There is a funny story the Springbok Nude Girls’ guitarist, Theo Crous, tells about Skunk Anansie.
The first time the hard rock band and their bald ultra rock chick Skin performed in South Africa was for Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday 1998.
Aside from the Nudies, the only other rock band on the line-up was Skunk Anansie. We were four years into our democracy and Crous recalls being scared because in front of his Afrikaans Bellville eyes was “a sea of black people”.
“They just stared at us,” he says.
The Nudies whizzed through their set and laid open the stage for Skunk Anansie.
According to Crous, the black audience were astounded when Skin hit the stage and the roar of metal guitars belted out of the speakers. During the set – and probably just after screaming: “They’re selling Jesus again! They want your soul and your money!” – Skin did the grunge thing and stage-dived. This stunt went horribly wrong as the audience, who were not used to Kurt Cobain and his ilk, fled in terror in different directions, leaving the poor rock star to hit (kaboom!) the floor.
Fifteen years later and Skunk Anansie are still together and will make their third return to our country. They will be joining The Hives for the Vodacom in the City gig, which will take place on Friday at Mary Fitzgerald Square. Then they’ll play Rocking the Daisies in the Western Cape on Saturday.
During a phone interview from Milan, Italy, Skin fondly recalls her times in South Africa.
“I first came backpacking on my own and it was an interesting experience. I went there as a kid and then three weeks later I went as a rock star. When I was backpacking people were speaking to me in their native languages.
“I hung out with friends in Yeoville, listening to the music. I went to Namibia and met some really old friends there. I did Cape Town and Table Mountain and walked around Long Street.
“Nowadays I rarely travel on my own because I have a child or am with my band.”
Skunk Anansie were one of the bands to perform for Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday. Skin laughed as she recalled the day they and other artists met Madiba.
“We were all invited to his house. There were lots of famous people there. He arrived and we had to sing happy birthday. But beforehand they called on everyone to meet him personally. They announced Michael Jackson and he went up. Then they announced Stevie Wonder, then Danny Glover and then Nina Simone. Then we whispered to each other: ‘Skunk Anansie’ and cracked up, and just then they called out: ‘Skunk Anansie’. We got all nervous and walked towards him. Mandela shook our hands and I ended up standing next to Michael Jackson.
“But I kinda went off Michael because all he wanted was to stand next to Mandela. He had it in his head that he wanted a Neverland in Africa and was so determined to get it. He was my childhood hero, though. But there was also Stevie and Nina and I was also inspired by them. It was a momentous occasion.”
That Skin is so unaware of her legendary and definitive status comes across in these memories. She is one of a handful of rock chicks to have a career spanning 20 years. That she is also black is even rarer and, in fact, unique.
To celebrate their two decades in music, the band have released An Acoustic Skunk Anansie in London. Skin says she is very proud of the album and DVD.
“Sometimes the music smothers the guitar, but when people hear us unplugged they say things like they didn’t realise what I was saying in the song. When I watched it for the first time it took me 45 minutes to stop being over it. Then I realised it’s actually quite good.”
But Skin and the band are brilliant, intense performers. There is no denying that. So does this mean she is a perfectionist?
“No, I am not. The vibe and emotion is much more important than being perfect. If you concentrate on the small things you lose the bigger picture.
“For South Africa we will do what we do and maybe tailor it to be harder or heavier. We don’t change it so much because then we become followers instead of leaders. We will be doing new songs as well as the greats. We will be doing a legacy of the last 19 years.”
For the Vodacom in the City event, 15 000 people are expected at Mary Fitzgerald Square. Other artists on the line-up are alt-j and Boys Noize who will all be performing at Rocking the Daisies on Saturday. The annual festival takes place at Cloof Wine Estate in Darling on the Cape West Coast.