Johnny Clegg, the only white guy in the party

Johnny Clegg passed away on July 16, 2019.
Focus on an artist whose music was much more than an entertainment, but a fight, a scream to the world and the expression of courage and passion.

Johnny Clegg


  • His father-in-law, a journalist, introduced him to African culture. As a child, he learned the Ndebele language from the son of the family driver.
  • The white zulu (or Umzulu Omhlope), first wished to be a game warden to live in the bush, but ended up studying anthropology. He taught until 1982, then devoted himself entirely to music.
  • Coming from a Jewish family, he chose to reject this religion because, according to him, the Jewish community in South Africa uses apartheid in the same way as the others.

 (At 17 years old) I felt guilty about being white, I didn’t want to be part of the system anymore. It was purely emotional, I couldn’t stand the white world anymore. So I cut off the ties with western culture.


  • He will run away for three weeks in Zulu territory with two friends before being found by the police.
  • Tribal dance is the true passion of his life: Johnny first learns isibhaca dance

I was the first white man to witness this, and the zulus all thought I was nuts.


  • He dances every Tuesday and Friday nights in a hostel (a hostel for migrant workers) in Joburg, and is regularly arrested by the police.

After learning the correct technique to lift the foot and throw the leg in the air vertically, you can move and clap your foot while maintaining balance. The idea is to project force and energy for a very short time, and then to rest on a short period, a second at most. There are two messages in the Zulu dance. Be a warrior first and convey a sense of power to the audience.

Danse Zoulou à Soweto

His famous leg lift, broadcast through video clips, will popularize the group Savuka in the eyes of the world.


  • In the 60s, he braved the forbidden to join his friends dancers and musicians on the rooftops of the residences for black workers (hostels) of Joburg where he danced with the traditional troops. He often gets arrested by the police.

We had to use a thousand and one tricks to get around the myriad of laws that prevented any interracial rapprochement.

  • His albums, despite their international success, were banned in South Africa during apartheid. Mixing English and Zulu was a real political act, proof that communication was possible between the two communities. His concerts are sometimes sabotaged (PA wires disconnected, etc.)

Apartheid had character, like an animal, and that animal slept, fed, was happy, became angry. Or, tired, he was sleepy.We learned to live in his company. We knew when he was angry, how to talk to him, where he slept and where he never went. We knew how to avoid it, and we slipped through the holes in the system.


  • Dudu Zulu, danseur et percussionniste du groupe Johnny Clegg and Savuka, meurt assassiné en 1992 de 7 balles dans le dos par des inconnus, à son domicile.
Johnny Clegg et Dudu Zulu

Dudu Zulu and Johnny on stage.

Johnny Clegg will write for his friend Osiyeza.


  • When Asimbonanga, his international hit, comes out, he is censored in his country. Mandela was still incarcerated on Robben Island and the mere mention of his name was strictly forbidden.

In 1986, I wrote for Mandela a song "Asimbonanga" which means in Zulu " we have not seen it ". At the time, we knew he was imprisoned on Robben Island, but since we weren't allowed to have a portrait of him, it was for us a faceless symbol, a star that shone in our sky.

  • The group Johnny Clegg & Savuka was born after its partner, Sipho, decided to move back to Kwazulu Natal. Savuka means in Zulu “ we were born, we are awake ” so carries a connotation of uprising.
  • The African Litany album became a gold record in 3 months. It sold 40,000 copies in South Africa.
Johnny Clegg

In 2017, taking advantage of a remission, he begins his farewell tour on stage. But a relapse forces him to cancel part of his concerts.

His condition worsens in 2018. A " Final journey " sounds more than ever as a farewell. The artist is aware of living his last years, even months. The world will have to prepare to say him goodbye...
Johnny Clegg fought cancer for four and a half years. He died at the age of 66, leaving an indelible mark on the world of music and Africa.
Few artists can claim to have given their work so much scope.

On September 1, 2019, the George Goch Hostel Dance Troupe will host a tribute to the singer :