South Africa's Johnny Clegg returns for May 5 show at House of Blues West Hollywood
South African musician Johnny Clegg focused much of his music in the 1980s and 1990s, when he had a presence in the U.S. as part of the booming world-music community, on the volatile issues that emerged in his homeland because of the government’s apartheid system of racial segregation.
Two decades later, apartheid is politically a thing of the past. But that doesn’t mean Clegg has run out of struggles to address in his buoyant combination of mbaqanga jazz-pop, Western rock, Zulu chants and other elements of Afro-pop music, which he brings to the House of Blues in West Hollywood on Thursday night.
His latest album, “Human,” includes songs about the aftermath of apartheid, and broader issues of identity and equality, which the 57-year-old musician sings and plays with no sign of waning passion.
“Young people [in South Africa] have very high expectations, and these expectations aren’t being met, so there are crazy, big fights going on,” said Clegg, who also used teach anthropology at the University of Witwatersrand. “The politics of patronage, where you’ll get a job because you have been working under somebody and they are obliged to be loyal to that person, are not efficient. You’ll get the job, but if you’re not qualified and the department you head up collapses, then people don’t get clean water because of it.
“All of this has been bubbling up,” he said. “There have been a lot of protests; townships have been sealed off in scenes reminiscent of the bad old days of apartheid, with people shooting people in the streets.”
When we spoke last fall when his album came out, I asked whether the physically energetic performances for which he was known, which incorporate athletically demanding Zulu dance elements, are more challenging nearly 20 years after he was last touring the U.S. regularly.
“Not the performances themselves,” he said. “It’s tougher on me from the actual travel point of view. I still I love the show, and I don’t drink or smoke. I train and I’ve kept myself reasonably in shape. It’s the travel I’m battling with: hours on the plane, then hours on the bus. It’s definitely lost its romantic appeal.”
-- Randy Lewis
Photo of Johnny Clegg. Credit: Robert Oettle.