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Meet Iain Thomas, the 36-year-old South African poet who is famous all over the world except in SA

Johnny Clegg "'s what your dad did"

2007-06-04 12:44
Johnny Clegg

Cape Town Gig Dates
- Friday 8th June at 9pm
- Saturday 9th June, 6.30pm + 9pm
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This ability to communicate, live and work cross-culturally has been a big theme in your life, and your work all along. What's the hardest thing about having this gift?

Finding a language that makes sense to everybody – that’s why music can play such a powerful communicative role

You're singing Maskandi-pop in Afrikaans in one track on your new album "Thamela - Die Son Trek Water". Why Afrikaans, now?

As a world musician mixing languages is part of genre… I am also singing French and I have also sung in Hindi . I think Afrikaans is now a neutral language and it should also find its place in the broader cultural collective of SA emerging national identity. Many words in Zulu are also Afrikaans adoptives like “itafula” (tafel-table) or ijongosi ( jong os ) etc.

You have a song about Bob Mugabe on the new album, called "The Revolution Will Eat Its Children" Can you trace how your perceptions of Bob changed over the years? I supported Bob up until 1990 although there were already signs during 1984 that he was prepared to use maximum lethal force against his own population during the violent oppression of the Ndebele in the south by the infamous 5th brigade. I shot the scatterlings video in the Matopo hills in 1987 and Bulawayo was looking shabby. Talk among the locals was that they were being punished cause they were Ndebele and no development funds were being made available to the South by the central government.

If you had an hour alone with him, no bodyguards, no weapons, what would you do? What would you say to him?

I would simply ask him to allow free and fair elections within the context of freedom of speech, movement and association.

In the last few years the issue of crime has driven quite a few people I personally looked up to in the 80s overseas. Are you staying?


Maskandi music sometimes seems be locked in Durban, while other genres like Kwaito (various permutations of) are popular and known by their names all over SA... comment?

Maskanda* sometime crosses over. Phuzekhemisi had one two cross overs and recently Shwi Nomt’ekhala crossed over into the urban market. The reason is the lyric content. Most Maskanda music is based in rural Zulu tribal stories... but the moment they universalize the lyrics, radio picks it up and the audience expands.

Many people from Durbs describe how, when they were kids, Maskandi singers would be on the streets, telling their stories. Not so much now. Why is this tradition disappearing?

It's not cool anymore… it's what your dad did and he came from any era when tribal music was seen as a part of the migrant culture. Urbanization and new stereotypes have made for a reticence of young Zulu migrants to sing openly about their world.

You have so many fans in France and have been made honorary citizen of a lot o towns. What is your resulting connection to that country. For example, how does it feel to see Sarkozy in power there?

France has been incredibly good to me and my music.. French politics has suffered like all post modern western democracies.They have battled with the collapse of old “left wing” and “right wing” ideologies’ inability to deal with the more layered and complex issues of the 21st century. Today most people have both conservative and progressive views depending on the issues. Political technocracy, the use of media and a more American style of garnering votes seems to be characteristic of the emerging French political scene.

What is the most beautiful phrase you know in Zulu, and what does it mean?

Sala Nomusa– Remain with kindness

What is the most beautiful phrase you know in French, and what does it mean?

La silence qui parle – the silence that speaks.

Some nights on your new show are already sold out - tell us more about the show and where it fits into your personal story.

The show is the new album live. It also presents all my hits together with the first mix of break dancing and Zulu dancing – the concept being rural tribes and urban tribes “get it on ” and strut their stuff. The album “one life” and the song s in the show are really stories and moments in my life which I share on stage with the audience.

What makes you laugh?

Slapstick... dogs are real comedians and I have four. they really make me laugh sometimes.. and of course SA s quiet diplomacy with Zimbabwe.

- Jean Barker

* Maskandi and Maskanda are both used to describe the same style. It's not clear which is the correct term. Although Maskandi is an adjective, eg Jazz, whereas Maskanda usually refer to different styles within it or is used as a plural.

Johnny Clegg on Zim, maskanda music, words that touch his heart, and what makes him laugh in our interview.
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