A shining beacon of light, a Zulu wordsmith, a spirited musician – all words we can attribute to the name behind the great loss our nation has suffered this week. Incomparable singer-songwriter and scholar, Johnny Clegg, died at his home in Joburg on 16 July, aged 66, in the care of family members. He is survived by his wife of 31 years, Jenny, and their sons, Jesse and Jaron. The Scatterlings of Africa singer was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015 – the same year he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. This order rewards a person’s contribution to the arts and sciences, as well as their charitable actions and work with welfare organisations. It’s undoubtedly a fitting title, and beautifully summarises the very backbone of what Johnny Clegg’s decades-long career has always reflected.
A melodic, political voice against oppression? Definitely. A hopeful figure that embodied the future of an integrated nation? Absolutely. The mark his career has left, whether taken from his solo work or albums recorded with Savuka and Juluka, will live on forever in the hearts of the people who held his music so dearly. They are poignant lyrics and heartfelt harmonies that will continue to ring in our ears for years to come.
In the wake of his passing, several musicians and friends have penned earnest tributes to honour his name and everlasting presence as a cultural icon. His son Jesse, a successful musician himself, took to Instagram and Facebook and wrote, “Thank you for the magical gifts you have given us and for creating a special place in your life for your family. You have inspired me both as a musician and as a man, and given me the tools to live a meaningful life. I will miss you deeply and I struggle to imagine a world without you. But I am comforted to know that your wisdom and compassion lives on in all of us. Hamba kahle dad, be at peace. You have done so much and we honor you. Love you always.”
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Thank you for the magical gifts you have given us and for creating a special place in your life for your family. You have inspired me both as a musician and as a man, and given me the tools to live a meaningful life. I will miss you deeply and I struggle to imagine a world without you. But I am comforted to know that your wisdom and compassion lives on in all of us. Hamba kahle dad, be at peace. You have done so much and we honor you. Love you always.
Dr Adam Klein, an adjunct professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York penned an enticing, lighthearted, and genuinely funny story of when he met Johnny, who was only 15 at the time, for the Daily Maverick. In it he shares how Johnny exuded “a personal quietness that was so special about him” and how he sang his Zulu songs with an intensity, subtlety, and beauty that wonderfully encapsulated everything about his character.
In introducing the presidency’s budget vote debate, SA President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute to the pioneering memory of Johnny stating, “It is our collective sadness of the country to also have learned of the passing away of Johnny Clegg, known to many of us as Juluka Johnny, who was one of the early persons in the country to demonstrate the reality of not only social cohesion but cultural integration.”
Singer Karen Zoid shared her great love for Johnny in a Facebook post where she wrote:
“It started by listening to you, Johnny, and it ends by listening to you.
You have to wash with the crocodile in the river
You have to swim with the sharks in the sea
You have to live with the crooked politician
Trust those things that you can never see
To be brave you have to accept that you are always going to be a little bit scared. Thank you for proving this through how you lived your life over and over again.”
Karen Zoid was also part of a group of 50 musicians called Friends of Johnny Clegg, who banded together to record a spectacular version of Johnny’s The Crossing. Proceedings from the recording were donated to The Click Foundation, which strives to help underprivileged primary schools in the avenue of literacy.
I am speechless thank you so much! This is an amazing moment for me – to have so many of my peers acknowledge the song and its sentiments, and that they can use that to further something much bigger than all of us. Thank you. pic.twitter.com/CdoUp45VMI
— Johnny Clegg (@JohnnyCleggReal) December 6, 2018
Rest in peace, dear Johnny. Your treasured voice and love for the South African people will soar forevermore.
Watch the music video for the tribute of The Crossing below.
By Features Writer Marike Watson