Leon John: Elegance in Simplicity

There are artistes who remind you that music is more than just the arrangement of notes and the stringing together of words to form lyrics. It involves digging deep into places of oneself and exposing that vulnerability to an audience with the hope that through your bravery, as an artiste, they might find inspiration.

Leon John is one such artiste who has found his voice through the medium of music and is using it to document his journey with emotional education whilst contributing to the rich musical archive left by great musicians such as Oliver Mtukudzi, Miriam Makeba, and Jabu Khanyile, to name a few.

The road to self-discovery is narrow and thorny. When undertaken earnestly, the journey exposes the good and the bad; the care; and the abuse; the delusion, and the truth. It can be a perilous journey because you have to lift the carpet that has covered the unspoken for an extended period of time, but it can also be a fruitful undertaking because an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing and better living.  From his debut EP To Be Continued to his debut album License to Feel, Leon John has been consistent in his quest to graciously bring raw emotions to the table with his gripping voice and intricate lyrics. Listening to John’s music catalogue is like flipping through the pages of a diary that vividly details events and experiences of bygone days that feel oddly familiar. From the onset it’s inviting because of natural curiosity but soon it becomes slightly uncomfortable as he uproots and unpacks repressed memories, dormant feelings, and undressed traumas; yet you find solace in the warmth and soulfulness of his delivery.

There comes a time where blaming the environment and your parents no longer fits the script because you have simply outgrown the privilege of putting the blame for your behaviour and shortcomings on someone else. When that time comes, taking inventory of your life is the ideal starting point to make sense of your behavioural patterns, ideologies, and understanding of the world. As children we were often encouraged to dream big and told we can be and do whatever we wish to if we work hard enough for it, but then we grow up and discover that sometimes our best isn’t good enough and there are more variables at play than just hope and hard work. Through his immaculate storytelling, the young musician takes us on his journey as he grapples with the transition into the reality of adulthood, love, societal norms, government failures that suffocate his childhood dreams.

Image by Paul Shiakallis

He speaks about the journey of reclaiming his right to feel, which in essence his right to be human in a society that conditions boy children to suppress emotion and yet expects gentlemen. There is something to be said about society’s stance to strip the boy child off his humanity by denouncing his emotions and in effect his humanity. How do we expect a person that has been denied their humanity to behave in a humane manner? There is no excuse for brutality, but it prone us to take a deep look at ourselves as individuals, nuclear families, extended families, and society at large. His voice vibrates and echoes in the depths of your heart and soul. You hear the earnestness of his story in his delivery, and the accompanying acoustic melodies will make you slow down and reflect.

We live in an age where there is ample information and very little understanding and so our relationships fall through the cracks of our ignorance and misunderstanding. Leon John is bridging the gap by being as simplistic in his lyricism as possible thus allowing everyone to understand his message. He is not only pointing out the ills of the world but he is also taking responsibility for his part in it and holding himself accountable for his contribution to the world, as we all should. This gifted artiste is exhibiting the power of words used in truth, a reminder that there is always room for honesty regardless of circumstance.

I have always insisted on not writing love songs because I don’t know anything about love, in the romantic sense anyway. I have also shied away from it because everyone talks about it and people make assumptions that some of my music is about romantic love and lovers and a love of it isn’t. It’s about other forms of love like friendships, and other forms of heartbreak that I have experienced in my life. But the older I grow and in the process of reclaiming my license to feel, I recognise that I needed to take both the good and bad and be accountable to myself about the things I’m afraid of, like romantic love. I am in my emotional education era where I am actively learning, unlearning, and relearning certain notions and ideas I have about life; re-parent myself as it were. Primary among these notions is teaching myself how to love and to be loved in return. And that’s how songs like Looking for You, At War, and Take You Meds have surfaced.

Leon John

Leon John is an important and necessary voice in the current climate of emotional education and in the quest of putting heart back into the human race. It is a reminder that althoughthe pain of the hurt is not enough to ignite regret in the wrongdoer; you still have the power to forgive and take charge of your own life. You are worthy of love, peace and joy. Times are not going to get any simpler, but you do have the tools to simplify every day, every hour, and every moment to your heart’s content so that when you look back on the life you’ve lived you can echo the words what a life this has been.