Mandisa Dlanga was Johnny Clegg’s backing singer for over three decades. Picture: Itumeleng English/ANA Pictures.
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Jesse Clegg struggled to hold back his tears. It was just a few months ago that the singer and songwriter had stood on a stage with his dad, Johnny Clegg, and performed a set.
Yesterday, Jesse was accompanied by just his father’s band on stage as he prepared to perform a song he remembers only ever singing with his father.
The song I’ve Been Looking, was written by Jesse and his father two years ago.
Tears streamed down his cheeks as he began strumming his guitar and belting out the lyrics to the song.
“In 2017 my dad and I wrote a song together. It’s a song about the things in life that you can’t replace. To my dad that was his family,” Jesse said as he received a standing ovation from the crowd after his performance.
Jesse, Clegg’s oldest son, then addressed the hundreds of friends, family and fans who had turned out at the Sandton Convention Centre yesterday to pay tribute to the musician at his official memorial.
The Impi hitmaker died on July 16 after a five-year struggle with pancreatic cancer and was laid to rest the next day in a private ceremony.
The public joined his family and friends yesterday to celebrate his life.
“He taught us to be curious about the world and shape our lives around our passions,” Jesse told the crowd.
“He believed the greatest gift a father could give his son is a strong moral compass.”
Jesse said the memory of writing the song together was one he would cherish for the rest of his life.
“It gave us a chance to celebrate the most precious things. It’s a memory that I will always carry with me. It’s impossible to sum up what Dad meant to our family.”
Former president Kgalema Motlanthe was among several high-profile guests in attendance.
Among the speakers were local actor John Kani, who recently starred in Disney’s The Lion King, journalist Max du Preez, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa and both of Clegg’s sons, Jesse and Jaron.
To pay tribute to the musician, his band also performed a number of fan favourites, including the songs Scatterlings of Africa, Asimbonanga, as well as Umfazi Omdala, much to the joy of those who packed the venue.
Kani, who was given the task of delivering Clegg’s eulogy, paid a glowing tribute to the musician.
“This is the man who broke all the barriers. This is the man who took on a culture, a man who in his own embodiment is South Africa,” said Kani.
Mthethwa said Clegg championed the agenda for social cohesion during a difficult time in South Africa.
“You were a symbol of reconciliation, a true African who understood African culture. Whenever I saw Johnny Clegg, I saw myself, I saw my culture. I saw an African culture. I saw an African in him.”
Nelson Mandela’s former private secretary Zelda la Grange said: “Madiba was a big fan of any musician that used their power and their influence to bring people together and Johnny, doing it from such a young age and as a white South African, he was particularly fond of him.
“Johnny always supported our 46664 concerts, he always performed at all these concerts. He never shied away when it came to these kinds of causes, so for us it’s a huge loss but we will always hold onto the memories of what he left behind.”
Clegg had left a lasting legacy, she said.
“Johnny made us aware that, specifically for me as a white person to try and discover another person’s culture and singing and creating music with so much passion does not take away from someone’s identity.
“He made us very aware of what people like him did when it was not a popular view, to traverse the culture, language and racial barriers. He was brave, he was a kind human being, he was a gentleman and I think we should remember him for doing that and for teaching us so much.”
Paying tribute, jazz singer Sonti Mndebele said that she didn’t know where to start.
“I loved Johnny and I loved his music. I met him for the first time in London in 1984. I was living there and working with Hugh Masekela and he left such a profound impact on me from the very first time we met. I then met him several times after when I toured with Bra Hugh in Europe.
“Have you heard of anybody who talked bad of Johnny? Not a bad word was ever said about him and that’s exactly who he was, a wonderful person with a good heart.
“He was charming, and he was humble. He never ever made himself out to be the superstar that he actually was.”