Have you ever bought a CD on the strength of it’s cover? When I was 22 I walked into a music store and saw this:
The risk totally paid off. It was like unearthing a brilliant shiny gem. The music was so fresh! So UPLIFTING! A rich colourful mix of pop and Zulu rhythms. I fell in love. I played it to all of my friends and family. We danced like crazy to it. And I’ve been dancing like crazy to it for 18 years. These days I make my kids listen to it and they go nuts with me. We jump around like Zulu warriors all over the kitchen.
Johnny Clegg doesn’t just have awesome music, he’s also an awesome human being. Before his music career took off he was a lecturer in anthropology. His songs reflect his unique South African and global perspective on politics and people. He’s an activist. He’s outspoken on matters of apartheid and equal rights for women. Back in the political turmoil of his country in the 80’s and 90’s, Johnny broke down barriers with his mixed race bands and his love for Zulu culture. He’s an accomplished Zulu dancer and brings this thrilling element to his live shows.
And so it’s quite apt that his latest album is called Human. I found this fantastic review of it: “…Even when Clegg is addressing very specific African dilemmas, there is a universality that accompanies the message and, of course, the music that propels the message transcends any attempt to fit it into a particular pigeonhole. On Human, like so many albums before, Clegg is a human making human music. Over the past three decades, few have done that as well as him.” – Cincinatti Beat
For 18 years I’ve dreamed of going to a Johnny Clegg concert. They are renowned for being bold and lively and vibrant. For the last few years I’ve kept a close eye on his website, checking in for updates every so often like a mad fool.
And then late one night a couple of months ago a friend gave me the news: Johnny was coming to town. BAM! I snapped up a ticket in a heartbeat. Literally. I clicked straight to the ticket website and bought a ticket within seconds. Forgetting for a moment that I had 2 young kids that depend on me in the evenings (I haven’t been out for a whole evening in 4 years), and I hadn’t checked the calendar or run it by Mr G. at all. It didn’t matter.
I knew it would all work out.
Mr G – who I admire for keeping me grounded – questioned politely if I knew anything about Johnny Clegg’s live performance these days, citing that it had been 18 years since I’d bought that CD and that he looked much older these days. Quick bio check and yep, he’s 62, but my goodness he looks fit! Are you sure he isn’t going to turn out like, you know, Meatloaf? Mr G asked gently. I checked recent YouTube live clips, nope, no signs of being past his prime. He still looked like he could kick arse.
It wasn’t the first risk I’d taken with Johnny. I knew it would all work out.
Last night was the concert.
Phenomenal. I danced like a crazy 22 year old girl again. I sang all the words (even the Zulu ones that I’ve pretended to know how to pronounce over the years). Those rhythms! Those choruses! That dancing! That beat!
He brought his songs alive with fascinating stories. He talked about how life in Africa is about waking up every morning and having to renegotiate reality. It is an unpredictable life, but there is so much wonder. (At which point a light bulb went off in my brain about my own unpredictable life and my tendency to be weighed down by it… yes, it was time to see the wonder!). And when he talked about Nyembezi (Tears), how a home is built on tears, I sank into my dark chair and shed a few of my own.
Johnny didn’t let me down. He sang all my favourites. From the pulsating rhythms of Cruel Crazy Beautiful World to the haunting harmonies of Asimbonanga. Somewhere deep in my soul I was transported to a place where I felt lighter, better, stronger.
The night ended with my favourite song of all: Dela. (Here’s a link to the album version of it ). A song that I’ve dedicated to both my children over the years. I sang my guts out.
Dela! Dela! Ngiyadela!
(Content, content I am content)
When I am with you!
Dela! Sondela mama!
(Closer, closer, come closer mama)
I burn for you!
I’ve been waiting for you all my life – waiting for a miracle
I’ve been waiting day and night – day and night
I’ve been waiting for you all my life – waiting for redemption
I’ve been waiting day and night
I burn for you
And by the way Mr G, I don’t think you’d catch Meatloaf doing this.