AFTER three decades in entertainment, Johnny Clegg, one of South Africa’s most iconic performers, is still as passionate and energetic about music as he was when he was performing Zulu dance moves with bands Juluka and Savuka in the 1980s.
Still experimenting by creating new sounds for his many fans, both at home and abroad, Clegg will perform new and old hits for fans in Nelson Mandela Bay at the weekend. It will be his first performance in the city in more than 10 years.
The former Grammy nominee and Billboard music award winner, who still tours regularly, recently returned from performing in the US, Canada and France.
While touring, Clegg was invited by Princess Charlene to perform at the Royal Palace in Monaco to raise funds for her charity trust.
“The show managed to raise more than ß1-million [R11-million] for disadvantaged children in Africa. It was a full show and it was an experience for me to perform in such a beautiful place,” Clegg said.
He said the secret to his success was that he had a unique product which appealed to various people, as well as the international market.
His hits include Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World, Scatterlings of Africa, I Call Your Name, Impi, Great Heart, and African Sky Blue.
“I just happened to stumble on this formula for making music. It is a method where I am able to mix different genres to make unique sounds. Other bands have tried to imitate it but no one can quite get it right,” he said.
The dancer, anthropologist, singer, songwriter, academic, activist and French knight has toured every year since 1982.
“I started experimenting with music when I was 14 and I have not stopped since.”
Clegg, 59, struggled starting out as a musician, as his first band, Juluka, which he started with gardener and Zulu musician Sipho Mchunu, was racially mixed during the apartheid era, and the government at the time did everything in its power to ensure they did not perform.
“Blacks thought we were cool but we got a hard time from the whites. We got into trouble a couple of times and it was tough. It was easier to perform in townships and rural areas but wherever we went, the police would try to shut us down. Sometimes they would cut the power off.
“Eventually, we would stop making banners and just drive around with a loudspeaker telling people we would perform that night. Just so people would come and hear us.”
Clegg said while it was hard, he persevered because he knew the band offered something unique and special. He said Mchunu often cheered him up when he was down.
“He could see the humour in any situation. He just had that kind of personality. I would say ‘This is hard’, but he would just say ‘Don’t worry; they don’t get it now but they will’. He gave me moral and emotional support.”
Clegg counts the haunting Asimbonanga, written with former president Nelson Mandela in mind, among his greatest achievements musically.
When it comes to South African musicians, he admires Eastern Cape performer Zahara the most.
“She has got everything going for her at the moment and I believe she will go really far. I have been waiting for someone like her with her Tracy Chapman voice.”
He said chances of a future collaboration with his son, Jesse Clegg, were unlikely.
“He is happy with what he is doing and wants nothing to do with me. He said, ‘Once you hang your boots up, we can do something together dad’.”
Clegg will perform on Sunday at The Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World lawn area. Doors open at 2pm and the concert starts at 4.30pm.
The day before, on Saturday, he will perform at Bramble Hill at Fancourt, George.
Food stalls will be provided at the venues and tickets are available at Computicket at R161 each for adults, and R80 for children aged six to 13. Children under six enter free of charge.
Ticket holders are welcome to bring picnic blankets and camp chairs to enjoy the concert.