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Johnny Clegg and Savuka at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, 7 August 2005

.: .: Last weekend, I participated in my 14th consequtive Edmonton Folk Music Festival as a volunteer. I was blessed with the opportunity to work with one of my musical heroes, Johnny Clegg. Clegg and Sipho Mchunu formed the seminal South African band Juluka in the late 1970s. Their song, “Scatterlings of Africa”, is an all-time favorite.

Clegg and his band rocked the festival during the Sunday (Aug 7) 2:00 pm mainstage show, and later in the evening, at the after-festival party. At the party, I planted myself in front of the stage, a few feet away from Johnny, and danced to his music for 75 delirious, joyful minutes. For both shows, Johnny and the current version of Savuka played a tight, melodic and joyful show, showcasing many of Juluka and Savuka well-known songs, and mixing in many different dance steps, which I assume were based on Zulu tradition in many cases.

I was thrilled when I learned Clegg was playing our festival. He is one of those artists I have always wanted to watch in performance, and to have experienced such an amazing show twice in less than twelve hours was a gift from God. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu defied apartheid authority in their early musical collaborative days in South Africa. Because Clegg was white and Mchunu black, they were subject to police harrassment, threats, and abuse. The continuing development of their unique sound, which led to the formation of their band, Juluka (Zulu for “sweat”), was in defiance of the cultural segregation laws at the time. With their music largely ignored in their home country, they played live performances on the street and at private functions. Word of mouth continued to spread, and Juluka’s reputation grew, eventually leading to a record contract, and international recognition. Further details are available on the biography page on this site.

What makes Clegg’s music so appealing to me is his ability to mix traditional Zulu musical structure (about which I know next to nothing, frankly) and Western melodies and rhythms. He also mixes Zulu and English lyrics. Regardless of how he does it, it is music that radiates and bleeds celebration and joy in the midst of world that can be terrifying and unforgiving.

Clegg and Savuka (“We have risen”) are in the midst of an extensive world tour. If you get the chance, see his show, you will not be disappointed, and if you are new to his music, you will experience a sound that you have not heard before, pure auditory pleasure. I’m still smiling.

Here is the set list from the party, which mirrored the 2:00 pm afternoon show as well:

  1. Jongosi
  2. Take My Heart Away
  3. Africa
  4. Giyani
  5. I Call Your Name (Ngibiza Igama Lakho)
  6. Tatazela
  7. Malonjeni
  8. Kilimanjaro
  9. Great Heart
  10. Scatterlings of Africa
  11. Cruel Crazy Beautiful World
  12. Asimbonanga (Mandela)
  13. Dela (I Know Why The Dog Howls At The Moon)

At the party, we wouldn’t stop clapping until the band returned for an encore. I did not catch the name of that song. At the party performance, he added one extra song, between Great Heart and Scatterlings.

Mention must be made of his excellent band, the current Savuka lineup, featuring Brendan Ross on sax and keyboards, Mandisa Dlanga on vocals, Concord Nkabinde on bass, Andy Innes on guitar and mandolin, and Barry Van Zyl on drums.

In February, 2005, Johnny held a braai (barbeque) at his home for as many surviving people that played for him in his career as could make the event. This photo features members of Juluka and Savuka throughout the years. An extensive discography is available here, and includes albums, singles, DVDs, books/press, lyrics, songs index, discs index, and more.

Thank you, Johnny, thank you again. 🙂

Also posted to Blogcritics.

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