The Road Less Travelled - Part 1
In grade 3, my class had to memorise a poem to recite to the school at our morning assembly, I must have been 9 at the time and even though my memory fails me at the best of times it managed to hold on to these words.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I never realised it at the young age of 9, but these words would, in fact, shape my destiny.
My mother grew up in Newlands, it was cold and Calvinistic and she never felt like she fitted in. She spent her breaks at school staring at the Holiday Inn Hotel across the field wondering where those tourists were coming from and imagining a whole life outside of the prison she found herself in. Winters were cold and she was told by her mother that she needed to reduce (lose weight). She felt starved of love and food, as her mother used to lock the fridge and she was served boiled diet food when the rest of the family ate a hearty supper.
There was a painting in her house of a red flamenco dancer, dancing in a circle of people playing music and clapping, it had such a sense of warmth and she felt so alive when she looked at it, she thought, "if someone painted this scene, then there must be a place out there with this feeling with this spirit and energy which was so alive.
She was relieved when her parents sent her to Israel at 19 after school and for the first time in her life she found that feeling and felt alive.
She was staying on a Kibbutz full of South Africans but preferred to stick with the locals. She met my father who was 17 at the time, on a bus while travelling to visit a friend and asked him for directions. He had such nice manners for an Israeli, he actually got off the bus with her to show her where to go.
A week later she bumped into him again in the old city of Jerusalem and had a lovely friendly chat, then both of them went on their way. The 70's Jerusalem was a melting pot of different cultures, the movie Saturday Night Fever had just come out and the local Levantine men wore tailored trousers, and tight fitting shirts. They had afros and strutted around in style just like John Travolta, my mother was in heaven.
As fate would have it, ten days later they bumped into each other at the central post office. He asked my mother for her number, but the thought of waiting next to the phone hoping it would ring was too much for her, so she asked him for his number instead, she also happened to mention which youth hostel she was staying at. Unfortunately she lost his number and was absolutely devastated, so she decided to wait at the central bus station in Jerusalem for the entire day hoping she would see him like a needle in a haystack, but there was no sign of Shlomo.
The hostel she was staying at was run by Eskimos and she gave them strict instructions that Shlomo was the man she was going to marry (she had probably spent a total of 1 hr with him, but was certain) and if he phoned her, they were to insist that he leave his number and if he showed up, they had to knock on her door urgently to warn her. 2 weeks went by and she had given up hope and found herself another boyfriend Ibrahim, who she liked to call "Avi" (the Israeli Jewish version). One day they received a knock on the door from the Eskimo who told her King Solomon (Shlomo) had arrived.
My mother was so excited, she kicked Ibrahim out and got herself together to meet her King, who was waiting in the lobby. She had been waiting for this moment but now she was conflicted and froze, Shlomo was waiting downstairs and poor "Avi" was outside upset. The Eskimo came knocking at the door once again shouting at her to take a phone call immediately at the front desk, Ibrahim wouldn't stop calling. She walked downstairs sheepishly with the Eskimo to answer the phone glanced at my father and gave him a brief smile, he must have thought "this girl is very strange'.
"Avi" began yelling at my mother so come see him outside immediately or he was coming in, well that would have been a catastrophe like no other, so she went to speak to him outside, wait it gets better!
At this very moment the police showed up outside the hostel and assumed that my mother an "Avi" were doing a drug deal, they ordered my mother to go upstairs and show them her passport. they searched everyone's rooms and found a piece of Hashish wrapped in foil in my mother's coat pocket. She swore she had no idea it was drugs, she really thought it was a piece of chocolate. if you know my mother you would know what a chocoholic she is and that she doesn't even drink let alone take drugs. The police dragged her downstairs in handcuffs as she looked at Shlomo completely mortified.
Being the "Yeled Tov Yerushalayim" (goodie too shoes Jerusalem boy) that he was, my father was in a complete state of shock, what had he gotten himself into? He ended up bailing my mother out of jail the next day and she sat down with him and told him to please give her a chance, "This was all a misunderstanding, please just give me 1 week of your time and if you don't like me after that, we can go our separate ways." In my mother's mind she knew this was the man she was going to marry.
My father invited my mother for Shabbat dinner with his family the following week, she couldn't believe what a warm family he had and what an abundance of moroccan food there was. She ate herself into a coma and decided she was quite happy there and didn't want to leave. She finally felt at home even though she couldn't understand what his family were saying. My parents were in love and it was time to build a life together, My mother had to wait 3 years before he finished the army to return to South Africa to take her future husband to meet her parents..
They came to South Africa and had a big wedding, she felt so delighted that she
managed to seal the deal. My father felt like a fish out of water initially, as he was thrown in to a culture that was very different from his own. They had planned to return to Israel to live 2 years later but my father grew close to my mother's father, who became like a second father who mentored him and groomed him into a successful businessman and auctioneer.
I was born in Cape Town on September 19th 1984. I was 2 months premature, which I'm pretty sure it contributed to my fighting spirit in life.
Being the firstborn, my parents were naturally obsessed with me, my mother treated me like I was her little doll. When she couldn't find cute enough clothing for her little princess to wear, she would buy actual dolls and dress me up in their cute outfits.
I was very fortunate to have such loving doting parents.
At age 2 my brother arrived in this world, I was so happy to have a new brother and friend to play with. Dancing and singing and putting on shows for my parents, was my favourite past time, I even dressed up my brother in one of my tutus for our grand ballet Show! My brother and I had a love hate relationship and there was bad sibling rivalry, in our early years we got along, but as we got older we wanted to kill each other at the best of times and my mother was exhausted from playing the mediator.
I went to Alon Ashel nursery school and the highlight of my week was being chosen to be the "Ima" (mother in Hebrew) at our Shabbat service where I would say the blessings over the candles to welcome in the Sabbath and we would eat Challah bread and drink grape juice (an age-appropriate substitute for wine).
I was a very sociable and creative child with an active imagination and a sense of wonder. I loved art and looked forward to extracurricular art classes once a week after school where I could develop my skills.
I grew up in a very lively home, there was always music playing. My father being Israeli, had an eclectic worldly taste in music. He would play his favourite 70's or Eurovision hits and The Gypsy Kings were his favourite. I would be transported to Italy with the hits from the San Remo Song Festival and to Paris by famous French singers like Joe Dassin.
Our house was very sociable, there would always be a lively bunch of friends over and our weekends were spent braaing (barbecuing) and splashing in the pool.
I was the apple of my father's eye and he would always throw me the best birthday parties, scrambling to get party decorations at the last minute but somehow managing to pull it off. Pass the Parcel, Pick O Box, the chocolate game and the dancing freeze game, were the standard birthday activities.
One party in particular that stood out for me, was my "Pop Star" birthday party, I think I was 6 or 7. Obviously, I was Janet Jackson in black high waisted pants and a beaded crop top, we sang karaoke and danced the evening away. All I wanted, was to be a pop star.
Since I could stand, I loved to dance and had a natural sense of rhythm. I got sent to ballet at age 6, and was told that It was the foundation and discipline for all genres of dance. I struggled with it and the classical music really didn't resonate with me. I also had a podgy big tummy not conducive to being a ballerina.
I started primary school and fell short as I struggled immensely with reading, I was lagging a lot behind my class and my confidence started to dwindle, I was also bullied by one girl in particular who made me feel rather small, but I kept my head up and carried on.
Modern dancing was my new found passion and I loved it, however it was very challenging for me to pick up the steps. I persevered and did many dance eisteddfods and won the best character dance prize in my red tulle skirt and black hat for my version of Eliza Dolittle's sing "Just You Wait Henry Higgins".
For my second dance that year, I completely blanked midway in my performance, I forgot the dance and ran off the stage to the song " A La La La Long, A La La Long Long Di Long Long Long" I will never forget it. I nearly gave up, instead I started tap lessons that year and excelled as I had a great sense of rhythm.
I had prayed so hard for a little sister and couldn't believe my prayers were answered when I was 9, but my parents were very anxious when Gabriella was born.
She was a miracle baby being 3 months premature and weighing 750 grams, just like a tub of margarine. She was so delicate and minute, her body was slightly bigger than the size of a standard ball-point pen. Gabriella got pneumonia and my parents were nervous wrecks praying for her survival. Even though I was just 9 years old I confidently reassured my mother not to worry, that I had been praying every night and I just knew Gabi was going to be ok. My intuition was right, she was the most beautiful child you have ever seen. I just loved having a baby sister.
By grade 3, all the friends I had were shining in ballet and I felt completely left out. I had no confidence and was left with only 1 friend. My self esteem plummeted even further as I couldn't do Maths. I would sit in class so lost, I would just sharpen my pencils the entire lesson. My teacher was rather concerned and sent me for an IQ test. Feeling very stupid up until that point, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I had a very high IQ and that my grades should be in the high B's and that I might even get a few A's. This brought a huge sense of relief and I started applying myself more. It was safe to say that I did much better in the subjects that were more interesting to me and I quickly came to understand that my creative right brain was working overtime in order to compensate for the lack of activity in my left brain, the seat of numbers and logic.
Never the less, I was loved by my teachers and started to become popular again by the time I reached grade 6.
I was a very sensitive child and a bit of a cry baby, I remember going to a friends birthday party and calling my mother crying to come to fetch me because my friends were being horrible to me. She told me to go back in the room and pretend that everyone liked me and if I still felt sad I should call her after 10 minutes to come and collect me. I called her back five minutes later and told her I was fine and didn't want her to fetch me. Through that lesson, she taught me, that how we perceive our reality is everything, and a slight shift in perception can make the world of difference.
When I was 10 years old I auditioned and got into the musical Evita as one of the children, I was so excited, I remember that first feeling of being in the theatre, the vast backstage with all the hanging props and sets waiting in the wings, even the smell of the dusty red velvet curtains and of course the costumes, the charismatic actors and being centre stage in the spotlight. I knew at that point, I felt like I was home, this was where I was meant to be, this was my destiny.
In Grade 6, my last year of junior school, I landed my first part in our school play "The Jungle Book" as Baloo, the bear. The timing couldn't have been worse as my parents had booked us a
once in a lifetime dream holiday to Disney World.
It was a tough decision to make, to go on this dream holiday and miss out on my first debut role. Some of the other mothers told my mom,
"She better not miss this opportunity because once she gets to middle school, it will be so competitive that she might not get another chance."
Needless to say, off I went to Disney World. Luckily the opposite happened when I got to middle school.
One of my best friend's Oona, had very creative parents, her father was a film director and her mother was a Yogi before yoga was all the rage and mainstream. They lived in a very big house at the top of Fresnaye. There was a wind chime that tinkled outside the main entrance and it made me feel very calm when I visited. Oona's mother had a yoga studio in the house where she would teach. On one of my visits we met one of her guests, a guru from the USA, a few of us friends sat in the yoga studio on the floor as he played us his favourite uplifting Kundalini songs. We asked him so many questions of a spiritual nature, questions we desperately wanted answers to. I think that was the start of my spiritual journey, I began to think out the box and question things, I also started finding all these random new age books around my house on subjects like astro travelling, the afterlife and new age religions. When I asked my mother where these books came from, she had no idea. I guess I, the student was ready and the master appeared. Subconsciously I knew this would take me to another place and decided to put down the books till a later stage.
I have to hand it to my mom, she was and still is the most unconventional, brilliant mother, I would not be who I am today without her. She helped me believe in myself, supported me and always said, "nothing ventured, nothing gained". At around age 11/12, a new underage club opened up in Claremont called "Taboo", all the mothers were in a state about us kids going there, so naturally my mother went to check it out. There was no alcohol, no drugs and she told the other mothers,
"Let them go, while they are young and want to dance, let them dance."
That was my mother for you, always thinking out the box. Thanks to her we had the most wonderful nights at Taboo, socialising and dancing our hearts out.
I went into early puberty in grade 6 and started breaking out in really bad acne, it followed me to middle school and I was put on Roaccutane, I had to wear heavy makeup to cover it, which made me feel rather insecure. On the upside, my reading improved and I ended up receiving the best reading prize at the end of Middle school.
The Bar/Batmitzvah season was the highlight of grade 7, having a party to look forward to with all my friends every single weekend.
I also had a wonderful dinner dance Batmitzvah, with a theatrical theme.
I joined the school choir and that really started to boost my confidence.
I was adored by my choirmaster, Ivor Joffee, who believed in me and allowed me to shine, giving me most of the wonderful solo parts.
I was also training privately with a classical singing teacher to strengthen my voice and widen my range, I was being trained as a Soprano and learning German arias which weren't my favourite, I preferred Italian. Anyways I was broadening my knowledge of music and listening to the likes of Maria Callas, extremely different to my pop Idol J.Lo but I was determined to have a strong voice and just like ballet, classical vocal training is the foundation for any great singer.
We were going on our first choir tour to Port Elizabeth and the night before we left, I had a dream that the other girls were all singing my parts, It was awful.
The next day when we arrived in PE, I was called to the teachers who were leading the field trip.
They sat me down and said: "Dani, unfortunately, there have been some complaints from the other girls' mothers, that you are being given preferential treatment and are singing most of the solos, so we have to be fair and give some of your solo parts to the other girls.
I was gutted, my dream had come true, I couldn't believe it.
It was so unfair! How could they do this?
My mother was really upset so she went to the principal and asked him,
"Do you send your mediocre students to the Maths Olympiad? What about the Waterpolo team? Then why when it comes to the performing arts are you not allowing the most gifted to shine?"
He agreed one hundred percent, but the damage was done.
That was my first introduction into the politics I would face in this industry.
Every year my family went on holiday to the Beacon Isle Hotel in Plettenberg Bay.
The talent show was by far the highlight for me and my father. He told me, "Tonight, you are going to sing " Time To Say Goodbye". I knew it, but was really scared that I wouldn't be able to pull it off. What if I didn't hit the high note at the end? I would be mortified! I was so angry at my father for pushing me to do it that I locked myself in the bathroom and wouldn't come out. He had decided I was doing it and was so excited about it, that I just had to suck it up and do it for him. He really had more faith in me than I had in myself. I was so relieved when I heard the huge applause and that people loved it. I felt a sense of pride that I pulled it off and realised how much of an obstacle fear was, I had to overcome it.
Middle school gave me my second introduction to drama by being part of the school plays and the process of creating a musical. I loved rehearsals and being part of a cast, I was lucky enough to get the main solo part, performing the dance number from Evita "Buenas Aires" in one school production, I never imagined I would be playing the lead in the international tour one day.
At 14 I went with my family on a trip to The Big Apple. I had dreamed of New York as I used to watch the Musical/Movie Fame, I was beyond thrilled to be there right in the middle of Times Square, with it's yellow cabs racing by, the fast paced energy and air of excitement, the land of opportunity.
I went to my first Broadway musical Foot Loose, I was so inspired that I walked out of that show and told my parents,
"This is what I want to do with my life"
I was asked to perform for an incredible charity event happening at the Nico Malan Theatre (now Artscape theatre) "A Night of a Hundred Stars" , I would be singing with 2 other girls and the guest of honour was the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. We sang Thank You For the Music by Abba, Fame and Body Electric from Fame.
It made me even more certain, that the stage was where I belonged.
Shortly after that, my family went on a fun outing to Ratanga Junction Theme Park where I heard the most stunning Latin music playing. As the sun began to set, I followed the beautiful sound of the Flamenco guitar.
I found "The Gypsy Kings" well, Cape Town's version of them, in a quaint restaurant. They had a female singer already but I was determined to be in this band. I approached one of the guitarists in their break and asked if they needed anymore singers. He told me that the position was already filled, I mean clearly it was, there she was.
Determined, I told him to take my number and should she fall ill or not be able to make a gig, I could fill in.
I waited for months and didn't hear anything, and out of the blue I got a call from Faiz, the Flamenco guitarist from the band, he asked me if I would be interested in learning the music as one of the singers had fallen pregnant and would need to be replaced soon.
I was so excited, this was my shot at being part of a real band, my first real job! It beat my summer job, selling sandwiches on the beach.
I agreed to meet him at his home the following week to start working on the repertoire.
Now I should mention that Faiz was a heavyset man, old enough to be my grandfather, and I was a 15-year-old girl going to his house unsupervised. Not only that, here I was, a naive Jewish girl from Sea Point rocking up in Bo Kaap slap bang in the Cape Malay Muslim quarter. I remember walking up the steep cobblestone hill into a brightly coloured bottle green house. I heard the (Moazin) call to prayer from a nearby mosque, I stood at the doorway thinking that perhaps I had the wrong house number as it was very dilapidated. The floorboards creaked as I walked in, the paint on the interior walls was peeling off and there was an overpowering smell of curry cooking in the kitchen. I definitely wasn't in Sea Point anymore.
Faiz was a very introverted man, let's just say he didn't have the best social skills.
He walked me up the creaking stairs towards a bedroom and I'm not going to lie, I felt very scared. You must be thinking, and your parents just dropped you off there?
It was a bit weird sitting with him on a bed in this room at first, but then I relaxed and realised that he was harmless.
There was no Itunes in those days, so no downloading backing tracks, we worked with midi files and he played the guitar over. (God I sound ancient!)
I started learning all of Gloria Estefan's songs, Bossa Novas in Portuguese and mainly a lot of Latin Pop, it was the time of Ricky Martin and J.LO.
I would have to do my homework and learn the songs by our next meeting. I would write out the Spanish lyrics and then rewrite them phonetically, I would listen to them over and over again until they were memorised. Half the time I didn't even know what the words meant, isn't it amazing how one's brain can do that?
I worked really hard on the repertoire and it was finally time for my first real live paying gig.
I was 15 years old and the gig was at a Latin restaurant in Plumstead called Mambos. I was petrified, I just wanted to seem professional and be taken seriously.
The second gig at Mambos went better, I gained more confidence and started really performing.
I absolutely loved being a part of this band and was fond of the other musicians, I respected them and they respected me as an artist.
Suddenly I was put in a hard place, because now being a part of the band meant gigs on the weekends and putting them first. I had to either choose to go on organised school weekends away with my friends or gig with the band.
It was tough, but I chose the band.
I was finally in high school and so excited to audition for West Side Story, all I wanted was to play Maria, I looked the part, I could sing the notes, I mean after singing in Spanish in my band, I practically was Latina! I was perfect for it!
One of the teachers in charge of the production singled me out in the audition group call and asked me to Sing "Somewhere" (the showstopper from the show) for everyone. She told the others "Now this is how you sing that song!". I was flattered and felt I had a good chance at landing the lead role. The next day the cast was announced and the daughter of the other teacher who was putting on the play, got the role, she was blonde and no Maria, I was absolutely devastated, I went home and cried the whole afternoon. I told myself this would be the first of many rejections and that it was toughening me up and teaching me resilience for life in the real world after school.
My father and I would spend many nights getting lost in music together, to the point of irritating the rest of the family. He was very involved in my career and decided he would help make my dream of becoming a pop star a reality. He found me a songwriter and a producer and I recorded my first song " How could you do this to me". I loved being in the studio and felt quite at home there. My single had a definite Brittany Spears vibe to it and my producer managed to get it on a few radio stations. I was ecstatic when I heard it on the radio for the first time.
I had a photoshoot for a write up in the Argus newspaper about me and I couldn't believe my dream was coming true. I remember driving down Strand Street with my mom and seeing bulletin boards that read " City Girl On The Road To Pop Stardom", I thought to myself, "Wow, she's lucky!" not realising it was me they were talking about. The article was supposed to be in the Arts section but ended up being printed on the front page of the newspaper.
It was all happening! I was asked to be part of a huge concert with other local charting radio artists called the Fanta Phat Jam, I was so nervous as I would be performing in front of 6000 fans. I worked on some choreography with 3 male back up dancers in the weeks preceding the event and finally, it was showtime! I had to have a sip of whisky before just to calm my nerves, It worked wonders and the crowd went wild for my performance.
I was so excited to go to school the next day and share my news with my friends, my dream was becoming my reality. The next day I walked in beaming with pride and joy but was absolutely gutted to find out that my dear friend, Nasko, was in a motorbike accident and had passed away. I was heartbroken, how life has a way of being so bittersweet, one moment you can be on such a high and then life just punctures you in the gut deflating you to a shrivelled up low.
I cried for weeks, it was my first real loss.
Soon life carried on as it does and I continued to sing with Faiz, Ishmael and the band.
It wasn't long after that I was asked to audition for a bigger well renowned Afro Latin band called Tucan Tucan, it was Frank Paco's (a highly respected local drummer) and his then-wife Muriel Marco's (a talented pianist and composer) project. I was 16 when I started performing with them, I mainly sang in Portuguese, Spanish and English and our weekly residency was at Marimbas at the Cape Town Convention Centre. My mom would schlep me to Southfield for rehearsals and I would come out so inspired, I just loved being a part of the process of creating live music with such wonderful musicians.
16 years old Performing with Tucan Tucan at Marimba's CTICC
Reuniting to share the stage with some of Tucan Tucan's musicians many years later.
I should mention that deep down I always felt part Latina. Latin music speaks to my soul in such a way, I can hear a salsa tune and just have to get up and move, it feels warm and familiar and takes me to a happy place.
I find it fascinating how a certain genre of music can resonate with someone so strongly and to another person do absolutely nothing.
Maybe it moves me and feels familiar because of my roots, as I'm half a Sephardic Jew. My great grandparents on my father's side fled Spain during the inquisition and ended up in Casablanca, Morocco. My Safta (grandmother) Marcelle came from a very poor family and at 14 she was set up to have an arranged marriage with a man that was old enough to be her father. She was so young, naive and afraid, she tried to run away from home, but Eliyahu Bitton, her future husband made an agreement with Moshe Peretz her father, who just wanted to marry her off and make sure she was taken care of.
Eliyahu was a very rich man who owned a dairy farm and supplied his dairy products to the King of Morocco. In those days it was considered an honour to be chosen and proposed to by such a respected and well off man. Eliyahu kept his promise to Moshe and looked after Marcelle in Morocco with a big house and servants and she had her first of 7 children at 15 years old, even though it was an arranged marriage she grew to love him, he was very kind and caring. They arrived in Israel in about 1966 after the uprising against the Jews in Morocco where my father was born. My last name "Bitton" is as common as "Smith" a very popular Moroccan surname in Israel.
My grandparents on the left. My father at the Western Wall for his Bar Mitzvah
By Grade 11 I felt I had been paying my dues for quite some time and was thrilled I got my chance to finally shine, playing the sultry role of Glinda the good witch, in our school production of The Wiz.
I always loved dancing and so did my parents who were always the last to leave the dance floor at any function.
They took me to my first club, The Fez, in Cape Town, which became like my second home. I even got a few gigs dancing and singing there. 2000- 2002 was the best soundtrack to my life, Soulful and Funky Latin House music.
I was in my element!
If I didn't have a gig to go to I'd be running to the clubs even after Shabbat dinner at my grandparents. I had a gay best friend, Jon who looked like my Latino boyfriend and he was my partner in crime, we would salsa dance the nights away together.
Rhodes House was the place to be! The hottest spot in Cape Town, that's still sorely missed to this day. It was a very upmarket venue, a gorgeous old Victorian establishment with multiple levels adorning bespoke cocktail bars. It boasted a huge courtyard with an illuminated fountain as it's grand centrepiece. The beautiful local and international reveller's dressed to impress in Euro-Chic attire, women baring all in sexy cocktail dresses and Stiletto heels and the debonair men in pressed shirts, tailored trousers and shiny black shoes. I was always raring to go out but my party friends were limited being underage and all. If I couldn't find someone to join me, I took my father with me, who was a great dancer. Ah those were the days, The nightlife scene isn't what it used to be, Euro-chic clubs have been replaced by hipster gin bars and daytime festivals whose soundtracks aren't so festive, with monotonous "doof doof" techno and progressive house music lacking in melody. I guess one just has to visit the Mediterranean for a taste of it again. Luckily now that I am a DJ, I get to be the mood director and play my favourite old school house classics transporting my audience back in time to the good old days.
I always wanted to be financially independent and as the winter months crept in and there was a drought in the gig department, I managed to hustle my first job bartending working at Buena Vista Social Club (a Cuban restaurant in Green Point), even though I was 17 and underage. I became the Mojito queen but hated closing, doing the stock take and cleaning the bar. I stuck with it as I did have fun meeting people and the staff were awesome. In my mind I was in my very own Coyote Ugly movie. I also did promo modelling, promoting alcohol brands at bars and nightclubs and in liquor stores.
That summer we were on our way to Plettenberg Bay for our annual Summer holiday at
The Beacon Island hotel. We were about 2 hours away from the resort and stopped to look at the famous bungee jumping bridge.
We got back in the car, my brother and father sat in the front and my mother, sister and I, were in the back. We barely had time to put our seat belts on, when my mother started screaming hysterically to my father "Shlomo, there's a car! There's a car!" There was a car headed straight towards us. We would later find out, that the driver was a German tourist who had lost concentration and driven on the wrong side of the road.
I felt our car sharply swerve to the left and then just like in the movies, everything happened in slow motion. I remember the car tilting to the side and my sister falling over me. At that point, all I wanted to do was protect her. I tried to catch her but couldn't, I was concussed from the impact. Dust, dirt and broken glass followed us like a tumbleweed in the wind. Our car rolled one hundred metres. I woke up on what felt like sticks and stones, I recognised that I was lying on the ground, my body felt beaten up and then I realised what had happened. As I was coming to, I thought of my friend Nasko who had passed away earlier that year.
A voice inside me, told me to "Fight, this is not your time, you are not going to die like Nasko, you have too many dreams to live out and too much work to do here, so fight!"
I opened my eyes and saw a kaleidoscope of 10 visions of a woman who was holding my face together, she had a German accent and was crying. My face had been cut open from the corner of my mouth to under my chin and the skin was pulled back exposing my cheekbone. I could hear my brother screaming in pain as they asked him if he could move his toes and my mother was shouting for my sister who was nowhere to be found.
I blacked out at that point, but was told Gabi, my sister was found 13 metres away on a grass bank centimetres away from the concrete road. She was unconscious in a bush and was pronounced medically dead on site.
There was a bus of Christians that stopped and prayed for us, as well as a doctor who arrived just in time to prevent the paramedics from intubating my sister, as only one of her lungs were working and if they intubated her, would have punctured her only working lung.
I woke up in the ambulance and looked at the paramedic hoping he could read my mind, "Please get me to the hospital alive."
The next thing I remember, was being in the hospital with a metal cage around my arm as I broke my humerus and collarbone, I could still taste the blood in my mouth.
I had a punctured lung and was on life support for 2 weeks. My brother had broken his vertebra outwards, if he had broken it inwards, he would have been paralysed.
My younger sister was also on life support in ICU, unresponsive in a coma, when she woke up, she had no expressions, didn't speak and just cried. They were worried she was brain damaged. We were transferred back to Cape Town Medi-clinic Hospital and my brother was discharged a few days later with a back brace. My sister started to improve, they said she would have developmental issues to Due to the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and it might seem that her behaviour would be that of a younger child for sometime until her brain could regenerate. Her personality changed after suffering a TBI, she became withdrawn and she struggled in her teen years to fit in socially, she was also diagnosed with bipolar and depression. Fortunately, she was unsuccessful in her suicide attempts and has now blossomed into the most beautiful, kind and compassionate woman with the help of an incredible psychiatrist and hypnotherapy. She is a walking miracle.
The cut on my face was millimetres from a nerve, that if damaged, would have caused me to have a skew mouth like a stroke victim.
Thank God I'm still able to smile, use my arm and my lungs to sing. It was truly a miracle we survived the crash, the car was a total write off.
My father still couldn't logistically work out how my brother and I were perfectly horizontally placed next to each other on the side of the car, he said it was as if an angel picked us up and placed us there.
I think my father carried a lot of guilt from that accident as he was going over the speed limit and I think he felt partly responsible.
It was a heavy burden for him to carry.
While I was in the hospital they were advertising for the first Pop Idol Auditions happening in Cape Town on the radio. I was determined to go, I had to get better so I could get to that audition and be a contestant in the show. Thankfully I got out of hospital just in time for the audition. I got all dressed up in a denim catsuit just like my idol at the time, J.Lo and off I went! I waited for what seemed like an eternity for my chance to sing.
My arm was in a sling, my face was swollen with a micropore bandage on but I didn't care, this was my chance. I sang "I will always love you" by Whitney Houston. I thought my audition went well but sadly I didn't get in, I knew it was because of the current physical state I was in.
Anyways It was that drive and determination that pushed me to do anything in order to conquer my dreams.
I started matric the following year and with the help of some Ritalin to aid my ADHD, I dived straight into my studying while I was healing. At long last I got the lead role in the school play that year but couldn't do it because for the next six months I had to wear a micropore band-aid on my face and had to be very careful not to smile or laugh and open my mouth wide to sing as it could stretch the scar on my face. Luckily I got into a hyper-focused mode for matric, I worked incredibly hard, able to study for 4 hours straight at a time. I dropped maths as soon as I could, I was hopeless at it and I took up Physiology instead. Ritalin was incredible, I mean "glomerular filtration" suddenly was the most interesting thing I had ever read. I also became an expert on the Arab Israeli conflict since the Independence of Israel. I was holding study groups with videos as I was better with an audiovisual style of learning.
Matric and the anxiety that went with it was finally over, I graduated in 2002 with 4 distinctions for Drama, Graphic Design, Fine Art, and I came second in the Western Cape for Physiology.
I couldn't wait to finish school and chase after my dreams. I dreamt of the day the last bell would ring and I would walk out those gates with a sense of freedom, my life was just beginning! On that final day of school, it was different though, that euphoric feeling I envisioned was replaced by a sense of sadness, it was an end of an era. I wouldn't be seeing the familiar faces of my friends every day and a sense of fear crept in, now what?
Life was getting real, I had to make some serious choices about my future.
I didn't know where life would take me next, which road I would travel down, I stood at a crossroad in the unknown, but had a feeling bigger and better things were on the horizon.
I had the best summer holiday and and the gigs started to roll in.
I was asked to join a 9/10 piece Cuban band called Salsa Candela with some of Cape Town's best musicians. I remember the first rehearsal in Pinelands, the room was jam-packed with congas, timbales, a 3 piece horn section, and the glue that held the band together, a tight rhythm section consisting of keys, bass, guitar and drums.
I was so eager to learn the repertoire of traditional Cuban Salsa songs like those of; Buena Vista Social Club, Tito Puente, ChuCho Valdez and the queen herself Celia Cruz.
Learning the music was challenging with intricate charts I couldn't read. I would go home and learn the songs by ear, some parts were sung so fast I had to learn their guttural way of singing and blend words into each other just to finish a phrase, there was also so much ad-libbing and it didn't help that I couldn't speak Spanish. I quickly developed a good ear.
One of the highlights was playing at Kirstenbosch Gardens for their Sunday evening picnic concerts.
At the same time I was asked to sing with the Cape Towns Jazz Legend, Darryl Andrew's Big Band at Mannenbergs Jazz Cafe at the Clock Tower in the Waterfront. By this point, I was up to date with all my Jazz and Bossa standards and going to UCT for rehearsals with this big band, which was equally nerve wracking and exciting. These were proper Jazz students and musicians and there was no room for error.
When Summer ended, I couldn't wait to go overseas, to the land of plenty where opportunities glistened like gold and the element of excitement of possibly being discovered on a random street corner, made overcoming any fears I had about leaving home for the first time and living abroad, far less frightening. When you are young and hungry for a dream, you just go full steam ahead and keep your eye on the prize. Being naive, you don't stop to think of all the things that could go wrong (like your future jaded self), your dream is what keeps that fire burning in you and propels you to do the unthinkable, like moving to a foreign country alone to "make it". In just a few months time I would be packing my bags and heading to London, my life was just getting started.
...To be continued