Monday, 5 October 2009

Le Zoulou Blanc - Johnny Clegg

Johnny CleggI've been a fan of Johnny Clegg since my high school days back in the 80's. My first big live music concert I attended was in the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town where I saw Johnny Clegg and his band Savuka perform. Their unique style, the mesmerising dance routines and soulful traditional music really impressed me.

Video: Johnny Clegg & Juluka - Impi (1983 Live)
(Impi is played regularly at rugby stadiums in South Africa today)

I never realised how popular Johnny Clegg & Savuka was in Europe at the time. I backpacked Europe in 1989 and distinctly remember walking into a music shop in Geneva, Switzerland and to my surprise there were Clegg posters all over the walls. I asked the cashier if there was some sort of a promotion going on... and he just gave me a weird look, politely informing me that Savuka had the best selling album in France at the time! The french call him "Le Zoulou Blanc" (The White Zulu). Even Michael Jackson had to cancel a concert in France at the time due to Clegg being much more popular!

Johnny Clegg surely lived through tough times growing up in South Africa. During his teenage years he was a street musician, learning Zulu music and dancing from Charlie Mzila and later Sipho Mchunu, with whom he later formed Juluka, the first multi-racial band in South Africa.

Video: Johnny Clegg the dancer

The Apartheid government frowned upon music where the styles were mixed between Western and Zulu; they weren't particularly impressed that the band was multi-racial either. The state-owned SABC (SA Broadbasting Corporation) banned their music altogether from the air waves at the time but their popularity spread by word-of-mouth. He was arrested several times as a youngster for associating with black people and for his political lyrics; basically considered an enemy of the state. Later on in 1987 he wrote "Asimbonanga" which called for Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

Percussionist Dudu Zulu was also Clegg's dance partner for years. He was assassinated in 1992 which eventually led to the band, Savuka, disbanding in 1993. The Crossing was a tribute to him.

Video: Johnny Clegg & Savuka - Scatterlings of Africa

Video: Johnny Clegg performing "Asimbonanga", on stage with Nelson Mandela (1999)
(Female singer is Mandisa Dlanga)

SavukaIn a nationwide poll in 2004, Johnny Clegg was named no.23 in a list of "100 Greatest South Africans". He is comfortably South Africa's biggest music export. He sings in both English and Zulu, speaks Zulu fluently, understands every aspect of their culture and had the courage to stand up for what he believed in, during difficult times.

Video: Johnny Clegg - Jongosi
(Song was used for the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France. South Africa won the tournament.)

At the time of writing, Johnny Clegg has recorded an astonishing 19 studio albums to date. Very inspiring music by a truly fantastic South African.


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