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, a vibrant blend of Western pop and African Zulu rhythms, has exploded onto the international scene and broken through all the barriers in his own country. In France, where he enjoys a massive following, he is fondly called Le Zulu Blanc – the white Zulu.
Born in Bacup, near Rochdale, England, in 1953, to an English father and Zimbabwean mother, he was brought up in his mother’s native land of Zimbabwe. She married a South African journalist and immigrated to South Africa when Johnny was seven years old. At the age of nine, he spent two years in Zambia with his parents who then returned to South Africa when he was 11 years old. Between his mother (a cabaret and jazz singer) and his step-father (a crime reporter) who took him into the townships at an early age, Johnny was exposed to a broader cultural perspective than that available to his peers.
Whilst lecturing Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Clegg worked on the concept of blending English lyrics and Western melodies with Zulu musical structures. This blend was recognised by a South African producer, Hilton Rosenthal, who became the champion of the project and drove it with passion and commitment. He signed up Johnny and Sipho Mchunu (his songwriting and performance partner at the time) to his independent label at a time when mixing music was effectively unprofitable because of the radio censorship of mixed music and mixed bands.
Hilton went on to produce all of Juluka’s albums as well as all of Savuka’s albums. He continues to promote all their work today as their publisher. Johnny and Sipho called their new band JULUKA which means “sweat” in Zulu. Their music was subjected to censorship and internal restrictions on the state-owned radio and their only way to access an audience was through touring. This brought them into conflict with Group Areas Act which enforced the geographical separation of race groups and their cultural facilities.
At this time they could only play in private venues as the law forbade mixed race performances in public venues and spaces. Testing the law, they played at universities, church halls, migrant labour hostels and even in the lounges of private houses. The battle ground of public versus private performances was often challenged by the security police who attempted to close these down whenever they could. Many shows were closed down but not enough to prevent the emergence of a substantial following of students and migrant workers.
2004 Medal of Honour – Consul General of the Province of L’Aisne
2010: Human (Johnny Clegg)
Last Updated ( Friday, 08 June 2012 09:51 )