The ‘White Zulu’ sings for transformation

Dane Hansen

With the songs of yesteryear, Johnny Clegg’s stellar performance at Coetzenberg, had the crowd raised to their feet, singing, clapping and cheering together, breaking boundaries. This is the kind of affect Johnny Clegg has on his audience.

(3) Johnny Clegg brings out one of several acoustic guitars used in the show. Draped in light he is about to sing a downtempo tune. Coetzenberg. 11 (Dane Hansen)
Johnny Clegg brings out one of several acoustic guitars used in the show. Draped in light he is about to sing a downtempo tune PHOTO: Dane Hansen

His arrival in Stellenbosch was by no chance a coincidence. Rather, it was a symbolic gesture, coming from a man that used music to heel the wounds of a hurting South Africa through apartheid.

Clegg’s great stage presence rests on four Zulu pillars, each being a friend and mentor from his learning days. One which taught him guitar, the other to dance, and another to speak African languages.

His concert set a scene where he illustrated what transformation is, and how harmonious it could be. The design for his illustration however, was (and is) an inspiring blend that is rich in diversity. He is a white man, singing an African language, in the Afrikaans town where much of the apartheid policy was founded. This sounds like a vile mix, but Clegg created a fusion that knocked on the doors of our hearts.

As the cultural legend set foot onto stage, the adoring crowd immediately rose up to meet their idol, The white Zulu. They were an assortment of people, all from contrasting pasts, diverging generations and different classes. Yet, under the musical spell that Johnny Clegg casted, all celebrated and danced together, as if no differences were obvious. Rockers brushed shoulders with businessmen and strangers danced together.

Differences were forgotten, and friendships were made, even if just for the night. But that is all Johnny wished to show, that being only the “positive possibilities,” and then he leaves the rest up to you. You decide how you will transform and progress as an individual. He leaves the decision for change and transformation in the crowd’s hands. He sings in a variety of tongue. Delving through English, Zulu and Xhosa, his message is broadcast to a wide spectrum of people.

Essentially, Clegg aims to tell his life story, one that experienced apartheid at its height, then its eventual demise and the rebirth of a country. His show acted as a bridging process that can connect people a town that is still healing.

Since 1979, his mark on South African society still remains so strong, and was gratified by the gathering’s appreciation.




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