Renaissance man Johnny Clegg is one of South Africa’s most celebrated sons. He is a singer, songwriter, dancer, anthropologist and musical activist, whose vibrant blend of Western pop and African Zulu rhythms exploded onto the international scene more than three decades ago, breaking through all barriers in his own country. Johnny Clegg‘s infectious brand of crossover music has sold over five million recordings worldwide. Recently awarded three honorary doctorates from Dartmouth College, CUNY and University of the Witwatersrand, the Grammy nominee and Billboard Award-winner still tours regularly, both at home and abroad. In 2016, he continues to win over audiences with his audacious live shows and outspoken views on apartheid, on migrant workers in South Africa, and on the world in general.
A June 2012 performance at Montreal’s Club Soda elicited this observation: “A political songwriter, his between-song stories and mini-history lessons are always a cherished part of the experience...But what fills the room is the fact that Clegg is a rocker and a showman. He remains in almost constant motion, delivering infectious, highly tuneful, big-beat songs that are anthemic in a genuine and stirring way, without ever sounding contrived" (Bernard Perusse). Indeed, Johnny Clegg’s history is as bold, colourful and dashing as the rainbow country which he has called home for more than 40 years. Born in Bacup, near Rochdale, England, in 1953, to an English father and Zimbabwean mother, he was brought up in his mother’s native land of Zimbabwe. She married a South African journalist and immigrated to South Africa when Johnny was 7 years old. At the age of 9, he spent two years in Zambia with his parents who then returned to South Africa when he was 11 years old. Between his mother (a cabaret and jazz singer) and his step-father (a crime reporter) who took him into the townships at an early age, Johnny was exposed to a broader cultural perspective than that available to his peers.
Whilst lecturing Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Johnny Clegg worked on the concept of blending English lyrics and Western melodies with Zulu musical structures. This blend was recognized by a South African producer, Hilton Rosenthal, who became the champion of the project and drove it with passion and commitment. North American music fans may remember Johnny’s ‘70s and ‘80s tenure as the leader of Juluka, South Africa’s first bi-racial band and the hit Scatterlings of Africa. Although that trailblazing group disbanded in 1986, it was immediately followed by the formation of its successor, Savuka. In France, where Johnny still enjoys a massive following, he is fondly called “Le Zulu Blanc" – the White Zulu.