South Africa's Johnny Clegg be­gins last in­ter­na­tional tour

El Dorado News-Times - - Living -

JO­HAN­NES­BURG (AP) — South African mu­si­cian Johnny Clegg de­fied the coun­try's apartheid-era racial bar­ri­ers, cel­e­brated its new democ­racy un­der Nel­son Man­dela and took his Zulu-in­fused mu­sic around the world. Now af­ter treat­ment for pan­cre­atic cancer, he is launch­ing a last in­ter­na­tional tour that he calls "The Fi­nal Jour­ney."

Clegg said Thurs­day he feels "fit and strong" as he be­gins the tour show­cas­ing his blend of Western and African mu­si­cal styles.

The Bri­tish-born singer, whose multi-racial bands dur­ing white mi­nor­ity rule in South Africa drew a staunch for­eign fol­low­ing, has al­ready played some South African shows and plans stops in the United States, Canada, Europe and Aus­tralia in the com­ing months. He per­formed in London last month and has a Sept. 20 show in Dubai.

"These shows are hard for me," he told jour­nal­ists at a Jo­han­nes­burg ho­tel. "I'm deal­ing with an­other, par­al­lel world that I live in with my di­ag­no­sis."

Clegg, 64, also spoke about the Zulu mu­sic and danc­ing that he learned as a teenager, when he hung out with a Zulu cleaner and street mu­si­cian called Char­lie Mzila.

Clegg re­called play­ing mu­sic in his early days on rooftops and later in packed venues, "the idea of cross­over" that in­spired di­verse mu­sic with the bands Ju­luka and Savuka and the apartheid-era cen­sor­ship that re­stricted where he could per­form and some­times led to his ar­rest.

To­ward the end of his hour-long re­marks, he spoke starkly about the dis­ease that he was di­ag­nosed with in 2015 and is now in re­mis­sion. Gru­el­ing treat­ment has in­cluded two six­month ses­sions of chemo­ther­apy and an op­er­a­tion to re­move the cancer.

"I don't have a duo­de­num and half my stom­ach. I don't have a bile duct, I don't have a gall blad­der and half my pan­creas. It's all been re­con­fig­ured," said Clegg, who has di­vided his fi­nal tour into legs to al­low for rest pe­ri­ods be­tween shows.

"I don't know how long I've got. We all know that it's all go­ing to end badly at one point," he said. Though he added: "I feel fit and strong and I'm danc­ing and I'm singing."

One of Clegg's best-known songs is "Asim­bo­nanga," which means "We've never seen him" in Zulu. It refers to South Africans dur­ing apartheid, when im­ages of then-im­pris­oned Nel­son Man­dela were banned.

The mu­si­cian wrote the song dur­ing a state of emer­gency in 1986. Man­dela was re­leased in 1990 af­ter 27 years in prison and be­came South Africa's first black pres­i­dent in all-race elec­tions four years later.

In the in­ter­view, Clegg re­called how he per­formed "Asim­bo­nanga" dur­ing a tour of Ger­many in 1997 and ex­pe­ri­enced a "huge shock" when Man­dela, beam­ing and danc­ing, un­ex­pect­edly came out on stage be­hind him.

"It is mu­sic and danc­ing that makes me at peace with the world. And at peace with my­self," Man­dela said to the au­di­ence. He called on Clegg to re­sume the song and urged all in the au­di­ence to get up and dance. At the end of the song Man­dela and Clegg, hold­ing hands, walked off stage.

"That was the pin­na­cle mo­ment for me," Clegg re­called. "It was just a com­plete and amaz­ing gift from the uni­verse."

In his last shows, the man of­ten called "the White Zulu" said he rec­og­nizes there are fans who are "gen­uinely sad and want to make that fi­nal con­nec­tion and cel­e­brate that."

AP photo

Fi­nal jour­ney: In this photo taken in July 2017, South African mu­si­cian Johnny Clegg, mid­dle, and the dancers per­form dur­ing 'The Fi­nal Jour­ney' con­cert at the Grand Arena in Cape Town, South Africa.

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