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This is the LitNet archive (2006–2012)
Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Vermaak | Entertainment > Musiek | Music > Rubrieke | Columns > Annie Klopper: Rockjagter

How does a mango groove and keep on grooving? Annie Klopper in conversation with Claire Johnston

Annie Klopper - 2010-10-06

I have a theory and am yet to be proven wrong on this one. There is a sure-fire, easy and cost-effective way to liven up any dull party (or bad day for that matter). Simply crank up Mango Groove’s “Special Star” at full volume and forget who is watching as your feet start involuntarily moving. This method works especially if you were as privileged as I was to grow up with Mango Groove’s music and are therefore upon hearing any Mango Groove hit from the past two decades (and there are many to choose from) as happy as you were as a child when you were dancing like a maniac on the sitting room floor while holding your Barbie Doll in the air, pretending she is Claire Johnston singing in front of thousands of screaming fans. And yes, I did beg my mom to buy me a penny whistle instead of a recorder and yes, I did try to master the intro to “Special Star” for many an afternoon until my sisters hid this instrument from me.

Today Mango Groove still gets me dancing to both old hits and new ones. Twenty years after first discovering their music (and discovering that I cannot, in fact, play the penny whistle), it is my privilege to speak to lead singer Claire Johnston.

Sam Alberts

Mango Groove recently recorded the Big World Party live concert DVD. The band has never produced a live concert DVD. Why did you feel the time was right now? And please tell me more about this experience.

It’s quite something that this was our first official concert DVD recording! We have had many TV specials over the years, but all of them owned by TV networks.

With the release of Bang the drum, our first all-new album in thirteen years, the time just felt right. We also had lots of requests via our website for a live DVD, so this just confirmed what we were already feeling.

These days musicians and bands are able to use so many varied platforms to promote themselves and their music – from cell phone technology to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Back in the days when Mango Groove was starting out, you obviously had to rely on word of mouth and the media to promote your band. Did you, however, come up with any other creative ways to make the band and its endeavours better known to the public back then?

I’m afraid we simply paid our dues in smoky clubs and allowed for word of mouth to create a platform for us. This took a long time! We are really only waking up now to the joys (and speed) of FB, etc, and are blown away by its power. Setting up our website a few years ago was a revelation – we got so many mails from people all over the world who were full of affection for Mango Groove, and it was a very positive thing for us.

Photo:  Sam Alberts

Lacking other genre labels to describe it, the name of the band has, to a certain extent, become the label of your unique brand of music. When I first laid my hands on a Mango Groove album at the tender age of six I wondered about one thing: How does a mango groove? Now, some twenty years later, I can perhaps formulate this question better and satisfy my childhood curiosity by asking: Why the name Mango Groove?

Ha! Good question, and nothing to do with me, sadly. John Leyden (my now husband) was in a punk band called Pett Frog. He had always been obsessed with the kwela sounds of 1950s Sophiatown, and when he met a penny whistle player called “Big Voice” Jack Lerole, the punk band basically turned into Mango Groove. The actual name, I gather, was born over a relaxed lunch at John’s family home in 1984. The idea was that the name be fun, camp and tropical. The added bonus was that it was a sexist pun: Man-go Groove!

As children growing up in the nineties, my two sisters and I not only tried to copy your outfits, we also passionately fought about whose Barbie may be named Claire Johnston. For more than two decades you have been not only a music but also a fashion icon. Do you have a favourite local or international designer, and who has contributed to your iconic style over the years?

First of all, wow! Thanks for the lovely compliments. I don’t really think of myself as particularly stylish, and am probably slightly chaotic fashion-wise. I am liking wackiness and colour more and more as I get older, and don’t really like the whole overdone and perfect “outfit” thing. I have a serious passion for bags, shoes, hats and gorgeous accessories, though, and would really love to create some of my own.

One day …  

As to South African fashion, I find it very exciting: I love an eclectic, mix ‘n match feel, and South Africa is full of possibility with all the cultures and energy we have. I have always been a big Marianne Fassler fan, and some of things she has made for me I have worn for years. For our recent live DVD shoot, Suzaan Heyns designed several pieces for me which were easy to move in and adapt without major costume changes. She’s definitely someone to watch.

Photo:  Sam Alberts

You are the ambassador for The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s national anti-rhino poaching campaign. How did your involvement with this very serious cause come about and how are you going about creating awareness?

Like most of us I was sad and angry to hear about what was happening to these incredible animals which are such a part of South Africa’s natural heritage. When I was approached by the EWT to be their first “Dare to Care” ambassador I jumped at the chance to try and increase the awareness for such an important issue. Throughout my career so far I have realised what a difference we can make when we communicate and work together. This is what is already making a difference in the fight against these poachers, although we still have a long way to go – clearing up all sorts of misconceptions about the medicinal (and other) values of rhino horn, not to mention that we need to punish people very heavily for any kind of participation in rhino poaching.

What has been the single greatest contribution to the success of Mango Groove?

A mixture of things – hard work, good timing, a bit of luck, a lot of persistence … tough to pin down, as it’s a bit of a cocktail, really …

With the experience you gained over years of producing hits, what advice can you give local artists looking to make it big?

To be honest, I prefer the phrase “South African artists” (for me “local” suggests something that is “down the road” or “around the corner” or generally without polish). I would ultimately advise South African artists to be original, disciplined and true to themselves and to develop tough skins. It’s a jungle out there!

On the topic of South African talent, which acts are making you excited about South African music and ones that you reckon we should keep a lookout for?

Generally, I am always excited by artists who have conviction and passion. In South Africa, I especially enjoy it when there’s an original-sounding, South African flavour – again, that eclectic, mixing-it-up kind of energy. So you know exactly who I am talking about.

Photo:  Sam Alberts

Mango Groove’s latest album, Bang the Drum, released in 2009, was very enthusiastically received by fans and critics alike. Where does the band draw from in finding inspiration and energy for new material?

With Bang the drum we really wanted to go back to basics. There had been a long gap between albums, so we really thought long and hard about what it is that Mango Groove is all about, and we wanted it to be real and honest. We didn’t want to be self-indulgent, but wanted to make something fun and yet Mango with experience and depth.

Apart from Bang the Drum, last year also saw the release of two new Mango Groove compilations, namely the Essential Mango Groove double CD and music video DVD. With more than twenty years of successful music-making, no one is expecting Mango Groove to stop now. So what can we expect from the band in the near future?

Again, thank you for the praise. Right now we are feeling energised and upbeat about more Mango music, more touring, both here and abroad … a musical, perhaps … The sky is the limit as long as one has passion, self-belief and energy.