Kenny Babyface Edmonds

Starting in Zimbabwe tonight, the highly-anticipated Toni Braxton and Babyface Tour is finally on African soil. Organised by Canoc Productions, the r&b greats will perform in Durban on Sunday, Cape Town on Tuesday, Joburg on Thursday and it’s just been announced that an intimate show – with tickets at R3 000 a pop – will be performed in Joburg tonight.

I chatted with Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, whose career began with a group called The Deele in 1981. He said once they’re here, the pair will perform sets from their illustrious individual careers and then join each other to perform songs off their beautiful album, Love, Marriage and Divorce. It was to record this album that Babyface practically pushed Braxton to come out of early retirement from the music industry.

Under LaFace Records, Babyface, along with music partner, LA Reid, were behind Braxton’s classic, eponymous Grammy-winning debut album and much of her later work. Some critics have gone as far as to say Braxton has always been Babyface’s muse and even she has said that he is her musical husband. So if anyone was going to coax her out of retirement, it was going to be him.

“It was more about trying to get her back into wanting to be in music again,” Babyface recalls his mission to bring Braxton back. “It made sense because she had a lot of things she wanted to talk about and emotions she wanted to get out and there’s no better way to do that than through song.”

Babyface applies this theory to his solo career, which has spawned nine albums and a few cover and compilation albums, as well as when he is writing and producing for other people. From TLC to Whitney Houston to Pink, Madonna and even Ariana Grande and most singers in between, Babyface’s pen game is strong. But he swears there isn’t a song he’s written that he would’ve kept for himself.

“That’s kind of a hard question,” he pauses, “and it’s because I believed that I was writing for other people and thinking for them that I am here for three decades. I was able to touch so many people because of people’s different tastes and people liking so many different artists, so I think I made the right call.”

He’s also thrilled that Jazmine Sullivan interpolated After 7’s Ready Or Not – a song written by Babyface – to create Let It Burn off her 2015 album, Reality Show. “I approved it with flying colours,” he said, “I was honoured, first of all, that she would do that.”

He mentioned that he’d love to work with her, but there’s no word on whether it will be for his upcoming album, Return To Tender Lover. The title is a nod to his second album, Tender Lover, and the first single, We’ve Got Love, is a feel-good jam.

“I listened to Tender Lover and remembered the feeling of it,” says Babyface. “Not that I’m trying to re-do it, but I want to go back to the feeling of hopeful love – which is what that song was about and what I want my music to be about today, being hopeful. It’s new music with the same feeling.”

l Catch Toni Braxton and Babyface at Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban, on Sunday, at GrandWest Casino, Cape Town, on Tuesday and Ticketpro Dome on Sept 3, 4. Book at www.ticketpro.co.za