RIP Johnny Clegg – a legend is no more

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For the goth purist moaners: No, Johnny Clegg is not a goth star. He’s way more than that, he is a true legend and an example of an artist who fought for the rights of other people. He is an artist which many people appreciaéted musically as well, and so did we.

Jonathan Clegg aka Johnny Clegg who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015, died in his Johannesburg home on 16 July 2019, aged just 66. His touring schedule was abbreviated in 2017 after undergoing surgery for pancreatic cancer, and Clegg performed his last scheduled tour date in Maritius in October of 2018.

Here’s a video from 2018.

Musician and anthropologist

Clegg was a South African musician and anthropologist who recorded and performed with his bands Juluka and Savuka. He formed the band together with the black musician and dancer Dudu Zulu in 1986 blending African music with European influences. The group’s first album, “Third World Child”, broke international sales records after which the band recorded several more albums. In 1993, the band dissolved after Dudu Zulu was shot and killed while attempting to mediate a taxi war.

Expelled from the British Musicians’ Union

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. An utter disgrace caused by a complete misunderstanding of the South African reality.

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”.

‘I’m not a political activist’

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.”

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”. “Asimbonanga” became something of an anthem for the Mass Democratic Movement’s umbrella organisation, the United Democratic Front. During Mandela’s illness and death in 2013, the video of the concert attracted considerable media attention outside South Africa.

Pre-Savuka band Juluka

Before he joined up with Dudu Zulu, Clegg formed Juluka with the black musician Mchunu. It 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.

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, becoming an international success. The group was disbanded in 1985, when Mchunu returned to his rural home to care for his family.

The band briefly reunited in the mid-1990s, and released a new album, and toured throughout the world in 1996 with King Sunny Ade.

Rest in peace Johnny, our sincere condolences to the family and friends of this legend.

Here are some more songs.

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