Karyn White. Picture: Instagram

‘Let’s get it started in here, ay, ay,” Karyn White sings in a Black Eyed Peas meets Tina Turner joviality. She sits down and cheeses after she’s adjusted the light emitting from the chandelier in her home. 

This is our third attempt at getting some Skype time, and it’s immediately clear that the American singer is eager to make her way back to South Africa.

She will be performing at Marmalade Productions’ Divas 2018 this weekend, and again on August 4. On Friday she’s at Carnival City along with our very own Unathi, Paxton Fielies and Sasha Lee Davids. 

On Saturday she will be joined by Fielies, Davids, G&T and Rene Johnson at the Grand West in Cape Town. And on August 4, White will be sharing the Boardwalk ICC stage in Port Elizabeth with Fielies, Davids and G&T.

For her upcoming visit to Mzansi, White has made sure to act on the notes she took from some of her past performance experiences. “I learned my lesson,” she laughs heartily. “I came over before and I didn’t realise it’s a whole other market in terms of the songs that South Africans want to hear.

“This show is tailored for South Africa. It’s not just me doing songs that are popular in the States. I love the fact that there is such a respect and love for R&B there because, in the States, they take it for granted. 

I feel really appreciated and am excited to do these songs that I don’t do live often. It’s fun for me because it makes it fresh for me.”

When White first burst on to the music scene in the mid-to-late 1980s, she was a fresh addition to R&B. Her platinum-selling eponymous debut instantly made her a star in 1988. She gave us hits like; Superwoman, Romantic, I’d Rather Be Alone, Make Him Do Right, Can I Stay With You and more.

Then her mother died, she divorced genre architect, Terry Lewis (of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis fame), and disappeared from the music scene shortly after South Africa’s first democratic election. In 2012 she released an album called Carpe Diem under her own label, KW Enterprise.

“It was a movement of seizing the day,” White tells me. “And coming back from a 17-year hiatus, my vocals were better and stronger. I really got to see what I was made of. I had a great time in the studio, and approached everything as a grown woman.”

That album spawned songs like Sista Sista and White’s first recorded cover - of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours - and had a more up-tempo, vintage pop feel to it.

Five years later, White returned with a film she co-wrote and starred in, called Gale and The Storm, and its soundtrack.

The 2017 movie is, in some ways, art imitating life. It’s about Gale Storm, a funk singer who leaves the industry at the height of her career, and then years later, attempts to return. It allows White to flex her acting muscles, but to also finally break free from the R&B chains and show she has musical range.

“I wanted to loosely base the movie on my life because I believe everybody loves a good comeback story,” says White.

“Gale Storm walked away at the height of her career and was not going to bow to what the industry and her ex-lover wanted her to change into. But her love for music was still there.

“It was a conscious decision to make a funk soundtrack. I play a legendary funk singer in the movie and I wanted to get out of the box. There is no artist who ever wants to say: ‘this is all I can paint’. I was 20-something when I came out. I’m 50! I love all kinds of music.

“I heard Childish Gambino’s album, Awaken, My Love!, and just” she pauses here to sing the Redbone chorus - complete with the keyboard sounds.

“I was like, ‘oh my god! That 70s funk’. That’s the direction I want to go for Gale and The Storm. I wanted people to look at Gale as a character and not Karyn White.”

Luckily, people can get both the character on screen (and buy the soundtrack on her website) and White on stage this weekend.

* Catch Karyn White in Divas 2018 at Carnival City Casino in Gauteng on Friday; the Grand West in Cape Town on Saturday; and at the PE Boardwalk ICC on August 4

Tickets at Computicket and Shoprite Checkers.