South African music legend Johnny Clegg passed away on the evening of July 16 after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. According to Roddy Quin, Clegg’s manager, the singer “fought to the last second”.
Known as the “White Zulu”, the Grammy-nominated artist was born in Lancashire, England in 1953.
Following his parents’ divorce, he moved with his mother to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and then to SA South Africa when he was six.
He started learning Zulu during his childhood in Johannesburg, being taught by Zulu musician Charlie Mzila.
Clegg’s first band, Juluka, was formed in 1969 with fellow musician Sipho Mchunu and the duo released their debut single, Woza Friday, in 1976.
This was followed in 1979 by their critically-acclaimed debut album, Universal Men.
During his time in Juluka, Clegg made a name for himself as a staunch anti-apartheid activist with many of his songs criticising the apartheid government.
Impi, one of the most well-known songs from Juluka’s second album African Litany, is explicitly about the defeat of colonial Britain during the Battle of Isandlwana.
While Juluka disbanded in 1985 after Mchunu moved back to Natal to care for his family, Clegg continued his musical journey and formed a new band called Savuka in 1986.
The band was made up with musicians Clegg had met and worked with over the years playing in Juluka.
It was during this time that Clegg produced some of his most critically- acclaimed, and politically charged, music. His most famous song to come out of this period was Asimbonanga, from Savuka’s 1987 album, Third World Child.
The song was a tribute to Nelson Mandela who was still imprisoned at Robben Island at the time.
Given its anti-apartheid nature, the song led to the band being frequently harassed by the police, with their concerts being repeatedly raided and band members arrested.
Still, Clegg never wavered and his musical skills and activism earned him international praise.
Today, he is recognised as one of the greatest artists to ever come out of SA.