A week before Johnny Clegg made his appearance on the Kirstenbosch stage, the Botanical Gardens had already put up the sign in front: Summer Concert Sunday Show – SOLD OUT. This was a big one.
Even before the gates to the concert area were opened there was a long queue waiting and as more and more people spilled on to the lush lawns of Kirstenbosch, the vibe became more festive and the sweltering summer sun slowly made its way closer to the mountainous horizon.
The local legend fondly known as The White Zulu came onstage amidst supportive cheering from the crowd which was now a sea of fan faces. His signature sound, the very South African blend of pop music with a distinctly African/Zulu flavour flowed from the speakers and into the souls of the crowd.
Johnny Clegg loves little more than interacting with the audience. His years as an anthropology lecturer still shine through strongly, and he took long breaks between songs to relate tales from his past, reminiscing about the people he had met and the things he had learned from them. At one point he caught himself and smiled, admitting to being a talkative guy. And continued talking. He taught us about his journey of dance, in particular Zulu dance, an art form that he adopted and mastered and which become part of his signature style. Feet kicking high in the air, he told a bit of the history of the dances that made him and his bands Juluka and Savuka famous. “You can say things in dance that you can’t say in words,” he explained. To insult a king through words, he demonstrated, would mean almost certain death, but through direct dance you can openly insult without anyone taking offence.
Perhaps inspired by his impromptu lecture on dancing, or perhaps because he started singing Great Heart, the sea of picnickers, of music lovers, of sun worshippers stood up as one and expressed through dance what they couldn’t in words: A love for life, a pride in South Africa, a thankfulness to spend another gorgeous summer night outside in nature being entertained by an international music star. Scatterlings of Africa followed, uniting us again as Africans, irrespective of skin colour or birth country. And still united, mourning together our great Madiba, Johnny Clegg ended off a perfect day with a song that reminded us what our country stood for, giving us all a moment of remembrance for Nelson Mandela as the sky cooled down to the battle cry sounds of Asimbonanga.
Johnny Clegg is one of South Africa’s national treasures, and judging by the many children in the audience, it is evident that his music will be loved by many generations yet to come, as well it should. At 60 years old, Clegg looks and acts half of that number, performing with enthusiasm and vigour. I truly hope that he will be performing for many years more, engaging us, educating us and reminding us how good it is to be us. All under the African skies.
Johnny Clegg performed at the Old Mutual Summer Concert Series on 19 January 2014.