Johnny Clegg life and biography

Johnny Clegg picture, image, poster

Johnny Clegg biography

Date of birth : 1953-06-07
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Bacup, Lancashire, England
Nationality : English
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2011-11-03
Credited as : Singer, Le Zoulou Blanc, Juluka

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Jonathan "Johnny" Clegg is a musician from South Africa, who has recorded and performed with his bands Juluka and Savuka. Sometimes called Le Zoulou Blanc ("The White Zulu"), he is an important figure in South African popular music history, with songs that mix Zulu with English lyrics, and African with various Western European (such as Celtic) music styles.

Thanks to the success of American pop star Paul Simon's Grammy-winning album Graceland, Western listening audiences have some notion of what South African popular music sounds like. But there were Westerners involved in making and producing African music long before Simon. White South African Johnny Clegg--known equally for his opposition to the racist apartheid government that has long blighted his adopted homeland--is one of these.

Born in England, Clegg moved with his family to South Africa when he was six. His mother was a cabaret singer and his father was a staunchly anti-apartheid journalist with an abiding interest in black culture. Clegg's own early interest in black culture was musical, but he did not begin his career as a musician. Clegg's interest in Zulu music and other aspects of Zulu culture led him to a junior lectureship in social anthropology at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa's leading institution of higher education.

Clegg left the university in the 1970s to pursue a career in music. He explained in Rolling Stone: "There's always been a hidden, invisible middle ground in South Africa of connections between people and cultures. That was being incinerated. Music was the most effective way I could work out my feelings." To learn how to play traditional Zulu music, he first approached Sipho Mchunu, a migrant worker employed as a gardener in Johannesburg who was also a street musician. Sipho has said that he was initially puzzled by the white man's interest in him, but that Clegg eventually won him over. In fact, some black South Africans refer to Clegg as the "white Zulu." Sipho taught Clegg traditional Zulu music and instruments, and they eventually formed a duo called Johnny and Sipho, later renamed Juluka--the Zulu word for "sweat." Along the way Clegg learned the Zulu language and an athletic style of Zulu traditional dance called Indlamu, which he performs as part of his act.

Clegg spoke about the early days of Juluka in Jeremy Marre's film Rhythm of Resistance: "Originally, it was very difficult to play together in public, the laws being as they are: a black and a white not being allowed to play on a stage, or to a mixed audience. Things are starting to ease up slowly.... We've got a few sort of little hidden venues where everybody can come together and enjoy each others' music." In an interview with Chris Stapleton that appeared in African All-Stars: The Pop Music of a Continent, Clegg reflected on the group's success. "Juluka appeared at a time when black people were buying up records by the [American pop-soul group the] O'Jays in the hundreds and thousands.... We went back to our roots. A cult fashion began, with people playing roots music. You had something similar in 1970, and again in 1976 with the black-consciousness movement, an attempt to recapture and to stress African roots and origins."

Juluka went from playing in small clubs and markets to become a top attraction, popular with both blacks and whites. Clegg and Sipho started out playing fairly traditional Zulu music with a political edge, but as they became more prolific and as other musicians joined them, their compositions began to display a more Western pop orientation. By the 1983 release of Scatterlings, several other musicians had permanently joined the band. Most of Juluka's albums, nonetheless, remained closely tied to mbaqanga --the black South African township music that became popular in the 1950s. Clegg told Stapleton that his music, widely referred to as "township pop," is "a new genre," elaborating, "It's a genre where reggae and mbaqanga meet, where soul and mbaqanga meet, where funk and mbaqanga meet."

Sipho left Juluka in 1985 to return to his family farm in Zululand. Clegg went on to form a new band, Savuka--Zulu for "awakening"--comprised of three blacks and three whites. Savuka's music was more electronic than that of Juluka, but Clegg has remarked that he does not feel authentic traditional styles should be preserved as museum pieces; he believes that musicians should feel free to experiment with styles and come up with new types of music. Clegg explained to African All-Stars author Stapleton that Savuka's "approach is that there should be a democracy of music: The new forms should get as much support as the old. There should be a balance. There is a growing resistance to people saying, 'This isn't groaners [male vocalists who sing the low parts in mbaqanga songs]; this isn't mbaqanga.' This isn't South Africa in 1950 ... and many African musicians have spent a lot of time and energy trying to find a place for themselves in the new musical world." But even in this new musical world, whites who are involved in the music of black South Africans are often criticized from a variety of standpoints. Despite his political good intentions, Clegg's music has received all kinds of negative reviews. Melody Maker attacked Clegg for plundering African music, calling him a "cultural transvestite"; Rolling Stone criticized him for not being original enough.

The government of South Africa, uncomfortably aware of Clegg's untempered denunciation of apartheid and increasingly high profile, according to Beats of the Heart authors Jeremy Marre and Hannah Charlton, succeeded in banning a record that contained a song it construed as "an incitement against work" and questionable for its use of slang words like "sweetie" and "heavy." "Africa Kukhala Ambangcwele," from Universal Men, was a Number One hit before it was banned, and "Asimnonanga," Savuka's tribute to chief apartheid opponent Nelson Mandela, was proscribed as well. In When the Music's Over, Robin Denselow reported that Clegg and Savuka have regularly found themselves at the mercy of South African police; the band's van has been routinely searched and conflict over concert licenses has became the norm. Furthermore, according to Rolling Stone, Clegg has been arrested and spied upon by government authorities.

Clegg has never hesitated to speak out on his music and politics. He told Rolling Stone that he and Sipho were "not revolutionaries, we're not a protest group," continuing, "We have certain general principles that are fundamental human values. It's basically, 'I want to be able to play to everybody.' That's all.... It's a simple thing. But in South Africa, it's a political issue."

Ironically, Clegg was expelled from the British Musicians Union in 1988 for performing in South Africa. The singer had experienced harassment from the union before, as well as the wrath of civil rights organizations outside South Africa. His explanation is that people outside South Africa view the country's racial issues simplistically. "The exile community," he told Rolling Stone, "has done the struggle [against apartheid] a disservice by trying to present the issue simply in terms of black and white." But Clegg is committed to beating apartheid and admits to being an idealist. "We're creating symbols of tomorrow, a nonracial future. We have to give people something that everybody can claim is his."

Savuka's song "Dela" was featured on the soundtrack of the 1997 film George of the Jungle and its 2003 sequel, while "Great Heart" was the title song for the 1992 film Jock of the Bushveld. "Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World" was featured in the 1990 film Opportunity Knocks and 1991 film Career Opportunities.
He co-wrote Diggah Tunnah with Lebo M. for Disney's 2004 direct-to-video animated film The Lion King .Clegg and his band often make an international tour during May–August (South African winter). However, the tours are usually limited to France and surrounding countries. In June 2004, Johnny Clegg toured North America for the first time in over eight years, doing 22 concerts in one month. Even though they had no albums for sale in North America during those eight years, and no significant media coverage, they filled most of their venues.

Clegg returned to North America with his band in July 2005, with dates booked throughout the U.S. and Canada. His new album One Life was remixed at Real World Studios in Bath, England, and released on October 30, 2006 in the UK.
Clegg will tour Europe and North America in 2011. He has also announced that he will play in Western Sahara city of Dakhla, which has caused a campaign of rejection, as that concert is considered as a support for Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara.

Studio albums:
1977: World Network 9 (Duo Juluka / Ladysmith Black Mambazo, released 1992)
1979: Universal Men (Juluka)
1981: African Litany (Juluka)
1982: Ubuhle Bemvelo (Juluka)
1982: Scatterlings of Africa (Juluka)
1983: Work For All (Juluka)
1984: Stand Your Ground (Juluka)
1984: Musa Ukungilandela (Juluka)
1984: The International Tracks (Juluka)
1985: Third World Child (solo version) (Johnny Clegg)
1987: Third World Child (Savuka)
1988: Shadow Man (Savuka)
1990: Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World (Savuka)
1993: Heat, Dust and Dreams (Savuka)
1997: Crocodile Love / Ya Vuka Inkunzi (Juluka)
1998: Le Rock Zoulou de Johnny Clegg & Sipho Mchunu
2002: New World Survivor (Johnny Clegg)
2006: Heart of the Dancer (Johnny Clegg)
2006: One Life (Johnny Clegg)
2010: Human (Johnny Clegg)

Live albums:
1986: The Good Hope Concerts
1994: Live And Rarities (Savuka)
2003: A South African Story - Live At The Nelson Mandela Theatre (Johnny Clegg)
2003: Best of Live (Johnny Clegg)

2003: Live! and more...
2006: Johnny Clegg Live at the Nelson Mandela Theatre
2010: Johnny Clegg 30th Anniversary Concert at Emmarentia Dam (in production)

1992: The Power of One (Johnny Clegg)

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