Will the real Boney M please stand up!
It would be profoundly embarassing, surely: two Boney M's, colliding in some far-flung airport. Picture, if you will, two separate conglomerations of jetlagged West Indians in gold space suits and platform disco boots, scowling at each other as they passed through the departure lounge.
How could anyone decide who was the real Boney M? I'd suggest an impromptu dance-off, right there beside the baggage carousel, to the tune of Ma Baker. "Believe it or not, it has happened," says original member Maizie Williams, 64, who brings her own Boney M to Auckland's ASB Theatre this coming Friday, October 30.
"At one time Bobby and Liz also had their own versions of this band, and we'd see each other in airports. I still meet Liz sometimes when we're both flying to play in the same city on the same night! But that's OK. It shows there's a lot of demand for Boney M, so there's enough work for all of us."
And of course, the very concept of a real Boney M is inherently bogus. This band was gloriously fake right from the start: a funky Frankenstein's monster stitched together by German record producer Frank Farian after his 1976 single Baby, Do You Wanna Bump? hit the charts in Holland and Belgium.
No oil painting himself, Farian needed more photogenic youngsters to lip-synch his music in public, so he hired session singers Marcia Barrett and Liz Mitchell from Jamaica, model Maizie Williams from Monserrat and the late Bobby Farrell, a dancer from Aruba.
"Yes, Frank brought us all together because he knew we'd look better fronting this band, but we also brought a Caribbean flavour to his sound. Some people suggest we were just Frank's puppets, but during the 70s and 80s, image was as important as the music. The fans wanted a show, and they couldn't care less who was in the band."
Over the next ten years, Boney M became an unstoppable hit machine, conquering not just Europe but also India, Africa, Russia and south-east Asia. Clearly, the world was gagging for joyous Euro-pop nonsense based around biblical psalms, Russian history and gnarly female bankrobbers, preferably delivered by disco-dancing Caribbeans in togas, satin flares, slave chains and glittery capes.
Boney M have since sold over 159 million albums worldwide, though most of the profits went to Farian. To make a buck, the others shattered into multiple independent Boney M's. "Some people started a solo career and it didn't work out, so they decided, 'okay, the best way to put food on the table is to start my own Boney M'. But who cares? Really, it's not about what members are in the band, it's about the songs."
And those songs, my friends, are mental. Rivers Of Babylon, Brown Girl In The Ring, Ma Baker, Sunny, Daddy Cool - the hits are wonderfully weird, but many album cuts were stranger still.
What other pop song offers such priceless advice on sexual etiquette as Never Change Lovers In The Middle Of The Night? If we ever forget that slavery and forced labour were a bit mean, there's always No More Chain Gang to remind us. Can there be a more danceable analysis of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland than Belfast?
But the most batshit crazy song in the Boney M canon is surely Rasputin, a certifiably bonkers balalaika-fest about a horny Siberian drunkard who was the BFF of Tsar Nicholas II and reluctantly expired in 1916 after some jealous nobles had him poisoned. To everyone's amazement, the poison didn't do the trick, so they then shot the poor bugger twice in the chest, beat him with clubs and threw him into the Neva River to drown.
Dispensing with most of the messy details, the song features a chorus worth shouting on the dancefloor at any office Christmas party: "Rah Rah Rasputin, lover of the Russian queen, they put some poison into his wine / Rah Rah Rasputin, Russia's greatest love machine, he drank it all and said 'I feel fine' ".
Pure unimpeachable genius. "You know, people still go crazy for that song today," says Maizie. "Especially in Russia. When we play in Soviet countries, they lose their minds. Oh, my Lord! Their history's in that song, of course, but it also has amazing energy to it. And you know what? In 2010, our original male singer Bobby Farrell had a heart attack in his hotel on the exact same date that Rasputin had died, and in the same city of Saint Petersburg! Can you imagine that? Bobby used to dress up as Rasputin when we sang that song, then he died on the same date at the same place! That's so spooky. It's like something out of the Twilight Zone."