The passing of Johnny Clegg last week gave me some pause for thought.
It is the reason why I remembered the Proudly SA Name movement I talk about.
I felt surprisingly emotional when I heard that 'The Great Heart' had died.
I hadn’t realised how much he meant to me as a child, confused about my soul being drawn to indigenous cultures, but living within a system that belittled and insulted it.
Along with the likes of PJ Powers (and later Lance “Zulu” Klusener), Johnny Clegg used his art and intellectual curiosity to tell teenage Bobby that not only was it okay to be curious, but it was encouraged; that it’s beauty was to be respected.
The way he was able to fuse Zulu culture, African stories and perspectives and vernacular with catchy, poppy beats, was unmatched.
So much so, that he was knighted by the French government, given an OBE by Queen Elizabeth and joined on stage by Nelson Mandela when he sang Asimbonanga - the song he wrote for Madiba.
Whether as a solo performer, or as part of his bands Juluka or Savuka, Johnny proved over and over again that we are able to give birth to lasting and meaningful beauty when we combine our creative differences.
Like he said of his song-writing partnership with Juluka’s Sipho Mchunu: “We were trying to make a third thing out of two things that had been separated.”
Jonathan Clegg was way ahead of his time.
A white, English, Zimbabwean, Jewish immigrant, who adopted a culture furthest removed from his own; but embraced it; highlighted it; and exported its beauty to a world that considered it savage.
In a time of sensitivities around cultural appropriation, Johnny can easily be accused of having been a perpetrator.
But he didn’t just use the cool, sexy bits of Zulu culture for his own financial gain. He studied it; submerged himself in it; spoke it fluently with respect and nuance; loved it deeply and was able to throw himself to the ground with spear and shield in hand with the best impis.
Through his music, he pioneered a vision of a non-racial future for South Africa.
But he also peeled back the layers of ignorance and fear prevalent in the white and coloured communities.
I want to say that he did this unconsciously, but then Johnny was a highly intuitive academic who probably knew exactly what he was doing.
I had the good fortune of meeting him on a few occasions and he always struck me as an authentically compassionate person with a keen interest in other people.
One of my Facebook friends called him the face of our diversity and unity, long before those sentiments became popular.
Another friend says Johnny was the one 'muso' who could make white people sing Zulu words, without knowing what they mean.
For me, Johnny personifies the word “Ubuntu”.