The lauded singer, actress, presenter and all-around entertainer is 64 going on 40. Her skin is flawless. The dimple on her right cheek is pronounced and pretty. She wears a black-and-white suit with geometric shapes.
Her short hair is adorned with a beaded black-and-white headband. She cracks jokes and her gestures are enhanced by her French-tip manicured nails. She’s fly!
We’re meeting because Louw has just written her memoir called It’s Me, Marah – which is published by Blackbird Books. In it, Louw expands on everything from the torment of her biological parents being kept a secret, the naivety that came with starting out in the entertainment industry and physical abuse suffered at the hands of famous people like Gibson Kente as well as then-up-and-coming entertainers.
This book is a jaw-dropping must-read and, according to Louw, it’s been a long time coming.
"I started in 2015 when I’d just had a hip replacement operation,” Louw remembers. “I couldn’t do anything but sit in bed for eight to 16 weeks so that was my chance to start writing.”
“I always wanted to write my story. For many years, I’d been writing things down. Good or bad or interesting stuff. Travelling around the world. The people I met, some who came and went. I knew I wanted to write my story but I didn’t have the confidence as a writer. Then Dr Mothobi Mutloatse told me I had to write the book myself, so I did. I’d bounce ideas off him.”
One of the most striking things that begins on page three and carries on throughout the memoir is the fact that Louw doesn’t italicise or translate sentences in African languages as readers have become accustomed to.
“There are certain things you can’t express in any language other than the one you were using in that situation,” Louw explains.
“Like when we had the Group Areas Act and I was at my house in Norwood doing my garden and the women who looked after those homes were shocked.”
“I can’t write ‘what are you doing there?’ It doesn’t have the same weight. I have to say ‘wenzani?’ That’s how they said it.”
As someone who traveled the world performing in African productions, Louw knows a thing or two about staying true to who you are. This is one of the reasons why it was important for her to try to bring an African slant to the Mzansi version of Idols.
“I don’t like to speak about Idols that much but it was explained to me that Idols is like a franchise – you don’t change the menu,” she says sincerely. “You buy the restaurant as is. The menu is that British and American music. My concern was: why don’t you keep everything the same but just change the music content?”
Many things happened while Louw was a judge and one of the interesting things was how she recieved a death threat from a disgruntled family member of a contestant. That wasn’t the first time Louw had been threatened. “I always tried to not let negativity affect me,” Louw says matter-of-factly.
“When I was doing Shell Road to Fame, it was during the state of emergency and I was the president of the first South African musicians’ union and Johnny Clegg was my vice-president. I found a death threat note under my door and I notified security. A woman had a gun and was sitting in the front row. She was probably going to blow me up while I was on the stage,” she laughs now.
Mirth is a common thread running through this memoir. One of the most consistent laughing companions in Louw’s life was the late great Miriam Makeba.
“We became such good friends noMama,” Louw fondly recalls. “She was like a mother, a big sister and a best friend.”
“We were going to travel to an event together and she phoned me before and told me ‘people say we are beautiful: me, you and Winnie (Madikizela-Mandela). Top three! So please stop wearing amawashing on your head. She had such a sense of humour.”
Louw has stories for days and she shares many of them with me. I ask her if she is keen to write a second memoir. She thinks about this then tells me her friend “loved the book but he said I should have finished the book by saying: ‘and then I turned 60.’”
Louw, who is currently acting on The Ferguson’s series, The Queen, chuckles and then says: “Because life is still going on. I am still working and I’m grateful about that because some of the people in my age group are sitting at home wondering what to do next. So we’ll see.”
* It’s Me, Marah by Marah Louw is available at book stores now.