Who is Kahn?

Kahn Morbee is the lead vocalist and guitarist for the South African indie band, The Parlotones. He has also made a name for himself as a songwriter and solo artist. The artist from Johannesburg formed the Parlotones in 1998 along with his bandmates, Paul Hodgson, Glenn Hodgson and Neil Pauw. Both the Parlotones and Kahn have won international acclaim. Achievements include winning the south african music awards (Parlotones) and coaching other talents to win ‘The Voice South Africa’ (Kahn). The group teamed up with Shakira and Alicia Keys to open the 2010 FIFA world cup tournament.

The Crossing

Recently, Kahn undertook a charitable project along with other 50 other South African musicians, including his close friend Karen Zoid. The group of diverse musicians from multiple genres all had one thing in common: they were inspired by Johnny Clegg at some stage.

In honour of Johnny’s recent retirement, the group called ‘The friends of Johnny Clegg’ recorded a cover of Johnny’s song,  ‘The crossing’, which has made an emotional impact on the South African community. We got in touch with Kahn to discuss the philanthropic project that aims to improve education in South Africa.

Discussing the influence of Johnny Clegg on his music career, Kahn revealed that Johnny proved the ability of African artists to be successful on a global stage. He felt that there is a certain inferiority complex amongst African musicians; they feel they cannot match up to the success of artists from countries such as America. Johnny Clegg’s global recognition made massive strides in changing that. It made him believe it was possible to make a career out of music.

Inspiring love and tolerance

When asked about how he tried to inspire others through his own music, it was clear to see Kahn’s passion. He said he tried to tell the story of the human journey. “Music is about uniting people! It is about spreading the language of love and tolerance”. The collaboration of the artists on the recent single ‘The Crossing’ is a good example of this.

A small group of artists, including Kahn wanted to pay tribute to Johnny. Aside from his recent retirement, Johnny has also been battling cancer, and so they felt the single should have a charitable element. They got in touch with Johnny’s manager, and made the proposal, asking what cause Johnny would like to support. Johnny chose education, leading to a partnership with the click foundation, which aims to increase literacy and numeracy rates amongst small children in South Africa. So far, the single has raised R850,000 ($ 60,000). Johnny was ecstatic about this effort, which is enough to support about 4300 kids through the click foundation.

Kahn and I wrapped up our conversation with an exchange of political ideologies that I will not repeat here. However, he did clarify that he tried to keep his ideas on politics out of music. He reinstated that his music is about the human journey. He sees this medium as more of an escape from both the positives and negative of everyday living.

Changing the narrative

My last question was intended to bring the focus back to why we do what we do; ‘How do you think you are changing the African narrative?’ Kahn felt he makes the most impact through causes he supports outside of music. Although, through his music, he tries to use the platform he has been given to disseminate a positive message. He also felt that bands such as his advocate ‘the independence of music away from prescripted western influences’. In the future he may get more political, because one of his visions is to change the disappointment in how democracy has evolved, especially in the African countries.

The success of the Parlotones abroad says that people love to hear what they do. I loved my short conversation with Kahn, who came across as a genuine soul. Like all of us, he is trying to get the message in his heart across the best way possible. Personally, I am inspired by projects such as ‘The Friends of Johnny Clegg’, which embody collaboration for a greater cause. Find out more here, and watch the video below if you haven’t already, or even if you have!!