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by Christina Kennedy
 
He's widely known as “The White Zulu”, but Johnny Clegg is definitely no novelty act. Revered in his native South Africa and abroad for his barrier-busting music, this iconic singer-songwriter will soon be bringing his energetic stage show to Australia and New Zealand.
 
 Johnny Clegg will be heading to these shores in May and June 2009, playing at a variety of concert venues with his knockout band of musicians and dancers. Expatriate South Africans and locals alike are encouraged to come along and experience these dynamic live performances by one of South Africa's most famous, accomplished and award-winning sons.
 
He will be performing at the PCEC Riverside Theatre in Perth on 21 May; at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne on 25 May; at the Sydney State Theatre on 26 May; at the QPAC in Brisbane on 28 May; at the St James Opera Hall in Wellington on 30 May; and in the Auckland Town Hall on 1 June.
 
Born in the UK in 1953, he moved with his family to Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) before settling in SA when he was nine. At age 14, the young Johnny befriended a Zulu flat cleaner who taught him the basics of traditional Zulu music and dance. The inquisitive teen would accompany his friend to Johannesburg's sprawling black townships, but the young white boy's involvement with black musicians often led to him being arrested by the apartheid authorities.
 
His growing reputation as a competent guitarist reached the ears of migrant Zulu worker Sipho Mchunu, who challenged Johnny to a guitar competition – sparking off a friendship and musical partnership that was destined to alter the face of South African music. Their work together was often fraught with racial abuse, threats of violence and police harassment, and the laws of the time meant that the venues where a white and a black musician could perform side by side were scarce. Nevertheless, they persevered, believing that music could break down race barriers and forge common ground, melding English lyrics and Western melodies with Zulu musical structures.

Their big break came in 1976 with the release of their first hit song, Woza Friday, and soon the band Juluka – meaning “sweat” – was formed. Despite many difficulties, including censorship and the banning of their music, they built up a solid reputation thanks to extensive gigging, proving popular with South African audiences across the colour spectrum.

In 1985, Mchunu returned to rural Zululand to farm, and Clegg formed a new band, Savuka

(meaning “we have risen”), mixing African rhythms with Celtic folk music and international rock sounds. This proved the golden ticket to overseas recognition, particularly in the Francophone countries. By the late 1980s, Savuka were selling millions of albums, playing to massive crowds, chalking up number one hits and being named the biggest selling world music group in the world.
 
Prizes and accolades followed by the dozen, including a Grammy nomination. Clegg was named a Knight of Arts and Letters by the Government of France – a rare honour indeed.
 
Since those heady days of Asimbonanga, Great Heart and Scatterlings of Africa, Clegg has continued making music rooted in the African soil but drawing from an array of influences, as his musical curiosity persists to this day, aided no doubt by his academic background in anthropology. He still tours extensively, in South Africa and abroad – including his most recent visit to Australia and New Zealand in 2005. He also lends his voice to former President Nelson Mandela's 46664 HIV and Aids campaign.
 
Throughout his more than three decades as a professional musician, Clegg has stamped his mark not only on South African music, but world music in general. Thanks largely to this trailblazer and his fellow musicians, and despite the odds being stacked firmly against him, indigenous African music was made accessible to the world – and the world gave it a firm thumbs-up.
 
Anyone who has seen Johnny Clegg live on stage will confirm that it's an invigorating, uplifting experience, complete with familiar songs and jaw-dropping Zulu dance routines. His melodies are bound to resonate strongly with locals, expatriates and new converts alike, and hearing the first strains of the stirring anthem “Impi” seldom fails to get the patriotic juices flowing!
 
 
To book for Clegg's performances in the Antipodes, log onto www.cleggdownunder.com and follow the link for any of the performances. Follow an easy login process and proceed to book the required tickets. Don't miss out on the chance to see this “Third World Child” live and in the flesh!
 
 
 
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Posted by Christina Kennedy
21 Apr 2009



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I've been a Johnny Clegg fan since the early days of the amateur "Johnny and Sipho" duo, before Juluka was formed. The shows here a few years ago were superb, and next month's are definitely "Must See". That includes anyone who's not experienced Johnny's music before - be uplifted in these trying times, I defy you not to need to dance.
Rating: 5 / 5
 
by Nick Shears on 02 May 2009

 
 
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