In case you did not know, Leon John is a Zimbabwean-South African soul singer. Inspired by his Karanga and Xhosa roots, Leon’s music is enchantingly complemented by his evocative and resonant vocals.
His absolute adoration of Oliver Mtukudzi’s arrangements and storytelling abilities, the gutsy fearlessness with which Thandiswa Mazwai performs and the brave poetic cadences of Miriam Makeba, always remind and inspire him to remain truthful to those foundations in every note and phrase.
I recently had a chat to Leon John about a few things, this is what he had to say…
It is a rainy Thursday morning in Pretoria. I am sitting in my office, listening to your single “Pray for You”. It’s a beautiful and very deep song, what inspired the lyrics?
Songs always seem to follow me in the wake of tragedy and ‘Pray For You’ was no different. We wrote the song in the wake of losing my cousin to suicide the previous day. The writing session with Bubele Booi (the producer) had been planned for ages before then but when the day arrived, I couldn’t focus on anything else but his death.
It kept running circles in my mind, especially what his twin sister had said to me on the phone when I had spoken to her the day before. It struck me as so profoundly, moving, brave and so wise that in the middle of grief, so raw and so new that she had the clarity of mind to console me and tell me that we shouldn’t judge or place blame on our loss but rather pray for him instead. By pure coincidence, it happened that Bubele was also grieving life in his own way that day and from our mutual sorrow ‘Pray For You’ was born.
Songwriting has always been a form of catharsis for me, a way for me to air out my fears, anxieties and confront all the feelings I would otherwise try and run [away] from in daily life. It puts my emotions out in [the] open so there isn’t anywhere to hide from them and [I] have no choice but to confront them and ‘Pray For You’ did exactly that for me at that moment.
What has your life been like since the 2018 release of your EP, To be Continued?
Quite exciting! I have had opportunities to do things that I never thought I’d be able to do in such a short amount of time given that I only debuted in 2018 and that I’m a relatively small time independent artist. I’ve collaborated with some pretty great people and had the chance to perform on some pretty big stages and I’m just so grateful for all of the opportunities that have come my way since the EP.
People have been so kind and so receptive to the music. I receive multiple messages almost on a weekly basis from people telling me how much they’ve enjoyed the music and that means the most to me out of everything else. I am just really really really grateful.
What has been the standout moment(s) for Leon John, if you think back over the events of 2019?
Debuting in the top 20 on the iTunes Chart with my single ‘Somebody’ was definitely a standout moment this year. It was very surprising and quite humbling.
Any performances lined up in the next coming weeks?
Unfortunately not. I’ll be spending a lot of the festive season writing new songs and preparing for my projects in the New Year. But definitely within the first month or two of 2020 there will be some gigs and shows to look forward to.
What does 2020 have in store for you?
I never like to pre-empt or think too far ahead, preferring instead to be focussed in the moment but I definitely have a few aspirations for the coming year, primary of which is another EP project that I’ve tentatively already began tinkering with ideas for.
You can also expect a music video in the very near future which was a collaborative effort with a brilliant actor whose performance I’m very excited to share with everyone.
I’d like to thank Leon John for this interview and I wish him all of the best with his future endeavors.
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