About Jonathan Clegg
Jonathan "Johnny" Clegg was born near Manchester, England in Bacup, Lancashire (or in Rochdale, sources differ) on June 7, 1953. His mother's parents were Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, who had settled in Rhodesia, where his mother was born. His father was a Royal Air Force pilot.
Clegg speaks fluent Zulu, married his wife in a traditional white Christian church ceremony and also followed Zulu custom, "marrying" her again after she gave birth to their son, a ritual documented on the joyful Moliva.
"It wasn't a political act or a media event," Clegg says. "It was a celebration of my son's birth with the community I grew up with."
Johnny Clegg's son, Jesse, is today a musician also.
His father left when he was a baby and his mother took him back to Rhodesia in late 1953 and he was brought up there on his grandfather's farm. Interestingly, she had been a volunteer in the War of Independence in Israel in 1948 and after Clegg Senior left them, she first made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel with baby Jonathan, but soon left to return to her parents farm.
An important figure in South African music, he is sometimes called "The White Zulu". Clegg has recorded and performed with his bands Juluka and Savuka, with songs that mix Zulu with English lyrics, and African with various Western European (such as Celtic) music styles. He may be best known outside of South Africa for the song he wrote with his band Juluku, Asimbonanga (Mandela), which was on their 1987 album Universal Men and was popularized by Joan Baez.
Clegg learned Ndebele from the farm labourers on his grandparents' farm. When his mother moved to Johannesburg to work as a nightclub singer, he became interested in Zulu music and dance.
Charlie Mzale, from Kwazulu, became his teacher. "One evening my mother sent me out to do some shopping and I met Charlie, playing guitar on the corner. His skill was so amazing, I just asked him right out if he would be my teacher." He also introduced Clegg to the migrant workers' hostels where he was drawn to Zulu dance. "The hostel really came to life at weekends. That's when everybody would drink huge quantities of alcohol, listen to music, dance and fight. On Sundays there were contests between various Zulu dance teams." Clegg was only 14 or 15 years old and defied police and joined one of the hostels' dance teams and took part in the contests. During this time, his mother enrolled him in a Zulu language course at the University of Johannesburg.
Clegg also spent ten years as a student and teacher of anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand. In his first year, he studied social anthropology, politics, Zulu (where all the students were white and the lecturers were black), and phonetics and linguistics, which he dropped for English. “Zulu was the only one I passed,” he said in a recent interview. In 1971, he was the only white person in South Africa to write Zulu as a matric subject, passing with ease.
He formed the first prominent racially mixed South African band, Juluka, with gardener and Zulu musician Sipho Mchunu during the time of apartheid. It was illegal for racially mixed bands to perform in South Africa, so their first album Universal Men received no official radio air play, but it became a word-of-mouth hit.
Clegg spoke about the early days of Juluka in Jeremy Marre’s film Rhythm of Resistance:
"Originally, it was very difficult to play together in public, the laws being as they are: a black and a white not being allowed to play on a stage, or to a mixed audience. Things are starting to ease up slowly. … We’ve got a few sort of little hidden venues where everybody can come together and enjoy each others’ music." In an interview with Chris Stapleton that appeared in African All-Stars: The Pop Music of a Continent, Clegg reflected on the group’s success. "Juluka appeared at a time when black people were buying up records by the [American pop-soul group the] O’Jays in the hundreds and thousands. … We went back to our roots. A cult fashion began, with people playing roots music. You had something similar in 1970, and again in 1976 with the black-consciousness movement, an attempt to recapture and to stress African roots and origins."
Albums and CDs
- Universal Men 1979 (with Juluka)
- Third World Child 1987 (with Savuka)
- One Life 2007
- Human 2010
"Impi" - Johnny Clegg & Savuka
Impi! wo nans impi iyeza (A battle regiment is coming)
Obani bengathinta amabhubesi? (Who can touch the lions?)
All along the river Chelmsford's army lay asleep
Come to crush the children of Mageba
Come to exact the realm's price for peace
And in the morning as they saddled up to ride
Their eyes shone with the fire and the steel
The general told them of the task that lay ahead
To bring the people of the sky to heel
Mud and sweat on polished leather
Warm rain seeping to the bone
They rode through the season's wet weather
Straining for a glimpse of the foe
Hopeless battalion destined to die
Broken by the benders of kings
Vainglorious general and Victorian pride
Would cost him and eight hundred men their lives
They came to the side of the mountain
Scouts rode out to spy the land
Even as the realm's soldiers lay resting
Mageba's forces were at hand
And by the evening the vultures were wheeling
Above the ruins where the fallen lay
An ancient song as old as the ashes
Echoed as Mageba's warriors marched away
"Scatterlings Of Africa - Johnny Clegg & Savuka
Copper sun sinking low
Scatterlings and fugitives
Hooded eyes and weary brows
Seek refuge in the night
They are the scatterlings of Africa
Each uprooted one
On the road to Phelamanga
Where the world began
I love the scatterlings of Africa
Each and every one
In their hearts a burning hunger
Beneath the copper sun
Ancient bones from Olduvai
Echoes of the very first cry
"Who made me here and why
Beneath the copper sun?"
Make the future clear
Make the future clear
And we are the scatterlings of Africa
Both you and I
We are on the road to Phelamanga
Beneath a copper sky
And we are the scatterlings of Africa
On a journey to the stars
Far below, we leave forever
Dreams of what we were
- Liner notes from the CD Johnny Clegg & Sipho Mchunu (Duo Juluka)/Ladysmith Black Mambazo
- Wikipedia article on Johnny Clegg
- Johnny Clegg: A South African Story By Robyn Sassen in Pop Matters.
- WITS Review, July 2008 Interview with Johnny Clegg, his mother and cousin upon the occasion of his receiving an honorary doctorate in music.
- answers.com Johnny Clegg
- Stars of David: rock'n'roll's Jewish stories by Scott R. Benarde. UPNE, 2003.