South Africa

Tribute

Johnny Clegg Education Fund and lasting legacy launched – and a spectacular anthem

Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu rehearse in Johannesburg, South Africa on 5 November 2010 ahead of the concert celebrating Clegg’s 30 years as a musician. (Photo by Gallo Images/The Times/James Oatway)

It has been a long time since anyone in South Africa, or the world for that matter, has been able to pull off a collective anthem that holds any real resonance or deep meaning. On Wednesday a group of 50 artists released a rousing and moving tribute to artist, musician, anthropologist, cultural icon and activist Johnny Clegg, who has been living with pancreatic cancer since 2015.

The rearrangement and performance of Clegg’s 1993 classic, The Crossing, was recorded in Cape Town in September 2018, not only as a tribute to Clegg, but also as a kick-start to an educational fund, Friends of Johnny Clegg, to honour his “biggest passion”, education.

Clegg has always viewed teaching as a vocation and has touched the lives of thousands through his unique engagement with his academic field, anthropology.

Wits University describes its alumnus thus: “Johnny Clegg’s life and productions give meaning to the multiculturalism and social integration South Africans yearn for. It is therefore fitting that his alma mater confers on him its highest honour, the degree of Doctor of Music honoris causa.”

The Crossing video, which features Clegg’s son Jesse as well as Abigail Kubeka, Dorothy Masuka, Judith Sephuma, Somizi, Karen Zoid, Craig Lucas, Dan Patlansky, Lira, Vicky Sampson, Victor Masondo, Zolani Mahola, David Kramer, Vusi Mahlasela, Jack Parow, Arno Carstens, Emo Adams and others, had recorded over 45,000 views on YouTube by late Thursday afternoon.

Also, R65,000 had been raised in one day, while Apple has waived all royalties for the project, so proceeds from all downloads go directly to the fund which will be managed by the Click Foundation.

Watch – Crossing: Friends of Johnny Clegg

International artists who participated in the project are Peter Gabriel, Dave Matthews and Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford. The video and the song had already reached No1 on iTunes South Africa by late afternoon.

The Crossing was originally written by Clegg for Dudu Mntowaziwayo Ndlovu, Clegg’s dancing partner who was assassinated in political violence in KwaZulu-Natal 1992.

Zoid told Daily Maverick that it was Clegg himself who had selected the song that she rearranged.

The project, said Zoid, had started small with a few artists, including Kahn Morbee of The Parlotones, musician Theo Crous and “the guys at Ellerman House” who had wanted to do “a small cover” for Clegg as a tribute.

Watch – Ellerman Sessions:

But then we realised that we might as well go big and give Johnny a proper gift. A massive collaboration in aid of his biggest passion: Education,” said Zoid.

While Clegg had been aware that some sort of “tribute” was afoot, he did not know quite how big it was going to be and that, in the end, it would feature the RMB Starlight Classics Orchestra and 50 magnificent artists.

Said Zoid: “I asked Johnny what song we should cover. When you cover a song it takes on a new life and a different meaning. I thought he might suggest one of his biggest hits, like Impi, but he chose The Crossing himself.”

What makes the video and the song so significant, profound and poignant is what it does not explicitly say, that Clegg our elder is growing weaker, having lived with pancreatic cancer for several years, and that soon he will have to say goodbye. He will be “crossing over those dark mountains where we will lay down our troubles”.

It is not only this gentle goodbye that threads through the song and the video but also the sheer joy, energy and celebration of Clegg’s artistry and his music and how it will always be part of South Africa’s DNA.

Zoid said the project was also an example of how “musicians who, we all know, are terrible with money, can come together and make a difference” and that it is this spirit that embodies Clegg’s legacy.

The Crossing, said Zoid, is a song about “carrying on”, about South Africa and South Africans carrying on and finding a common and gentle space between the political turmoil.

Lyrics – The Crossing – Johnny Clegg:

Through all the days that eat away
At every breath that I take
Through all the nights I’ve lain alone
In someone else’s dream, awake

All the words in truth we have spoken
That the wind has blown away
It’s only you that remains with me
Clear as the light of day

[Chorus]

O Siyeza, o siyeza , sizofika webaba noma
(we are coming, we are coming, we will arrive soon)
O siyeza, o siyeza, siyagudle lomhlaba
(we are coming, we are coming, we are moving across this earth)
Siyawela lapheshaya lulezontaba ezimnyama
(we are crossing over those dark mountains)
Lapha sobheka phansi konke ukhulupheka
(where we will lay down our troubles)

A punch drunk man in a downtown bar
Takes a beating without making a sound
Through swollen eyes he sways and smiles
‘Cause no one can put him down

Inside of him a boy looks up to his father
For a sign or an approving eye
Oh, it’s funny how those once so close and now gone
Can still so affect our lives

Take me now, don’t let go
Hold me close, I’m coming home.
DM

Gallery

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