Johnny Clegg

Johnny Clegg

Johnny Clegg at la fête de l'Humanité, France, 2007
Background information
Birth name Jonathan Clegg
Also known as Johnny Clegg
Le Zoulou Blanc
Born (1953-06-07) 7 June 1953
Bacup, Lancashire, England
Genres Mbaqanga, Afro-pop
Instruments Vocals, guitar, concertina
Years active 1976–present
Labels Capitol Records
Associated acts Juluka, Savuka
Past members Sipho Mchunu (Juluka), Dudu Mntowaziwayo Ndlovu (Savuka)
Notable instruments
Fender Esquire

Jonathan "Johnny" Clegg OBE OIS (born 7 June 1953) is a South African musician and anthropologist who has recorded and performed with his bands Juluka and Savuka, and more recently as a solo act, occasionally reuniting with his earlier band partners. Sometimes called Le Zoulou Blanc ("The White Zulu"), he is an important figure in South African popular music history, with songs that mix Zulu with English lyrics and African with various Western music styles.

Early life and career

Clegg was born in Bacup, Lancashire,[1] to an English father and a Rhodesian mother. Clegg's mother's family were Jewish immigrants from Poland, and Clegg had a secular Jewish upbringing, learning about the Ten Commandments but refusing to have a bar mitzvah or even associate with other Jewish children at school.[2] His parents divorced when he was still an infant, and he moved with his mother to Rhodesia and then, at age 6, to South Africa,[3] also spending less than a year in Israel during childhood.[2]

As an adolescent, Clegg developed an interest in Celtic music, which led to him learning about and performing Zulu street music and taking part in traditional Zulu dance competitions. He was first arrested at the age of 15 for violating apartheid-era laws in South Africa banning people of different races from congregating together after curfew hours.[4] At the age of 17, he met Sipho Mchunu, a Zulu migrant worker with whom he began performing music.[3] The partnership, which they named Juluka, was profiled in the 1970s television documentary Beats of the Heart: Rhythm of Resistance.[5]

As a young man, in the early stages of his musical career, Clegg combined his music with the study of anthropology,[5] a subject which he also taught for a while at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg,[4] where he was influenced, among others, by the work of David Webster, a social anthropologist who was later assassinated in 1989.[6][7]


Main article: Juluka

Juluka was an unusual musical partnership for the time in South Africa, with a white man (Clegg) and a black man (Mchunu) performing together. The band, which grew to a six-member group (with three white musicians and three black musicians) by the time it released its first album Universal Men in 1979, faced harassment and censorship, with Clegg later remarking that it was "impossible" to perform in public in South Africa.[8] The group tested the apartheid-era laws, touring and performing in private venues, including universities, churches, hostels, and even private homes in order to attract an audience, as national broadcasters would not play their music.[1] Just as unusually, the band's music combined Zulu, Celtic, and rock elements, with both English and isiZulu lyrics.[8] Those lyrics often contained coded political messages and references to the battle against apartheid,[9] although Clegg has maintained that Juluka was not originally intended to be a political band. "Politics found us," he told The Baltimore Sun in 1996.[8] In a 1989 interview with the Sunday Times, Clegg denied the label of "political activist." "For me a political activist is someone who has committed himself to a particular ideology. I don’t belong to any political party. I stand for human rights."[10]

Juluka's music was both implicitly and explicitly political; not only was the fact of the success of the band (which openly celebrated African culture in a bi-racial band) a thorn in the flesh of a political system based on racial separation, the band also produced some explicitly political songs. For example, the album Work for All (which includes a song with the same title) picked up on South African trade union slogans in the mid-1980s.[11] As a result of their political messages and racial integration, Clegg and other band members were arrested several times and concerts routinely broken up.[12]

Despite being ignored and often harassed by the South African government at home, Juluka were able to tour internationally, playing in Europe, Canada, and the United States,[1] and had two platinum and five gold albums,[8] becoming an international success. The group was disbanded in 1985, when Mchunu returned home to Zululand to look after the family cattle.[1]


Johnny Clegg & Savuka, 1993
L-R: Derek De Beer, Mandisa Dlanga, Solly Letwamba, Johnny Clegg, Steve Mavuso, Keith Hutchinson
Main article: Savuka

Together with the black musician and dancer Dudu Zulu, Clegg went on to form his second inter-racial band, Savuka, in 1986, continuing to blend African music with European influences.[3][4][8] The group's first album, Third World Child, broke international sales records in several European countries, including France.[13] The band went on to record several more albums, including Heat, Dust and Dreams, which received a Grammy Award nomination.[14] Johnny Clegg and Savuka played both at home and abroad, even though Clegg's refusal to stop performing in apartheid-era South Africa created tensions with the international anti-apartheid movement and led to his expulsion from the British Musicians' Union.[3] In one instance, the band drew such a large crowd in Lyon that Michael Jackson cancelled a concert there, complaining that Clegg and his group had "stole[n] all his fans".[15] In 1993, the band dissolved after Dudu Zulu was shot and killed while attempting to mediate a taxi war.[4][6][8]

Juluka reunion and solo career

Briefly reunited in the mid-1990s, Clegg and Mchunu reformed Juluka, released a new album,[14] and toured throughout the world in 1996 with King Sunny Ade.[16] Since then, Clegg has recorded several solo albums and continues to tour the world.[1][6] During one concert in 1999, he was joined onstage by South African President Nelson Mandela, who danced as he sang the protest song Savuka had dedicated to him, "Asimbonanga". During Mandela's illness and death in 2013, the video of the concert attracted considerable media attention outside South Africa.[6][17]

His song "Scatterlings of Africa" gave him his only entry in the UK Singles Chart to date, reaching No. 75 in May 1987. The following year it was featured on the soundtrack to the 1988 Oscar-winning film, Rain Man.[18]

Savuka's song "Dela" was featured on the soundtrack of the 1997 film George of the Jungle and its 2003 sequel, while "Great Heart" was the title song for the 1992 film Jock of the Bushveld. "Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World" was featured in the 1990 film Opportunity Knocks and 1991 film Career Opportunities. "Great Heart" was also the end credits song for the 2000 Disney movie Whispers: An Elephant's Tale.[19]

Jimmy Buffett recorded "Great Heart" for his 1988 album, Hot Water.

In 2002 Clegg provided several songs and incidental background music for Jane Goodall's "Wild Chimpanzees" DVD. Included in the extras on the disc are rare scenes of Clegg in the recording studio.[20]

He co-wrote "Diggah Tunnah" with Lebo M. for Disney's 2004 direct-to-video animated film The Lion King 1½.


Personal life

Johnny Clegg's son Jesse Clegg is also a recording artist. Displaying a style markedly different from that of his father, in 2008 he released his debut album called When I Wake Up. As a rock musician the younger Clegg has quickly built up a following, with the album being nominated for two South African Music Awards.[29]


Juluka discography

Studio albums

Johnny Clegg solo discography


Year Album Peak positions
1985 Third World Child (Johnny Clegg solo version)
1988 Le Rock Zoulou de Johnny Clegg & Sipho Mchunu
2002 New World Survivor
2006 Heart of the Dancer
2006 One Life 150
2010 Human 109

Live albums



Johnny Clegg & Savuka discography




Year Single Peak positions Album
1986 "Johnny Clegg And Savuka EP" (SA only) EP
1987 "Scatterlings of Africa" 8 75 Third World Child
1988 "Asimbonanga (Mandela)" 2 94
"Great Heart" (UK only)
"I Call Your Name" 10 Shadow Man
"Take My Heart Away"
1989 "Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World" 24 26 86 Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World
1990 "One 'Man, One Vote"
"Dela" (FRA only)
1993 "The Crossing" Heat, Dust & Dreams
"These Days"
2013 "Scatterlings of Africa" (re-entry) 87 Third World Child
"Asimbonanga (Mandela)" (re-entry) 12 45
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "JOHNNY CLEGG BIOGRAPHY AND AWARDS". Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  2. 1 2 Stars of David: Rock'n'roll's Jewish Stories by Scott R. Benarde, pp. 280-83
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Black and White and Heard All Over, Johnny Clegg and Savuka Cross South Africa's Color Barrier". People. 24 October 1988. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Sassen, Robyn (16 October 2002). "Johnny Clegg: A South African Story". PopMatters. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  5. 1 2 Beats of the Heart: Rhythm of Resistance (1979), dir. Jeremy Marre
  6. 1 2 3 4 "Johnny Clegg On South Africa, Post-Mandela". WBUR. 28 April 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  7. Lewis, Randy (12 August 1993). "South Africa's Johnny Clegg: A Witness to History". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Byrnes, Brian (18 July 1996). "Clegg leads carnival of creativity". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  9. Shoot the Singer!: Music Censorship Today by Marie Korpe, pp. 89
  10. Allan, Jani. Vive le Zoulou Blanc! That’s how the French laud Johnny and make him top of their pops. Sunday Times (South Africa). 3 July 1988
  11. Nichols, John (16 April 2014). "The singer who danced with Mandela returning to Madison". The Cap Times. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  12. "White father of African rock marks anniversary – Mail & Guardian Online". Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  13. "South Africa's Johnny Clegg brings high-energy music to Wingate University". Wingate University. 17 March 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  14. 1 2 "Johnny Clegg". Appleseed Music. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  15. "Cologne Zulu Festival". Works of Music - Network Medien. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  16. Locey, Bill (1 August 1996). "Band, in Tune With Politics, Back on Tour". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  17. "VIDEO For Nelson Mandela: Johnny Clegg's 'Asimbonanga'". National Public Radio. 25 June 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  18. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 110. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  19. "Whispers: An Elephant's Tale (2000)". Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  20. "Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees (2002)". Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  21. Archived 1 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  22. "Human Rights Activist, Jonathan "Johnny" Clegg Recieves(sic) Honorary Degree – CUNY School of Law". 15 April 2011. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  23. "National orders to be awarded | News24". 24 April 2012. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  24. "Dartmouth Commencement 2012 – Johnny Clegg, Doctor of Humane Letters". 10 June 2012. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  25. "'Music Legend' Johnny Clegg Receives Honorary Doctorate". 17 April 2013. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  26. "Honorary awards for their courageous contributions". Daily News. Independent Online. 17 April 2013. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  27. "Johnny Clegg Receives OBE for Services to South African Democracy". SAPeople news. 27 November 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-27.
  28. "Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Birthday Honours 2015 – South Africa". 13 June 2015. Retrieved 2015-12-02.
  29. Archived 22 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  30. 1 2 "Johnny Clegg discography". Hung Medien. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  31. "Johnny Clegg discography". Hung Medien. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  32. "The Official Charts Company – Johnny Clegg". The Official Charts Company. 2 May 2014.
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