Singing Asimbonanga for Mandela is one of Johnny Clegg's magical moments

18 September 2017 - 09:03 By Chrizelda Kekana
Legendary Musician Johnny Clegg talks about a "magical" moment in his career
Legendary Musician Johnny Clegg talks about a "magical" moment in his career
Image: Chrizelda Kekana

With over 40 years in the music industry, Johnny Clegg has a lot of unforgettable moments, but the one that will forever be etched in his mind was when late political stalwart Nelson Mandela walked onto stage, while he was performing Asimbonanga. 

The legendary musician told media in Johannesburg on Thursday the moment he saw former president Nelson Mandela on stage, 11 years after the initial release of the song, he knew it would be the highlight of his career.

The musician was on tour in Germany when he was asked to perform at an international symposium on Africa, where he ended with Asimbonanga.

"I was in the first verse of the chorus when the audience erupted and I thought 'wow! they know my song', but it was Mandela, walking behind me on stage. And they started pointing behind me, and I didn't know but he was a key note speaker at that event. So it was just a magical moment and as a songwriter it was the pinnacle," he said.

Despite being banned during Apartheid the song went on to become a hit among people. 

"I said to myself, I think it's Mandela but I know that most white people are afraid at the very best and at the very worst they hate him, and they are in power. And, I expect the song to be restricted and banned - which it was - but I had to say it," he said.

Johnny said the chorus of Asimbonanga was inspired by the secrecy which surrounded Madiba, because not many people had seen him or even had a picture of him during Apartheid. 

The song was released in 1987 but Johnny said to date he still had people come to him (including people from the ANC) telling him that they are yet to see anyone like Mandela.

"The fact that its an open ended metaphor, people come to me now, from the ANC and they say "namanje asimbonanga uMandela (we are yet to see anyone like Mandela)". You understand that the meaning has changed because Mandela had a message about the future and where we are going. I never wrote it for that but it can (now) be used in much more general statement," he said.