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RIP South African music pioneer Johnny Clegg

For the decades South Africa was under apartheid, we didn’t get to hear much of the music that was being made in the country.

My first exposure to South African talent was Ladysmith Black Mambazo who appeared on Paul Simon’s 1986 album, Graceland. The next musician that grabbed me was Johnny Clegg, a brilliant performer and activist.

With his band Savuka, Johnny had some success on alternative radio in the late 80s. We played this one at CFNY.

Johnny died yesterday (July 16) at age 66. Reader Alex Lofthouse wrote this.

ohnny Clegg died today at age 66. His music meant a lot to me. It provided some of the soundtrack of my youth, as my teenaged tastes started to shift away from hard rock and metal and toward a wider musical world.

It was also part of the soundtrack of apartheid-era South Africa. This was a white musician who wrote, recorded and performed with black musicians (and sang in Zulu!) in an era when that simply was not done. His music was highly energetic—and highly political. Clegg took a lot of risks to do what he did.

I had the privilege of seeing Johnny Clegg perform in Toronto sometime in the early 2000s. Apartheid was long over by then, but the spark of the shit-disturbing activist was still there. It was a brilliant, stirring performance.

Thanks, Johnny, for opening the ears and hearts of faraway kids like me, and helping us hear the beat of the world a bit better. You’ll be missed.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38519 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “RIP South African music pioneer Johnny Clegg

  • Oh no. I saw him play in 1988 at the University of Guelph, and now my daughter wears the concert T-shirt that I picked up that night. He was great and so was his band. And yes, CFNY played Johnny Clegg all the time back then.


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