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Johnny Clegg Juluka

Return of the Universal

by Lindokuhle Nkosi / 01.09.2011

This is bizarre. It seems a spaceship has beamed up a nostalgic segment of middle-aged white South Africa and zipped them over to the Grand West Casino to hear traditional Zulu music. Castle Lagers in hand, they shuffle and wiggle their hips to the rhythm. iPhones snap pictures of Le Zoulou Blanc dancing on stage. Biltong is consumed. In unison, the crowd sings along about the plight of being a 3rd world child, mangling random syllables that kind of resemble Zulu words in the parts that they do not know.

Johnny Clegg is a fusion. A brilliant story-teller, singer and anthropologist; his once-off 30 year anniversary performance was a melodic walk in the footsteps of a man who embodies the diversity of the country we live in. Slightly put-off by the suburban middle class crowd, and a security guards who questioned the validity of my ticket, I had a gnawing suspicion that I wouldn’t make it through the night. Obviously, I underestimated the pull of the legend that is Johnny Clegg. The Grand Arena usually reserves capacity crowds for the likes of Kylie Minogue and whichever other long-forgotten international acts are enjoying a brief dance with their fading celebrity on a South African tour. But Johnny Clegg is that kind of legend.

His set is versatile: from 70’s soft rock cleverly infused with classy brass; to hard-hitting, staggered mbaqanga guitar riffs. His music has become a custodian of history, nostalgia and truth. But the man standing behind me grows tired of his inter-song adlibbing. Mr Clegg is talking about “The Crossing”, a song he wrote for a fallen band member and mentor, Dudu Ndlovu who was assassinated in South Africa’s post-91 political instability. The man is bored and resents the history lesson. “Just sing!” he shouts. The irony of his impatience is not lost. Neither is that of the lack of black faces in the crowd.

Although his music is just as “traditional” as that of Ihashi Elimhlophe, but I can’t imagine Ihashi or Shwi noMtekhala would draw the same audience that Johnny Clegg has attracted to the Grand West Casino. Perhaps the key lies in how he blends English and Zulu, both the languages and their respective rhythms, into one fluid song. The English verses act as a conduit that allows this audience to “feel” the heaving Zulu choruses and maskandi riffs. This mixture of context and language, however, is exactly what kept his music off the radio for so many years. In those bad old days, white radio stations wouldn’t play it because the songs contained isiZulu; and the Zulu stations wouldn’t play the music because of the English. It was only when Juluka’s “African Sky Blue” broke internationally that SAUK thought they better start representing. He had to force his way into a market that was reluctant to support him, performing in open fields, migrant hostels and university campuses.

Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu

A deafening roar fills the auditorium when Sipho Mchunu joins the honorary Zulu on stage. Behind them, teenage versions of themselves are memorialised in black-and-white on big screens. The present-day front men of Juluka move vibrantly on the stage. Age has not robbed them of their vigour. Lifting their legs high above their heads, they bring them slamming down on the hardwood stage with the strength of their younger selves, but their old bones betray them humorously when, at the end of the choreography, they take a few seconds to catch their breath and lift their bodies off the floor.
“Yoh, my back!” Sipho Mchunu hyperventilates into the mic.

The first three bars of “Impi” lifts the seated attendees to their feet. They raise their beers in nostalgic homage to a heritage built around braai, beers, Bokke and boerewors; even though the song is actually a post-dated call-to-arms to the Zulu warriors who fought during the battle of Isandlwana. More Irony. More spilt Castle Lager. When Mr Clegg begins to speak about the hardships he encountered in apartheid South Africa, and the ecological damage done by humans to the earth, the Golden Circle concert crowd try to jog him along with slow claps and the odd heckle. Apparently, singing along enthusiastically to songs about tolerance is no indication that you possess any. A large number of attendees leave to refill their plastic cups when a hostel dance group comes to perform on stage. It would seem that while a vast number of people in the audience are happy to jive to that crossover maskandi fusion beat, they want no part in the political motivation that brought Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu into that space.

A Johnny Clegg performance is an enthralling experience, a journey, but in the Grand West Arena it’s patently obvious that being a fan, does not mean we’re ready to board the train.

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RESPONSES (24)
  1. SWF says:

    You have plenty insult for the white middle aged crowd & merely mention that there were so few black faces….no mention how they seem not keen to support the act let alone “board the train”

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  2. Alex Smit says:

    Good story. Worth writing.

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  3. Myolisi Sikupela says:

    “It would seem that while a vast number of people in the audience are happy to jive to that crossover maskandi fusion beat, they want no part in the political motivation that brought Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu into that space”

    And hopefully you came to such a finis after jumping on stage and grabbing the mic from Johnny and broaching a discussion on what brought Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu into that space. If not, then you almost ruined a good review with an assumption.

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  4. Justme says:

    How could you possibly know the political sentiments of a concert audience? Were they sporting swastika armbands that brought you to that conclusion? Or perhaps that is just coming out of your own prejudice?

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  5. whatever says:

    def a kak article

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  6. Andy says:

    like a white fright fight night up in here

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  7. @Justme says:

    Of course he could tell what the political sentiments of the crowd were just by looking at them. They were white – so obviously they were all well-heeled Broederbond members opposed to the national democratic revolution and came out to see Juluka to take a break from plotting the fall of the rainbow nation from the control bunkers beneath their dop counters in their vrystaat homeland. What kind of an ignorant, generalising, racist, stereotyping, cocksucker are you anwyay?

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  8. lindokushle says:

    Where did I mention what the “political sentiment” of the crowd was?

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  9. YsterHart says:

    Well… the heckling might have been a clue…

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  10. Just me says:

    “It would seem that while a vast number of people in the audience are happy to jive to that crossover maskandi fusion beat, they want no part in the political motivation that brought Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu into that space”

    …that’s where

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  11. Just me says:

    What kind of an ignorant, generalising, racist, stereotyping, cocksucker are you anwyay?

    talking to yourself? they have tablets for that you know….

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  12. Lindokushle says:

    heckling, slow-clapping to censor him at his own concert, leaving when he showcases the dance that has informed a major part of his career…. all these actions are very telling, and you lack the capacity to infer anything from this then maybe you should consider some pharmaceutical help.

    And yes, I get it, cock-sucker…ooooh, insult!

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  13. Pastor John says:

    If Jesus could see you all fightin and bitchin he would cry poisonous lambs blood down upon your fuckin stupid heads.

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  14. UMHLANGA ROXX says:

    good piece – why do the comments always degenerate into a stupid swamp of insults. I must say I prefer Cleggs Sting type voice to his previous Cat Stevens but the man has never been hip ..always something of an anthro-apologist. Respect to the success though.It obviously works for some.

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  15. Just Saying says:

    Thank you, Lindokuhle. We’re not all as fantastically thin-skinned as some of the knee-jerkers on this forum. I have often marveled at the capacity of my fellow whites to get misty-eyed over Impi while simultaneously believing that Zulus are savages. I suppose it’s because whites have no culture of their own beyond an obsession with landscape, nostalgia, sentimentality and Victorian muscular Christianity, and so cherry-pick everything that suits them.

    Pay no attention to the knee-jerkers. They are not bad people, just desperately short of empathy and perspective.

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  16. Anonymous says:

    “whites have no culture of their own”

    Fuck you

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  17. Anonymous says:

    Read a book or two

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  18. Just me says:

    @ lindokushle…I’m confused…u think I called u “cocksucker”….I was quoting the person insulting me…..
    I wld never stoop so low to insult u….the piece is well-written……kudos to your appraisal of Johnny Clegg……I just catch such a wiff of your lack of tolerance to the white middle-class etc…..if I read it wrong I apologize…..but I don’t see why its bizzarre that the crowd shld be white middle aged…..Johnny Clegg is white middle aged………I’m (no shit) white middle-aged…….I was part of the young crowd that supported Jaluka when they played @ varsities….revelling in the music that brought together culture in a society where it was taboo ,,,,and I hated that oppressive society…..I’m just saying….some of that crowd may feel the same….the seemingly lack of etiquette (more than tolerance) may be….& I say only MAY be…because of all the Castle guzzling….& a middle-aged Castle guzzling black man may have behaved the same

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  19. Just me says:

    perhaps I should have put that whole foaming fury of insults into quotes……@Just me was calling ME all that…..so I REALLY apologise…..never in a million yrs intended your way

    I just found it a joke that he/she cld say all that after all their rascist generalising ranting & here I’l quote:

    …..”Of course he could tell what the political sentiments of the crowd were just by looking at them. They were white – so obviously they were all well-heeled Broederbond members opposed to the national democratic revolution and came out to see Juluka to take a break from plotting the fall of the rainbow nation from the control bunkers beneath their dop counters in their vrystaat homeland. What kind of an ignorant, generalising, racist, stereotyping, cocksucker are you anwyay?”…….

    now THAT’S bizarre

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  20. Pastor John says:

    ” I have often marveled at the capacity of my fellow whites to get misty-eyed over Impi while simultaneously believing that Zulus are savages. I suppose it’s because whites have no culture of their own beyond an obsession with landscape, nostalgia, sentimentality and Victorian muscular Christianity, and so cherry-pick everything that suits them.”

    Please provide some survey evidence – that sounds quite broad. Or are ‘your fellow whites’ the boep n kortbroek guys who hand out at the pub where you wait tables?

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  21. Larwood says:

    I just cant belive that the Parlotones will be the supporting band at the cold play concert. Now thats a Mayday!

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  22. lindokushle says:

    @Just me and not @@ Just me,

    Apologies for the part I played in the confusion. There’s no denying that alcohol played a factor, but one wonder to what extent it aggravated an already existing impatience…

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  23. DDD says:

    Great for us to be talking about our shit. Nice piece. Less of aggro responses – you insult your own intelligence

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  24. Just me says:

    well, lindokushle, to be fair I wasn’t there & had I been there I might have agreed with you. It was a genuine question tho…..there’s no denying the attitudes you’ve mentioned (or alluded to) exist…my impression was just that a growing annoyance from within you towards an existing culture may be colouring some of your perspective……all I’m saying is don’t let the aggravation to an existing impatience colour a whole crowd with the same brush….if that make sense…..perhaps prejudism is too strong a word……altho I’ve found that my personal experience with some my white comrades leads me to make generalistaions towards others of the same look/culture (prejudism)…..just don’t be bitter…..maybe I should’ve just kept my comments to myself…..and not had such a kneejerk reaction to some of the abuse hurled at me…..your piece was great, it just inferred a hint of bitterness in my opinion – I should’ve held my peace.

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