All set to stamp his last‘be­neath the cop­per sun’

The Sunday Independent - - NEWS -

HE farewell is very bit­ter-sweet but I re­alise I am very for­tu­nate to have enough time to say my good­byes,” says Johnny ‘Le Zulu Blanc’ Clegg, who is bid­ding the per­for­mance life good­bye due to ill health, adding that he’s eter­nally grate­ful to have come full cir­cle in his ca­reer, with a be­gin­ning and an end. “Some­thing not ev­ery­one is for­tu­nate to be able to do.”

Clegg’s ever-evolv­ing world-renowned ca­reer spanned a 15-year part­ner­ship with Sipho Mchunu that gave birth to a pow­er­ful mu­si­cal group, Ju­luka. This was fol­lowed by a group Clegg started called Savuka, that pro­duced al­bums such as Heat, Dust and Dreams.

He earned a Grammy Award nom­i­na­tion and went on to build a strong solo ca­reer in­ter­na­tion­ally. And now he has reached his fi­nale. And to bow out, a world tour dubbed “The Fi­nal Jour­ney” was staged that brought him mixed emo­tions.

Speak­ing at an in­ti­mate press con­fer­ence this past week, Clegg took us down mem­ory lane on his mu­si­cal jour­ney that started from sheer cu­rios­ity at the age of 14. How he dis­cov­ered maskandi mu­sic, where he learnt the var­i­ous ways of the Zulu na­tion. And how he went on to build a huge fan base.

“When I stepped into that (the cul­tural jour­ney), I never left. It was for me a huge jour­ney,” he says. “My fans have been amaz­ing. You must un­der­stand that I was 37 when we had the break­through in 1988 in France, so peo­ple my age brought their chil­dren. So now I have young fans who are around their late 20s who were forced to lis­ten to my mu­sic,” he jokes.

Through­out his 40-year ca­reer, Clegg has been well-known for his cross-cul­tural mu­sic skills, through which he be­came flu­ent in isiZulu and ‘hu­man­ness’.

“All cul­ture is hu­man cul­ture and in all its forms it tries to give pur­pose, mean­ing and a frame­work for daily be­hav­iour and for cop­ing mech­a­nisms for the prob­lems we ex­pe­ri­ence. It was a con­scious de­ci­sion (break­ing down cul­tural bar­ri­ers), an artis­tic in­ten­tion to cre­ate a genre of cross­over mu­sic.

“I wanted to cre­ate a sound­scape that ac­com­mo­dated dif­fer­ent pieces of mu­sic tra­di­tions and made them feel as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble in the same song,” he says.

Ju­luka, Clegg says, was a cross­over ex­per­i­ment. And although at the time it had po­lit­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions due to the poli­cies of cul­tural seg­re­ga­tion, it was not a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion to make this kind of mu­sic.

“It was a cre­ative de­ci­sion driven by the love of Zulu maskandi mu­sic, the de­sire to cre­ate a con­ver­sa­tion between this form of mu­sic and other tra­di­tional Celtic and western styles,” he says.

That love has seen him achieve on many grounds and win many lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional awards for his work. One ca­reer high­light was when Ju­luka show­cased for the first time at Or­lando Sta­dium in 1980 – a show pro­moted by Solly Nkutha. Another was when the group broke on to the UK charts in 1983 with Scat­ter­lings of Africa.

“There are so many high­lights: dis­cov­er­ing Bhaca, Ishamani and Umzansi Zulu danc­ing and be­com­ing pro­fi­cient in these forms. Learn­ing the rules of com­po­si­tion and per­for­mance of maskandi gui­tar mu­sic. Open­ing for Men At Work in Ger­many in 1984, do­ing uni­ver­sity cam­pus tours across SA and fill­ing the 3 000-seater Massey Hall in Toronto in 1984,” he says.

Never did he imag­ine what a world icon he would be when he was sneak­ing into hos­tels and car­ry­ing out his pas­sion of learn­ing. “I don’t think any­one ever knows how their de­ci­sions will pan out. You can make plans but you can’t plan the out­come. I was an aca­demic in my fourth year of teach­ing when our fourth al­bum, Scat­ter­lings, got into the top 40 in the UK in 1983. I could never have planned that and this sin­gle event led to me re­sign­ing and be­com­ing a full-time singer/ song­writer.

“Most of what has hap­pened in my life is sim­ply the fact that I kept on keep­ing on,” says Clegg.

This spe­cial con­cert tour of re­flec­tion has been a mag­i­cal jour­ney for him, he says, and is staged in an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal way. The pace is struc­tured around sto­ry­telling and au­dio­vi­su­als of the peo­ple he had en­coun­ters with, de­pict­ing spe­cific in­ci­dents, ideas, moods con­nected to the songs. “It is a very spe­cial story to tell, a very spe­cial show. There is noth­ing like it.”

Due to pop­u­lar de­mand, Clegg is bring­ing the sec­ond round of these fi­nal per­for­mances back to Johannesburg as a way of thank­ing fans, where it all be­gan. It will be at the Tick­etpro Dome on Satur­day, Novem­ber 11, and Clegg will be joined on stage by friends in­clud­ing Prime Cir­cle, DJ Kent, Karen Zoid and the Par­lotones.

And even though he feels phys­i­cally strong, the mas­sive con­tra­dic­tion he is deal­ing with is in his mind – the end­ing he has fi­nally reached.

“When I am on stage per­form­ing, I feel like I can do this for ever. I feel awk­ward be­cause I stand and think ‘this is my last gig in Joburg, it is the fi­nal thing’, yet I feel fine. It is weird.” A mo­ment in his life he also de­scribes as dis­heart­en­ing.

But through all the fame, learn­ing and now his ill­ness, Clegg is grate­ful for his time on stage and the send-off is, in fact, a cel­e­bra­tion.

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