Monday, June 16, 2014

Youssou Ndour & Johnny Clegg in a Tribute to Nelson Mandela

The pairing of Johnny Clegg and Youssou N'Dour for the Fes Festival was a stroke of brilliance that came about at the request of Youssou N'Dour. The tribute to Mandela was also a perfect fit as both men have been at the forefront of the struggle to free Mandela and to end apartheid
Youssou N'Dour
Johnny Clegg

Since 1985, when he organised a concert in Dakar in support of freeing Nelson Mandela, Youssou N’Dour remains one of the great African voices of conscience. Johnny Clegg's first forays into black townships at the age of 15 led to a political awakening and initiated his long love of the Zulu culture of which he became a fervent ambassador. He turned his passion for justice into some music which inspired a generation with songs like Asimbonanga ("We haven't seen him"), which called for the release of Nelson Mandela, and which named three representative martyrs of the South African liberation struggle - Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge, and Neil Aggett.

In introducing the evening, the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley was read to the audience.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

After the poetry reading, the concert opened with Clegg - Le Zulu Blanc (the White Zulu) - and he was immediately embraced by the huge crowd at the Bab Al Makina venue. An energetic performer, he had the crowd with him from the start, with his feet tapping and head jiggling, you could sense he was as keen to get into the set as the audience were. Clegg was quickly immersed in the music, singing with his head thrown back and eyes tightly closed, feeling every word that he sang.

Some of those words were in Zulu, some were in English, but whatever the language, his message was clear - we are all as one. His set included a lot of old favourites including Great Heart, and Cruel Crazy Beautiful World, where a father gives a message to his son, and Dela where the essence of love is explored.

The world is full of strange behaviour
Every man has to be his own saviour
I know I can make it on my own if I try
But I’m searching for a great heart to stand me by
Underneath the African sky
A great heart to stand me by

Johnny Clegg dancing

Johnny Clegg has a great heart and he had the hearts of the crowd with him, with the light glinting off his guitar like the light that shone through his music, as we all stood beneath the African night sky. He was a treat, playing both guitar and accordion and introducing the audience to the "Zulu street guitar sound". But his dancing in the Zulu Isishameni style captivated the crowd and his performance of Scatterlings of Africa was superb and emotionally charged, with many in the audience rising to their feet.

But the song that really brought the house down was Clegg's tribute to Mandela: "We would like to end our concert with a tribute to a great universal man who passed away on December 5th last year…Nelson Rolihlahla Madiba Tata Khulu Mandela"

A heartfelt rendition of Asimbonanga gave the audience goosebumps and brought tears to the eyes. Those who weren't already on their feet dancing rose to give a standing ovation that demanded an encore.

South African audience member Helen Ranger summed it up beautifully - "I AM a scatterling of Africa! It makes my heart sing because it's music from home".

The second half of the evening brought a Fes Festival favourite back to the stage. Youssou N'Dour, dressed in resplendent white, arrived with thirteen backing musicians and an acrobat. The fact that he had no less than three keyboards showed he meant business. He wasted no time on chit chat, but launched into a set that had the audience up dancing. It took several failed attempts before the security guards realised that dancing was an okay activity and possibly even spiritual.

N'Dour shared centre stage with his fellow musicians, (some of whom were from Cameroon), and took a back seat while the acrobat astounded and amused the crowd with his agility. Other stars that had their turn were a wonderful percussionist whose drum playing was astounding, with N'Dour standing behind him holding a microphone while his hands flew. One of the backing singers had her moment too, singing the part of Neneh Cherry in a wonderful rendition of Seven Seconds. It was superb showmanship and yet it never strayed far from the central message of Mandela, peace and Africa.

N’Dour’s music has ranged from rock to jazz, blues to rap, hip-hop to gospel, but the one thing that has remained a constant thread is his devotion to Africa.  And, with Africa and Mandela in mind, N'Dour called his fellow devotee, Clegg, back on stage for a duet - another moving version of Asimbonaga - that ended with an emotional exchange between the two performers.

The crowd lapped up every second of it. When asked if they were too tired, they responded strongly in the negative. Building on the energy created by Clegg, this was the first concert of this year's festival to have the whole of Bab Makina on their feet, as the infectious rhythms were impossible to ignore. As often happens in this venue, dancing first broke out in the aisles, then in the wings where a mass of people build up until the security were compelled to let them flood the area in front of the stage. The concert and encores wrapped up well after midnight. It was an outstanding evening at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music.

Text: Sandy McCutcheon, Vanessa Bonnin
Photographs: Vanessa Bonnin

Tomorrow at the Fes Festival (Monday June 16)

Fez Forum at 9 at Batha Museum:  Giving Soul to Globalisation. Managing diversity 
Batha Museum 4pm: Bardic Divas - Kazakstan, Uzbekistan
Nights in the Medina 8pm &10pm Dar Adiyel: Wang Li and Amazigh poets
Dar Mokri 8pm & 10pm St Ephraim Choir - Hungry
Dar Batha 8pm &10pm  Majlis Trio - France
Batha Museum 9pm Altan - Ireland
Festival in the City 4pm: Jnan Sbil Garden: Women's orchestra of Fez
Festival in the City 6.30pm Bab Boujloud Square: Luzmila Carpio
Sufi Night at Dar Tazi 11pm:  Saqalia Brotherhood of Fez with Haj Mohammed Bennis
Tomorrow's Weather:  Cooler - Max 32 degrees Celsius (89.8 Fahrenheit) 
Fez Medina Map

The View from Fez is an official media partner of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music

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