PJ Powers is one of the biggest singing sensations in South Africa. I met Penelope twenty-four years ago, just after my accident. Let me tell you about it…
On 9th December 1989 my life changed irrevocably! I was understudy for the role of Guinevere in Camelot, being performed at the State Theatre in Pretoria. On the 9th December, Kate Normington, the lead, fell ill. I was to take over at the afternoon and evening performances.
I went on stage that afternoon never having had a dress rehearsal nor a technical rehearsal! But I knew that I would be amazing in the role. And indeed I was FAN-BLOODY-TASTIC!!!
Then during the scene before interval, disaster struck! In the dark, I must have turned the wrong way or missed my footing during a scene change, who knows, because I fell off the stage 18 metres down an unguarded lift shaft.
As a result of this accident, I am totally deaf, and have just 40% eyesight. I have extensive brain damage and am spastic down the whole of my right side.
I am however, ALIVE!
So I was recovering at my parents’ farm 24 years ago when we got a phone call from Maralin Vanrenen asking if it would be okay if she and a friend could stop off and spend two nights with us on their way to Cape Town.
Maralin had directed me before my accident in a cabaret with Elzabe Zietsman called SABS Approved. We had clicked immediately. I liked her. I liked her a lot!
On seeing me again she gave me a warm hug and then stood back. An imposing lady stood before me. She was tall and golden…and…carried a presence with her. I looked into this face that was dominated by a smile which spread across her features.
“Hi, Gaynor, I’m Penelope.” And that was how PJ Powers entered my life.
Mum recalls one incident from that evening which I had forgotten about – apparently Dad offered everyone drinks. Due to my brain damage, I couldn’t recall what sort of drink I liked. So Dad lined up about eight different drinks and I sipped them. I liked them all!
Mum and Dad hit it off with Maralin and Penelope instantly. Dad asked Penelope: “Do you think that you could do a little performance for our workers tomorrow? They would all love it so much.”
”Give a performance? But…but…I can’t! Oh no, Chris, I’m so sorry, but I don’t have my guitar, my band or my back up singers! Sorry,” she finished lamely.
”Look,” Dad said, producing my guitar, “surely you can produce a few songs using this!”
Penelope was floored. It was arranged that at about twelve o’ clock the next day PJ would sing a few numbers for our workers. But word obviously spread. We had phone calls from other farms and several bakkies packed with their workers duly arrived before noon.
When Penelope went out, armed with my guitar, she had an audience of more than a hundred sitting on bales of hay who greeted her rapturously.
At this stage, I was wearing my first hearing aid. Because my head was still very swollen it was incredibly simple in its design and the sound it produced was very basic, very basic indeed. In fact in reality I couldn’t hear much at all!
I hadn’t bargained for the enthusiasm which greeted Penelope but she seemed quite at ease with her audience. Talking and laughing with them. She sang a number. Yes, she was good, I thought looking at people’s reactions. At the same time, I wanted to rip my hearing device from my head in frustration. I wasn’t hearing, I wasn’t hearing at all! I felt as if I was listening to a person singing underwater four rooms away.
That day I battled with something which I would battle with for the next eighteen years. Hearing music.
Fast forward twenty-three years.
Once more it is PJ Powers singing and Gaynor listening. The difference is two Cochlear Implants and the fact that Gaynor can now hear that wonderful voice singing Jabulani, Jabulani Africa…..I too am able to respond with rapture to my friend singing.
Firefly, the latest show that PJ is in, is about Penelope finding light in the dark. It was a firefly moment for me too.
Hearing her voice for the first time was like having a light shone on something that was previously a dark indecipherable mass.
She has a voice that can alternate between being clear and strong to being raw and at times having a husky timbre. It is filled with soul. I heard my friend Penelope tell of the thing that had ripped her psyche apart. And how she had managed to build it together again.
Penelope has the ability to make you feel as if she is speaking to you alone. And then she opens her mouth and sings and the sound that rises from her lips is riveting.
She was speaking of strength and courage and suddenly she said: “Sitting here tonight is Gaynor Young who has shown such incredible strength and courage over the years. Gaynor I find you totally awe-inspiring.”
Penelope, thank you.
PJ spoke of her addiction to alcohol and her fight against this demon. She spoke of the love and fortitude of her sister, Priscilla, who helped her in the banishing of this fiend. I loved PJ for the recognition that she could not fight this battle on her own. That she needed help. And she received it.
That was something I have had to learn over the years. To ask for help. It is a humbling thing to have to do. But very rarely have I ever had a blatant refusal. People want to help. I thank God for that. It’s strange though but as Karl Menninger said: “Love cures people — both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.”
Thandeka (the Loved One) is the name Penelope was christened with at the Jabulani Amphitheatre in 1982.
She has found that love.
So have I.
Watch ‘PJ’ performing Jabulani Jabulani Africa…..