Johnny Clegg, the barrier-breaking music and culture figure dies at 66
The Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) is deeply saddened by the death of South African music and culture luminary Johnny Clegg, on Tuesday, after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015 and is survived by his wife of 31 years, Jenny and their two sons Jesse and Jaron.
Clegg’s music career spans over three decades and he has sold more than five million albums worldwide. Besides being an incomparable figure in music, dance and culture, Clegg is also an anthropologist and is sometimes fondly referred to as Le Zoulou Blanc (The White Zulu).
To many South Africans, Clegg’s music was the soundtrack for the new South Africa. His music represented freedom and a united South Africa.
His iconic status earned him numerous awards from various international and local bodies for his contribution to music such as the Order of Ikhamanga from the South African government in 2012 and the Knight of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1991. In 2016 Clegg was also honoured with the ACT Lifetime Achievement Award for music (sponsored by SAMRO) to celebrate his extraordinary career that contributed significantly to the enrichment of cultural life in South Africa.
Marcus Desando, ACT CEO states, “ACT is proud to have had the opportunity to honour Johnny Clegg and his contribution as a barrier-breaking cultural figure. Mr Clegg has had a profound and lasting impact on music, not only in South Africa but world-wide. The music industry in South Africa would not be what it is today without the dedication and fearlessness of Johnny Clegg and his music.”
The renowned music legend was born in Bacup England, in 1953, to an English father and Zimbabwean mother, a cabaret and jazz singer. He moved to South Africa with his mother at the age of seven, when his mother married a South African crime journalist. It is through his mother and stepfather, who took him to the townships, that Clegg was exposed to various cultural perspectives from an early age.
At age 14 Clegg met with Mntonganazo Mzila, who played street music near his home in Johannesburg, and he learnt Zulu language, maskandi guitar and Ihhlangwini (Zulu stick dancing). Following the meeting with Mzila, Clegg met with Sipho Mcunu, self-taught guitarist and they released their debut single Woza Friday in 1976.
In 1979 the duo became the Juluka we all know. In the same year, they released their critically acclaimed debut album Universal Men. The album paid homage to the migrant workers who left their homes to go work in the cities. The album did not receive any airplay due to the apartheid laws that prevailed at the time but did get positive traction amongst South Africans through word-and-mouth.
Their second album, African Litany, was released two years following the first album and featured Juluka’s well known hit single Impi. The band gained international recognition two years later with their fourth album Scatterlings which catapulted the band onto the world stage.
Although Juluka eventually split in 1985, following the success of two platinum and five gold albums, Clegg and Mchunu remained friends. Clegg then formed his second band, Savuka, whose sound was a mix of African music with a wider music base and international rock sounds.
Savuka’s debut album, Third World Child in 1987 sold more than two million copies and broke international sales records in France, Switzerland and Belgium. The album featured the song Asimbonanga which became a struggle anthem as it was dedicated to former president, Nelson Mandela who was in jail at the time of release.
Heat, Dust & Dreams, Savuka’s fourth album was nominated for a Grammy in the Best World Music category and won the Billboard Music award for “Best World Music” album in 1993. Following the breakup of Savuka in 1993, Clegg joined with Mchunu to re-form Juluka and they recorded Ya Vuka Inkunzi (also released as Crocodile Love).
Clegg has since released several successful solo projects such as New World Survivor in 2002 and One Life in 2007. His latest album, a concert set recorded in the fall of 2013, Best, Live & Unplugged: At the Baxter Theatre Cape Town was released in 2014.
Andre Le Roux, Corporate Affairs Executive General Manager at Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) states that, “When the news of Johnny Clegg passing, hit me yesterday I found solace in the tribute from 50 top artists singing The Crossing for Johnny Clegg, and amongst them, Mum Dorothy Masuku, who is also an ACT Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and is now deceased. SAMRO is deeply saddened at the passing of one of our longest serving members. Johnny Clegg is undoubtedly an iconic and highly celebrated artist not just in our country, but world-wide. We are honoured to have been a small part of Mr Clegg’s great legacy in music. Partnering with ACT in the sponsorship of the ACT Lifetime Achievement Awards of which Mr Clegg was the 2016 recipient, represents one of the many initiatives that demonstrates SAMRO’s appreciation of great talent in the South African Music Industry. Mr Clegg is a huge loss to this country and may his music live on”.