Written by Deborah Goemans for thesouthafrican.com
If music represents the heart of the tribe, Johnny Clegg represents my tribe; my heart: the English-speaking white South Africans to whom he spoke in a language we could only half understand: English/Zulu or Zulu/English; Zuglish?
We had Afrikaans as a second language and that wasn’t Johnny’s jol. Even the songs we think we understand fully, we find we’ve missed a tooth, a claw, a hint to open up, to learn more, try to understand. Or to put it in Internet “SongLyrics” lingo: try to make sense of the [unverified].
Juluka: Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu
When Juluka, a duo consisting of Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu, hit the scene in the late seventies/early eighties, they changed my world view. I am proud to say I was a fan early on.
I saw them perform at UCT way back in the day and fell in love. Sjoe, they were great, man. Dressed in big pants and tight tops, with armbands, nog, Johnny and Sipho looked right—African, but African with an early eighties twist. Eighties to the nines and fitting into the bright alt-poprock style of the time.
Listen to Fever on YouTube and you’ll hear how their cross-over sound reflects the zeitgeist: Talking Heads, Eurythmics, The Cure, Simple Minds, REM. And when Paul Simon released Graceland, the world was ready to embrace Juluka’s deeper African sounds too.
Remembering the ‘The White Zulu’ in lyrics
Le Zoulou Blanc (The White Zulu), as Clegg was known, became famous in France. Back in 1986 when I lived in the Netherlands, I heard there was a newspaper headline in France saying the “White Man Who Wants to be Black [Clegg] Outsells the Black Man Who Wants to be White [Michael Jackson]” (I can’t verify that, but a part of me deeply wants it to be true).
I don’t think the alt-rock sound was their best work; Juluka’s, or Savuka’s —the band Clegg formed when Mchunu decided to return to his family in the Transkei. Like Queen, like Prince, like James Brown, Johnny Clegg created anthems. He created music that changed a nation. He built bridges with his words. His lyrics punctured the bubble of apartheid and its smoke and mirrors. And that’s what I’m writing about today. The lyrics.
In the early eighties, my friend Monique and I decided to busk (a fancy term for beg, I’m sure) in Muizenberg on the pavilion because busking was a thing and we were artists, ek se.
I put on my blue leotard and some matching legwarmers, tried to big-up my dead-straight hair Flashdance-like, put a hat on the ground to collect all the money I was going to get (beg?), and danced to African Sky Blue.
African sky blue, your children wait for the dawn
African sky blue, soon a new day will be born
It’s a joyful song on the face of it: sunshine, dance, bless my life! And then, reality hits:
The warrior’s now a worker and his war is underground
With cordite in the darkness he milks the bleeding veins of gold
When the smoking rockface murmurs, he always thinks of you
African sky blue, will you see him through?
To be honest, I had no idea how to dance to that life vision. And my white’s only audience of “What now is going on here?” passing by just looking to catch a tan on the white’s only beach, knew it too.
My total cash earnings? Fifty cents. I think my mother threw the money in my hat just before I threw in the towel.
But Johnny knew how to dance to the African vision. And he knew it because he lived it.
The song “Orphans of the Empire” is an anthem to my feelings. It might not reflect all of my tribe, but for those of us who love the South Africa of our birth but have for various reasons moved overseas, “Orphans of the Empire” is our song. And it’s worth exploring on a deeper level.
The song is a response to two famous and poignant poems by English poet Rupert Brooke. In “The Soldier” Brooke spoke of turning to English dust concealed in a foreign field:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed
In the second poem, “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester,” Brooke speaks of a soldier thinking of his home in England “Just now the lilac is in bloom,” and sees in his mind’s eye the way the church clock seems to pause at tea time “ten to three?” and wonders, “And is there honey still for tea?”
Clegg’s “Orphans of the Empire” replies with deep understanding and only a little bit of mockery. He understands and anticipates the pain of those of us fated to be the descendants of the Empire in an Africa in which we feel we don’t belong. We pray the words with Johnny:
Hold me close Africa
Fill my soul Africa
Let me grow old, Africa
Let me in
Fill my soul Africa
Don’t let me go, Africa
Let me grow old, Africa
It’s a plea to let me stay. Let me belong. And then—we give up. We sort of, sommer, give up. We add a pathetic, well, okay, but don’t think we didn’t do anything:
And remember me
We have become orphans of an empire, and Johnny chastises us even as he understands:
Soon you will return to that dream across the sea
Cause here is no more honey left for tea
Tearing down walls
Johnny Clegg did not become a bewildered orphan of the empire, and he tore down walls instead of building them.
In “Asimbonanga” Clegg breaks the silence imposed of the apartheid government. He speaks out loud the names that are not allowed to be spoken; the anti-apartheid voices that were imprisoned and murdered: Mandela, Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge, Neil Aggett.
Names many South Africans had never heard before.
Johnny Clegg, like Mandela, had the words to close the distance between South Africans.
Now, as he crosses over the burning water, too soon, way too soon, we thank him for his service. Hamba kahle, brother. Give Madiba our love.
We will remember you.
The country is still coming to terms with the untimely passing of iconic musician, Johnny Clegg. Alas, life, unfortunately, must go on and details of his memorial service have been revealed.
Johnny Clegg: What was the cause of death?
Johnny Clegg was loved by all South Africans. His immersion into the diverse makeup of this country, coming from the United Kingdom, was an adoration that made him the ‘White Zulu’ we all fell in love with.
Knowhere in the world would one expect to hear such a wonderful voice, crooning in English and South Africa’s indigenous languages, over Maskandi’s acoustic instrumentals.
Johnny Clegg was fluent in Zulu. Seeing that he spent time in Zimbabwe, we suspect that he could speak Shona too.
The iconic singer challenged the stereotypes of whiteness in Africa and his vocal talents broke through a genre whose origins could be traced back to the Eastern Cape.
However, what many of us did not know was that Clegg was battling with pancreatic cancer. After many years of living with the disease, Clegg succumbed to it in his Johannesburg home, on Tuesday, 16 July.
What will happen with the rumoured autobiography?
By this time, Johnny Clegg had gracefully retired from music. His fans were still expecting him to deliver on one other promise he had made for years — the publication of his autobiography.
After his passing, rumours swirled around its potential existence. When we reached out to his manager, Roddy Quin, to confirm the information, he stated that he could not respond to that statement at the time.
“At this stage, we cannot advise with regards to the autobiography,” Quin said.
How to watch the memorial service
It remains to be seen if Johnny Clegg’s autobiography will ever be published. For now, the family has released the memorial service details of the late star, and the details are as follows:
Date: Friday, 26 July from 12:30
Venue: Sandton Convention Centre
Entry: Free of charge
Seating tickets have been available on Computicket at no cost. Those who will occupy the standing area can just go to the venue at the said times and based on capacity, they will be allowed into the service.
Watch: Johnny Clegg memorial service live in Sandton
The occasion will be streamed live. The stream will be posted below once it is available from 12:30. If you are a returning viewer, please refresh this article so that the indexed changes can be updated on your device.
It’s been an eventful month that saw larger-than-life news stories breaking this week. Of course our one-stop place is Google, and we turned to it for all the latest updates.
The FaceApp controversy generated more hits than Mandela Day, while Johnny Clegg’s passing generated to most search queries this week.Let’s dig a bit deeper into this week’s Google search queries report.
South Africa’s top Google searches this week
Johnny Clegg – 500 000 Google searches
Johnny Clegg garnered more than 500 000 search queries on Tuesday. The ‘White Zulu’ of Juluka and Savuka fame was an internationally acclaimed musician who was also an important figure in the fight against apartheid.
Tributes to Clegg have been flooding media and social media over the past couple of days. Clegg succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 66.
- South African music legend Johnny Clegg dead at 66
- Johnny Clegg has an unpublished autobiography – report
- Watch: The Ndlovu Youth Choir pays tribute to Johnny Clegg with ‘Asimbonanga’
- Johnny Clegg: How political parties reacted to the musician’s death
- South Africa loses an icon: Tributes pour in for Johnny Clegg
Mark Batchelor – 200 000 Google searches
More than 200 000 search queries were generated for Mark Batchelor on Monday after the former soccer star was brutally gunned down outside his Olivedale home in Gauteng.
Investigations into the shooting are still ongoing. Batchelor played for Orlando Pirates, Wits University, Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns, Moroka Swallows and Bafana Bafana.
- Breaking: Ex Bafana Bafana player Marc Batchelor shot dead in Gauteng
- Marc Batchelor murder: Everything we know about the suspects so far
- Late soccer star’s hit bears markings of Serbian killings
FaceApp – 100 000 Google searches
South Africans generated more than 100 000 search queries for FaceApp. The Internet went crazy over the app, which uses artificial intelligence to create a rendering of what users might look like in a few decades.
FaceApp went viral as users posted their aged likenesses on social media in the #faceappchallenge. Privacy experts, however, warned that the app may pose a threat to users’ privacy as it stores photos on its servers.
- FaceApp old age challenge: What you need to know about the privacy concerns
- What Apple’s new ‘sign in’ feature means for online privacy
- Thousands of Android apps track your phone without permission
- Fake Samsung app fools 10m users – here’s what to do if you were one of them
Jacob Zuma – 100 000 Google searches
Jacob Zuma also had his moment in the limelight again with more than 100 000 search queries on Monday as he made his first, much-anticipated appearance in front of the Zondo Commission on state capture.
“Zuma’s testimony at the inquiry has been marred by delays and refusal to respond to certain questions regarding evidence that was submitted by the commission’s previous witnesses.”
- Zuma channels Jon Snow: Tells Zondo “I don’t know”
- Jacob Zuma at the state capture inquiry: Five major things we can expect
- State capture inquiry: Jacob Zuma stumbled on these questions.
- Jacob Zuma at the state capture inquiry: Ten people who have implicated him
- State Capture Inquiry: How Jacob Zuma almost implicated Cyril Ramaphosa
Mandela Day – 50 000 searches
Over the past decade, the initiative has mobilised people and organisations to focus on education and literacy, food and nutrition, shelter, sanitation, and active citizenship.
- Mandela Day: Keep homeless people warm in winter with this initiative
- Nelson Mandela Day: Eight Madiba quotes that give us hope for the future
- 67 minutes for Madiba: This is how South Africans celebrated Mandela Day
- Trek4Mandela: Summiting Kilimanjaro for Mandela Day
- Mandela Day: Here’s how to take action against poverty
Other noteworthy events:
- James Small: Past and present Springboks in attendance as late winger is laid to rest
- Public Protector: Ramaphosa violated the Constitution of South Africa
- Garden Route blackout: Towns plunged into darkness by Eskom fault
- School pupils run riot in Mthatha, protest cramped classrooms
- SANDF arrives on the Cape Flats: First stop, Manenberg
- Macdonald Ndou latest: Muvhango actor may be off the hook in kidnapping case
- Google introduces Shoelace, a social network to rival Facebook
South African musical icon and anthropologist Johnny Clegg has been honoured with a slew of tributes after he succumbed to cancer on Tuesday. The latest tribute comes from The Ndlovu Choir who has been a viral hit among South Africans after their stunning performances on America’s Got Talent.
In a video on YouTube, the choir sings their rendition of what is deemed one of the three best songs written by Clegg, ‘Asimbonanga’.
The song was the second track on Savuka’s album Third World Child, released in 1987. Johnny Clegg was credited as the composer for the song, as with the rest of the album.
The song was to Nelson Mandela, imprisoned on Robben Island at the time of the song’s release, and other anti-apartheid activists. The music magazine The Crisis reportedly called it a “beautiful chant to Nelson Mandela”.
Watch: The Ndlovu Choir – A tribute to Johnny Clegg
More about the Ndlovu Youth Choir:
The Ndlovu Youth Choir is from a small town in Limpopo and since its inception in 2009, “have profoundly affected the lives of the choristers and demonstrates the potential of any human being to achieve excellence no matter their background, education or place of birth,” reads their official website. “From its humble beginnings as an after-school activity, the choir has evolved into a truly outstanding professional ensemble.”
They reached viral fame earlier in 2019 when their cover of Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You. But they are now establishing themselves as truly unique performers on the international stage, forging a reputation as this generation’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
More recently, the Ndlovu SA Youth Choir smashed another performance on America’s Got Talent, leaving the judges in awe with their stunning “Waka Waka” performance.
Their performance was a follow-up from their smash America’s Got Talent audition from June.
South African music icon, Johnny Clegg, was pronounced dead on Tuesday, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
The legendary musician, dubbed the ‘White Zulu’, succumbed to the disease at his home in Johannesburg.
Does a Johnny Clegg autobiography really exist?
It is a loss that has been felt throughout the country. Clegg was an icon to many. He touched the lives of all who bore witness to his talents.
It appears, though, that the Mbaqanga singer was working on an autobiographical book shortly before his passing. Clegg has always been vocal about his plans after retirement.
He was 59 years old when he first started speaking publicly about his retirement plans. During a 2012 radio interview with 5FM host and DJ, Rob Forbes, he revealed that he had begun works on his autobiography.
Since then, the subject of the book on Clegg’s eventful life featured in many other interviews he has done before his passing.
It is not clear, at this point, how far he may have been with the book and it if is ever going to be published. We contacted his manager, Roddy Quin, to get more information on this.
At the time of publication of this article, however, Quin had not gotten back to us with a response. We will be sure to update this once he’s gotten back to us.
Understanding why Clegg championed diversity
Clegg’s upbringing alone is a great insight into what we could expect from the book if it is ever published. The 66-year-old was born in Bacup, near Rochdale in England.
After a fallout in his parents’ relationship — a British father and a Zimbabwean mother — he spent the first six years of his life in Zimbabwe.
He only moved to South Africa in 1960, after his mother married a journalist. He has also been exposed to life in Zambia where he lived for two years until he was 11 years old.
He may owe his exposure to the diverse cultures of South Africa to his stepfather, who was a crime reporter.
In his biography, it is noted that his stepfather would take him into the township where he learned about the other side to apartheid South Africa.
His love for music can be attributed to his mother, who was a cabaret and jazz singer. All of these different environments and experiences shaped Clegg into the musical icon we celebrate today.
Details of his memorial service and funeral have yet to be confirmed.