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PJ Powers is making a big comeback this year. She is touring nationwide with a one-woman musical narrative about her life, called Firefly, and has also released her first album in six years. There is a biography in thae writing and a documentary in the not-too-distant future. Therese Owen caught up with this trendsetting South African icon.
What is the inspiration for your new album, Destiny? I have had a very interesting four years since I last recorded, which was with HHP for the World Cup in 2010. This is my first album in six years and a lot has happened in those years. Also, this country is not the same country it was when I was making my township music. A lot always happens in South Africa.
This album still has soul, but it also has proper musicians working on it. The inspiration has come from what happened in my life. I came out of a shitty relationship and this is my fifth year of sobriety.
If someone put Destiny on they could relate to it. For me, aside from the music, there must also be a story in a song. I am a lyrics person.
At 50 do you think you are creating better music now than you did before?
The wonderful thing about age is that wisdom comes with it. When we are young we try to hide things. I would say what I thought I wanted the public to hear. Now I am completely honest. Destiny comes with complete honesty and authenticity. I have done the best I can with the songs.
Who is your target market?
Tell me, what Adele’s target market? I’ve had a target market audience from the beginning. With the show I am doing in Cape Town, I felt completely proud because there was a total cross-section of Cape-tonians, from coloured to black to white. I represent the country without meaning to. I feel like I have lived in South Africa and not just stayed here.
Speaking of your show, what is it like doing more of a play than a straight concert?
I am used to a bigger audience. Throughout my career I have been spoilt by playing to 40 000 people in the townships. With this show it is terryifying because I can see the whites of people’s eyes. The smaller the crowd the more difficult it is.
The show is about a very funny time in my life. I’m driving my yellow Cressida and I ask a policeman where the Mamelodi stadium is and he tells me I cannot enter. The stadium? No, you may not enter Soweto.
I am writing a biography, but wanted to tell my story through music. I have been privileged to have an interesting life. My story is a story of South Africa, musically, politically and socially.
What were the challenges of doing this show?
The public normally see me as being larger-than-life PJ Powers, but this show reveals a much more vulnerable, gentle person.
How much do 30 000 people know about the artist? I made a decision to let them see a more fragile Penelope. It is terrifying, but I like a challenge.
What has been a career highlight for you?
Oh s**t. (Pauses). I think that through my career I was able to have a relationship with Nelson Mandela and, in fact, that has to be a highlight of my life.
It was Mandela who insisted I do the Rugby World Cup in 1995. It was a great privilege to know him. We are both Cancerian and born two days apart. He made me laugh a helluva lot. He was a great, great human being and not just for the obvious reasons.
What was a low point in your life?
Drinking a bottle of Flex hairspray. After five stints in rehab you learn a few tricks and it’s a handy little thing to come across at 2am when you wake up with the shakes.
If you could do anything differently in your life, what would it be?
Absolutely nothing. The regrets I have I learnt from. I would go through the same pain, the same lows. It makes the person I am today which is who I am happy with.
Where are you spiritually and emotionally right now?
I used to think I was so important, but we are mere tiny little specks in this huge universe. However, I know I will be okay. That is where my head is at.
I feel chuffed that a publisher, other than Penguin, is interested in my book. I will be travelling and performing overseas a lot towards the end of the year.
There is also a documentary on the cards and I plan to have really cool holidays in my own country.
But most importantly, I am tired of thinking about tomorrow and yesterday.
I had one foot in the past, one in the future and I was busy pissing on the present.
Everything I have done has led to this interview right now. And then I move on to the next moment and live that.
Everything in my life is about being in the now.