Johnny Clegg, a London-born Jewish boy raised by a single mother, met Zulu guitarist Sipho Mchunu on the street in
Sipho taught Johnny guitar and dancing and they began performing together, at a time and place (apartheid-era
And the music is just fantastic. Zulu choral singing features deep-voiced male choirs singing modal parts in 4ths and 5ths—a raw, beautiful approach that sounds like Western plainchant sung over African grooves (Nans ‘Impi), beautiful call-and-response vocals over izhilabo guitar (Zodwa), and the fantastic tuneful bass lines adapted from mbaqanga (Izinhlobo Nezinhlobo Zabantu). And this doesn’t even address the staggering power of the singing, playing and dancing in the group’s live shows. Though this disc is something of a swan song for Juluka (1984), before Sipho’s departure and John’s foundation (with the same players) of the more pop/rock-oriented Savuka, it’s a beautiful, thoughtful, and mature record.
We used to play some of these tunes in the horn band in Bloomington. And I had the great good fortune to be playing them, live on stage, on the night that Nelson Mandela walked out of prison. What a privilege that was.
Bonus tracks: from 1999’s Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World with Savuka: the lovely, heartfelt and tuneful love song Dela, and the titanic
I never betrayed you, and I never betrayed the revolution
I just didn't want to die alone, I needed you to see me home
And if I could save you, and if I could find a solution
I would die a thousand times, to get you out of here
Sharing the same cold cell
Betrayer and betrayed
An island with two frightened castaways
Not a word is spoken,
How can he explain?
Through swollen eyes they watch the dawn's first rays
It's all over now
They stand backs to the wall
Waiting for the fascist's sword to fall
In the desperation of a young life about to end
He turns before the bullet
And forgives a friend
That is the same forgiveness that let Nelson Mandela walk out of solitary confinement after 27 years and find a way to “peace and reconciliation” for his damaged country. Few American musicians, NO American politician I can think of, has ever displayed as much moral courage.