One of South Africa’s most celebrated sons is back on the road in North America and will make one of his three Alberta stops at The Banff Centre.
Johnny Clegg, singer, songwriter, dancer, anthropologist and musical activist, plays the Eric Harvie Theatre, Friday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m. as part of his Spirit is the Journey tour.
Clegg, whose crossover music bridges western pop and African Zulu rhythms, is found everywhere in the international scene of world music and has broken through all the barriers in his own country.
In France, where he enjoys a massive following, he is fondly called Le Zulu Blanc – the white Zulu.
Over three decades, Johnny Clegg has sold over five million albums of his music worldwide and won a number of national and international awards for his music and for his outspoken views on apartheid, his perspectives on migrant workers in South Africa and the general situation in the world today.
Born in Bacup, near Rochdale, England, in 1953, to an English father and Zimbabwean mother, he was brought up in his mother’s native land of Zimbabwe. She married a South African journalist and immigrated to South Africa when Johnny was seven years old. At the age of nine, he spent two years in Zambia with his parents who then returned to South Africa when he was 11 years old. Between his mother, a cabaret and jazz singer, and his stepfather, a crime reporter, who took him into the townships at an early age, Johnny was exposed to a broader cultural perspective than that available to his peers.
While lecturing on anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Clegg worked on the concept of blending English lyrics and Western melodies with Zulu musical structures.
Clegg joined Sipho Mchunu in making music which was unprofitable because of the radio censorship of mixed music and mixed bands.
Clegg and Mchunu called their band Juluka, which means “sweat” in Zulu. Their music was subjected to censorship and internal restrictions on state-owned radio and their only way to access an audience was through touring. This brought them into conflict with the Group Areas Act which enforced the geographical separation of race groups and their cultural facilities.
In 1985, though, Mchunu returned to his roots, which was cattle farming in Zululand, while Clegg formed another crossover band, Savuka, which means “we have risen”.
Clegg has also recorded several solo projects.