Johnny Clegg & Savuka

This British composer and vocalist is the leader of two multi-racial South African Zulu/pop bands.
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Artist Biography

b. Jonathan Clegg, 7 June 1953, Rochdale, Lancashire, England. The leader of two multi-racial South African Zulu/pop bands - Juluka and Savuka - vocalist and composer Clegg arrived in South Africa with his family in 1959. By the age of 10 he had fallen in love with African, and in particular, Zulu, music. His first memories of Zulu music are of hearing street performer Mntonanazo, who performed frequently in his neighbourhood. Later, while reading social anthropology at Wits University, Clegg formed a friendship with a migrant worker and musician named Sipho Mchunu (b. 1951, Kranskop, Natal, South Africa), and in 1972 the two began performing together as Johnny And Sipho, forming their first band, the sextet Juluka (Zulu for ‘sweat’) in 1976. They quickly developed an innovative fusion of fierce mbaqanga rhythms and universally appealing pop melodies. While most Africans responded with great enthusiasm to the sight of a white man immersing himself in Zulu music, the reaction of white South Africans was by and large hostile, and Juluka were engaged in a running battle with the authorities. They suffered from racist abuse, threats of violence and then an extreme shortage of available venues in a country where multi-racial gatherings were, to all practical purposes, forbidden.

Overcoming all these obstacles, the band scored their first hit with the single ‘Woza Friday’ in 1978, by which time they had built up a national following through their formidably powerful live appearances, which included wholly convincing displays of traditional Zulu indlamu (foot stamping) dancing by Clegg. They also succeeded in persuading the authorities to allow them to tour overseas, and in the early 80s performed in the UK, Europe and the USA, where their 1982 album Scatterlings, was released in 1984. During their lifetime, the group recorded seven albums, including the acclaimed debut Universal Men, a musical journey through the life of a Zulu migrant worker, before breaking up in 1985, following Mchunu’s decision to leave Johannesburg and the music business and return to the bush to run his family’s small cattle farm (1985 also brought a European Top 40 hit with ‘Scatterlings Of Africa’).

In 1986 Clegg re-emerged fronting a new group, Savuka (‘We Have Arisen’), which continued in the direction set out by Juluka and, in the increasingly liberal political climate of South Africa in the late 80s, found it much easier to tour both there and overseas. Clegg’s solo career had been launched in 1985 with Third World Child, but it was an album of the same name recorded by Savuka which became an international success, selling over a million copies. A sold out tour of France followed, before stints in the USA and Canada. In the process he became one of the first African stars to appear on The Johnny Carson Show. The 1989 recording Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World saw Clegg upgrade the band’s sound in a modern Los Angeles studio, though his lyrical concerns about South Africa, brilliantly extolled in ‘Woman Be My Country’ and the title track, remained undiluted.

Clegg recorded one further album with Savuka, 1993’s Heat, Dust And Dreams, which was informed by the ending of the apartheid system in South Africa and the assassination of former band member Dudu. Clegg reunited with Sipho Mchunu in the mid-90s to tour and record under the Juluka banner, before reverting to solo work in the late 90s. He returned to the studio in the new millennium to complete the 2002 solo release, New World Survivor. The following year’s A South African Story captured a spellbinding live show at the Nelson Mandela Theatre.