Saturday, June 12, 2010

In My African Dream

The World cup began and I missed Johnny Clegg. (I confess I didn't watch the opening ceremony, but read about it and the spirit of celebration in South Africa - with its usual mix of blessings and curses).

Of course, Johnny Clegg performed at the World Cup final draw. But, given South Africa's abundant musical talent, the list of musicians put together for the opening ceremony left a little to be desired. And one of those little bits, I think, was Johnny Clegg.

And so as I write, I think about the amazing friendship of Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu that began in 1969 and culminated in the first mixed music group in Johannesburg(in 1976, called Johnny and Sipho that eventually became Juluka in 1979).

Johnny Clegg learned some basics of Zulu music and Zulu street dancing from a Zulu apartment cleaner, Mzila, who used to perform near Clegg's suburban home in Johannesburg. Sipho Mchunu, a self styled guitarist (whose first guitar was made of a used gas canister and fishing gut)came to Johannesburg in search of a job as a gardener. He happened to begin work in the same neighbourhood that Johnny lived in.

And so, they met, took to each other- played together and formed their own musical style that was a mix of white music and Zulu. At this time, Sipho (who was also a traditional dancer) was dancing at a migrant labour hostel. No non-black men were permitted in these hostels which were guarded by "Blackjacks" (municipal police linked to security police and South African police). Sipho invited Johnny to these meets and arranged to slip him in. A well organised and executed plan followed (where Clegg,who would be standing close to the hostel was engulfed in a mass of dancing Africans and swept into a room whose windows were sealed up with mattresses to block all sights and sounds). The dancing would go on for several hours, at the end of which the same procedure would be followed in reverse and Johnny would be swept out of the premises safely!

The duo went on to produce some lovely music- not traditional, but making use of the inherent Zulu rhythm and chants and the western sounds of the guitar and their very own lyrics. They travelled, sang and danced in various migrant labour hostels, stirring up musicians, dancers - and the government. In 1985 they split up - Sipho Mchunu returned home to support his community and Johnny Clegg formed the group Savuka.

As one of their songs (Ibhola Lethu - Our Football Team)has become a promotional song for this World Cup, I write the lyrics (in translation)-

"Tickets in your hands all you spectators of ours!
This is the day when we will put an end to all the big talk

We want to know who can beat us at our football
Where ever we clash with our opposition it is so
spectacular that the crowd roars its approval
We want to know who will dare to touch our football
Where ever we clash with another team, their
resistance just crumbles

The referee says to all the young players :
Prepare yourselves!
Run well with the ball so that
the spectators get so excited
that they whistle loudly-
says the referee..."

And so the games begin! Many players are already injured in the warm ups and there is a lot of hype mingled with excitement and talent. Some dreams fulfilled, others broken. We rejoice with the players and spectators as we grieve with the Mandela family. And sing with Savuka-

In my African Dream you blessed the rain
let me stand proud, eased my pain,
you raised me up
gave me love, filled my cup.

A)Video clip of Johnny Clegg and Savuka's tribute to Nelson Mandela in concert -

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