A typical Highveld thunder shower was brewing over Montecasino as the press and media gathered to welcome Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion to South Africa.
Embarking on her first world tour in over five years – after ending her extremely successful Vegas residence – Taking Chances (the album and tour) is a representation of where Celine is at now in her life.
Having been a fan for years, minutes before meeting her, this thought ran through my head: “What if everything I’ve come to like about her changes now?” I needn’t have worried.
Dressed in a neat black mini-skirt with a white top and black waistcoat (with shoes to die for), she was willing to share a joke and to talk emotionally about her life and her success. Not once did she forget about her family who she obviously believes in tremendously.
“When I had the opportunity to make another album, I wanted to go back to my days as a child. I thought of the music I used to listen to with my brothers and sisters. I wanted to do songs like that. Perhaps more rock, but the same me. Taking Chances was a chance for me to relive some of the happiest days of my life. It’s a new sound perhaps, a new image also. But I’m still the same Celine and I cannot wait to perform it for my fans,” said Celine.
The concert is also something different: Directed by Jamie King (Madonna’s recent tours), Celine, her band and dancers rehearsed over 60 songs for the tour. The concert is segmented into themes and features great up-tempo songs and includes her hits and several tracks off the new album. There are even a few songs that Celine has never performed before – including a James Brown tribute as well as a Queen medley.
“I look forward to performing with the Soweto Gospel Choir, they’ve just won their second Grammy and I’m thrilled to be singing with them. I’ve also received a box of music by South African artists and cannot wait to sit and listen to all of them.”
Celine spoke emotionally about her commitment to honour Nelson Mandela’s request that she attend the Unite of the Stars Charity Benefit. “He called us about two years ago to invite us to perform. I had Vegas and naturally couldn’t come. But RenÃ© [her husband and manager] and I spoke about it at promised each other and Nelson Mandela that if we get to do a world tour again, we would start in South Africa. And we are thrilled to be here in your lovely country and cannot wait to meet Mr. Mandela.”
A total of nine shows altogether will play out in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban.
Celine has brought along, in addition to her husband and seven-year old son RenÃ©-Charles, her mother, three sisters and two brothers. “To live and to learn is to travel. I am blessed that at this stage of my life I can see the world through the eyes of my mother and discover the world through the eyes of my son. He, of course, has a tutor and on days that I perform he will go to school. But I’m thrilled to have my family with me.”
Her career has seen her win many awards over the years. She recently snatched up six Juno Nominations (Canadian version of the Grammy’s). Her latest French and English albums are top-selling, while the DVD Live In Las Vegas – A New Day is breaking sales charts across the globe. SonyBMG South Africa has also certified that her international 1996 hit album, Falling Into You is the most sold and most successful album in South Africa – EVER.
“He has the soul of a child. The heart of a mother. And the strength of a man” – Celine on Madiba…
“I want to sing, and I want to sing for many people. It’s what I love to do. That I win awards, that’s just because I surround myself with the right people. They do all the hard work – they make me look good.” Even though Celine has co-written songs, her teams of collaborators include renowned musicians, writers and producers alike. And part of the magic is that they always get to capture the Celine we’ve come to love.
Celine has recently been awarded another honour – her team pitched a theme song for the Beijing Olympics, and got it! “I don’t always know what is happening. We try to do so many things. But having done the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, I was thrilled at the thought of pitching again.”
Her voice and her magic touch the world all over. She’s recorded in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin and even Japanese. Her 1998 song Be The Man was recorded in Japanese as a thank you to all her Japanese fans for their support. From her Taking Chances album Celine recorded a duet with Japanese vocalist Yuna Ito. The song, titled A World To Believe In, will only be released in Japan though.
Other collaborations include a reworking of the dance tinged track Eyes On Me on which Celine met with Will.i.Am from the Black Eyed Peas. This revamped track is due for release in the US in February. Exciting future collaborations will see Celine teaming up with producer Timbaland for his follow up album to the successful Shock Value.
Her first South African concert was held on Valentine’s Day at the Coca-Cola Dome in Northgate. Forming part of a charity benefit for the Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund, over a Million Rand was raised – with a staggering R360 000 being paid for a meet and greet with Celine herself.
Having met Nelson Mandela earlier that day, Celine said that she relived the experience through the eyes of her husband, her mother and her son saying, “He has the soul of a child. The heart of a mother. And the strength of a man”.
The concert was spectacular – with Celine belting out old favourites like All By Myself, Think Twice, The Power Of Love, It’s All Coming Back To Me Now, Because You Loved Me and To Love You More.
Up-tempo numbers included a dance version of I’m Alive, a rocking River Deep Mountain High and Love Can Move Mountains with the two-time Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir. A natural additional to the song list was her French smash hit, Pour Que Tu M’aimes Encore.
Tracks from her new album included Taking Chances, Eyes On Me, Shadow of Love and her current SA hit – Alone, a cover track originally recorded by Heart. It goes without saying that the evening was capped with the inevitable timeless hit, My Heart Will Go On.
If the shortened charity version of the concert I saw is anything to go by, I would highly recommend anyone who hasn’t got tickets yet to get their hands on them somehow! It’ll be a show worth experiencing.
Celine’s kindness, her warmth, her sincerity and her humble approach to everything she has achieved was palpable throughout the press conference. When asking for the chance to take a photo with her, she replied ‘Sure Babe!” She then took my hands and said, “I can’t wait to sing for you.” She was everything I expected and more.