Last week I got an exclusive interview with Johnny Clegg. Take a look at this very insightful chat we had covering his extraordinary music career...
On Friday morning I have the unbelievable pleasure of having a little chat with the legend that is Johnny Clegg before he makes the trip over to London to perform at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday
. A huge honour for myself to finally have the opportunity to speak to one of my most note worthy hero's and mentor's.We had a brief chat about his roots as an artists to present day, and what exactly we can expect for Wednesday evenings performance... I great story teller and someone I could sit for days with listening to, I had many questions that I wanted to ask him, these are a few of those... enjoy!You formed Juluka with Sipho Mchunu, being right in the darkest times of the apartheid era, can you give us some insight into what it was like to be in a multiracial band with the difficulties you faced and how you over came those difficulties?
I met Sipho in 1969, Juluka was formed in 1979, we spent 7 years as Johnny and Sipho before we became Juluka, we started mixing music, I was playing traditional music with him for 7 years and then I brought in Celtic Folk Music, we tried to find ways to mix the two and in 1977/78 we got this weird mixture going. South Africa at the time was a really crazy place, on a daily basis we had two main problems with the police and the municipal police which was first the separate amenities act, which said that all cultural and social amenities, public amenities had to be used by a single race group only, so on that basis, you couldn't play in a township hall if you were white or play in a city music hall in Johannesburg if you were black because the amenities were only for that designated race group. Overlayed on that, was the group areas act which was a bigger geographical separation where you had huge areas like Soweto and Johannesburg separated, Tembisa, all the townships and homelands were also part of the group areas. So you had the specific separate amenites act and then this overlaid by the group areas act, so Sipho and I got into a lot of trouble. I got into huge trouble in Johannesburg going into the mining labour hostels which were designated black and into areas that were black communities where whites weren't allowed to go in. I was arrested when I was 15 at a hostel, I was arrested again at Lady Dudley Hospital compound when I was 16 and then when I went to Sipho's house when I was 17, down in Zululand we both got arrested by the security police. I was threatened with deportation back to England because I wasn't a South African citizen at the time although I was a permanent resident here and I had a British passport. So Sipho had the court case and he won it on a technicality which was really, at all entrances to group areas you had to have a green board with white writing that says you are now entering a black area, and there wasn't one. So the magistrate let him off. We had shows closed down by the police, we got random stop and searches if we walked together down the road, all that kind of stuff, but we were young, had a dream and we were on a great adventure, so we kind of had the stamina to withstand these kinds of things and to be quite honest, we had nothing to compare it with than what we were born to, so we had to navigate our way through it.In 1986 after a tremendous run with 2 platinum albums and 5 gold albums, Juluka disbanded due to Sipho having to return home to look after his family's cattle… To the average person, this reason may have seemed a little low in importance in comparison to what Sipho and yourself had achieved with Juluka. Was this the only reason and how did it make you feel at the time to have to say goodbye something so extraordinary?
I was really upset, Sipho gave us a year's notice in 1984, he told us that he was tired of touring, he had a huge homestead at that time, five wives and about fifteen kids, he currently has forty three children and nine wives. So he had a huge commitment and every time he went away, overseas or came up to Johannesburg there would be problems back home. I don't think his family really liked him going, I think his children and his wives felt that he may fall in love with somebody overseas and never come back again. So he had all those kinds of pressures on him together with the fact that he wanted to be a cattle farmer, and he wanted to follow his dream which was to be a rural tribal wealthy cattle farmer in that world, he loves that world, he loves cattle, he grew up with cattle and for him money is not wealth, cattle is wealth. In April 1985 we had our last show in Johannesburg and he left. It was a long long debate I had with him over that year where he resigned, and I kept begging him not to leave. It was very hard for me and I launched my solo career very briefly for about 8 months before I started Savuka, it was a very very tough period for me.After Juluka you went on to form Savuka which produced another four albums, was this an easy transition into new band in terms of, was it as simple as just picking up from where Juluka left off and what happened to it in the end?
Basically our biggest tour was in the year of transision, 1990 when Mandela was released, I went on a nine month world tour, one part ran for six months and then the other ran for three months with one month off in-between, and it was a very traumatic experience for me, my country was going through tremendous transition and transformation, there was huge violence, there was the possibility of a civil war breaking out, so when we got back I decided to take a bit of a break just to get back into the system and see what is going on and what the future held. Things started to reach a point where going overseas during the four years, the transforming years between 1990 and 1994, touring, going away and having to try and assess what was going on, we were touring about five months a year during that period. By 1994 I had enough, I wanted to take a break, get my feet back on the ground and see what was going on in my country, I couldn't carry on like this, so in 1994 we disbanded and I stopped performing for two years. Then I phoned Sipho and said, "dude! we've got eight albums in the old South Africa, we need to make one for the new South Africa", so in 1997 we got into the studio and we recorded the last Juluka album which was called "Crocodile Love". We released that album and then we toured on the album together. We did America, Europe and then came back and Sipho, during that period of violence, his whole homestead was burnt down, so he managed to get his family up and running from that so everything was fine for him. I felt comfortable now with having toured with Juluka, I started up the Johnny Clegg Project, which was just me playing all the songs I ever wrote from Juluka to Savuka and some new ones that I was writing, and thats what I do now. It's all a repertoire of all the hit songs I ever wrote together with new albums that I've put out since then and basically rekindled my music career which is what I'm doing now.One of my personal greatest songs of all time is of course, Asimbonanga. Its an incredibly awe inspiring song, you don't even need to understand the words to be completely moved by it, for those who don't understand the words, can you tell us what the song means and how it came about?
In 1986 the state of emergency had been declared, I was feeling very depressed and didn't know what was going on, whole areas of Johannesburg were shut down, townships were shut down. You know, when you see the army in the streets you know that something fundamental has shifted in the politics of your country because the army were coming out and shooting at its own citizens so South Africans were shooting South Africans in the township, it was very very depressing. We were rehearsing in Braamfontein, the others had gone for lunch. I was on my own and had my guitar, we'd been discussing the whole morning, some of the news issues that had come over the radio that violence had fled in Alexandra township, people had been shot and I was feeling very down. I just thought that if Mandela could be free now, someone could just be the person to stand for us, and get us to talk to one another, cross the distance between all the communities here. I am the generation that grew up never knowing what Mandela looked like, because it was illegal to have a photo of him. So I decided to write about that, I said, Asimbonanga, which means, we haven't seen him, we were the generation that never saw this leader and he's been kept, we haven't seen him and we don't even know or we don't even see where he is being kept, he's in our lives but he is not a tangible person to us, but he is the one that we believe will cross the burning water, he's the guy who will close the distance, so that became the song which came out of those feelings, its a haunting song that came out of a deep depression.In my opinion, your music is timeless, for example Scatterlings Of Africa has been around for many many years, I personally listen to it about twice a week and it still gets lots of SA radio play today, what do you think gives your music that staying power?
I think because its cross over music, it has no genre, people will say immediately, oh thats a 60's guitar, thats a this drum sound. Once you are locked into a particular style or genre, be it R&B, Rock, hip hop or rap you are immediately put into a category, the sounds and the things you do are locked into a period. I've always mixed music so I've always managed to get around those kinds of categorisations. It hasn't been good for me on radio because radio is strictly formatted, so they don't know what I do, they can't tell me what my music is so I don't get very much air play overseas, but the actual songs, you can put them on now and they sound strange and new because they are not in any kind of categorization. That has helped them to have longevity.It must be a huge honour to perform at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday evening. Can you briefly describe what we can expect on Wednesday evening?
You can expect all the hits that I've written over the past thirty years as well as one or two new things, but mostly, its a story, so its an explanation, anecdotes, stories, narratives and real events, real people, real things that happened which drove me to write the particular songs I am playing on that night, and this is supported by Audio Visual, sometimes documentary footage, sometimes video footage, videos of songs that I've put into a collage. This together with a very energetic live performance, with dancers and different styles of dancing etc. So its a full blown Johnny Clegg Special, its a show worthy of the Royal Albert Hall.Don't forget to book your spot for this immaculate one night only performance... I cannot stress enough how much you do not want to miss this opportunity!Tickets range from £30 to £60Available at the Royal Albert Hall Box Office +44 20 7959 0552 or get them directly from the Royal Albert Hall Website
!Do it! Do it now while you still can cause looking at the current available seating this is going to sell out very shortly!