Review: Johnny Clegg

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A musician, a father, an anthropologist and a French knight; Johnny Clegg is one of South Africa’s most treasured artists, as well as being an internationally recognised Grammy and Billboard award-winner. On Sunday evening the ‘White Zulu’ performed at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens as part of their summer concert series.

We arrived at the venue at what we thought was a reasonably early time (4pm for a 5.30pm start) only to realise that we had underestimated Clegg’s fan base. Not a green patch in sight. So up the hill we trekked until finally, right at the top of the concert lawn, a kindly family let us sit between their feet and someone else’s back. Nevertheless, we were quite happy to get that little spot in the shade.

As Clegg and his band walked onto the stage, the crowd crowed and applauded with appreciation. The thing about this scholar and activist is that he’s been around for so much of our SA history, fought for and remained so true to his beliefs in equality – that he almost feels like a big brother to us…someone we can look up to who knows what it’s like to strive and hope for better.

His lyrics, which always seem to encompass the South African heart, are just as winning as his music: “I’m sittin’ on the top of Kilimanjaro, I can see a new tomorrow…” and it’s no surprise his ‘Great Heart’ song was used in a Castle Lager advert. When the first bars of this classic played out across the gardens, the crowd reacted as one body with everyone leaping up to dance.  It gave me goosebumps.

His performance on Sunday is what we’ve come to expect from him – passionate and exuberant. The sound was great for such a vast outdoor venue and it was obvious that his band is there for the crowd as much as they’re there for themselves. I also love how their sound is so unashamedly African, how it sets the tone for some day-dreaming and inspires people to explore this beautiful, vast continent that is still steeped in legend. It sets a great example for up and coming musos whose main influences will often have been bands from overseas.

I lamented the fact that I hadn’t had the foresight to bring a picnic. Everyone around me was munching on something cheesy and crunchy and delicious. All I had was a Grapetizer and a bag of biltong-flavoured skyfies – which I bought at the tuck shop for the same amount of money I could have spent on a lunch elsewhere. NB – If you plan on buying from it, bring cash because they do not have speed points.

Kirstenbosch is a great venue almost any time of year, but sitting on the lawn as the fading summer light hits the mountain and trees around you is a perfect treat. Although I felt a little disconnected from the band, sitting all the way at the back, it was an altogether delicious summery experience and one to be thoroughly recommended.

“The warrior’s now a worker and his war is underground
With cordite in the darkness he milks the bleeding veins of gold
When the smoking rockface murmurs, he always thinks of you
African sky blue, will you see him through?”
Lyrics from African Sky Blue

Kate West

Johnny Clegg performed at the Kirstenbosch Summer Concert Series on 15 January 2012.

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