One of the musicians my wife and I discovered we mutually liked when we first started going together was Johnny Clegg. On his album Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World there is a song, “Déla” which is a love song. The title is a Zulu word meaning “content” as in satisfied with life now that you are in it. Johnny Clegg’s music touched us as individuals and as a couple. One day, long before we were married and had kids, we thought it would be a beautiful girl’s name. Turns out, when we did have a daughter, we would name her Déla.
The last (and only time) we saw Johnny Clegg live was 1996. He doesn’t tour North America much, being from South Africa and his style of music isn’t necessarily the most popular here. When we learned he would be on tour, and performing in Seattle, my wife and I had no question as to whether or not we would attend the concert and bring our daughter.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo opened the evening, and I had forgotten how much I like the group. While their recorded music is good, it only serves as a platform for their live performances. The mixture of vocal harmonies and dancing is phenomenal, and they perform without any musical accompaniment. What I didn’t expect was how enraptured Xavier would be with the group.
I wish I had been able to get some better pictures of the group. If you have the chance, see them.
Then Johnny Clegg took the stage.
There was a spot to the side of the stage, sort of reserved for dancing out of the way of people. Déla immediately made her way there and poked her head up at the stage. Her eye level was at the stage, and she was transfixed with the music. She, along with all the other kids, grew up listening to Johnny Clegg’s music. Seeing and hearing him live is much different from hearing the CDs with mom and dad’s perpetual commentary. She stayed there pretty much the whole concert, regardless of which family members would join or leave her there.
As for his performance? It was great. He spoke about Zulu tribe and clan weddings, his past bandmates and more. His songs are more than just tunes, they are stories or extensions of stories and he provides context for them. And while his high kicks aren’t as high as they used to be, he still does a bit of Zulu dance as well during the set. He is still a very dynamic performer.
And yes, he performed “Déla.”
Actually, it was the closing number, essentially his encore. People were singing the chorus well after he had left the stage, trying to entice him back for more. Déla turned to me and remarked “They’re all chanting my name!” It was the first time she was aware that her name was more than just some song her parents liked, that it was music that resonated with people, and now it was beginning to resonate with her as well. She finally “got” why Johnny Clegg is special to her parents, and a taste of what her name means.
Then I got lucky. After everybody had begun to clear out, Andy Innes, the guitar player came back out on stage to pack up his equipment. I took that opportunity to act on what is admittedly one of the most selfish and perhaps odd goals in my life. Approaching the stage, I waited while Andy was talking with another person. When the time came, I introduced my daughter to him, and he understood what I was hoping to accomplish.
He took us backstage, had us wait a moment while he went in to ask Johnny Clegg if he would be amenable to meeting somebody. He was, and would be out momentarily. I was beside myself with anticipation. The drummer, Barry, also came by while we were waiting. There we were, the only two people backstage, talking with members of the band about Déla’s name.
Despite planning for this occurrence, I had nothing for him to sign, other than the set list I managed to get from Andy Innes, and nothing with which to sign – and I began looking around for somebody to ask if they had a pen. After about 5 seconds I gave it up. This wasn’t about getting his autograph. Thankfully I had the camera.
Johnny Clegg came out and Andy introduced me. I was then able to introduce my daughter, Déla, to Johnny Clegg. My daughter, who is named after one of his songs. This musician touched the lives of my wife and I in a significant way as evidenced in our daughter’s name, and I was finally getting the chance to tell him.
And I screwed up.
I introduced my daughter to him, he said “Like the song?” to her and she acknowledged that yes, indeed, she was named after the song. He remarked on her eyes, which, admittedly, are very striking. I asked if I could get a picture of the two of them and he obliged. Saying goodbye I thanked him, and he was off. It was less than a minute and a half.
That was it. There is so much more I wish I could have told Johnny Clegg, about how his music touched our lives, or the full story of how we decided to name our daughter after his song. I do wish I was able to get his autograph – for her. I wasn’t so much star struck, having been backstage a number of times and having met many of my musical heroes over the years. No, it was more a matter of wanting to get it right. I had this small window, and instead of being the jerk, I wanted to have the focus be more on Déla and him knowing, even in some small way that he has touched people in this way. I hope I was able to do that.
And my sincerest thanks to Andy Innes, without whom I would not have been able to get back stage. I should have had you sign the set list as well as Barry.