White Zulu is making a comeback

By Time of article published Jul 22, 2006

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Johnny Clegg, or the White Zulu, an anthropologist turned musician, is determined to continue his own struggle for unity and freedom through his distinctly unique style and with a number of projects.

At the forefront of it all at the moment is the release of his new album - One Life - currently on at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg.

Many of the tracks are controversial and meant to stimulate the imagination, says Clegg.

Clegg was born near Manchester in the UK on June 7 1953. A year later he went with his mother and grandfather to Israel and then, after a year, to Zimbabwe where he lived on a farm at Gwelo. "My best friend on the farm was the son of the chauffeur and his name was 'All Right'."

When Clegg's mother, Murial Braudo Clegg, a jazz singer, went on tour in Zimbabwe Clegg, seven at the time, was put into boarding school for six months.

His mother married South African journalist Dan Pienaar whom he considers his "real" father.

"She was still trying to develop her singing career and he was an Afrikaans crime reporter going into the townships and seeing apartheid South Africa in its totality.

"He had a high IQ, a great kwela music collection, and terrible identity problems with being an Afrikaner. Dan took me into the townships when I was about eight or nine," Clegg remembers.

Then, in 1964 his family went to Zambia where he attended a black school and says he got a real sense of being connected. "All my senses were alive. I felt connected," he said.

But when he returned to South Africa, he felt alone and wasn't able to be part of any clique or group so he continued to visit townships.

In 1967, he met Charlie Mzila and later Sipho Mchunu, who taught him how to play the Africanised maskande guitar as well as bhaca (African) dancing.

"At the time I was learning classical Spanish guitar, and I watched him playing and thought his guitar was tuned completely differently. It was weird because he was using finger picks, and playing it differently to what I could ever have imagined. Suddenly there were possibilities for a new and open world," he added.

Clegg's journey into the world of maskande music began and he then moved on to singing in Zulu as well. He started going to hostels where he saw traditional healers, people building shields, dance teams, people selling fighting sticks and spears and everybody in traditional gear.

"I thought this was the most incredible world and through Charlie I was inserted into the culture relatively easily and I danced with them every Saturday.

"I had a good Zulu vocabulary, but I couldn't put the words together. In the end I learnt Zulu through humour and music. People were fascinated by the concept of a white boy who crossed over into tribal urban culture, who was dancing, stick fighting, playing guitar, who was seen in the shebeens and on the roof tops with migrant workers, playing maskande music."

But, before turning to music full time, Clegg went to university and graduated with a BA (Hons) in Social Anthropology and pursued an academic career for four years, lecturing at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Natal.

His partnership with Sipho and their first single, Woza Friday, played on the radio in 1976, was followed by live performances and tours. "(White) People were constantly trying to stop us. They taunted us, yelling 'Vuilgoed' and there was official harassment too."

The formation of Juluka ("sweat" in Zulu), was in total contravention of the apartheid laws of the time, which emphasised the separation of language, race and culture. Much of their music was subjected to censorship and banning and their only way to access an audience was through live touring performances. In 1979 their first album, Universal Men, was released.

Their second African Litany was released in 1981. Although not given airplay Juluka garnered a following by live performances and word-of-mouth. It was followed by Ubuhle Bemvelo. In 1982 and 1983 the group toured the US, Canada, the UK, Germany and Scandinavia and released a new album, Work for All. In 1984 they released Musa Ukungilandela but in 1985 the the friends went their separate ways with Clegg forming Savuka which broke up in 1993. Clegg then rejoined Sipho and they reformed Juluka in 1996 releasing, Ya Vuka Inkunzi.

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