“We’re having more fun now than I ever had and I joined in 1985,” Mango Groove’s Claire Johnston tells me as we chat during our one-on-one.
In an interview with Tonight, the cheerful singer is delighted as she discusses the South African band’s first performance in more than 20 years at London’s Hammersmith Eventim Apollo. As Johnston reminisces about their thrilling journey thus far, she also says that she’s never felt as alive as she does right now.
The multi-cultural group are heading to London to celebrate the launch of Africa’s first global conservation NGO, the Wilderness Foundation Global, which takes place on Saturday.
So how did this concept come about?
According to Johnston, she performed solo at the Apollo in London last year which generated enormous public demand for a full Mango Groove concert at the venue. Having last played there as a band in the early ’90s, Johnston says it’s exciting to be going back: “What’s nice about the venue is it’s re-done now and I was lucky enough to have performed there last year. I saw how beautiful it’s become. It’s stunning, just a legendary venue. It’s had an amazing face-lift and been restored to perfection. “
Johnston describes what the atmosphere was like when Mango played there all those years ago: “It was pre-democracy. We had the ANC, the nationalist government, South African Communist Party and South African flags waving around so it was a very South African experience and there were Brits as well. So this time, it’s very different with 21 years into democracy, it’s a very different feeling and I’m sure there will be a lot of homesick South Africans living in London who are going to be present.”
Having been around for more than three decades, I ask Johnston if they still have a huge fan base there and back home: “When the first album was out in 1989 and when it did so well, we were so shocked. We were very much on the front cover of magazines and everyone was interested in us. And now we’re the elders in the South African music industry and at a different phase in our career. So it would appear that we still have our fan base. It’s sort of young and old. It’s so thrilling that at Oppi Koppi, people go nuts when we walk on stage and that’s the power of music. It never really goes away,” she shares.
Shedding light on Matthew Mole as their supporting act, Johnston reveals how it came about: “We’ve seen him perform live a couple times and we’re a huge fan and what a nice way of bringing over South African artists that we’re proud off. He’s current and fresh so it made sense to have someone we like.”
Being such an iconic voice in our music industry, what has she taken from it all?
“You’ve got to be very strong and have enormous faith in yourself. You have to have a thick skin and protect yourself by not being wounded by rejection. When we started out as a black and white mixed band, that was not common. When I joined, I was 17 and Mikey Vilakazi was 64 and that’s the beauty of music. It unites people, doesn’t matter about age. You have to have a thick skin and express yourself.”
ABOUT MANGO GROOVE
• Known as one of the most popular South African groups with a mixed race of band members during the apartheid era, Mango Groove captured the hearts of millions and have continued to maintain that fan base over the years.
• With a unique blend of South African marabi, kwela, big band swing and pop influences, Mango Groove were a shining light of hope for many during the 1980s and 1990s and have grown to become one of South Africa’s most loved and significant bands in the music industry.
• According to Mango Groove’s official website, the band have sold more than a million albums with about 12 No 1 hits in South Africa, holding the title of being the only band in our history with an album that remained on a sales chart longer than a year.
• Having gained many accolades over the years, Mango Groove are also known to be the only South African group to sell out the Sun City Superbowl and Standard Bank Arena six times.
• With performances across the globe from the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in London to the Rock Against Racism concert
in Paris, the band were also the only African group invited to perform at the 1997 Celebrate Hong Kong Reunification concert.
• Being a band reflecting the rich South African heritage, Mango Groove are one of those groups that, 30 years later, are still regarded as legends in the music industry for uniting people of different ages and races.