Clegg leads carnival of creativity

July 18, 1996|By Brian Byrnes | Brian Byrnes,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

What started out as a friendly musical rivalry between two guitarists blossomed into Juluka, one of the most innovative and ground-breaking musical relationships South Africa has ever known. Johnny Clegg, a middle-class white kid from Johannesburg, and Sipho Mchunu, a poor black gardener from the Zulu heartland in South Africa, have recently reunited after an 11-year separation and will play Artscape this Saturday.

"Juluka was a new cultural experiment," says Clegg. "It was just two guys who were trying to find a musical bridge between their different musical experiences. It was an expression of friendship."

But this experiment didn't come without its difficulties. When apartheid in South Africa was at its height, the government didn't take kindly to a black man and white man playing music together. As a result, Clegg and Mchunu were harassed in the streets, forced to play low-key venues and had many of their shows closed down. "It was impossible to play in public," Clegg says.

JTC Despite these obstacles, they persevered and scored their first major record deal as a duo, Johnny and Sipho, and released their first single to a stunned nation in 1976.

Their dazzling combination of English lyrics and western melodies with Zulu musical structures and Celtic and rock influences caught fire.

"We were playing world music before there was a category for it," says Clegg, who cites Simon and Garfunkel and Randy Newman as his American songwriting influences.

Releasing their debut album "Universal Man" under a new name, Juluka (the Zulu word for sweat) in 1979, they boasted a lineup of three white and three black musicians, a sight rarely seen before in South Africa.

Although never intending to be a political protest band, Juluka's members were perfect poster boys for racial integration. "Politics found us; we never went looking for politics," Clegg says. "Because of the laws of cultural segregation, we happened to be the subject of a lot of government attention.

"I didn't know any better at the time. It was the society I grew up in. There were a lot of fences around it; we just had to find the hole in the fence to get through, and so we did, we found those holes."

In 1985, after five gold and two platinum albums, Juluka split up. Mchunu returned home and Clegg formed Savuka, a group that would bring his eclectic South African music to the world.

Clegg and Mchunu have completed half the songs on their new Juluka album and will be touring this summer in support of their recently released retrospective, "A Johnny Clegg and Juluka Collection." Now with a new South Africa, the two longtime friends are coming full circle with the musical journey they started more than 20 years ago.

"The musical side of it has become the dominant expression of our friendship," Clegg says.

Johnny Clegg and Juluka

When: 5: 15 p.m. Saturday

Where: Decker Stage at Artscape

Tickets: Free

Call: (410) 396-4575 for information

Sundial: To hear excerpts from "A Johnny Clegg and Juluka Collection," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the code 6123. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 7/18/96

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