Remembering the ‘white Zulu’: Johnny Clegg

Hamba kahle, Johnny Clegg, hamba kahle

Turn the volume up. Listen to Impi again. Listen to Asimbonanga. Listen to the Great Heart. Listen to Scatterlings of Africa. Feel it: the rhythm, the beat, the heart, the soul, the message, the voice of transition in South Africa. Feel Africa. And if your emotions get the best of you, that’s okay. Feel everything, feel it all, because in the words of Johnny Clegg, “It’s a cruel, crazy, beautiful world.”

And bloody hell he was right. Right now, it is cruel, crazy and beautiful; all at the same time. 

There’s a highway of stars across the heavens
The whispering song of the wind in the grass
There’s the rolling thunder across the savanna
A hope and dream at the edge of the sky
And your life is a story like the wind
Your life is a story like the wind.

– Johnny Clegg, Great Heart.

After a long battle with cancer, South African music legend, Johnny Clegg, passed away on the 16th of July 2019 at his family home in Johannesburg.

Clegg was born in England but moved to Zimbabwe where he lived until the age of seven, soon after he immigrated with his mother (originally from Zimbabwe) to South Africa and became exposed to township life when he joined his stepfather, who was a crime reporter, on assignment. It was during these years that Clegg was introduced to Zulu street guitar music and met Sipho Mchunu with whom he formed the band Juluka (translation: Sweat) and they brought a blend of traditional Zulu and pop music to the ears of the world, which were of course censored during Apartheid. Johnny Clegg later formed another racially mixed band, Savuka (translation: We Have Risen), and from 1993 he pursued a solo career, still celebrating Zulu culture and with 20 albums in total behind his name, his career spanned over four decades. 

Clegg was survived by his wife of 31 years, Jenny, and their sons Jesse and Jaron.