World famous South African singer and activist Johnny Clegg has passed away at the age of 66 from pancreatic cancer. He had been diagnosed in 2015 and fought bravely, but unfortunately he succumbed to the disease.
The Grammy nominated singer was famous for his African influenced music and for being one of the only white singers to openly tackle the apartheid regime and perform with people of colour at a time when segregation and political unrest was at its worst.
Clegg earned himself the nickname “the White Zulu’ and was a sometimes-controversial figure on the world stage. He left an indelible mark not just on the music industry, but also on South Africa, and has often been credited with bringing people together, regardless of their race, creed or social standing.
Johnny Clegg was not just a singer, he was a songwriter and a dancer, and his cross over music really was something special. In his early teens he came across Zulu migrant workers who were playing street guitar, and he organised to take lessons. It was these lessons that introduced him to Zulu culture and the infectious beats and amazing dances that were part of their way of life.
His well-earned reputation as a Zulu guitarist led to his meeting Sipho Mchunu, and the duo went on to form the band Juluka together. At the time, the apartheid laws banned mixed race performances in public, so Juluka performed at churches, universities and any other venues they could find. By 1979 they were very well known and released their first album called Universal Men.
The apartheid era robbed many people of many things, but it also robbed South Africa of an amazing musician. Clegg didn’t get much airplay in Africa, but he started to reach international audiences and went on tours through Europe and North America.
In 1985 Juluka disbanded, and Clegg went on to form Savuka, taking up where they had left off. The release of their hit song Asimbonanga made them a household name, but Dudu Zulu was killed, they disbanded and Clegg essentially went solo.
After the abolishment of the apartheid regime he became one of South Africa’s favourite performers and his songs became a symbol of unification both locally and abroad. He remains as popular as online Bingo NZ, and even after his death he unites people everywhere.
After his cancer diagnosis Clegg cut back on his performances for a while, but in 2017 he embarked on a Final Journey tour that saw him perform in 12 cities in North America, and then in Africa too. He said that the tour was his conclusion to a career that began on the side of the street when he was 14, and that he had been richly rewarded in everything that he had done since.
He is survived by his wife and 2 sons, one of who is Jesse Clegg, a respected musician in his own right.