If anyone were witness to this statement it would be Claire Johnston from Mango Groove. Her music is uplifting and fun, and her personality is similarly attractive. There have been lots of articles over the years that support this statement, but many don’t fully understand the description until they make contact with the singer.
After 25 years in the music business – not exactly the kindest industry – Johnston still walks around with a smile on her face. Chatting to her is like chatting to an old friend.
“Oh I’ve seen it all,” she says.
“Wasted my time on such banal things. Can you imagine I spent five days writing up a list of my top 20 songs for an interview in the Eighties, as if it was so significant. Who cares? It’s just music.”
Being part of one of only two high-profile multiracial bands at the time (the other was Juluka), it’s no wonder she developed this attitude. One can almost imagine her saying, “Who cares? It’s just people.”
Opposing the racial ideologies of apartheid at the time, Mango Groove went on to become local greats, integrating the sounds of marabi and kwela. They have sold over a million albums in South Africa alone, had 12 number one hits and won every conceivable award on offer in the country. Still, Johnston remains modest.
“You cannot let these things go to your head. I’ve been lucky. I’ve always kept my private life private and my fans respect that. They give me the space to be myself, to learn and grow, without honing in on my mistakes. Thank goodness I missed the social media movement, I don’t think I’d be able to put all that personal information out there for the world to see,” she says.
While best known as the voice of Mango Groove, Johnston has also enjoyed a career as a solo artist, which reinforced her status as a South African icon. After a long hiatus, Mango Groove returned in 2009 with a new burst of energy.
“We never broke up,” says Johnston.
“We experienced a creative lull. It happens to everyone; and I really learned a lot about myself during that time. I joined Mango Groove at such a young age, I needed to go out on my own and explore other desires that Mango Groove couldn’t meet.”
Johnston admits that life is a learning journey and one can never know everything.
“I’m still learning,” she says.
“The way I do things now is very different to how I would have done it two years ago. What’s great about the Mango family is that we’ve always brought in new people. There’s a strong mixture of ages and no one knows better than the other. We all have things to teach each other and the younger ones always keep me on my toes. Mango taught me how to live, to stop taking things so seriously and have fun.”
Mango Groove will be perfoming with UB40 this weekend, a dream come true for Johnston.
“I have always been a huge fan of UB40,” she says.
“You know as a youngster when you scribble band names all over your school satchel? Well, UB40 was on mine.”