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South African's wild kingdom produces Boo!tiful band


Boys and girls, there is a world outside of Atlanta that houses music scenes just as rich and even more eclectic as ours. There are some thriving in places like Japan, Australia and, believe it or not, South Africa. Our city recently got a taste of what Afrikaners are listening to when the trio Boo! came to visit for a week-long gigging effort.

They kicked off their mini-tour of Atlanta at MJQ Concourse's Third Anniversary Party on Nov. 17. They had played there before several months prior and were welcomed back with opened arms by the club's owner, Wigdan Giddy. The group performed several songs from its current release, Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, Naughties. One song from that recording, "Champion," is a simple song about the complexity of love, emotions and existence. That song wraps up, as if Boo! could be, what the band is all about.

On stage, close-cropped singer, songwriter and bassist Chris Chameleon prances and pouts on stage in hot pants, heels and body glitter - like an even more effeminate Billy Corgan sans "I fell from a star" black vinyl dress. A pretty picture, indeed, but he counters the triviality of such a strong stage presence with a genuine skill at both of his instruments: lighting fast fretwork on the bass and a warbling, exotic voice. Chameleon and bandmates Ampie Omo (keyboards, trumpet and trombone) and Princess Leonie (drums), are a tight team of musicians who have varying means and motivations for expression, but share a similar sense of humor. All of this fuels the band's impressive live performances and intoxicating stage side manner.

I got the chance to sit down with the band a few days before their late November performance at The Earl (and later that evening at Eyedrum) in East Atlanta. Local music promoter and man in the know, Wayne Briggs (El Pus' manager), joined us as we sat on couches in a local cybercafe. The trio looked, if not exhausted, very mellow. I asked them if they had developed any anxiety or animosity towards such a rigorous schedule - four shows in one week in one city. Omo, blonde and always the one more likely to smile, replied that they participated in more extensive gigging in Europe and their mother country, so that the band is "used to a hectic touring schedule." Princess Leonie, dark and clever, added that "we prefer playing to talking [to the press]." delivered pleasantly, tongue firmly in cheek.

Speaking of tongue in cheek, Boo!'s kooky sense of humor and fun is easily, yet sometimes awkwardly, translatable among different cultures, as the band remarked that no matter what country they're playing in the response to their quirky sound and presentation has been the same - all positive. Which brings us to why Boo! was in Atlanta in the first place. Chameleon said that their recent stay was "the first time [we've] made a connection with a record label."

Apparently in South Africa, the band, who formed in 1997 and have produced and distributed their music independently so far, haven't had the A&R opportunity they have experienced in the States. The boys explained the "import agent" syndrome that occurs in smaller, less exploited music scenes like that in South Africa. These import agents come from bigger labels with only the intention of discovering the next Third Eye Blind, or God forbid, an exotic version of the Backstreet Boys. Boo! is looking for a solid, sincere development deal, a label that is willing and able to aid in their current and future growth as artists and rock stars.

In all honesty, though, one doesn't really have to feign surprise at the lack of label attention of the band. For starters, they have weird names, drag alter egos, delusions of being aliens from outer space, no damn guitarist and encourage the audience to boo them. What major record company whose only musical references come from Led Zeppelin wannabes and singing Barbie dolls would understand such exoticism? Boo! make no apologies for their differences, except for one thing: "Leon got us together. It's his fault that we had to do our first gig before we had a guitarist," blames Chameleon. I guess the magic music fairies were present that evening for the three; despite the "unconventional orchestration," as Omo calls it, Chameleon adds, "we saw that it worked."

Boo!'s music is hard to peg. What I initially labeled as ska-influenced, was contradicted by Jeff, the saxophonist for local electronica group Aerial, who said that Boo!'s sound was a cross between Primus and They Might Be Giants. Okay, maybe, all of that with a little Placebo thrown in for good measure. Chameleon set the record straight, however, stating that the ska reference was close but not thorough enough of an analysis. Two words: Harry Belafonte. Chameleon's "biggest influence" is the calypso that legendary singer performed, as well as other West Indian rhythms and sounds. The band actually calls its brand of noise "monki punk" because of that unconventional orchestration Omo talked about earlier (and the wild treetop trilling Chameleon produces). Their bouncy, energetic songs combined with Chameleon's wavering falsetto combine to make a something never heard before, for sure. The next time they're in town, you better catch them before they become a lot more famous and boo-ing them just won't seem appropriate anymore.

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