One of South Africa’s most revered musicians, Johnny Clegg, has been honoured with the Arts & Culture Trust (ACT) Lifetime Achievement Award for music. The award is sponsored by the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) and aims to celebrate Clegg’s fruitful career.
Clegg has been an iconic figure both locally and internationally ever since his band Juluka released their first album in 1979. He says receiving his trophy at the ACT Awards felt wonderful. The ceremony was held at Sun International’s The Maslow Hotel in Johannesburg on Friday 21 October.
Lifetime Achievement Award winners are nominated and selected by the current and previous ACT Trustees and are fundamentally individuals whom the sponsors are proud to acknowledge for their contribution to the arts.
Besides his illustrious track record as a musician, Clegg is also an anthropologist and is sometimes referred to as Le Zoulou Blanc (The White Zulu). He cites sharing a stage with Nelson Mandela as the highlight of his career, which has produced over 19 albums as a soloist and with his bands Juluka and Savuka.
Originally from England, Clegg was first introduced to South African music when he heard a street musician, Mntonganazo Mzila, play. Enchanted by what he heard, Clegg apprenticed himself to Mzila for two years, learning the basics of Zulu music and Inhlangwini dancing.
Soon after meeting Sipho Mchunu and forming Juluka, Clegg recorded his debut single, Woza Friday. Although racial prejudice in South Africa prevented their first album, Universal Man, from attaining radio airplay, the album became a word-of-mouth hit. Their second album, African Litany, released in 1981, included the South African hit ‘Impi’ and two years later, Juluka attracted international acclaim for their album Scatterlings.
When the political climate in South Africa began to take its toll on the group in the mid-'80s, Clegg and Mchunu separated. Clegg then formed his second band, Savuka, which took its name from the Zulu word meaning "we have risen" or "we have awakened," and took a more pop-minded approach to African music.
The group's debut album, Third World Child, sold more than two million copies. Following their second album, Shadow Man, Savuka embarked on a world tour. Savuka reached their peak with their fourth album, 1993's Heat, Dust And Dreams, which was nominated for a Grammy in the Best World Music category and received a Billboard Music Award as Best World Music Album.
Clegg reunited with Mchunu in the mid-'90s to tour and record under the Juluka name, he then turned to solo work in the late '90s. In the new millennium he returned to the studio to complete the 2002 solo release New World Survivor. Clegg found a home at Appleseed Records for 2010's Human. His latest album, a concert set recorded in the fall of 2013, Best, Live & Unplugged: At the Baxter Theatre Cape Town was released in 2014, also from Appleseed.
"Culture is the prism through which communities construct their identities and vision of their future," says Clegg. "It is the deepest frame of reference a person can have because it includes language, values, beliefs, sentiments, art, technology and all the customs and practices a community employs to make sense of the world. It is a shared road map and multi-layered compass offering solutions to problems all humans experience. These solutions are passed down by one generation to the next and is what we call cultural tradition."
Tiyani Maluleke, the General Manger of Marketing at SAMRO, echoes Clegg’s musings on the importance of arts, culture and heritage in South Africa: "Since time immemorial, the arts have played a role in educating and uniting the people of South Africa. Music in particular has been a part of South African culture, defining certain eras and expressing our love, our pain, our losses as well as our victories. Art is part of the many ways in which we express ourselves as South Africans."
Clegg, who believes that success in the music industry is not gained by talent alone, but through hard work and a firm understanding of the industry, says his wish for the new wave of the country’s musicians is "strength and stamina in the pursuit of their arts". "And, never listen to the naysayers," he concludes.
The 19th annual ACT Awards was hosted by Sun International in association with the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) and is supported by the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO), the Dramatic, Artistic and Literary Rights Organisation (DALRO), Media24 Books, the Nedbank Arts Affinity, JTI, Creative Feel, Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) and the Distell Foundation.