At Tonight we go to great lengths to bring you the exclusive interviews. A mildly panicked Helen Herimbi finds herself stuck at a roadblock in a cramped Corsa on a Friday night when she gets a call to interview superstar Akon. Naturally, she obliges….



Driving at four kilometres an hour on our way to a concert in Nelspruit, Akon’s management has just phoned to say they’ll have him on the line in two minutes. In addition to worrying about asking the right questions, holding the phone in one hand and a pen in the other, there is that little issue of it being dark in the car.

The Corsa is a mind-boggling automobile, you see, and between my colleague, Therese Owen, photographer, Dumisani Sibeko and myself, none of us can figure out how to turn the inside light on without opening the door of the moving vehicle. “You’ll have to pull over,” Therese commands our designated driver, Dumisani.

Therese then holds the door partly open as she and Dumisani chuckle outside, and, with vehicles noisily passing by, I ask Akon where he is.

“Miami” he answers, “but I’m actually trying to get on my way to Bahrain.” Having mistaken this for “I’m actually trying to get on my way to buy a ring” I shrink in the backseat, embarrassed as he corrects me.

Mr Lonely himself wasn’t shopping for some wifey bling, but was simply informing me that he was going to perform at the Formula One Grand Prix post-race show in the country, Bahrain.

Moving right along then. Akon, who gave us the Grammy-nominated hit Smack That, featuring Eminem, will be the headliner at the Urban Music Festival, featuring US rapper Fat Joe.

The Senegalese-born singer and owner of Konvict Muzik (home to serial vocodist T-Pain) is no stranger to the Mzansi crowd and says “the main reason to come out there this time is to reach out to the people.”

One of the ways he’d publicly announced he was to try and reach out was through recording African artists. This, says Akon, is still on the cards once he has found “a system for us to kind of showcase and present African artists to the Western world. We haven’t formed a system for us to collaborate on yet, though.” Speaking of collaborations, I probe him about Natural Born Hustla, the song he recorded with the South African singer, former Idols finalist, Jacques.

“I never did a song with him,” Akon laughs. My jaw drops.

He continues, “That song was originally meant for an artist who is signed to my label, but he (Jacques) just created his own version of it.” According to Akon (whose er, distinct voice seems to be in high demand) this is nothing new. Many artists borrow his vocals and “I just look at it as an honour” for them to include his voice on their songs.

Multi-tasking clearly isn’t my forté, as the cold breeze from the open car door is beginning make things unbearable, Akon wraps up the interview with: “In five years’ time I want to retire. I’ve been doing this for five years and I want only 10 years in the music industry.

“I love music, but I want to experience new and different things – that’s how you grow.”

With that, we start up the Corsa one more time, only to find that the road block is no more. And I can finally breathe easy.

This article appeared in Tonight on 9 April 2008.