did a really convincing Dionne Warwick actually! I won, so
that's where it started.
How do your family relate to Miss Thandi?
My whole family loves Miss Thandi. They know that she's the breadwinner. My
mother always makes a point to see my shows when I am in South Africa. My whole
community knows about Miss Thandi. There are lots of other drag artists in South
Africa but I am probably the only black one that has gone this far.
How difficult has it been for you to carve out a career in the Amsterdam
Well, I was very naive. When I came here I didn't know that there was a place
like Havana. Prior to my visit to the States I had to fundraise for my tuition
with Up With People, so I did a benefit concert for myself and I introduced
Miss Thandi. From there people were interested outside of the gay scene. In
around 1995 I did a Miss Havana competition as Miss Thandi and for some reason
I won. I don't know why, I don't think I was the best. Just different. Then
of course I was introduced to the scene. It was all nice for awhile but I'm
not a club person, I'm not a go-go person. I come from another culture and I
felt I was losing myself. So I started on the African scene, founding the group
Afro Vibes (same name as the foundation) for Miss Thandi and somehow the two
worlds came together and found some balance. We play everything from the biggest
festivals to the smallest cafes in town. That's my baby at the moment. I'm working
on my own CD right now. The medley on the Lellebel CD was actually a demo for
my Afro Vibes CD.
Is the medley popular in your live shows?
Yes, but I don't use it as a medley, I use it as separate songs. Of course The
Click Song is the popular song, and Pata Pata is very well known so people can
sing along, and then of course Sarie Marais is an Afrikaans song. I always try
to find a way of representing South Africans as a nation and also trying to
find things that are familiar to the audience. Of course I also have my own
songs that I wrote and arranged.
How do you feel about artists like Helmut Lotti who sold hundreds of thousands
of copies of his Out Of Africa CD?
For me, I am happy because it means there is nothing impossible. The culture
is something that can be shared. Helmut Lotti is a white man who has not even
lived in South Africa. If you look in South Africa, there are few white people
who sing or speak our language, so for this man to be able to carry our music
like that is not bad, it's a compliment. That said, I hope our music will be
respected not only because it is sung by white people but in its own right.
What is the connection you have to Amsterdam?
Well, Amsterdam was the first place I came to after leaving South Africa. Coming
to Holland in '91, it was a time when the anti-apartheid movement was really
active. There were so many South African cultural and political activities that
I somehow felt like I hadn't really left. I fell in love with Holland because
it felt like I was still home. Also for me it was a coming out. Coming out in
that I could just walk freely as the person that I am. It's complicated at times.
Holland colonized us but was also one of the countries that helped to free us.
A lot is buried and people don't really want confrontation. I am glad to be
here but I know its not home.
Finally, do you see yourself as an unofficial Ambassador of South African
Who doesn't get paid for it (laughs)! It is amazing how you realize the value
of your culture when you are away from home. Yes, you might say that I am seen
as a cultural ambassador. One of the Afro Vibes Foundation's goals is to organize
cultural activities in Holland and South Africa. Basically I am just an artist
trying to survive. I share with others what I know and who I am. I will always
be South African no matter where I am, I cannot forget where I come from.