is the first album
, released in October 1979
on Rhythm Safari
Unkosibomvu - The Red King
Inkunzi Ayihlabi Ngokumisa
The cover art shows Johnny and Sipho dressed in sandals and beaded, somewhat hippieish clothes, staring resolutely into the distance against a sunbleached sky. The band name Juluka is imprinted onto a bar of gold.
The insert doesn't have any lyrics, just credits for the musicians, principally Johnny Clegg, Siphu Mchunu, Sipho Gumede, Gilbert Mathews, Merwyn Africa, Robbie Jansen, Paul Petersen, Colin Pratley and thanks to Hilton Rosenthal (the album's producer) "who made this album possible".
The lyrics to the title track by Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu go, in part:
I have undone this distance so many times before
That it seems as if this life of mine is trapped between two shores
As the little ones grow older on the station platform
I shall undo that distance just once more
I heared this again recently, and suddenly realised it's worth. I've travelled between London-Heathrow and Cape Town international airport eleven times now. I look the window at this foreign ancestral land.
Juluka's technique could be called cheesy, but it could disarm you with its honest simplicity.
Universal Men is a hymn to the working common man, the migrant labourers from all over Southern Africa who made Johannesburg into a great city, but were oficially denied permanent residence there.
Johnny Clegg explains:
Universal Men is about bridging two worlds. Going and coming. While the worker is on route, on a bus or a train, he is given the time to look over the distances, geographic and otherwise, in his life. Migrant labourers, in Africa, Europe, everywhere, are like universal joints. They are this incredible human resource who are just sucked up by the capitalist system and used anywhere. The system makes no concessions and so the workers have to create a whole new universe of meaning.
There was so much hardness in the migrant life and yet I experienced incredibly human moments with my buddies. They lived such a rich and full life with a highly developed sense of humour and understanding of human nature. For me there was something magical and mystical in this bleak life and I felt that I needed another language to capture it and to humanize the suffering.
Universal men was not initially a big hit - it sold 4000 copies when released. Two years later, Juluka's second record African Litany broke big, and Universal men was recognised and went gold.