Johnny Clegg

Musician, Now also offering Motivational Talk - Johannesburg
Johnny Clegg

 

Jonathan "Johnny" Clegg (born 7 June 1953) is a musician from South Africa, who has recorded and performed with his bands Juluka and Savuka. Sometimes called Le Zoulou Blanc ("The White Zulu"), he is an important figure in South African popular music history, with songs that mix Zulu with English lyrics, and African with various Western European (such as Celtic) music styles.

By combining African music structures with Celtic folk music and international rock sounds, Clegg - together with Juluka, Savuka and as a solo artist - pioneered a new and unique sound, establishing himself as South Africa's biggest musical export.

JOHNNY CLEGG, born in Rochdale, England in 1953 was raised in his mother's native land of Zimbabwe before immigrating to South Africa at the age of nine.

Equipped with his guitar, Johnny accompanied Mzila to all the migrant labour haunts - from hostels to rooftop shebeens. However, Johnny's involvement with black musicians often led to him being arrested for trespassing on government property and for contravening the Group Areas Act (an apartheid law forcing different races to keep to their own residential and recreational areas). In this difficult and complex political landscape, Johnny managed to navigate a path, which enabled him to enter the hidden world of the Zulu migrant labourers. These men lived in a number of huge barrack-like hostels around Johannesburg, serving Johannesburg's insatiable appetite for cheap black labour. During this period he developed a reputation as a competent Zulu guitarist in the MASIKANDE (from the Afrikaans Musikant) tradition.

By combining African music structures with Celtic folk music and international rock sounds, Clegg - together with Juluka, Savuka and as a solo artist - pioneered a new and unique sound, establishing himself as South Africa's biggest musical export.

Johnny Clegg

 

This reputation reached the ears of SIPHO MCHUNU, a migrant Zulu worker who had come up to Johannesburg in 1969 looking for work. Intrigued he challenged Johnny to a guitar competition, sparking off a friendship and musical partnership destined to alter the face of South African music. Sipho was born in Kranskop, Natal, in 1951. Although he had no musical training as a young boy, he had made himself a variety of musical instruments; his favourite being a three stringed guitar fashioned out of a paraffin tin. Soon he became extremely adept and well versed in Zulu street guitar music. He later also formed a traditional Zulu dance team and found a vast outlet for his creative energies. Sipho investigated this young white boy who danced and also played Zulu street music and looked him up at his apartment one day. A strong friendship developed out of this meeting as for the first time Johnny was playing with a street musician his own age. Johnny was sixteen and Sipho eighteen.

Together they worked, often subjected to racial abuse, threats of violence and police harassment. As places where they could perform were limited by the apartheid laws, they had to stick to the street and private venues such as church and university halls. When Johnny finished his schooling he went to University, graduating with a BA (Hons) in Social Anthropology and pursued an academic career for four years lecturing at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Natal.

In 1976 Johnny and Sipho secured a major recording deal and had their first hit sing entitled, Woza Friday. A period of development followed, during which Johnny worked on the concept of bringing together English lyrics and Western melodies with Zulu musical structures. The formation of JULUKA, meaning 'sweat' in Zulu, was in total contravention of the Cultural Segregation laws of the time, which emphasised the separation of language, race and culture. (Juluka was the name of Sipho's favourite bull, because like all migrants, Sipho practiced some cattle farming in the rural areas). Their music was subjected to censorship and banning and their only way to access an audience was through live touring. In late 1979 their first album Universal Men was released.

 

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