Friday, February 13, 2015

The Scatterlings of Africa..........Johnny Clegg and Juluka

 1993 L-R: Derek De Beer, Mandisa Dlanga, Solly Letwamba, Johnny Clegg, Steve Mavuso, Keith Hutchinson

Here's an artist hero not well known in the U.S.  Johnny Clegg is one of South Africa’s most celebrated sons. He is a singer, a songwriter, a dancer, anthropologist and a musical activist whose infectious crossover music has  broken through all the barriers in his own country. In France he is fondly called Le Zulu Blanc – the white Zulu.  I still cannot listen to  Johnny Clegg and Juluka  without finding myself dancing around the living room, remembering my African dance moves, and  feeling the vivid, imagined  landscapes of South Africa as I move.  Johnny

In 1969, Clegg formed the first prominent racially mixed South African band, Juluka, with  Zulu musician Sipho Mchunu. The name Juluka is based on the Zulu word for "sweat". Because it was illegal for racially mixed bands to perform in South Africa during the apartheid era, their first album Universal Men  received no air play on the state owned SABC, but it became a word-of-mouth hit.  Juluka's / Clegg's music was both implicitly and explicitly political; not only was the fact of the success of the band (which openly celebrated African culture in a bi-racial band) a thorn in the flesh of a political system based on racial separation, the band also produced some explicitly political songs. For example,  the later Savuka album Third World Child in 1987, with songs like "Asimbonanga" ("We haven't seen him"), which called for the release of Nelson Mandela, and which called out the names of three representative martyrs of the South African liberation struggle – Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge, and Neil Aggett.

As a result, Clegg and other band members were arrested several times and concerts routinely broken up.  Juluka were able to tour in Europe, and had two platinum and five gold albums, becoming an international success.


Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Wow. This guy is amazing.

Andrew Evans said...

Great article - thank you.