Johnny Clegg: musician and white Zulu.
Once there was an African Lovesong
Helped us on our way
Made our hearts feel as strong
As the African day
Johnathan Clegg was born in Rochdale, England on 7 June 1953. He was taken as a child with his journalist father and his cabaret jazz-singer mother first to his mother’s country, Rhodesia and then arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa. 1
The mid sixties were the height of Apartheid, and Johannesburg was a prosperous city for some. The wealth was built on the gold deep underground, and on the migrant labourers who mined it.
Johnny began to play the guitar at age 14 and showed a complete disregard for the boundaries of his society by befriending Charlie Mzila, a Zulu guitar picker on a Johannesburg street corner. He learned Zulu, and Zulu music and dancing. He also got arrested for breaking the Group Areas Act.
“When I was 15 (circa 1968), I was arrested for being inside a black hostel 2 and instead of taking me to the Charge Office, the police took me to my mother." The hostel was filled with migrant workers without official work permits. (If you're black, you can't work without a permit, but you can't get a permit without a job.) In the eyes of the police it was a hotbed of stolen goods, drug running, gun running and bootleggers. The police told Clegg his adventures were a danger to his own life. He didn't see it that way.
"I explained to my mother that there was a great deal of fighting, but that it didn't enter into the context of the dance. The fighting happened before or after the dancing, but never during. My mother was worried and we had quite a few arguments about it, but since she was a jazz singer she understood my intuitive love for the music."
- Johnny Clegg
, Johnny met Sipho Mchunu
, a self-taught musician and migrant worker. They were both teenagers3
We are scatterlings of Africa
Each uprooted one
In their hearts a burning hunger
beneath the copper sun
Johnny went to university, gaining a BA honours in Social Anthropology. After that he lectured at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Natal for four years. Sipho is said to be illiterate.
For Johnny to give that up to play music in a group that could not legally play at either white venues or black ones is a fairly radical action. The Group areas act allowed them to play only at Church halls and Universities. And this was music that was hard to explain even to the locals - it was "too white for the blacks, too black for the whites." These days it is placed into the category of World Music, which is a catch-all category of last-resort.
“Johnny and Sipho" became an unusual duo in the folk music underground in the mid-1970s. They launched their groundbreaking group Juluka (Zulu for "Sweat"), a Zulu-folk-rock band, in 1979 with the debut album Universal Men. But they became so popular that apartheid authorities felt obliged to shut off the power at Juluka concerts and to ban their songs from radio play.
"Juluka was Sipho and me," he said. "Our band members changed all the time. We went through, like, eight drummers and five bass players. They couldn't understand what it was we were trying to do." Juluka's problem was twofold. "We had an outward battle with the media, with the radio, with the TV, with the government. There was an inward battle with the band members." For Clegg and Mchunu, mixing musical cultures seemed perfectly logical. "We had very strong ideas about what we wanted to do."
Their first breakthrough was a light kwela
song about the weekend payday called Woza Friday
. The group Juluka
meaning sweat, named after Sipho's favourite bull, followed.
A first album, Universal Men was released in 1979. Johnny and Sipho look out resolutely from under a pale blue sky, dressed in a casual, almost hippie, beaded style that would later be called "ethnic".
But the public had not caught up with them yet. Universal Men sold only 4000 copies. It was not until 1982's national breakthrough with African Litany and 1984's international breakthrough with Scatterlings that they would become hot property, and the re-release of Universal Men would go gold.
What can I know?
What can I dream?
What can I hope?
What will the future bring?
You shine through me, but will you see me through?
African sky blue
Juluka's popularity from 1984 meant that they became in one observer's words 'The state’s worst cultural nightmare' by refusing to fit existing categories, by creating something new and vibrant by fusing them.
As a lyrical poet, Johny Clegg is not particularly original. His strength is in using familiar images to help us empathise with a foreign experience. It is "a remarkably perceptive engagement with their time and place that made it timeless".
The warrior's now a worker
And his war is Underground
With Cordite in the darkness
He milks the bleeding veins of gold
When the smoking rockface murmurs he always thinks of you
African Sky Blue, will you see me through?
According to one source he was first married in 1980 and divorced two years later. On February 14, 1988 he married Jenny (a professional designer). In September of that year they were married again in a traditional Zulu ceremony. They have two children, Jesse (b.1988) and Jaron (b.1995).
Juluka broke up around 1986. It was by all accounts an amicable split. Johnny remained friends with Sipho. Sipho returned to a traditional rural lifestyle, a rich man with many cattle, wives and children.
Johnny formed Savuka, meaning "we have risen" or "we have awakened". The sound was more pop-oriented, had more synth, and thus has sadly dated faster than Juluka. A monthy later the national State of Emergency was declared, as the Apartheid state fought with it's back to the wall. The Savuka sound has less room to be free, submerged as it is in the political repression, chaos and violence of the late 80s and early 90s.
The Savuka lineup was
Johnny Clegg Lead vocals, Guitars,Concertina, Mouth Bow, Jaw Harp.
Steve Mavuso Keyboards, Backing Vocals.
Derek de Beer Drums, Percussion , Backing Vocals.
Keith Hutchinson Keyboards, Saxophone, Flute, Backing Vocals.
Dudu Zulu Live Percussion and Dancing, Backing Vocals. (Dudu Zulu was killed by crossfire)
Solly Letwaba Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals.
Mandisa Dlanga Additional Backing Vocals.
I saw Savuka in 1987 – in a hall in the (leftist-aligned) University of Cape Town, a venue that they could use. I was in my final year of school.
Don’t think that this music is sad and self-important just because it’s meaningful. This is not Billy Bragg, this is an infectious African groove. The band played a lot of the Juluka back catalogue, and some of Savuka’s new songs. It was an energetic, electric concert.
Johnny explained a song called Siyayilanda. "tomorrow doesn't come." he said. "You have to fetch it.".
Asimbonanga, (which I had on a TDK tape, but you couldn’t hear on the radio because it basically listed Mandela and other political prisoners and called for their release) was sublime.
I can speak a litle bit of English
I am the seed that has survived
I am the fire that has been woken
I am a third world child.
Savuka broke up in 1993
. In 1996
Johnny and Sipho, as Juluka, recorded Ya Vuka Inkunzi
, which was re-released as Crocodile Love
Here is a partial Discography (leaving out most of the compilations and best-ofs):
Juluka: Universal Men 1979 (reissued 1984) Rhythm Safari
Unkosibomvu - The Red King
Inkunzi Ayihlabi Ngokumisa
Juluka: African Litany 1982 Rhythm Safari
African Sky Blue
Heart of the Dancer
Juluka: Ubuhle Bemvelo 1982 Rhythm Safari
Juluka: Musa Ukungilandela 1984 Rhythm Safari
Izinhlobo Nezinhlobo Zabantu
Trouble Musa Ukungilandela
Juluka: Scatterlings 1984 Warner
Scatterlings of Africa
Spirit is the Journey
Digging for Some Words
Shake My Way
Two Humans on the Run
Juluka: The Best of Juluka 1991(1979-1984) Rhythm Safari
Scattterings of Africa
Unkosibomvu - The Red King
December African Rain
African Sky Blue
Scatterings of Juluka (Mega Mix)
Savuka: Third World Child 1987 EMI
Are You Ready?
Scatterlings of Africa
Ring on Her Finger
Third World Child
Don't Walk Away
Savuka: Shadow Man 1988 Capitol
Talk to the People
Too Early for the Sky
I Call Your Name
Take My Heart Away
African Shadow Man
Dance Across the Centuries
Joey Don't Do It
Savuka: Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World 1990 Capitol
One (Hu)Man One Vote
Cruel Crazy Beautiful World
Dela (I Know Why the Dog Howls at the Moon)
It's an Illusion
Woman Be My Country
Warsaw 1943 (I Never Betrayed the Revolution)
Savuka: Heat, Dust & Dreams 1993 Capitol
The Crossing - Osiyeza
I Can Never Be (What You Want Me to Be)
When the System Has Fallen
Inevitable Consequence of Progress
In My African Dream
Emotional Allegiance (Stand By Me)
Foreign Nights (Working Dog in Babylon)
Your Time Will Come
Juluka: Crocodile Love / Ya Vuka Inkunzi 1997
Love is just a dream (tatazela)
My big lady (studla sami)
Isoka lizo kuthatha
Journey's end (emalonjeni)
Circle of light
Crocodile love (remix)
Crocodile love (extended remix)
Laduma (SA world cup anthem)
We are scatterlings of Africa
On a journey to the stars
Far below we leave forever
dreams of what we were
and other sites found via Google
and my misspent youth
1) one source puts this move at age 12, circa 1965
, another puts it at age 9, in 1962
2) men-only accommodation for mine workers. The laws of the time meant that the miners would not be permanent residents of Johannesburg – they would have a home to which they would return once of twice per year, and would live 'temporarily' in the hostel the rest of the time. For the human side to this story see much of Juluka’s music.
3) one source says they were both 17. Another says that Johnny as 16 and Sipho 18.
My apologies for the number of quotes in this write-up, but Johnny tells his own story very eloquently.