Johnny Clegg

Musician, Now also offering Motivational Talk - Johannesburg
Johnny Clegg

 

A 64-year-old Clegg (for a good deal of the show leaping about the stage like a Boy Band singer on Ritalin) had a particular urgency in his voice. He’s been sharing something very personal with us, and we know that the “final” part of the tour’s title holds a poignant truth. The man has pancreatic cancer, and yet he wants to say farewell to the fans who, as he told an interviewer recently, have “grown old” with him over the past four decades.

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

His formed a traditional Zulu dance team and found a vast outlet for his creative energies. Sipho who danced and investigated this young white boy who played Zulu street music and looked him up at his apartment one day. Out of this meeting as for the first time a strong friendship developed with Johnny as he was playing with a street musician his own age. Johnny sixteen and Sipho eighteen, both favoured having a three stringed guitar fashioned out of a paraffin tin, although he had no musical training as a young boy, he had made himself a variety of musical instruments. Soon he became extremely adept and well versed in Zulu street guitar music as his 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.

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.

Johnny Clegg

 

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

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. (Juluka was the name of Sipho's favourite bull, because like all migrants, Sipho practiced some cattle farming in the rural areas). 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. Their music was subjected to censorship and banning and their only way to access an audience was through live touring. Their first album Universal Men was released in late 1979.

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 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. Johnny equipped with his guitar accompanied Mzila to all the migrant labour haunts - from hostels to rooftop shebeens. However, his 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).

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

 

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