Review: Johnny Clegg At Kirstenbosch

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What better way to end this season of the hugely popular Old Mutual Summer Sunset concerts than with an electrifying performance from the legendary Johnny Clegg? Fresh from his highly successful sold out concerts at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London, this energetic ‘White Zulu’ closed the Summer Sunset concert series on a typically high note.

I’ve waited far too long to watch and experience Jonny Clegg’s performance live, having only seen snippets of his live concerts on TV. The performance was worth the wait. I was totally blown away and enthralled by his amazing and contagious energy on the stage. Clegg’s sheer enthusiasm for what he does makes it almost impossible not to jump up to dance, or at least tap to the beat and hum to the harmonies.

Here at Kirstenbosch I came to truly appreciate the many facets that make up this iconic South African music legend. Clegg is not only a passionate singer, but a great humanitarian, a dancer, an activist, a historian and a gifted storyteller. He tells stories through his music in a way that engages his audience through humour, poignancy and the sense of a shared history. He explains to the audience the background and meaning to each song thus sharing the deeper insights that underpin each song. For example on the song ‘They’ve got Bullets for Bafazana’ he tells the story of a former security guard for the band who, at the height of the political violence in the 90s, discovered that he was on an assassination list.

Clegg made his entrance with the poignant ‘Bombs Away’ and followed it with the ever popular ‘On Top of Kilimanjaro’. In so many of his songs it is notable that the Mbaqanga guitar sound is cleverly combined with soul, pop  or rock beats. The humming adds a further interesting flavour, with the added benefit that those audience members who don’t know the lyrics can also join in.

I especially enjoyed, ‘African Sky Blue’, ‘Gumba Gumba Jive’, ‘Impi’ and ‘Siyeza’. ‘Going to Giyani’ has some interesting elements of Tsonga music with the fast-paced beats accompanied by an electric guitar solo from Andy Innes and the fantastic Brendon Ross on saxophone solo. ‘Digging for Some Words’ is a haunting song which talks about the social imbalances which so often result in social conflicts. Another crowd favorite, which had concert goers screaming and shouting, is the song, ‘Asimbonanga’, a song dedicated to the ailing former president Mandela.

As always, it was sad to end the concert series, but what an end.  I am already looking forward to the next series of these popular summer concerts in November and I hope that Johnny Clegg will once again be part of the line up.

Luvuyo Mncanca

Johnny Clegg performed at the last Old Mutual Summer Sunset Concert Series at Kirstenbosch on 7 April 2013.

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