A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 319: Scatterlings of Africa


All this week I’ve been reflecting on music of the 1980’s that deeply impacted me during my late teens and early twenties. I remember the beautiful bombshell that was Paul Simon’s Graceland. Released in 1986, the bulk of the material on the album was recorded with some of South Africa’s greatest black musicians, including the otherworldly vocals of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, an all-male choir that backed Simon up on some unforgettable tracks. I was blown away by Simon’s album and the music he introduced to many of us.

Around this time, a good friend of mine introduced me to a band from South Africa called Juluka. I remember him playing their music as we sat in his apartment. The rhythms and vocals, words in African languages, unusual instruments, chanted choruses overlaid in infectious music had me hooked from the first song, “Scatterlings of Africa”. I used to drive around in my Plymouth Scamp with a boom box in the back seat (that was my stereo system), blasting that cassette tape of Juluka my friend made for me. In my mind’s eye I tried to picture the band. Remember, this was a long, long time before anyone could Google for obscure bits of information about anything. I had no idea about this band beyond that tape.

It became an obsession for me to try to track down more of their music and more info about the group. Somehow I found a cassette tape of another one of their albums, Work for All, in the cheap tape rack of the local supermarket. I grabbed that thing like a starving man grabs a slice of bread and played that tape over and over. As Juluka fever gripped me, I came to learn that they were a mixed race group, formed by two friends, white and black, in the midst of Apartheid-era South Africa. Those co-founders, Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu, were essentially doing something illegal in their homeland. The authorities had shut down their concerts, prohibited them from playing at some venues, and in general made the whole crazy idea of a band made of people with different skin colors in South Africa a major challenge.

But Juluka endured and thrived, becoming a major hit on the continent of Africa and eventually all over the world. They were one of the bands that Simon credits with his own journey of African musical discovery. Mchunu would leave the band after a few years to return to his family farm. Clegg continued on with Savuka and as a solo artist. I had the pleasure of seeing Juluka live when they briefly rejoined for a world tour in the 1990’s. I have since seen Johnny Clegg perform here in Ottawa and, let me tell you, if you get a chance to see him and his band, it is an unforgettable experience.

Here is that track that had me from the first few notes and chanted words. If you’ve never heard Juluka, just try and not be swept along by this  magical blend of sounds and beats. I dare you. If you need more incentive, remember that it was music like this that ultimately killed Apartheid. Enjoy.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 74: The White Zulu


Do yourself a favor: Get to know Johnny Clegg. I was introduced to him many years ago when my good friend introduced me to Juluka, a South African band which Clegg formed with his friend, Sipho Mchunu. I didn’t know all those details when I first listened to my friend’s cassette tape recording of their album “Scatterlings”. All I knew was that they made music that was an infectious and danceable blend of rock and African music, sung in English, Zulu and other African languages. At the time, Paul Simon had introduced the world to South African music in his transcendent album “Graceland”. Here, in Juluka, I was hearing the music that, in part, inspired him. I was hooked from the first song on the album (which so happened to be the title track: “Scatterlings of Africa”).


As I got more and more into the music of Juluka, I learned more and more about Clegg and the history of the band. Johnny Clegg was born in England but raised in South Africa. As a child he loved Celtic music and it inspired him to seek out the Zulu street music he heard around him. He began to play and to learn from the black musicians that he befriended in the townships. This association with the blacks got him arrested for the first time at the age of 15. At the age of 17 he met Sipho Mchunu and they formed a duo which they called Juluka (“sweat”).  Johnny himself gained a nickname because of his embrace of the culture, music and language: The White Zulu.

This association with Mchunu was, to say the least, highly unusual in Apartheid-era South Africa. The duo would become a six-member band, divided equally with three white members and three black members. As they sought to perform as a group, they faced harassment and censorship in their home country. They were arrested on a number of occasions, their concerts routinely broken up by authorities.

Despite all this, or perhaps due to all of this, their fame grew in Europe, the United States and Canada where they began to gain a large following. Though Clegg says the band was never intended to be political, there was no denying their stance as a bi-racial band in the midst of South Africa, and there was no denying the message of their songs. They became the musical equivalent to the social justice work of Stephen Biko and Desmond Tutu.

Juluka disbanded in 1985 when Mchunu quit to return and run his family’s farm. Clegg continued on with Savuka (“we have arisen”) and continued to make his own unique blend of rock, Celtic and African music. Clegg’s song “Scatterlings of Africa” from his Juluka days can be heard in the soundtrack of the movie “Rain Man”; his song “Dela” from his Savuka days can be heard in the movie “George of the Jungle”.  Savuka came to an end in 1993 but Johnny Clegg continues to perform and tour around the world. He is also an anthropologist, having taught at the university level in his country.

I had the joy of seeing Johnny Clegg perform in both Madison, WI (when Juluka briefly came together again for a new album and tour) and in Ottawa, ON. His concerts are full of joy, dancing, and well-crafted and beat-driven music. Clegg himself is funny, intelligent and engaging, bringing his anthropological background to play when he explains various African instruments, musical styles and traditions.

Johnny Clegg is one of my favorite Dangerous Creatives, and a great influence. His drive to continue to create despite the barriers, and his unceasingly positive and uplifting message in doing so, remind me that art truly does exist for higher purposes. He faced barriers of mountain-like proportion in South Africa yet he prevailed through his art, through his will, through his partnership with like-minded people, be they black or white. Nothing was going to keep him from singing what he wanted to sing, from writing the lyrics he wanted to write, from performing with who he wanted to perform with.

Perhaps the crowning moment in his career and, certainly, the most poetically appropriate, was when Nelson Mandela joined Clegg and his band on stage when he sang the song, “Asimbonanga”. Written and dedicated to Mandela before his release from, the song is powerful, uplifting and defiant – a fitting description of Johnny Clegg and his music. Below is a YouTube link to that moment:

Do yourself a favor today: Seek out more music from this indefatigable artist.