Tag Archives: Johnny Clegg

Hail The White Zulu

Johnny Clegg

Contrary to popular opinion, Paul Simon was not the first musician to recognize the rich potential of fusing Western pop with Zulu tribal rhythms. An inquisitive young white South African musician literally and figuratively had his finger on the pulse years before the diminutive American married his quirky songs with township jive on what was to become his and one of the 1980s’ strongest-selling albums.

While still in his early teens, Johnny Clegg, who passed away on July 16, started exploring Zulu music on the streets of Johannesburg — defying the iniquitous and racist apartheid doctrine into the bargain — when the seminal Graceland album was nary a glint in Rhymin’ Simon’s eye.

Clegg went on to become a professor of anthropology and one of South Africa’s highest-selling and best-known international artists, with six million album sales to his credit. When I interviewed him for Australia’s Rhythms magazine back in 2012, the Grammy Award winner recalled with some clarity what initially attracted him to indigenous culture and what fascinated him in particular about Zulu music.

I was 14 and I was playing Celtic folk music and listening to folk-rock bands like Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull when I discovered street guitar music.” It was Clegg’s Eureka moment. “I was quite a shy kid, but I went up to a guy who was playing and asked if he’d teach me. I saw that the guitar had been Africanised, basically reconceptualized. There was no chords, just simple notes being played in a stream of sound. In some instances, the strings had been changed around, and I realised that this was a unique genre of guitar music and I wanted to play it.” So he began to look and learn.

What was originally fascination started to take the shape of a profession when he met Zulu musician Sipho Mchunu and they became Juluka, the first prominent racially mixed South African act. “We began as a duo,” Clegg related. “Later on I started bringing Celtic and other influences into the music and found a meeting point between Zulu street guitar music and Western music, and that was the birth of this crossover band.”

Clegg and Mchunu put out their first album in 1979, long before there was a category called world music and some half-dozen years before Graceland was launched to mainstream acclaim and worldwide sales. They recorded with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, again well before Paul Simon utilized that group’s exquisite Zulu harmonies on ‘Homeless’ and ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’. “I was fluent in Zulu by then and we were singing Zulu and English on the same songs. We were mixing languages, we were mixing rhythms, styles and composition. Western music has rules of composition; it’s very linear. Zulu music is very cyclical. It was a very interesting challenge to overcome as a songwriter; it was fascinating developing solutions.”

Johnny Clegg and Sipho MChunu

Flying in the face of apartheid posed a greater challenge. “Initially, we kept our day jobs; we couldn’t make a living as a mixed race band,” Clegg asserts. He later discovered a loophole in the law. “Apartheid was only applicable to public venues. We could play at private venues, so we performed in churches, peoples’ lounges, embassies, private schools and university halls. We discovered there were pockets of platforms that we could use. When we began to play in public, that’s when we started to get closed down. It was really a kind of balancing act between those. There weren’t enough security police to monitor what we were doing, so as long as you weren’t playing the main centres, you managed to get a bunch of shows in.”

Juluka records received what was known as ‘restricted access’. “They would strike a nail through the vinyl on certain tracks,” he remembers. “There were four levels of censorship on radio: sexual, religious, racial and cultural.”  Although their debut album, Universal Men, received little to no air play on state-owned radio, it became a word-of-mouth hit. Juluka were able to tour in Europe, where they earned international platinum and gold sales for albums such as 1982’s Scatterlings of Africa and 1984’s Stand Your Ground.

Scatterlings is the song that got me on to the world platform,” Clegg conceded. “It’s the song that launched my musical career actually because by the fourth album I was teaching anthropology at university. When that song became a hit, I said to the head of the department: ‘See ya — I’m off’. I left after it went to number one in France, Belgium and Switzerland. It’s a song that’s worked very hard for me. It’s given me openings in two different bands to secure music as a way of life.” ‘Scatterlings’ was also significant on another level. “The song’s sentiments are about Africa being the birthplace of all mankind and that from Africa humans scattered to the rest of the world. What it’s really saying is that everybody is significant, not just us. The first humans left Africa 170,000 years ago and populated the planet.”

Despite his high-standing overseas, Clegg received short shrift from the South African government. He was arrested several times, initially as a 15-year-old back in the late ‘60s for entering a black area without permission. “But I wasn’t political,” he insisted. “I was musical. Juluka wasn’t really a political band. We were a cultural activist band. You were dealing with a far more basic issue — the right to sing another man’s language, the right to share another man’s culture in a country that forced cultural segregation. It’s a very complex issue this. South Africa was racially and culturally segregated. The regime didn’t want blacks to unite, so there was a divide and rule policy at a cultural level. Mixing languages was taboo. We mixed languages and we mixed music and we mixed dance and we mixed all these things.”

Savuka, which Clegg formed after Juluka was disbanded in 1986 when Mchunu left, was the band that in Clegg’s words “became political, more outspoken and clearly articulated”. Following the release of Savuka’s hard-hitting debut album Third World Child in 1987, its leader and other band members were arrested several times. Savuka concerts were routinely broken up and some of Clegg’s songs, such as ‘Asimbonanga’, which called for the release of Nelson Mandela, were banned by the regime. [In later years, the singer got to share stages with Mandela during a series of AIDS Awareness concerts, something he lists among his most cherished memories].

For several weeks in the 1980s, Third World Child and the follow-up album, Shadow Man, dominated the French charts. The band was so successful that Michael Jackson allegedly had to cancel a show in Lyon because it clashed with a Johnny Clegg and Savuka gig. Amusingly, a newspaper headline in France read: ‘WHITE MAN SINGING BLACK MUSIC OUT SELLS BLACK MAN SINGING WHITE MUSIC’. Clegg was at a loss to explain his huge following in France, where he is known as Le Zoulou Blanc (The White Zulu) and where in 1991 he was awarded a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (Knight of Arts and Letters) by the French Government, other than to point out that the French are very open to music from other countries. “At that time on French radio you heard every kind of music imaginable. They are very culturally sophisticated and aware.”

2011 marked Clegg’s 30th anniversary as a professional musician and he celebrated the milestone in style. “I got Juluka and Savuka back together and all the people I could muster for three shows. We did a Johnny and Sipho duo set, then we did Juluka, then we did Savuka. The show in Capetown was brilliant.”

Clegg said his career had been something of a blur. “I toured between four and six months every year. In the early days, I did nine months touring for years and years.” He stopped performing in 1993. “I went through a personal crisis with my marriage; one of the issues we discovered was my extensive touring. I was spending too much time away from home and my wife gave me an ultimatum. We had an agreement that my touring would be limited.” While admitting that affected his profile and album sales at a time when the world spotlight moved away from South Africa, he took comfort from the fact that Juluka and Savuka were secure internationally. “I lived off the goodwill of those fans that followed me in the ‘80s.”

Close to 60 when I talked to him, Clegg senior said he kept fit for the energetic Zulu dancing that became an integral part of his live shows by doing plenty of cardiovascular work and weights and most importantly, he stressed, “stretching for suppleness”. While he didn’t lecture at university any more, he still utilised his academic expertise. “My shows are accompanied with explanations, anecdotes and stories about the songs, which people like to hear. It adds a bit of layering to the songs.” Clegg spoke with authority. In what was perhaps a veiled reference to Paul Simon, he said: “I come from inside the tradition. I play Zulu concertina. I play Zulu guitar. I play maskanda music, I grew up in the tradition. I’m not raiding some foreign cultural entity and then constructing something out of it, I’m writing from inside the tradition.”

Johnny Clegg, whose Zulu name (‘Madabe’) translates to ‘Big Ears’, told me his career had been a great journey. “The thing for me is having a dedicated group of fans over the years who’ve brought their kids to my shows. The key is to have people that want to grow with you as an artist. In the end, it’s about the connection with an audience and maintaining that connection.”


Pioneering South African Musician Johnny Clegg Dies at 66

Johnny Clegg

Johnny Clegg, a singer-songwriter and guitarist known for mixing Zulu music with Western influences, died on July 16, 2019 at his family home in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Clegg founded two highly influential interracial bands, Juluka with Sipho Mchunu and Savuka with Dudu Zulu.

Ms Beauty Dlulane, Chairperson of the the Portfolio Committee on Sports, Arts and Culture at the South African Parliament stated: “Not too many people would have taken the stance Johnny took at the height of racial divisions in the country. He identified with the popular struggle for the emancipation of black people and with the values of a free society.”

“He also made an immeasurable contribution in the arts. We will certainly miss ‘the white Zulu’. The committee wishes that his spirit will live long among many in society,” Ms Dlulane said.

Johnny Clegg

Johnny leaves deep foot prints in the hearts of every person that considers him/herself to be an African,” said Roddy Quin, Manager, friend and family spokesman. “He showed us what it was to assimilate to and embrace other cultures without losing your identity. An anthropologist that used his music to speak to every person. With his unique style of music he traversed cultural barriers like few others. In many of us he awakened awareness. “

For more information, read Johnny Clegg’s artist profile.

Johnny Clegg’s family asked that donations be made to Adopt a Future Foundation instead of sending or laying flowers.


Artist Profiles: Juluka


Juluka was a trailblazing band based in Johannesburg, South Africa, led by Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu. The band formed in the early 1970s and split in the mid 1980s when Johnny embarked on a new career with his own band, Savuka. Juluka reformed in 1996 and recorded a new album, Ya Vuka Inkunzi (Crocodile Love).

The band toured in 1998 to support this album. The songs are recorded in Zulu (indigenous South African language) and English. During the apartheid era in South Africa, Juluka and Savuka were instrumental in drawing international attention to the human rights injustices which were taking place at the time. The band was made up of some of the best live performance musicians in the South African music industry.


Universal Men (CBS, 1979)
African Litany (MINC, 1981)
Ubuhle Bemvelo (MINC, 1982)
Scatterlings (MINC, 1982)
Work For All (MINC, 1983)
Stand Your Ground (Warner Bros. Records, 1984)
Musa Ukungilandela (MINC, 1984)
Juluka Live (The Good Hope Concerts) MINC, 1986)
Crocodile Love (CNR Music, 1997)


Artist Profiles: Johnny Clegg

Johnny Clegg

Johnny Clegg, born in Rochdale, England in 1953 was raised in his mother’s native land of Zimbabwe before emigrating to South Africa at the age of nine.

At the age of 14, Johnny began to learn to play the guitar. Through his interest he met Charlie Mzila, a Zulu apartment cleaner who played street music near Clegg’s home. For two years Johnny learned the fundamentals of Zulu music and traditional Zulu Inhlangwini dancing with Charlie. He was 13 years old when he saw the dancers for the first time. Equipped with his guitar, Johnny accompanied Mzila to all the migrant labor locations, from hostels to rooftop shebeens.

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 laborers.

During this period, he developed a reputation as a competent Zulu guitarist in the Masikande (from the Afrikaans “Musikant”) tradition. 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.

Clegg co-founded Juluka with Sipho MChunu in the mid-1970s. 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 song titled, “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, as in total contravention of the cultural Segregation laws of the time, which emphasized the separation of language, race and culture. (Juluka was the name of Sipho’s favorite 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.

Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu

released their second album African Litany in early 1981. Although their work had been largely ignored by the South African Broadcasting corporation due to Juluka’s mixing of languages and African and Western music forms, African Litany became a major breakthrough album for the band through word of mouth and live performances.

Ubuhle Bemvelo was their immediate follow-up Album and was entirely in the Zulu language, but mixing Western and African styles of music.

In 1982 and 1983, Juluka toured the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany and Scandinavia. In 1983 they released Work for All and in late 1984 they released Musa Ukungilandela.

Juluka’s hits in South Africa included “Woza Friday,” “December African Rain,” “Scatterlings of Africa,” “African Sky Blue,” “Universal Men,” “Digging for Some Words,” “Impi,” “Kilimanjaro,” “iBhola Lethu,” “Afrika (Kukhala Bangcwele)” and scores of other great songs.

Juluka split in the mid-80’s and Johnny went on to form Savuka. Their hits included “Great Heart,” “Asimbonanga,” “Cruel Crazy Beautiful World,” “The Crossing,” “Third World Child,” “Shadow Man,” “Dela, Take My Heart Away,” “I Call Your Name” and more.

In 1987 – 1989, Johnny Clegg & Savuka became the largest selling non-French band in France, overtaking the likes of Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson.

In 1996 Johnny reunited with Sipho Mchunu, marking the birth of a new Juluka project. The first major show was at the Standard Bank Arena in Johannesburg. Billed as “The Full Story“, this show marked the rebirth of the new Juluka and after 18 months in studio the album Ya Vuka Inkunzi (Crocodile Love) was released.

Johnny Clegg worked on several film soundtracks, including Rain Man, Jock Of The Bushveld, Ferngully (with Thomas Dolby), The Power of One, George of the Jungle and many others. He also collaborated with several other well known artists on various projects such as Sting’s “Carnival” project for the Rainforest Foundation.

Johnny received the Ordre de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the French Government and was nominated for a Grammy in 1993 for the Heat, Dust and Dreams album.

Up until 1994, Johny Clegg recorded four albums, then withdrew from the rock scene little by little, as he came up against various nationalist movements that he was fighting against. Johnny and Sipho began looking at reforming Juluka. This came to fruition in 1996 when they went into the studio and they commenced recording Crocodile Love, released in 1997.

Crocodile Love is a broad crossover album, reflecting a broad variety of traditional and modern African styles current in South Africa today. Some of the songs are energetic combinations of traditional Zulu guitar styles put to contemporary rock rhythms. Traditional Zulu chants feature prominently on this Album and there is a blending of Zulu and English lyrics which Juluka is famous for.

Over the years Johnny Clegg accumulated a number of songs which could not be incorporated into other albums he was working on at the time. He has collected all of these songs which deal with life in the 21 st century. The songs deal with subjects like genetic engineering, the meeting point between humans and digital information culture, and survival in the new millennium for individuals.

This album, released in 2002, is called New World Survivor and a limited edition of 2000 personally autographed copies were sold off his web site JC.COM.

During this period Johnny began working with a number of AIDS awareness campaigns. He performed concerts on behalf of the Norwegian government in South Korea, Thailand and Cape Town, promoting safe sex and AIDS education

In November 2003 Johnny Clegg performed at the first 46664 Concert for the Nelson Mandela Aids foundation. He has performed for all the subsequent concerts both in South Africa and Norway (2004-2005).

In 2004 he performed in the 10 years of South Africa Democracy celebration in France and the USA. Clegg ushered in 2005 with a spectacular concert on new-years’ eve, in Nantes, France, playing an open-air concert for 60 000 people. At the end of the show, the Mayor presented JC with an honorary citizenship of the city.

In 2005 he did his first tour to Australia and New Zealand and began recording his latest album to be released in September 2006.

It was in 2006 that Johnny Clegg made a remarkable comeback to the world stage.

Johnny Clegg died July 16, 2019 of pancreatic cancer.


Third World Child (Minc, 1985)
South Africa: Cologne Zulu Festival (Network Medien GmbH, 1992)
A South African Story (Live At The Nelson Mandela Theatre) (EMI, 2003
Best Of Live At The Nelson Mandela Theatre (Capitol Music, 2004)
One Life (Rhythm Dog Music, 2006)
At The Baxter Theatre Cape Town: Best, Live & Unplugged (2006)
Human (EMI Music France, 2010)
King Of Time (Universal Music, 2017)