One of the most celebrated voices in modern South African music has died. Singer, dancer and activist Johnny Clegg, who co-founded two groundbreaking, racially mixed bands, during the apartheid era Tuesday in Johannesburg at age 66. He had battled pancreatic cancer since 2015.
His death was announced by his manager and family spokesperson, Roddy Quin.
Clegg wrote his 1987 song "Asimbonanga" for Nelson Mandela. It became an anthem for South Africa's freedom fighters.
Johnny Clegg was born in England, but he became one of South Africa's most creative and outspoken cultural figures. Jazz singer from Zimbabwe (then known as Southern Rhodesia). His parents split up while he was still a baby; Clegg's mother took him to Zimbabwe before she returned to South Africa. When he was 7. The family moved north to Zambia for a couple of years and then settled in Johannesburg.
He discovered South Africa's music when he was a young teenager in Johannesburg. He has been chiseled under his strictness and formality. Zulu-style guitar, he was enchanted – and liberated.
"I stumbled on Zulu street guitar being performed by Zulu migrant workers, traditional tribesmen from the rural areas," he told NPR in a 2017 interview. They've taken a western instrument that they've learned in the past, they've come to terms with them, they've just come out of the guitar totally unique genre of guitar music, indigenous to South Africa. I found it quite emancipating. "
he soon found a local, black teacher – who took him into neighborhoods whites were not supposed to go. He went to the migrant workers' hostels: difficult, dangerous places where a thousand or two young men at a time struggled to survive.
Because Clegg was so young, he was accepted in their communities, and in those neighborhoods, he discovered his other great passion: Zulu dance, which he described as a kind of "warrior theater" with its martial-style movements of high kicks, ground stamps and pretend blows.
"The body was coded and wired – hard-wired – to carry messages about masculinity which were pretty powerful for a young, 16-year-old adolescent boy, "he observed. I fell in love with it. Basically, I wanted to become a person Zulu warrior, And in a very deep sense, it offered me an African identity. "
And even though he was white, he was welcomed into their ranks, despite the dangers to both him and his mentors. He was arrested multiple times for breaking the segregation laws.
"I got into trouble with the authorities, I was arrested for trespassing and for breaking the Group Areas Act," he told NPR. "The police said, 'You're too young to charge.'"
He persuaded his mother to let him go back , Sipho Mchunu is one of his longest musical collaborators. As a duo, they played traditional maskanda guitar music for about six or seven years.
"We could not play in public," Clegg remembered, "so we played in private venues, schools, churches , university private halls. "We played a lot of embassies."
Over time, they started thinking bigger; Clegg wanted to try Zulu music with Rock and Celtic folk.
"I was exposed to Celtic folk music early on," he told NPR. I liked Irish music, Scottish and English folk music, I had a lot of tapes and recordings of them On Sundays, he would play LP of the Edinburgh Police Pipe Band. "
Clegg was sure that he concocted the rural music of South Africa's Natal province (now known as KwaZulu-Natal) – the music that he what learning from his black friends and teachers – and the sounds of Britain. Sun Juluka – "Sweat" in Zulu.
At the time, Johnny was a professor of anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg; Sipho was working as a gardener. They did not get airplay, or perform publicly in South Africa.
It was a hard sell to labels. South African radio was segregated, and record companies refused to believe that album was partly in Zulu and partly in English would be an audience in any case.
"You know, who cares about cattle?" You know we're in cattle Johannesburg, dude, get your subject matter right! ' Clegg recalled. "But I was shaped by cattle culture, because of all the songs I learned about cattle, and I was interested. I say, 'There's a hidden world. Hilton Rosenthal, who released Juluka's debut album, Universal Men on his own label, Rhythm Safari,
in 1979. One of its songs, "Scatterlings of Africa," became a hit in the UK
The band was toured internationally for several years, But hey, Mchunu decided to go home – not just to Johannesburg, but home to his native region of Zululand, in the KwaZulu-Natal province, to raise cattle.
"It What really hard for Sipho, "Clegg told NPR." He was a traditional tribesman. To be in New York City, he could not speak. And after some grueling tours, he said to me, 'I gave myself 15 years to make it or break it up in Joburg, and then go home.' So he resigned, and Juluka came to end -and I was still full of the fire of music and dance. "
So Clegg called Savuka-which means" We Have Risen "in Zulu. Savuka had ardent love songs, like the swooning "Dela," but many of the band's tunes, like "One (Hu) Man, One Vote" and "Warsaw 1943 (I Never Betrayed the Revolution)," were exceptional political.
"Savuka what basically started in South Africa, in 1986, "Clegg observed." You could not ignore what was going on. The entire Savuka project is based on the South African experience and the fight for a better quality of life and freedom for all. "
Long after Nelson Mandela was freed from prison and became president of South Africa, he danced onstage with Savuka
Clegg went on to become a solo career. Final Journey. "
The following year, lectures by musician friends and admirers – including Dave Matthews, Vusi Mahlasela, Peter Gabriel, and Mike Rutherford of Genesis – put together a charity single to honor Clegg Africa.
Clegg never shied away from being described as a crossover artist.
"I love it," he said. "I love the hybridization of culture, language, music, dance, choreography. On the history of art, generally speaking, it is through the interaction of different communities, cultures, worldviews, ideas and concepts that invites and gives them a different angle on stuff that really, just
Johnny Clegg did not do anything blindly, but he held a mirror up to his nation – and urged South Africa to redefine itself.