I feel lucky to have grown up in South Africa in the 80′s. The reasons are not because I was white and therefore considered privileged but rather because that era in South Africa produced some incredible, history making people. It was a time when people fought for what they believed and what they believed was something worth believing in and worth fighting for. The knew what they stood for and stood firm in their convictions. It was a very idealistic time in many ways and possibly that’s why the heroes that were born out of that part of our history appeal to me so much.
There was obviously the iconic Nelson Mandela but there was also many men and women who, often through passive aggression and “peaceful” protest made a huge impact on the history of our country. The poets and writers, singers and actors who wrote songs expressing what was going on at the time, the sports men and women who played and succeeded despite facing many obstacles.
One of these hero’s, that was very much a part of my life was Johnny Clegg. I vaguely remember when he started becoming well known as the white zulu – it was a rather big deal back in the day when white people didn’t really mix with black people but it was fascinating to watch him dancing with tribes of Zulu warriors and making music that didn’t sound anything like the ABBA and Des and Dawn Lindberg we were listening to.
So last week when I was invited to attend his show at Monte Casino, I jumped at the opportunity and he did not disappoint. The show was possibly one of my top 10 highlights of this year. My soul was moved.
I am and always have been proudly South African so it doesn’t take much for me to feel proud of who we are as a nation but you can’t listen to a performer like Clegg, hear the sounds of Africa, see the images of our country and not feel an enormous sense of pride. It is not possible. Even the most cynical person will battle to not tap his foot while listening to Impi or Asimbonanga. His songs have meaning, they were written for a purpose, something real, something greater than heartache, wrecking balls and Barbie Dolls. The song Bullets for Bafazana was written to express how they felt during a time when one of the crew members was personally involved in faction fighting and was being threatened with assassination – it doesn’t get more real than that. The Crossing was written in memory of Dudu Ndlovu who had worked with Johnny for many years and was killed in 1992 during the political unrest that happened in South Africa and when they sang this song you felt all that emotion, it was right there, raw and real – everyone felt it. He wrote Africa Sky Blue after he went on a mine tour and when he asked the guide, what do you do if there is a tremor and the guy replied something along th
e lines of “It doesn’t matter where you come from, Malawi, Angola, Soweto, Durban or Namibia – you think of the African blue sky”. Anyone who has really looked at the sky after a storm or on one of our beautiful clear days will understand this.
One of my all time favorite South African stories is Jock of the Bushveld and when he started singing Great Heart and images from the 1986 came onto the screen, I was moved to tears. The emotion of that story are matched only by that song.
The world is full of strange behaviour
Every man has to be his own saviour
I know I can make it on my own if I try
But I’m searching for a Great Heart to stand me by
Underneath the African sky
A Great Heart to stand me by
Scatterlings of Africa, Dela and Impi evoke just as much emotion, not only for me, but the entire audience seemed captivated and enthralled by the performance. There was no fanfare in this show, there was no costume changes, set designs or weird lighting. There was one man, his back up singers and 3 band members and there was a lifetime of emotion, experience and heart which made this performance, for me, incredible.
This show isn’t on for long but I urge you to make a point of seeing him live, it is an experience you will never forget.
Photo credits here, here and here.
I was not paid to write this blog post. I was given two complimentary tickets to the show but this review is my opinion and mine alone.