Going strong after three decades

2012-05-13 00:00

But the singer-songwriter simply has no desire to slow down. “I do what I do because I enjoy it,” Clegg says, “it’s not a job … I simply love connecting with and entertaining people.”

And that’s just what he plans to do at the Durban Botanic Gardens tomorrow, when he takes to the stage for the Old Mutual Music at the Lake concert.

He is promising fans that they will hear a mix of old favourites, like Impi, Scatterlings of Africa and Great Heart, as well as some of his new work, including songs from the recently released album Human.

Featuring a range of styles from rock and pop to Celtic and traditional African dance music, Human is the singer’s first new album with a new producer, since 1994.

“My record company felt I should get some new blood in, so I went to Brussels and worked with Nicolas Fiszman, who is a musical genius,” Clegg said. Fiszman, a bassist, previously worked with the singer on Juluka’s album Crocodile Love, released in 1996.

“The album has a mix of political songs and some very personal numbers. A lot of the more political ones came out of what I was seeing on the news. For example, Love in the time of Gaza. That came about after I saw an insert on Gaza in 2009, which really affected me.

“During one report, the reporter did a tour of Gaza to show the scale of the destruction. I noticed this young boy in the background, who was speaking to a girl.

“He didn’t care what was going on around him … he seemed totally absorbed by the girl. I found that really moving. It made me realise that love and tenderness cannot be silenced, even in the darkest of moments of war.”

Another song, titled Congo, deals with Clegg’s feelings about how the rich natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been the underlying cause of decades of suffering for the region’s people.

In the album sleeve for Human, he writes: “More than five million people have died in the last 10 years in eastern Congo, as wave after wave of rogue militias, supported by surrounding countries, rape and pillage their way through the neighbourhood.

“From diamonds to colombite-tantalite, which is a key component in the manufacturing of cellphones and other consumer electronics, the DRC’s mineral wealth has underpinned the tremendous suffering of its people.”

Asked what his favourite track was on the new album, he says Hidden Away Down, which has a rocking vibe and is, he admits, out of his usual comfort zone.

“I enjoyed writing the lyrics a lot, it’s such a multilayered song,” Clegg said. “It was inspired by the death of senator Edward Kennedy in 2009. I watched his funeral on CNN, and it took me back to when I was a lecturer at Wits [University] and he came to visit South Africa in 1985. He gave a speech which I attended, and which made me feel amazing and part of an international freedom movement.

“Kennedy had an extraordinary life with many negative moments and events, which he had to overcome. But he was also the third most prolific lawmaker in the United States … he got 300 laws passed in his lifetime and co-authored and got many more passed, and they were all laws that had to do with helping the disempowered.”

Performing alongside Clegg on Human is blues guitarist Dan Patlansky and Soweto Gospel Choir. The album ends off with the traditional Bhaca dancing song Magumede, which Clegg used to dance when he was 16 years old.

Clegg was honoured last month by President Jacob Zuma with the Order of Ikhamanga for his contribution to and achievement in the field of bridging African traditional music with other music forms, promoting racial understanding among racially divided groups in South Africa under difficult apartheid conditions, working for a non-racial society and being an outstanding spokesperson for the release of political prisoners.

The legendary singer has performed in Durban many times, but tomorrow’s gig marks his first visit to the Botanic Gardens. “I regularly play at the concerts at Kirstenbosch in the Cape, and just love the vibe at these kinds of gigs. The whole family can come enjoy the music,” he said, adding that it was important for city dwellers to reconnect with a living environment.

“We know from psychological studies that the colour green produces feelings of calmness and pleasure. Botanical Gardens remind us that within this space, thousands of living trees, plants, flowers, and all the insects, birds and small mammals, have a place in our life. It is a wonderful thing to go to such a space and rediscover this fundamental truth.”

Away from the stage, Clegg reveals he is busy working on a musical about his life and music career, and a book on the Juluka era. Speaking about the musical, he said: “It’s been scripted and is finished, but I think it will probably only be out in another year or so. I’m hoping to stage it at Monte Casino, and am definitely looking at the international market.”

He will also embark on a 31-date tour of the United States and Canada from June to August, and from August to December 2012, will tour South Africa. But if you simply can’t wait that long, then make sure you get to the Botanic Gardens in Durban tomorrow.

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