If you know South African music then you know the name Johnny Clegg. You will also know the music of Juluka and Savuka, the two bands that Johnny started and the two bands that put South African music on the map, both locally and abroad.
Johnny’s story is an extraordinary one. He grew up with his mom in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, but always had a love and fascination for African music. As an adolescent he could be found in the inner city, playing with, jamming and learning from local street artists. As he grew older he became especially interested in migrant Zulu song and dance and under the tutelage of Charlie Mzila, a flat cleaner, he learned the Zulu language, Zulu dance and Zulu culture.
At the age of 17 he met Sipho Mchunu and spent hours playing music with him. At the same time he went off to Wits University to study anthropology. He became a social anthropology lecturer by day and a musician by night. When he and Sipho were given the opportunity to record, Johnny thought it would be a ‘one off thing’ and asked Wits for a sabbatical. He took time off and Juluka was formed, made up of Johnny, Sipho and a six-member racially integrated band. This was unheard of in South Africa, at that time. South Africa was still an apartheid state.
Juluka shot to fame, the band played internationally, they had gold and platinum records and Clegg became a household name in South Africa. He also never went back to Wits, except for a cup of tea.
Le Zoulou Blanc
Johnny has been writing and performing since the late 1970s. Songs like African Sky Blue, December African Rain, Give me the Wonder and Asimbonanga were the sound track of our youth but are still the sound track of South Africa. Juluka became Savuka, Clegg became known in Europe as the White Zulu – Le Zoulou Blanc – and South Africa were proud to call him ‘their own.’ There isn’t a single South African who doesn’t know ‘We are the Scatterlings of Africa.’
Final Journey Tour
Today Johnny Clegg is 64 years old and still singing, writing and performing. He is currently in the middle of his ‘Final Journey Tour’ which is a celebration of his life, Juluka, Savuka and Zulu culture and storytelling. I was lucky to go last night and the show was a sold out success. Three more shows have been added in Johannesburg, 10-12 August, and you can via Computicket here.
Thereafter the show goes to London, Dubai, Canada and the USA, before coming back to SA. It’s a farewell tour, dynamic, vibrant, nostalgic, brilliant and well worth going to. And although it is a farewell tour, Clegg is still writing and recording new material. He’s got a ton of energy for 64 and still does that Zulu kicking and dancing in the most extraordinary way. See it if you can. And if you can’t, download a couple of his albums. You’ll be dancing, very very soon!