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Jonathan “Johnny” Clegg

The Order of Ikhamanga in

Jonathan “Johnny” Clegg Awarded for:
His excellent contribution to and achievement in the field of bridging African traditional music with other music forms, promoting racial understanding among racially divided groups in South Africa under difficult apartheid conditions, working for a non-racial society and being an outstanding spokesperson for the release of political prisoners.
Profile of Jonathan “Johnny” Clegg

Jonathan “Johnny” Clegg was born on 7 June 1953 in Bacup, Lancashire, to an English father and a Rhodesian mother. His mother later married a South African journalist. Between his mother (a cabaret and jazz singer) and his stepfather (a crime reporter), Clegg was exposed to a broader cultural perspective than that available to his peers. During the country’s darkest years, he campaigned against the injustices of apartheid and has been extremely influential in putting the new South Africa on the map as a cultural ambassador.

Jonny Clegg wears many hats: he is a dancer, an anthropologist, singer, songwriter, academic and activist, but none of them accurately describe the energetic, passionate human being who is regarded as one of South Africa’s greatest musical experts.

Often referred to as Le Zoulou Blanc, “The White Zulu”, he is an important figure in South African music history.

Already in his youth, Clegg, a white, English-speaking person with what he called a “secular Jewish” upbringing in Israel, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa, became interested in Zulu street music and took part in traditional Zulu dance competitions.

In 1978, Clegg and Sipho Mchunu formed the first prominent racially mixed South African band Juluka. As it was illegal for racially mixed bands to perform in South Africa during the apartheid era, their first album, Universal Men, received no air play on the state-owned SABC, but it became a word-of-mouth hit.

Juluka’s and Clegg’s music were both implicitly and explicitly political; not only was the success of the band, which openly celebrated African culture in a interracial 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, includes a song with the same title picked up on South African trade union slogans in the mid-1980s.

Even more explicit was the later Savuka album Third World Child in 1987, with songs like Asimbonanga and We haven’t seen him, which called for the release of Nelson Mandela and which called out the names of three representative martyrs of the South African liberation struggle: Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge and Neil Aggett. As a result, Clegg and other band members were arrested several times and concerts routinely broken up by the apartheid police. Juluka was able to tour in Europe, and had two platinum and five gold albums, becoming an international success.

Juluka was disbanded in 1986, after Mchunu decided to return home to look after his family and to pursue a solo career. Clegg went on to form his second interracial band, Savuka, continuing to blend African music with European influences.

Over three decades, Johnny Clegg has sold over five million albums. He has mesmerised audiences with his live shows and won a number of national and international awards for his music and for his outspoken views on apartheid.