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Jonathan Butler Sings the Songs of Bacharach

South African Singer Jonathan Butler
Photo by Raj Naik

This writer had the opportunity to talk to South African singer/songwriter/producer, Jonathan Butler, who is presently touring his latest album CLOSE TO YOU which features the timeless music of composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David. Mr. Butler was in NY for a day before he moved on to Richmond, Va.

Butler grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, under the rigors of apartheid. “South Africa is a beautiful country. When God made Cape Town he did not repeat it. It is a vibrant place with generous and kind people. We tend to be an optimistic and happy people despite our journey and the obstacles we had to endure and in some instances continue to face. Despite the pains of the past, we are community driven. As a people we bond and are strong together. A nation that stands together can overcome a lot of things. Black South Africans, et al, shared a common goal to topple apartheid. We did it with our music, sports and arts and entertainment. We are resilient and have the ability to laugh at ourselves. We are a people who hope. Our children give us hope for a brighter future,” said the Grammy nominee.

As a 20-year old democracy, South Africa still has a-ways-to-go. There are economical challenges with Whites holding onto much of the country’s wealth. There is no level playing field for the Black population unless you are rich. There are still townships that are for colored only and black only, with whites living near the ocean and in the mountains while black people are relegated to the valley. Educational opportunities are limited. There is a need for equal education for all, jobs with higher pay and better affordable housing for non-whites. “As long as shanties and townships exist inequality will remain,” explained the songwriter. “Americans know primarily about Desmond Tutu and the Mandelas but there are others who go unrecognized even by our political parties. Men like Allan Boesak and Trevor Manuel who fight the good fight for the country. There is still much corruption and corrupt leaders. However, Boesak and Manuel are not among them. They are from the people and fight for the rights of the people. So, we are hopeful things will get better in time,” said Butler about the changes made and challenges ahead.

Butler is the youngest child within a musical family. It was music that took him out of the shanties of Cape Town. He began singing at age 7 and at 12-years-old won a Best New Artist Grammy in South Africa. He became the first Black artist to be played on White South African radio which earned him 3 gold records. “I Love How You Love Me,” went gold and “Please Stay” went double gold. “I later signed with Jive Records in London and my family and I lived there for some time. We loved London. During his sojourn in London, Jonathan received Grammy nominations for Best R&B Song for his R&B-pop vocal hit “Lies” and for Best Instrumental Jazz Song “Going Home.” He received much attention for his contributions in pop, urban, contemporary gospel and jazz. It was only when he moved to America that Butler and his family experienced racism. Although Butler has lived in LA for 25 years, he has not forgotten his homeland. He started the Jonathan Butler Foundation to fund music education to give South African children incentive to overcome a life of drugs and poverty. The program aids children ages 4-17.

Butler feels renewed these days, inspired by his new wife, Nadira, whom he married in January of this year. “Nadira is a violinist who played on my new album “Close To You.” I felt drawn to the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David because their music was like love letters to the world. Their music and lyrics are classic so instead of putting an album out of my originals, I went with their time-honored and endearing songs adding my own African flavor. I am happy now. Nadira has improved my life; our home is peaceful, we perform together on occasion and travel together. Although Nadira is busy with the projects in her life like “The Voice” and “American Idol.” My 2 daughters are grown and have forged successful lives,” remarked the contended singer who has found a balance in life.

“I think music heals. Sometimes I think of my music as my weapon for change. America is having challenges right now and often God uses the foolish to confound the wise. Perhaps it is time America examined itself, looked at the layers underneath that breed hatred. Given the current political environment it is seriously time for Americans to come to grips with what is ailing America. Everything is on the surface now, the hatred and violence is being viewed by the world. South Africans are always optimistic and hopeful and perhaps Americans can learn from Africa in having chosen a peaceful transition after overcoming Apartheid. I still believe in love… there’s hope.”

“Close To You” can be found on Amazon and local record stores near you.

About the Author

Journalist and radio host, Deardra Shuler, has a background in publishing, theatre, concert promotion, producing and was the former PR chairman of FESPACO, an African film festival in Burkino Faso. She reviews books, plays, theater and movies. Her short story was published by Penquin Books in Aurielle Ford's book "Mystical Souvenirs." Deardra has her own blog under Writblog and writes for several African American publications in New York. She has a column and radio show in Sweden entitled Music Pastures. Her show Topically Yours is on the Blakeradio Network, Rainbow Soul. She also produces and facilitates other radio programs that she has brought to the BlakeRadio network.

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