I remember the first time I heard Johnny Clegg’s song ‘Asimbonaga.’
It was in Goroka. It was a cold afternoon. It played off a cassette. I thought Johnny Clegg was a black South African. His music was sweet to the ear. It was timeless… and even without understanding the language, it conveyed an intense feeling of sadness, longing and hope. It was and still is a song that speaks to the heart, soul and spirit.
As a child, the words and music brought the distant, almost mysterious land of Africa close to me. I saw the veld in my mind’s eye… the land of the Zulu and the Xhosa. I had never been there. But Johnny Clegg took me there.
I wanted to go to South Africa.
Johnny Clegg’s music stayed with me for decades never growing old.
Asimbonanga spoke of an a people’s longing for a better future. It spoke of a man they treasured.
Asimbonanga (we have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ umandela thina (we have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhona (in the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona (in the place where he is kept)
I learned of Nelson Mandela and others who were the embodiment of the African civil rights movement. I learned about apartheid and racial segregation. In Clegg’s Asimbonanga, I heard the name Steven Biko, the anti-apartheid campaigner killed in police custody.
Who was Johnny Clegg? Was he the black man on the cover of Savuka or the white man in brightly colored pants. I didn’t know. I didn’t care. The music was sweet and my mind drank it up and my spirit was blissfully intoxicated every time I listened to it.
Johnny Clegg, challenged the white South African Government by the bringing together white and black musicians. His music and lyrical poetry hammered on the foundations of the apartheid regime until it crumbled and the man he sang about became president of the new South Africa.
Johnny Clegg’s music rang true yesterday, today and in the future. It says stand up for what you believe in. If you don’t like the injustices, stand up and speak out through music and art because positive creative energy is powerful enough to topple governments.
All the way from Papua New Guinea, thank you South Africa for giving us Johnny Clegg, a master and leader in his own right. I hope I can live my life and true to my purpose and fully as you did, Sir!