Johnny Clegg

Johnny Clegg

In 2011, Johnny Cleggtoured the USA and Canada, covering 30 cities in North America and 9 in Canada, with sold out shows in New York, Boston, Toronto, Chicago, Calgary and Edmonton.

On 5th April 2011, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Law degree from CUNY (City University of NY). The South African Consulate and many other dignitaries were in attendance at this event.

Johnny's much awaited new album, Human, is due for release in SA in the next few weeks.

In the first half of 2010 Johnny recorded a 13 part documentary series, A Country Imagined, for SABC2 which was broadcast in mid 2010 with a re-broadcast currently being screened.

In June 2010, Johnny released the ultimate collection of songs, Spirit is the Journey celebrating 30 years of Johnny Clegg. This 30th Anniversary compilation is a double cd of his best-loved songs combined with an exclusive DVD entitled "My Favourite Zulu Street Guitar Songs", which includes Johnny's personal take on the various traditional street guitar songs that influenced him, what they mean to him and then performing them acoustically with some of his hostel mates. The DVD is a rare look inside Johnny's musical mind and completely exclusive to this release.


By combining African music structures with Celtic folk music and international rock sounds, Johnny pioneered a new and unique sound, establishing himself as South Africa's biggest musical export. From Europe to the States, from Australia to Potchefstroom, audiences in sold out venues have danced to "Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World", "Crocodile Love", "I Call Your Name", "Take My Heart Away", and "African Sky Blue".

JOHNNY CLEGG, born in Rochdale, England in 1953 was raised in his mother's native land of Zimbabwe before immigrating to South Africa at the age of nine.

At the age of 14, Johnny began to learn to play the guitar. Through his interest he met CHARLIE MZILA, a Zulu flat cleaner who played street music near Clegg's home. For two years Johnny learned the fundamentals of Zulu music and traditional Zulu INHLANGWINI dancing with Charlie. He was 13 years old when he saw the dancers for the first time.

Equipped with his guitar, Johnny accompanied Mzila to all the migrant labour haunts – from hostels to rooftop shebeens. However, Johnny's involvement with black musicians often led to him being arrested for trespassing on government property and for contravening the Group Areas Act, (an apartheid law forcing different races to keep to their own residential and recreational areas). In this difficult and complex political landscape, Johnny managed to navigate a path, which enabled him to enter the hidden world of the Zulu migrant labourers. These men lived in a number of huge barrack-like hostels around Johannesburg, serving Johannesburg's insatiable appetite for cheap black labour. During this period he developed a reputation as a competent Zulu guitarist in the MASIKANDE (from the Afrikaans "Musikant") tradition.

This reputation reached the ears of SIPHO MCHUNU, a migrant Zulu worker who had come up to Johannesburg in 1969 looking for work. Intrigued he challenged Johnny to a guitar competition, sparking off a friendship and musical partnership destined to alter the face of South African music. Sipho was born in Kranskop, Natal, in 1951. Although he had no musical training as a young boy, he had made himself a variety of musical instruments; his favourite being a three stringed guitar fashioned out of a paraffin tin. Soon he became extremely adept and well versed in Zulu street guitar music. He later also formed a traditional Zulu dance team and found a vast outlet for his creative energies. Sipho investigated this young white boy who danced and also played Zulu street music and looked him up at his apartment one day. A strong friendship developed out of this meeting as for the first time Johnny was playing with a street musician his own age. Johnny was sixteen and Sipho eighteen.

Together they worked, often subjected to racial abuse, threats of violence and police harassment. As places where they could perform were limited by the apartheid laws, they had to stick to the street and private venues such as church and university halls. When Johnny finished his schooling he went to University, graduating with a BA (Hons) in Social Anthropology and pursued an academic career for four years lecturing at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Natal.

In 1976 Johnny and Sipho secured a major recording deal and had their first hit sing entitled, "Woza Friday". A period of development followed, during which Johnny worked on the concept of bringing together English lyrics and Western melodies with Zulu musical structures. The formation of JULUKA, meaning "sweat" in Zulu, was in total contravention of the Cultural Segregation laws of the time, which emphasized the separation of language, race and culture. (Juluka was the name of Sipho's favourite bull, because like all migrants, Sipho practiced some cattle farming in the rural areas). Their music was subjected to censorship and banning and their only way to access an audience was through live touring. In late 1979 their first album "Universal Men" was released.

Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu launched their second album "African Litany" in early 1981. Although their work had been largely ignored by the South African Broadcasting Corporation due to Juluka's mixing of languages and African and Western music forms, "African Litany" became a major breakthrough Album for the band through word of mouth and live performances. "Ubuhle Bemvelo" was their immediate follow-up Album and was entirely in the Zulu language, but mixing Western and African styles of music.

In 1982 and '83, Juluka toured the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany and Scandinavia. In 1983 they released "Work for All" and in late 1984 they released "Musa Ukungilandela".

Juluka split in 1985 – Sipho went back to his farm in Zululand where he was born.

In 1986, Johnny went on to form another crossover band "SAVUKA" (We have risen), mixing African music with Celtic folk music and international rock sounds, and the album "3rd World Child" was borne. In 1987 SAVUKA was the leading world music group touring the francophone countries.

Three years later, Savuka's hard work and tenacity had finally paid off and the band was reaping its rewards, with an ever growing fan base and phenomenal album sales! By the end of 1989 Savuka had sold over 1 million copies of their debut album, and their 2nd release had already sold over 700 000 units. The band's popularity was reflected in the music charts, and in an incredible moment on the album and singles charts, SAVUKA held the #1 and #2 position on the album charts with the 1st and second album at the same time, and on the singles charts held the #1 and #7 position with their singles " Asimbonanga " and "Scatterlings of Africa". In 1993 Savuka received the recognition they deserved by being nominated for a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album.

This was a momentous achievement for the group out of South Africa and in 1990 they received the "Victoires" award from the French recording industry for the biggest selling international artists over two years. They also received in that year the world music award for the biggest selling world music group internationally. In 1990 they completed a nine-month world tour and in 1991 took off six months to rest.

SAVUKA went to record their fourth album and this, their last album was nominated for a Grammy Award for the best world music album in 1993. The band broke up in 1994.

Johnny and Sipho began looking at reforming JULUKA. This came to fruition in 1996 when they went into the studio and they commenced recording "YA VUKA INKUNZI". Johnny Clegg continues to collaborate with Sipho Mchunu from time to time.

In October 2002 Johnny Clegg released a new solo CD titled "New World Survivor", and completed a very successful run of a theatre show, A South African Story, in South Africa playing to over 40,000 people in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

In July 2003, Johnny Clegg embarked on a very successful tour of France and Germany. At one festival, 140km north of Paris, Johnny Clegg played to 60,000 people, breaking all previous attendance records for this biennial event. In Germany, Johnny blew the crowds away and had to perform no less than three encores for the enthralled crowd before they would leave. Early 2004 saw Johnny Performing A South African Story Part II, to sell out audiences in South Africa. He then embarked on a successful three month tour of Europe and USA.

Johnny released his much awaited new album "One Life" in 2006, which features his first ever Zulu-Afrikaans crossover song as well as the first song (ever?) written in three languages French, Zulu and English. One life is an album containing both political and personal songs. Johnny says, "We are all given one life which is precious and unique. At the same time, all Life on the planet is inter -linked and connected into a single planetary force. The private and political choices we make affect how our ONE LIFE influences the greater whole and so the songs look at the politics of betrayal, love, power, masculinity, the feminine, and survival/work. Our one life is connected to the One Life. We each have a story to tell and many of the songs take on a narrative structure to emphasize the story telling nature of how we make meaning in the world. Sometimes this is in the first person, sometimes as a report."

2006 saw Johnny performing sold out "One Life" concerts across the country. He was backed by the Soweto Gospel Choir on the shows at the Nelson Mandela Theatre - these shows were recorded, and later released as a Live CD and DVD "Johnny Clegg Live at the Nelson Mandela Theatre".

In the same year, Johnny also launched his community website which features a monthly newsletter from Johnny, a series of documentary DVD's on Zulu Guitar music, Zulu war dancing, many other cultural artifacts from Zulu fighting sticks, pots and other items which shape Johnny Clegg's life as well as all the standard CD's, DVD's, T-shirts, caps, jackets and other products related to his music – some of which are only available from this website.

Johnny is known for his live and energetic stage performances, and in 2008 he produced a new show "HEART OF THE DANCER" which looked at the role of dance in Clegg's career and how certain songs were shifted towards choreographic presentations when they were played live. It also looked at the history of one particular dance that became widely used in the JULUKA and SAVUKA periods. Once again these shows were sold out and extra shows had to be added!

The CUNY School of Law bestowed an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on Jonathan “Johnny” Clegg, the renowned South African musician, human rights activist and anthropologist, in a ceremony at University offices April 5.

Best known for songs such as “Asimbonanga” (“We have not seen him”) — a tribute to Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge, Neill Aggett and other anti-apartheid heroes and martyrs — Clegg and his bands Juluka (the first mixed-race band in South Africa, formed with the Zulu musician Sipho Mchunu,) and Savuka defied apartheid laws by performing for racially mixed audiences, resulting in numerous arrests for Clegg and his band members. Earlier in his career, Clegg studied Zulu dance — which he would later incorporate exuberantly in his live performances — and lectured on anthropology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

CUNY Board Vice Chairperson Philip Alfonso Berry praised Clegg and his melding of music, activism and philanthropy as the essence of ubuntu, the African humanist concept of the individual’s interconnectedness to the community and the world.

Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost Alexandra Logue said that in combining Western and Zulu rhythms and stimulating audiences to think more deeply about racial identity and justice, Clegg embodied values similar to bedrock CUNY principles, such as the celebration of diversity and the equality of opportunity.

Michelle Anderson, dean of the CUNY School of Law, poignantly highlighted the school’s longstanding relationship to South Africa. She noted that the investiture ceremony for Clegg fell 15 years and a week after the school’s second dean, Haywood Burns, and faculty member Shanara Gilbert died in a car accident while working for post-apartheid judicial reform in South Africa.

Clegg said it was appropriate that his honorary degree was a doctor of laws, for he has spent a lifetime questioning “why the fence exists,” alluding to the plethora of laws and institutions (a “legal Lego set”) that legislated the separation of races and social spaces in South Africa. He said he found it fitting that his journey to “find a way around the fence” had brought him to CUNY.


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