Sunday 23 October 2016

Clegg honour for lifetime of music

Published 12/06/2015 | 22:36

Johnny Clegg mixes Zulu traditions with Western styles
Johnny Clegg mixes Zulu traditions with Western styles

South African musician Johnny Clegg says being honoured with an OBE is a "tremendous recognition and validation of my involvement over the past 40 years of music and cultural activism".

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Clegg, 62, is named on the diplomatic and service overseas list for the Queen's Birthday honours.

Born near Rochdale, England, then brought up in Zimbabwe, at the age of 11 his family moved to South Africa.

Clegg's father was a crime reporter, who used to take him into the South African townships where a majority of the black population were housed.

It was here among the township people that Clegg discovered his love of music and different cultures.

Later, while studying anthropology at university, Clegg's creative fire was ignited and he decided to experiment with Western and Zulu lyrics and sounds, combined in music.

The result was his famous Juluka - meaning sweat in Zulu - which he formed with his friend from the townships, Sipho Mchunu.

Clegg and Mchunu soon made a name for themselves as they ignored the apartheid laws, which stipulated that mixed-race performances in public places were illegal.

The duo gained a strong following and despite the many hardships, went on to become one of South Africa's most successful music acts.

When asked who he would be taking to the palace, Clegg said: " I would have loved to have taken my mum but she is now 86 and frail.

"I am bringing my wife Jenny."

His accolade refers to the work he has done for democracy in South Africa, which is currently in a turbulent state.

Talking about democracy, he said: " We are 21 years old as a democracy and thankfully a constitutional state. The constitution acts as a bulwark against abuse of power, which over the past five years has increased enormously.

"I think our main problems are endemic corruption, particularly at the level of municipalities, although senior government officials are also under scrutiny.

"The second debilitating issue is the practice of so-called 'deployment' by the government. This means they will place people in senior parastatal positions, like Eskom our national electricity provider, and these people have no technical qualification and they are rewarded simply for their political loyalty.

"Thirdly, the most dangerous aspect of our struggling democracy is the capturing of independent branches of government by the ruling party including the National Prosecuting Authority, the SA revenue services and the independence of the police. Thankfully these moments can be challenged legally and our constitutional court deals with a number of these cases constantly."

Despite a slew of obstacles in his path, Clegg says his passion for music never wavered.

"I could hear a music in my head that mixed African language and melodies with Western forms of music. It was an obsession as I wanted to match what I was hearing with what was possible.

"With apartheid and cultural segregation operating in full force during this time, it was immensely challenging. When I did the first Juluka album I realised that I had managed to create a completely new format and cross-over music and if I stopped, someone else would pick up the ball and run with it.

"My experience of harassments and arrests and closing down some of my shows, as well as being banned on the radio, radicalised me and within two years I was a fully-fledged cultural activist."

Press Association

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