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Change the world


The Bill Withers classic, Lean on Me, now has a South African flavour after it was rearranged by Nelson Mandela University choir conductor Ulagh Williams as a virtual musical tribute to staff and students near and far.

Williams said the project had its inception in June, when the university’s international office approached her to do a tribute to the students who could not graduate because of the Covid-19 lockdown.

“Others had to return to their respective countries of origin, unable to return to South Africa,” she said.

Williams, who reworked the original song by using a telephone conversion concept and the phrase “call me”, said this happened spontaneously while parts of the lyrics were translated into isiXhosa.

The music video features many different hands holding cellphones as the video plays on the devices.

Putting the video together digitally was challenging, she said.

“Because we cannot be all together in one space, there is behind-the-scene production stuff going on that has to make it [the video] happen.”

Williams said the work to put the video together began in September and the finished product was now available — and the timing was perfect.

“It is exactly at a time when people are needing this,” she said.

“It is sort of a tribute to all the students and with what everyone has been through this year with all the hardships and the isolation.

“It is also a little pick-me-up and at the same time, a little reminder that everyone needs to do their bit.”

She said students and staff from various departments added their voices and messages of encouragement, either singing along with the choir or sending in their photos, inspired by the wider university #Itisinyourhands campaign.

One of the contributors, Linkside High School teacher Lucretia Sikwebu, said that during this difficult time it was important for people to know that they need not be alone.

“We have to be there for one another.

“I see it now because as a family we are experiencing the love and care of others.

“People are offering to do our shopping.

“A colleague downloaded movies on a USB so that we don’t get bored.

“These types of things make us realise that people are there to support us.

“We should just ask them.” Her colleague, Antonio Lawack, who is also part of the song, agrees.

“This disease [Covid-19] not only attacks the body but hearing of so many deaths of people close to us it also affects your psyche.

“That ’ s why Lean on Me is the perfect song in times of crisis because just the thought of having people to help gives you new hope.”

Another participant, Pearson High School music teacher Terry-Anne Jullies, said it was a great privilege to be part of the team chosen to send out a message of hope at a time when people relied so much on each other.

“It just made me realise once again that no man is an island and that we need each other now more than ever.”

The video can be viewed on YouTube

CALL ME: Yolanda Mngcongo (above) features in the Nelson Mandela University rendition of Bill Withers’ ‘Lean On Me’

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 8 December 2020 written by Roslyn Baatjies-Klaasen.

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