Save room for a legend

2011-10-07 09:30

If ever there was a spiritual link between the soul of today’s music and the soul that so strongly permeated the music of the 60s and 70s, then John Legend is it.

His choice of music and how he interprets some of the finest recordings of icons such as Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes – who sang the soundtracks of a generation in protest – speak to the inner depths of what is happening in America and the world with far greater accuracy than any political manifesto.

Songs like I Can’t Write Left Handed by Bill Withers, Wake Up Everybody by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free by Nina Simone are still relevant today. And they have all been given the Legend remake.

“I am inspired by the music of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway and artists who recorded during a difficult era for black people in America, and through their music galvanised the civil rights movement,” remarks Legend. “I am proud to be inspired by these great artists. I am proud to be a link to that bygone era.”

Speaking from the US ahead of his concert this weekend in Nelspruit, the 32-year-old soulman says he has taken on the baton to champion today’s worthy causes.

He says: “I do galvanise some movements with my music. My activism is how I can help people who have been overlooked, the poor and the sick. I am passionate about issues around education. I am arguing for fairness and equality. I do write some love songs, though.”

In July, Legend the philanthropist launched the GIVE Education campaign in New York to increase awareness and fight the student dropout crisis in the US, while his Show Me Campaign helps to alleviate poverty in Mbola village, in Tanzania.

He might be politically involved and a staunch Barack Obama supporter, but Legend maintains that he harbours no political aspirations. “It’s just something I care about,” he says.

Legend will be the headline act at the third Nelspruit 60s Concert, a music weekend inspired by the 1960s. It is the first time in its short history that an international act has been invited to perform at the festival, which starts on Friday. Legend will be on stage at Mbombela Stadium on Saturday.

Born John Roger Stephens in Springfield, Ohio, Legend’s trajectory towards international stardom has been impressive. In the seven years since the release of his debut Get Lifted, he has won nine Grammy Awards out of the three albums he has released. He balances his political and social awareness with the fun exterior of music in a way few musicians do these days.

That he has a love affair with South Africa is not a secret. This will be his fourth visit here.
He says: “South Africa is my favourite place to perform because of the energy, the love and the passion I get from my fans there.”

Legend’s just got off the tour bus with Sade in the US. “It was so special for her to come out on tour after 10 years. She is someone I look up to for her longevity and consummate professionalism,” he says of the British superstar singer.

Legend – who in his career played the piano on Lauryn Hill’s Everything is Everything, featured on Slum Village’s Selfish and sang background vocals on Alicia Keys’ You Don’t Know My Name – has been a trusted behind-the-scenes guy.

But since he became a bona fide star, his collaborations with Sergio Mendes on Please Baby Don’t and Corinne Bailey Rae on Where Is The Love have earned him even greater respect.

He says: “Challenges in music have always been there. Musicians have always had to make music that means something to the people. What’s different about these days is that people don’t buy records and CDs, and not even MP3s are selling that much.

“People just download for free and take money out of the business, and this makes it hard for record companies and even harder for new artists.”

But Legend believes that there still is quality music out there. “There is some good pop music made by good musicians that I have had the honour to work with. These include Kanye West, Jay-Z, Common, Alicia Keys and Sade. They really care about the craft,” he says.

Talking about his show in Nelspruit, Legend believes it will be special. “I can’t remember what my set was like the last time I was there, but we’ll include music from Wake Up! I am sure that will be more appropriate at the 60s festival and will blend well with my repertoire.”

Legend also confirms he is working on his next album with producers like Kanye West, Hit-Boy and Dave Tozer. “It is soulful modern album. We plan to release in April 2012,” he says.

He also plans on venturing into TV to produce a new sitcom called Mixed Blessings, which is scheduled for release next year.

» Tickets are available via or at Postnet outlets. They retail for between R225 and R550, VIP for R1650

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