Before Justin Bieber… before Justin Bieber had even been born for that matter… the bedroom walls of many young girls were adorned with the posters of a fresh-faced teenage singer/songwriter by the name of Tevin Campbell.
Campbell’s R&B songs were major hits in South Africa and across the world in the 90s, and his songs such as ‘I’m Ready’, ‘Can We Talk’, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and ‘Always in My Heart’ led to comparisons with the likes of Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and to contracts with Quincy Jones and Babyface. For his South African fans, seeing him live on home ground at last promised a night of pure nostalgia, and tickets sold out fast.
Local talent was in abundance, with Jimmy Nevis, Robin P, The Black Ties and Emo Adams appearing in quick rotation as a warm up. They delighted the crowd with old school and new school songs from ‘Do I Do’ by Stevie Wonder to ‘Fine China’ by Chris Brown, and Jimmy Nevis’s hits ‘Elephant Shoes’ and ‘Heartboxing’. Under the direction of Camillo Lombard the back up band performed flawlessly for each performer, with some particularly impressive solos from the saxophonist.
The South African divos were a first class act, showcasing the talent the country has to offer the world. Emo Adams in particular was a huge crowd pleaser, with a medley of old school songs by The Manhattans and Tavares and a ballad by Taliep Petersen, ‘Queen of Hearts’. He ended his medley with ‘Pump Up the Jam’, complete with running man and funky chicken moves, to the huge appreciation of the audience. The Black Ties – Chad Saaiman, Keeno Lee and Lloyd Jansen – were exquisitely smooth, like an all male Motown group placed right in the present day. Very, very sexy.
Though well entertained, the crowd’s anticipation was still growing. And when Tevin Campbell finally took to the stage, his screaming fans almost drowned out ‘Back to the World’. His boyish good looks had matured into mellow handsomeness and his vocal range – so impressive when he hit the big time aged just 12 – was still very much in evidence. As he soared up to his extremely high notes, the audience roared with applause.
Rather sweetly Campbell promised to perform only his old material but kindly asked if he could be allowed to perform just one song from his upcoming album. The audience, of course, was delighted and his cherished hits rolled out one after the other. His rapport with the audience throughout was heartfelt and sincere and it really felt that he was surprised to discover just how adored he is in South Africa.
A highlight was his performance of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, which left a lasting impression on many of those in the auditorium. A girl called to the front nearly swooned with delight as he sang ‘Private Affair’ to her, inspiring other fans to scrabble to catch his eye.
It has been a long wait for South African fans to see Tevin Campbell, but it was well worth it, as this hero of 90’s R&B has made Campbell-iebers of us all.
Divos 2013 took place at Grandwest’s Grand Arena on 27 July 2013.