Johnny Clegg is about to embark on a farewell tour. Picture: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES
Johnny Clegg is about to embark on a farewell tour. Picture: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES

After nearly four decades of foot-stomping music that challenged the apartheid regime and promoted racial reconciliation, Johnny Clegg is heading out on his final tour.

On Saturday, Clegg starts his global farewell tour with a concert in Cape Town. He will play other South African venues and then go on to London, France, Dubai, the US and Canada.

The 64-year-old, famed for his multi-ethnic collaborations, said the decision to bring down the curtain on live performing came after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2015.

"It has been a rewarding career in so many aspects … to be able to unite people through song, especially at a time where it seemed impossible," he said.

"I want to give my fans some kind of conclusion … [showing] that the journey I started when I was 14 years old is coming to an end now.

We had to find our way around a myriad of laws that prevented us from mixing across racial lines.

"My shows are very physical, a lot of dancing, and I have to be strong to do that."

Clegg’s cancer is in remission after he underwent chemotherapy.

"I would like to present a final farewell while I am still capable of doing it," he said.

Clegg said the Final Journey Tour would be an autobiographical trip through his musical career since he was a boy.

It is a journey in which he endured harassment from apartheid police for playing with black musicians.

In contrast, his music — and activism — attracted a worldwide fan base that packed venues such as the Royal Albert Hall in London and across France, where he remains a huge national star.

Clegg’s fascination with Zulu dance and melodies began in the dingy blacks-only migrant workers’ hostels in Johannesburg in the 1960s — where he sneaked in to join traditional dancers.

He secretly rehearsed with dance troupes, although his presence as a white person was outlawed.

"We had to find our way around a myriad of laws that prevented us from mixing across racial lines," he recalls.

He turned professional in 1979 when Juluka released the album Universal Men.

Its blend of Western pop with Zulu melodies, concertina and guitar made him a symbol of anti-apartheid opposition and endeared him to his earliest fans.

"The people were intrigued by our music," he said.

His band also used Zulu humming, choral singing styles and energetic foot-stomping traditional dance.

"The humming gives it a very strong connection to the land and the people," he said.

My life was caught up in the experience of apartheid at the very base level of migrant workers.

He credits the 1982 song, Scatterlings of Africa, as the tune that catapulted him and his band to stardom as it topped charts in France and England.

"Nobody knew exactly what the music was about, but something about Africa," he said.

When the song Asimbonanga — Zulu for "We have not seen him" — was released in 1987, it was banned by the authorities in SA.

The song paid tribute to Nelson Mandela — then in jail — and was outlawed because any reference to the anti-apartheid leader was illegal. Today the song is a popular anthem for modern SA.

Clegg’s cross-cultural work led to his arrest on several occasions for contravening race segregation laws, while his concerts were often halted by police.

"We couldn’t perform in public spaces … so we identified private areas like churches and other nonracial enclaves that had emerged to bypass racial laws," he said.

"My life was caught up in the experience of apartheid at the very base level of migrant workers."

The British-born artist, who arrived in SA as a seven-year-old boy, stressed that his defiance of racial laws and interest in Zulu culture was not motivated by politics.

"I wasn’t politically motivated, I was culturally motivated. I love the music and the dance. I love the language," he said.

Clegg has sold more than 5-million records and was in 1993 nominated for the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album.

The trained anthropologist, who used to lecture at Wits University, is writing his autobiography and said he would still make music but would no longer perform in public.

AFP

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