At the start of 2020, DHL Stormers head coach John Dobson floated a passing thought: “Imagine if we could…”
That passing remark was picked up by team media and PR consultant Duncan Cruickshank, who decided to run with the impulse, and within days and after a number of phone calls to some of the most preeminent players within the South African music industry – along with Cape Town’s Academy of Sound Engineering – all were onboard, pro bono, to capture and celebrate the late, great Johnny Clegg’s seminal song The Crossing ‘Osiyeza’.
What started out as an almost lost afterthought immediately took on a life of its own; and before anyone could quite blink, respected musician and vocal coach RJ Benjamin was on a plane in mid-February, en route to Cape Town from Joburg, to audition the entire DHL Stormers squad for what has become a classic reinterpretation of a quintessential anthem.
With the finest of the DHL Stormers voices selected, the next step was to marry each of the selected players with a professional musician to complement the four-minute-long, goose-bumps-inducing chorus.
A good few more phone calls later, informed by Music Exchange (MEX) founder Martin Myers, and dates were quickly and seamlessly confirmed for the first week of March, where RJ Benjamin (singer/songwriter and vocal coach on Idols and Voice SA), Heinrich Frans (lead and backing singer for the likes of Josh Groban, Jonathan Butler and Diana Ross), James Stewart (Emmy-nominated composer and lead singer of the 90s group The Usual), along with 12 Stormers players, joined Francois van Coke, Zolani (Freshly Ground), Paxton (2017 Idols winner), Amy Tjasink (2019 The Voice SA finalist), Amy Jones (singer/songwriter), Chantal Stanfield (Getroud met Rugby), Chad Saaiman (singer/songwriter), Josh Hawks (bass player), Dan Shout (saxophonist), Mornay Hofmeester (drummer) and comedian and actor Marc Lottering.
Each sang two lines each from Osiyeza’s verses. Dan Shout, Johnny Clegg’s saxophonist for seven years, also added critical soprano sax parts to the final mix. Apart from RJ Benjamin, all the above are Capetonians. RJ, along with Peter Pearlson, produced the recording.
From Monday 3 March, through Thursday 6 March 2020, two very unlikely disciplines and groupings found immediate common ground in a song that’s original intention of celebrating solidarity was amplified in a way that no-one present could ever have thought possible.
As we navigate our new reality, which did not inform or motivate this recording, its overriding sentiment could not be more important than right now, its literal translation reading as: “We will cross over this dark time”.
“The melody and the vibe of the song has a moving South African essence to it,” explains Marc Lottering. “An essence that gets to your heart. A spirit that reminds us that we are one nation. I feel that that’s part of Johnny Clegg’s legacy.”
James Stewart concurs in saying, “This song is a sobering reminder to us all that we’re typically at our best when our backs are to the wall.”
“’Osiyeza’ has always been anthemic in the South African context, and to have been involved in the creation of this particular version was both uplifting and humbling,” Peter Pearlson asserts.
“I hope we can inspire hope for a nation that is, even before the lockdown, in crisis,” says RJ Benjamin. “The money raised will positively affect change to the impoverished and economically challenged across the country. I believe the power of this song, as time marches, will galvanise and inspire all South Africans, young and old.”
As to the motivation for the talent invited to participate, Amy Jones is quick to point out that she took the call because she wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than herself. “I strongly believe people are better together,” she confirms. “This song and video are such a perfect example of that.”
“I was so encouraged by coach Dobson’s willingness to embrace diversity,” recalls Heinrich Frans. “His ethos is one that transcends rugby because he believes in the power of unity. His sense of humanity should be an inspiration to us all.”
Chad Saaiman’s outtake from being a part of the beautiful alchemy created is no less telling. “My wish for anyone who watches the video is that they try and understand that we all have challenges and obstacles to overcome; and push to have a greater empathy for those who are less fortunate. That we all try and use what we have at our disposal to help each other just a little bit more.”
For Dan Shout, who walked a long road with the late, great musical orator, his leave behind is profound and powerful. “For me, the song is extremely apt, in that although we are in a difficult period right now, we too shall make our crossing to the next part of our journey after a period of mourning.”
“We are deeply moved by The Stormers adopting The Crossing “Osiyeza” as their official song,” says Johnny Clegg family spokesperson and longtime manager, Roddy Quinn. “Their heart and their passion shine through in their performance and captures the message of the song in a very special way. Johnny always believed that sports, like music, has the unique capacity to connect people, regardless of boundaries or backgrounds. It inspires us to see each other’s humanity and to see us working together to achieve our common goals. This video is a beautiful celebration of the great qualities that make us proud to be South Africans; and we know that Johnny would be smiling down on us because of it.”
The Crossing ‘Osiyeza’ is a reminder to us all that together we’re strong, Paxton points out. “It is vital that we keep motivating and inspiring our people to stand together as one.”
The end result, thanks to the tireless commitment of each voluntary conscript is nothing shy of a humbling, endearing testament to not only what makes Cape Town, but South Africa great.
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