I WANT to make South Africa proud, says Athlone-born musician Jonathan Butler who still considers himself proudly South African, even though home is now across the ocean in the US.
Butler was grabbing a quick breakfast at the Cape Town International Airport on Wednesday before leaving the country of his birth to fly home to New Orleans – but not before receiving a certificate of excellence for his contribution to the arts in South Africa.
Awarded by Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa, it recognises Butler’s outstanding contribution to the arts and culture sector.
“To receive an award like this means a lot,” Butler said. “It means I’m still in the hearts and minds of people in South Africa, which is my home.”
The singer, songwriter and guitar player grew up in Athlone during apartheid, which shaped his early musical career.
From his first hit single (a Burt Bacharach song called Please Stay) – which was the first single by a black artist to be played on white radio stations – to the iconic album 7th Avenue, Butler has become one of Cape Town’s most celebrated jazz and R&B artists.
Returning to his home town to visit family over the festive season, Butler said the transformation in Cape Town astonished him.
“The modernisation, culture, food and expansion, I think it’s amazing what’s happening,” he said. “Cape Town has evolved so much. There’s development everywhere. It’s like I’m in San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago.”
Butler said that the children of the great musicians he grew up with were now adding to the city’s unique tune.
“Every city has it’s own energy and flavour, and I think Cape Town is very rich and talented in music.”
Butler said he longed to see more of the same happening in the music scene in Cape Town, and the time was ripe to have a hand in making it happen.
“I want to see more, I want to hear more, I want to be more involved,” he said. “Even though I live in the US and my office is there, I feel it’s time for me to come home and do my part.”
Two years ago he launched the Jonathan Butler Foundation, which runs programmes to give disadvantaged children hope and purpose through the arts – especially through music.
The foundation has focused on projects in Gauteng, but Butler has scheduled his next trip to South Africa in a few months to launch the foundation in Cape Town.
“We got started two years ago and there are already great success stories coming out,” he said. “It’s in line with our vision of preserving culture and preserving a legacy for our kids.
“This is what the Jonathan Butler Foundation is all about – arts and culture, and helping kids realise their dreams, giving them an opportunity for success.”