Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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CLEGG, Johnny

(b 31 October 1953, Rochdale, UK) Singer, songwriter, guitarist; also plays umhuphe mouth bow, etc; co-leader/leader of 'township jive' bands in South Africa. Spent early years in Zimbabwe, settled in SA at age six; began to learn Zulu guitar at 14, also learned the language; became lecturer in anthropology at the U of Witwatersrand. At 16 met Sipho Mchunu, whose background could not have been more different: born in Natal where family was forcibly resettled; spent childhood as a goatherd, learned to play on home-made guitar, became migrant worker, street musician in Jo'burg. They played together in clubs, at parties, singing in Zulu and English, transcending cultural and racial barriers; made first single 'Woza Friday' '76, formed band Juluka (means 'sweat', also refers to the kinds of work which most people in SA have to do). Their first LP was Universal Men; the hit 'Africa Kukhala Ambangcwele' made them stars, no. 1 before being banned. Best-selling LPs included African Litany '81, Ubuhle Bemvelo '82; Scatterlings of Africa on Safari UK, WB USA reached the top 200 USA LPs '83 with folk-rock beat, Zulu harmonies, heart-rending lyrics: 'Digging for words (beneath the stones of Zimbabwe)' is a beautiful song. Stand Your Ground was also released in USA. Juluka struggled as an integrated band against officialdom and single-issue fanatics (touring North America and Europe '82-3 they were at first banned by the UK musicians' union. Go figure.) The band broke up in 1985 and Siphu gave up full-time music to work on his father's farm; there was a compilation '96 on Putumayo.

Clegg formed Savuka (means 'we have awakened'). Third World Child '87 by Johnny Clegg and Savuka on EMI was a harder blend of Mbaqanga/township jive with international rock, all songs written or co-written by Clegg including a remake of 'Scatterlings Of Africa', 'Asimnonanga' (Nelson Mandela tribute, banned in SA). Percussionist Dudu Zulu and drummer Derek DeBeer had also been members of Juluka; the band also included Steve Mabuso on keyboards, Jabu Mabuso on bass, Keith Hutchinson on keyboards and saxophone; in the live act (touring Europe '87) Clegg and Dudu demonstrate Zulu dancing as well. Clegg's producer was Hilton Rosenthal, who helped set up the African sessions for Paul Simon's Graceland. More Savuka albums were Shadow Man '88, Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World '90, Heat Dust and Dreams '93. Clegg released In My African Dream '94 on Safari.

Clegg continued touring, remaining a passionate and joyful representative of African culture, acquiring a French knighthood, honorary degrees and an OBE (Order of the British Empire). He suffered from cancer in 2016, but in remission, he embarked on The Final Journey World Tour in 2016, and was writing his autobiography.