Asimbonanga – Johnny Clegg
The phrase ‘stirring anthem’ is sometimes used by music critcs to describe songs that reach into our minds and finds exactly the right buttons to press to envoke a emotion so strong it sends shivers down our spines, tears down our cheeks or what ever physical reaction you experience when you are completely moved by a song. And ‘Asimbonanga’ is one of those great stirring anthems. Even the rather tame version that Joan Baez recorded (tame in comparison to Clegg’s that is) still does something to one.
‘Asimbonanga’, the plaintive cry that kicks off the song, means ‘we have not seen him’ and the song then goes on to name who we have not seen – Mandela. Back in 1987 when the song appeared on the international version of ‘Third World Child’ (we locals had a different track listing), sightings of Mandela were limited pretty much to those on Robben Island. The strange thing about this song is that if you take out the Ladysmith Black Mambazo-esque harmonies, this does not show too much of an African influence. It is practically pure western rock and yet you know it was made in Africa just from its feel.
However, if you are still not convinced by Johnny Clegg’s version, listen to the Soweto Gospel Choir’s version they recorded as a flashbmob at Woolworths 2 days after Mandela died (see Youtube link below), and feel the power of this masterpiece. It worked as a protest song back in 1987 and it worked just as well (if not better) as a suitable farewell to a man whose life was a stirring anthem.
Where to find it:
The Very Best Of Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Johnny Clegg & Savuka (2002), EMI, I-8575762
The Great South African Trip – Various Artists (2007), African Cream
Soweto Gospel Choir flash mob:
Joan Baez version: