Johnny Clegg

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Johnny Clegg
Clegg singing and playing concertina
Clegg performing live in 2009
Background information
Birth nameJonathan Paul Clegg
Also known asLe Zoulou Blanc
Born(1953-06-07)7 June 1953
Bacup, Lancashire, England
Died16 July 2019(2019-07-16) (aged 66)
Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • instrumentalist
  • dancer
  • anthropologist

  • anti-apartheid activist
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar, concertina
Years active1969–2018
Formerly ofJuluka, Savuka
Jenny Bartlett
(m. 1988)
ChildrenJesse Clegg

Jonathan Paul Clegg, OBE OIS (7 June 1953 – 16 July 2019) was a South African musician, singer-songwriter, dancer, anthropologist and anti-apartheid activist.

He first performed as part of a duo - Johnny & Sipho - with Sipho Mchunu which released its first single, Woza Friday in 1976. The two then went on to form the band Juluka which released its debut album in 1979. In 1986, Clegg founded the band Savuka, and also recorded as a solo act, occasionally reuniting with his earlier band partners. Sometimes called Le Zoulou Blanc (French: [lə zulu blɑ̃], for "The White Zulu"), he was an important figure in South African popular music and a prominent white figure in the resistance to apartheid,[3] becoming for a period the subject of investigation by the security branch of the South African Police.[4] His songs mixed English with Zulu lyrics, and also combined working class African music with various forms of Western popular music.[5]

Early life and career[edit]

Clegg was born on 7 June 1953 in Bacup, Lancashire,[6] to an English father of Scottish descent, Dennis Clegg, and a Rhodesian mother, Muriel (Braudo).[7][8] Clegg's mother's family were Jewish immigrants from Belarus and Poland and Clegg had a secular Jewish upbringing, learning about the Ten Commandments but refusing to have a bar mitzvah or even associate with other Jewish children at school.[9] He moved with his mother to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) at age 6 months, and his parents divorced soon afterwards. At age six, he moved to South Africa with his mother,[10] also spending part of a year in Israel during his childhood.[9]

As an adolescent in Johannesburg's northern suburbs, he encountered the demi-monde of the city's Zulu migrant workers' music and dance. Under the tutelage of Charlie Mzila, a flat cleaner by day and musician by night, Clegg mastered both the Zulu language and the maskandi guitar and the isishameni dance styles of the migrants.[11] Clegg's involvement with black musicians often led to arrests for trespassing on government property and for contravening the Group Areas Act. He was first arrested at the age of 15 for violating apartheid-era laws in South Africa banning people of different races from congregating together after curfew hours.[12]

At the age of 16, he met Sipho Mchunu, a Zulu migrant worker with whom he began performing music.[10] The partnership, which they named Juluka, began in 1969,[13] and was profiled in the 1970s television documentary Beats of the Heart: Rhythm of Resistance.[14]

After graduating with a BA(Hons) in Social Anthropology from the University of Witwatersrand, Clegg pursued an academic career for four years where he lectured and wrote several seminal scholarly papers on Zulu music and dance.[11] In the early stages of his musical career, Clegg combined his music with the study of anthropology[14] at Wits, where he was influenced by the work of David Webster, a social anthropologist who was later assassinated in 1989.[12][15][16]

He preceded each song with snippets of Zulu culture, information, commentary, humor and personal anecdotes relevant and unique to that song,[11] occasionally also incorporating aspects of his Jewish roots in songs such as "Jericho", "Jarusalema" and "Warsaw 1943".[9]


Juluka 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.[17] The group tested the apartheid-era laws, touring and performing in private venues, including universities, churches, hostels, and even private homes in order to attract an audience, as national broadcasters would not play their music.[6]

Just as unusually, the band's music combined Zulu, Celtic, and rock elements, with both English and Zulu lyrics.[17] Those lyrics often contained coded political messages and references to the battle against apartheid,[18] although Clegg maintained that Juluka was not originally intended to be a political band. "Politics found us," he told The Baltimore Sun in 1996.[17] 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."[19]

Juluka's music was both implicitly and explicitly political; not only was the fact of the success of the band (which openly celebrated African culture in a bi-racial band) a thorn in the flesh of a political system based on racial separation, the band also produced some explicitly political songs. For example, the album Work for All (which includes a song with the same title) picked up on South African trade union slogans in the mid-1980s.[20] As a result of their political messages and racial integration, Clegg and other band members were arrested several times and concerts routinely broken up.[21]

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,[6] and had two platinum and five gold albums,[17] becoming an international success. The group was disbanded in 1985, when Mchunu retired from music and went back to his family farm to return to his people's traditional life of raising cattle.[13] It was briefly reconstituted when Mchunu and Clegg reunited in the mid-1990s, releasing one final album in 1997 before breaking up for good.[3]


Clegg in 1992

Together with the black musician and dancer Dudu Zulu, Clegg went on to form his second inter-racial band, Savuka, in 1986, continuing to blend African music with European influences.[10][12][17] The group's first album, Third World Child, broke international sales records in several European countries, including France.[22] The band went on to record several more albums, including Heat, Dust and Dreams, which received a Grammy Award nomination.[23] 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. Despite his high-profile (and personally hazardous) opposition to the South African regime, this led to Clegg's expulsion from the British Musicians' Union,[10] in what one writer has since called "a fit of pique".[5] 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".[24] In 1993, the band dissolved after Dudu Zulu was shot and killed while attempting to mediate a taxi war.[12][15][17]

Juluka reunion and solo career[edit]

Johnny Clegg at la fête de l'Humanité, France, 2007

Briefly reunited in the mid-1990s, Clegg and Mchunu reformed Juluka, released a new album,[23] and toured throughout the world in 1996 with King Sunny Adé.[25] In the following years, Clegg recorded several solo albums.

During one concert in 1999, he was joined on stage by South African President Nelson Mandela, who danced as Johnny Clegg sang the protest song "Asimbonanga" that Savuka had dedicated to Mandela. Asimbonanga became an anthem of protest 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.[15][26]

His touring schedule was abbreviated in 2017 after he underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer, and Clegg performed his last concert in Harare, Zimbabwe on 3 November 2018.[6][15]

Clegg on stage in 2013


In popular culture[edit]

Clegg's song "Scatterlings of Africa" gave him his only entries in the UK Singles Chart, reaching No. 44 in February 1983 with Juluka and No. 75 in May 1987 as Johnny Clegg and Savuka. The following year the song was featured on the soundtrack to the 1988 Oscar-winning film Rain Man.[27]

His song "Life is a Magic Thing" was featured in FernGully: The Last Rainforest.[28]

Savuka's song "Dela" was featured on the soundtrack of the 1997 film George of the Jungle and its 2003 sequel,[28] while "Great Heart" was the title song for the 1986 film Jock of the Bushveld and the end credits song for the 2000 film Whispers: An Elephant's Tale. "Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World" was featured in the 1990 film Opportunity Knocks and 1991 film Career Opportunities.[28]

Jimmy Buffett recorded "Great Heart" for his 1988 album, Hot Water.[29]


Illness and death[edit]

Johnny Clegg was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015,[41] which ultimately led to his death on 16 July 2019. He died in his Johannesburg home surrounded by loved ones and was laid to rest the following day in Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg.[42][43] Clegg was survived by his wife, Jenny, and his two sons, Jesse (also a musician)[44] and Jaron.


Academic publications[edit]

  • Clegg, Jonathan (1981). "Ukubuyisa Isidumbu – "Bringing back the body": An examination into the ideology of vengeance in the Msinga and Mpofana rural locations (1882–1944)". In Bonner, P. (ed.). Working Papers in Southern African Studies. Vol. 2. Johannesburg: Ravan Press (in association with The African Studies Institute). pp. 164–198. ISBN 0854946446. OCLC 243478214.
  • Clegg, Jonathan (1981). Tracey, Andrew (ed.). "The Music of Zulu Immigrant Workers in Johannesburg: A Focus on Concertina and Guitar". Papers Presented at the Symposium on Ethnomusicology. Grahamstown: International Library of African Music.
  • Clegg, Jonathan (1982). Tracey, Andrew (ed.). "Towards an understanding of African Dance: The Zulu Isishameni Style". Papers Read at Second Symposium on Ethnomusicology, 24–26 September 1981, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. Grahamstown: Institute of Social and Economic Research.
  • Clegg, Jonathan (1984). "Examination of the Umzansi dance style". In Tracey, Andrew (ed.). Papers presented at the Third and Fourth symposia on Ethnomusicology: Music Department, University of Natal, Durban, 16 to 19 September 1982; Music Department, Rhodes University, 7 to 8 October 1983. Grahamstown: Institute of Social and Economic Research. ISBN 086810096X. OCLC 13658380.


  • Clegg, Johnny (2021). Scatterling of Africa - My Early Years. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillian. ISBN 9781770107588.[45]





  • 1985 Third World Child
  • 2002 New World Survivor
  • 2003 A South African Story - Live at the Nelson Mandela Theatre
  • 2006 One Life
  • 2010 Human
  • 2010 My Favourite Zulu Street Guitar Songs
  • 2014 Best, Live & Unplugged: Clegg at the Baxter Theatre Cape Town
  • 2017 King of Time


  • 2008 Power of One: the Songs of Johnny Clegg[46]


  • 2003 Johnny Clegg Live at the Nelson Mandela Theatre
  • 2004 Live! and more...[47]
  • 2010 Johnny Clegg 30th Anniversary Concert at Emmarentia Dam[48]


  1. ^ Nobanda, Chuma (16 July 2019). "Legendary musician Johnny Clegg has died". SABC Africa. Archived from the original on 16 July 2019. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  2. ^ Lewis, Randy (26 August 2017). "South Africa's Johnny Clegg, with cancer in remission, to embark the Final Journey U.S. tour". The Morning Call. Allentown, PA. Archived from the original on 8 October 2019. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Mort du chanteur sud-africain Johnny Clegg, " le Zoulou blanc " qui combattait l'apartheid" [Death of South African singer Johnny Clegg, the "white Zulu" who fought apartheid]. Le Monde (in French). Paris. AFP. 16 July 2019. Archived from the original on 16 July 2019. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  4. ^ Erasmus, Paul (2004). "Roger, Me and the Scorpion: Working for the South African Security Services During Apartheid". In Korpe, Marie (ed.). Shoot the Singer!: Music Censorship Today. London/New York: Zed Books. p. 77. ISBN 1842775057.
  5. ^ a b Cartwright, Gareth (24 July 2019). "Johnny Clegg: South African singer whose cross-cultural music was a direct challenge to apartheid". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 25 July 2019. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d "JOHNNY CLEGG BIOGRAPHY AND AWARDS". Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  7. ^ "White Zulu is making a comeback". Independent Online (IOL). Cape Town. 22 July 2006. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  8. ^ Cowell, Alan (17 July 2019). "Johnny Clegg, Who Battled Apartheid With His Voice and Guitar, Dies at 66". The New York Times. p. A28. Retrieved 16 April 2020. (Note that the print and online versions of this article differ slightly, including in their title).
  9. ^ a b c Benarde, Scott R. (2003). Stars of David: Rock'n'roll's Jewish Stories. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press. pp. 3, 279–283. ISBN 1584653035. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d Freeman, Patricia; McCoy, Melissa (24 October 1988). "Black and White and Heard All Over, Johnny Clegg and Savuka Cross South Africa's Color Barrier". People. New York. Archived from the original on 10 June 2017. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  11. ^ a b c "Johnny Clegg (1953–2019)". Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand. 18 July 2019. Archived from the original on 18 July 2019. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d Sassen, Robyn (16 October 2002). "Johnny Clegg: A South African Story". PopMatters. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  13. ^ a b "Johnny Clegg, South African singer and activist, dies aged 66". The Guardian. 16 July 2019. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  14. ^ a b Chris Austin (Director and Producer) (2000). Rhythm of Resistance: Black South African Music (DVD). Newton, NJ: Shanachie Entertainment. OCLC 45598049. (Originally released in 1979).
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  17. ^ a b c d e f Byrnes, Brian (18 July 1996). "Clegg leads carnival of creativity". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  18. ^ Drewett, Michael (2004). "Reinventing Subversion: Resisting Censorship in Apartheid South Africa". In Korpe, Marie (ed.). Shoot the Singer!: Music Censorship Today. London/New York: Zed Books. p. 89. ISBN 1842775057.
  19. ^ Allan, Jani. Vive le Zoulou Blanc! That’s how the French laud Johnny and make him top of their pops. Sunday Times (South Africa). 3 July 1988
  20. ^ Nichols, John (16 April 2014). "The singer who danced with Mandela returning to Madison". The Cap Times. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  21. ^ "White father of African rock marks anniversary". Mail & Guardian. Johannesburg. 7 November 2010. Archived from the original on 9 November 2010. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  22. ^ "South Africa's Johnny Clegg brings high-energy music to Wingate University". Wingate University. Wingate, NC. 17 March 2014. Archived from the original on 21 July 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  23. ^ a b "Johnny Clegg". Appleseed Recordings. Archived from the original on 3 July 2015. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  24. ^ "Cologne Zulu Festival". Works of Music - Network Medien. Archived from the original on 2 July 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  25. ^ Locey, Bill (1 August 1996). "Band, in Tune With Politics, Back on Tour". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  26. ^ "VIDEO For Nelson Mandela: Johnny Clegg's 'Asimbonanga'". National Public Radio. 25 June 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  27. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 110. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  28. ^ a b c "Johnny Clegg dead: South African singer heard in 'George of the Jungle,' 'FernGully' was 66". 17 July 2019. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  29. ^ Sexton, Paul (17 July 2019). "Johnny Clegg, South African Musical Hero And Anthropologist, Dies At 66". uDiscover Music. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  30. ^ a b Benselow, Robin (19 July 2019). "Johnny Clegg obituary". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 19 July 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  31. ^ "The 10 Greatest South Africans of all time". BizCommunity. 27 September 2004. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  32. ^ "Meet Johnny Clegg, Internationally Renowned Musician and Wits Alumnus". University of Witwatersrand. 12 June 2007. Archived from the original on 1 June 2008. Retrieved 14 October 2007.
  33. ^ "Law School Awards Honorary Doctorate To South African Activist Musician". City University of New York. 15 April 2011. Archived from the original on 16 August 2011. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  34. ^ "National orders to be awarded | News24". 24 April 2012. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  35. ^ Kim, Jim Yong (10 June 2012). "Dartmouth Commencement 2012 – Johnny Clegg, Doctor of Humane Letters". Dartmouth College. Archived from the original on 20 June 2012. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  36. ^ "'Music Legend' Johnny Clegg Receives Honorary Doctorate". University of Kwazulu-Natal. 17 April 2013. Archived from the original on 18 April 2020. Retrieved 18 April 2020. Note: For original date of publication see earlier archived version.
  37. ^ "Honorary awards for their courageous contributions". Daily News. Durban. 17 April 2013. Archived from the original on 2 May 2013. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  38. ^ "Johnny Clegg Receives OBE for Services to South African Democracy". SAPeople News. 26 November 2015. Archived from the original on 28 November 2015. Retrieved 19 June 2021.
  39. ^ British High Commissioner, Pretoria (13 June 2015). "Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Birthday Honours 2015 – South Africa". UK Government. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  40. ^ "The Durban University of Technology : 7 September 2018 : Mr Johnny Clegg" (PDF). Durban University of Technology. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  41. ^ Lewis, Randy (16 August 2017). "South Africa's Johnny Clegg, with cancer in remission, to embark the Final Journey U.S. tour". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 16 August 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  42. ^ "Legendary artist Johnny Clegg dies at 66". Independent Online (IOL). Cape Town. 16 July 2019. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  43. ^ "Remembering a legend: 9 of Johnny Clegg's biggest hits". Channel. 16 July 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  44. ^ Thakurdin, Karishma (17 July 2019). "Jesse Clegg on his Dad's Death: I struggle to imagine a world without you". TimesLIVE. Johannesburg. Archived from the original on 17 July 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  45. ^ "Scatterling of Africa, Johnny Clegg's Early Years". Pan Macmillian South Africa. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  46. ^ "Various - Power of One the Songs of Johnny Clegg". Discogs. 13 August 2023.
  47. ^ Cliff, Jimmy (2011). "Clegg, Johnny". In Larkin, Colin (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th Concise ed.). London: Omnibus Press. pp. 183–185. ISBN 9780857125958. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  48. ^ "Johnny Clegg discography". Hung Medien. Retrieved 21 December 2013.

External links[edit]