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The Johnny Clegg Tribute Concert is tonight, 31 July 2020. Photo: Marguerite Coetzee

The Importance of Ending on the Off-Beat is the title of a paper written by Johnny Clegg in 1982 for an Anthropology Symposium at Rhodes University.

“Deeper social values have found their way into the dance and contributed to this constant drive for a ‘better ending’.”

It’s Johnny Clegg’s final tour. The Final Journey. Guest artist Tailor’s hauntingly beautiful voice seems distant. There’s an awkward tension in the air. The audience is here to dance and sing and reminisce the night away… as they have done numerous times before.

But this time is different. The power and passion with which Tailor sings cuts through our daydreams and distractions. This is it – the last time Johnny Clegg will conjure up that feeling of the sun inside the rain; that feeling of nostalgia in a cruel, crazy, beautiful world. Only, now it seems all the more cruel and crazy with one less beautiful escape.

Johnny Clegg is many things to many people. He is a father, shadow man, a musician, universal man, an anthropologist, scatterling of Africa, a storyteller, jongosi, and a performer.

All of these identities and roles were intertwined into his performance at Cape Town’s Grand West Casino – on 30 June and 1 July – that kicked off his Final Journey world tour. It marks the beginning of a ‘better ending’.

“The dance has become a representation of the conflict inherent between the individual and the group. The dance has two broad parameters – team dancing and competitive individual expression.”

From a young age Johnny danced and sang the songs that taste of freedom. And now, having led us, his Final Journey signals a change in rhythm and melody. The double message communicated through the type of Zulu dancing Johnny participates in – which he explains as either delivering a blow or being attacked – is symbolic of how we experienced his final shows in Cape Town.

We were there to celebrate his life, his achievements, his work – him. But there was a solemn undertone. The weight he carries was shifted from his shoulders onto our own. And in those moments of connecting with the past through his music and stories, we saw our own reflections.

“The final beat is ambushed unexpectedly and the onlookers are happy with this unanticipated ending. The off-beat has become the most dramatic way a dancer can end his performance, and at the same time – using surprise and other ruses – set himself up for a heroic and aesthetically challenging ending.”

Rather than framing the event in my own narrative, below are images from the Cape Town shows set to the lyrics of December African Rain; a fitting song that reminds us to reminisce with fondness.

Johnny Clegg is ending his performing career on an off-beat; this is goodbye to an era, but his legacy lives on. He has left his mark and expressed himself in a unique way, he has been innovative in the interpretations of his experiences, and he has connected very strongly with the values he immersed himself in. For that, we are eternally grateful.

“The off-beat becomes the supreme moment of unexpected termination of the dance with a heroic and dramatic fall.”

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