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‘God, please bring me back home,” has been South African-born Grammy nominee Jonathan Butler’s silent prayer over the years. And once again the God he holds so dear has answered.
Butler travels to Mzansi next week as part of his Grace and Mercy tour to promote his latest studio album. His visit, however, won’t be all fun and games. The singer-songwriter will be launching the Jonathan Butler Foundation (JBF), which he hopes will promote access to music and arts education for young people.
“Music got me out of poverty,” he says. “Through the arts and God I was able to create a better life for myself.”
The foundation will focus on helping to prevent kids falling into a life of substance abuse – something Butler is familiar with.
“I have acquired a wealth of knowledge through the course of my life,” he says. “I want to impart my experiences through the foundation and prevent young people from getting involved in drugs and alcohol.”
He wanted to create a foundation that would make a difference in his country of birth while he was alive.
“Most times a foundation or similar initiative is created once a person has passed on,” Butler says. “I want to be actively involved and make a difference while I still can.”
The Cape Town-born guitarist may have left South African shores many years ago, but his days in Athlone remain with him.
“I know gang life all too well,” he says.
“I lived through pangas, knives and axes being wielded like it was normal behaviour in places like Hanover and Manenberg. Those were difficult times.”
As a young boy trying to find his place in the world, Butler did not understand the poverty that plagued his and many other families in the community.
“If there is no vision, the people will perish,” he recites. “It takes only one person to stand up and try to break the vicious cycle that appears to have engulfed young people.”
His vision for South African youth is simple – education, motivation and inspiration.
“I want to teach young people how they too can become successful in their souls. I may be overseas, but deep inside is a man who knows and understands his country.”
If the loyal following of his South African fans is anything to go by, Butler, who now lives in Los Angeles, knows and understands more than just the issues facing his birth country – he knows what his people want.
“The new album is going to surprise a lot of people,” he shares.
The album is Butler’s personal testament to the grace and mercy he says have been showered on his family.
“My fans will get to experience the spiritual essence of me with this album. I let people in, in a way that I haven’t before.”
He describes the sound on his latest release, Grace and Mercy, as edgier, urban and raw; a drastic shift from the almost velvety smooth music we’ve come to associate with Butler.
“I wanted to develop a sound that is different, but which would still work for me. I wanted to try something new.”
• Butler performs at the Eersterus Civic Centre on September 24 and will round off the South African leg of his tour at the Rhema Auditorium in Randburg on Saturday, September 28. Ticket prices range from R100 to R500 a person.