Interview and article by Cyriaque Griffon
Photographs: Clinton Lubbe (except photo with castle: Erik Le Roux) / Costumes :
Floris Louw / Makeup: Lyn Kennedy
Not only has the singer Nataniel been an iconic figure of the South African entertainment industry for thirty years, but he is a genuine show-business all-rounder. He has released numerous albums, staged many original theatre productions and published books. He has just shot the third season of his TV cuisine show in western France. It will be broadcast soon in South Africa. Singer, producer, designer, playwright, TV show host… He is such a multifaceted artist that we can wonder if there was anything he cannot do ! One thing is for sure : « We work like dogs » as he says. Nataniel tells us more about the subtle ingredients that make up his recipe for success. To start with, he was hit by a tidal wave of emotions.
You are an accomplished performer. What is your background ? « I was trained as a classical concert pianist but when listening to the American singer Patti LaBelle in the mid-80s, that was a big shock, a revelation. I was overwhelmed by her vocal range. That was so inspirational for me that this marked a crucial turning point in my career as a singer.»
You have a flair for stage production and you boast an outstanding collection of costumes…
« When I am on stage, I never live the stage. In South Africa, when the audience comes and see an artist, you have to stay on stage non-stop. Moreover, my trademark is the magic of my costumes. Apart from advertising a bit for the shows, my policy is to avoid photos of the shows so that there is no spoiler at all. I want the audience to be stunned when discovering the costumes for the first time in front of their very eyes. Light is also extremely important to me. I like working the old fashion way with spotlights to create a surprise. Like an apparition so that the figure stands out in the dark. Not too much technology. What I also like in South Africa is that we have outstanding theatres. They are reputed worldwide and foreign perfomers like them because of their layout and their big dressing rooms. Last but not least; there are eleven official languages in South Africa. Hence, a smaller target audience. You need thus to work fast and innovate all the time. You start a stage production and you start thinking about the next one. »
You also have a passion for food and host a TV show about cuisine. The third season will be broadcast soon in South Africa. Why do you use Nantes city as a decor and why this particular love for western France?
« My passion for food comes from my grand-mother. Her door was always open for people to come and eat. Mouthwatering flavours would smell all the time. I had published several books about cooking. They asked me « Why don’t you do cooking TV shows ? ». The series was so successful that we decided to add three seasons in France. My brother had also settled in Nantes, France to marry a French woman. But most of all, this series in France was a way to pay tribute to my ancestors and the French protestants known as the Huguenots. The edict that was signed in Nantes 400 years ago granted the protestants the right to practice their religion without persecution from the State. When the edict was revoked, the Huguenots left France in the 17th century to flee religious persecutions and settled in South Africa. Among those settlers, there was a man whose last name was Leroux, which is my name. I am a descendant from a Huguenot. There is a part of my blood and my roots here. I had to come to Nantes to shoot the series. This is something very special. And now the circle is complete. »
What a combination of factors indeed ! There is no doubt that for Nataniel not only is this a travel back to his roots in a vibrant city with a host of cultural events and a thrilling history, but it is also the final dash of flavor for his unique formula and his cocktail of creativity. He pays great attention to every single detail for the shooting of each episode, whether it is the colour or the choice for dishes. A TV food show is like for him a stage production ; you have to reinvent yourself permanently to mesmerize the audience. The truth is, Nataniel does this wonderfully well!
(Nataniel’s 3rd season of the « Edik van Nantes » series to be broadcast from October 2017 on kykNET TV. His last CD album « One day in a castle » has just been released.)