The Legendary Johnny Clegg

September 7, 2017

Affectionately dubbed the ‘White Zulu’ or ‘Le Zulu Blanc’, South African Johnny Clegg is something of a living legend. His unique brand of contemporary yet traditional African music has had his fans enthralled for more than forty years. And with good reason. For this musician, linguist, anthropologist, historian, academic, and activist was instrumental in pioneering a hybrid South African musical genre that promoted racial harmony at a time when apartheid was at its most lethal.

‘Juluka’s music was powerful stuff, not just for its incredibly infectious foot-stomping sound but because it encouraged white South Africans to celebrate and respect the very cultures and lives that the state had forbidden,’ recalls Deborah Calmeyer, founder and CEO of ROAR AFRICA, who grew up in neighbouring Zimbabwe in the 70s and 80s.

Johnny’s immersion in Zulu culture and music began as a teenager when he was exposed to the music and dance of Joburg’s predominantly Zulu migrant mine workers. It wasn’t long before he was fluent in their language and highly proficient in the traditional maskandi guitar and isishameni dance styles. In an interview with the New York Times in 1990, Johnny recalls how he started hanging around the male hostels in which the mine workers lived, at a time when this was against the law. The first time his mother had to bail him out of jail for ‘trespassing’ in areas zoned for blacks only, he was just 15. It was not to be the last time.

Clegg’s affinity with the migrant mine workers stemmed in part from his own peripatetic childhood. He was born in the UK but left with his mother soon after his parent’s divorce, spending stints at various schools in Zimbabwe and Zambia, before finally settling in South Africa when he was about seven years old. ‘I always felt like an immigrant,’ he said. ‘I could relate emotionally to the migrant workers, as they were immigrants too.’

Clegg cites many people who fuelled his passion for African music but it was his meeting with guitarist Sipho Mchuni when he was 17, that was to prove definitive. Their creation of the inter-racial, afro-folk group Juluka in 1979 went on to singlehandedly change the landscape of music in South Africa. Incorporating an experimental crossover of western and African musical traditions and melodies, Clegg who was then studying social anthropology injected the songs with traditional stories and cultural customs. As well as social commentary on migrant living, Zulu history and the hardships of apartheid that ordinarily would not have entered into the public realm. This too got Clegg into repeated scrapes with apartheid’s rigid lawmakers who used whatever means from threats to violence, banning and bullying to try and disband Juluka –without success. And when Mchuni retired in 1985, Clegg went on to form the equally successful Savuka with musician and dancer Dudu Zulu.


Despite the difficulties of playing on home soil, the success of Juluka and Savuka made Clegg one of South Africa’s biggest selling artists. Both bands were hugely successful with millions of record sales, countless awards, and nominations (including a Grammy nomination). So much so, that Clegg received the Chevalier Ordere des Arts et des Lettres from the French government, and an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2015, for his contribution to music, upliftment and the fight against apartheid.

In 2015, Clegg was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer for which he received treatment whilst he continued to perform and tour. However, when the cancer returned last year, he made the decision to do a final tour while he was still able. For a man of such legendary energy, this must have been a tough call. He kicked off his dynamic show entitled: The Final Journey, a few months ago in Europe. An autobiographical trip that will take his fans through his musical career, this is one concert that should not be missed. We’re thrilled to report that there are twelve concert dates lined up for the US and Canada next month.

If you would like more of these kinds of cultural recommendations to add to your luxury African safari experience, call us on +1 855 666 7626 or email us at

14 October Boston
16 October Quebec
18 October Toronto
19 October Montreal
21 October Concord NH
23/24 Oct New York City
26 October Philadelphia
27 October Washington
29 October Chicago
30 October San Diego
1 November Seattle
2 November Boulder CO


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