Johnny Clegg just wanted to play music. But South Africa’s white people never understood why he wanted to spend time with black people writes Styles Lucas Ledwaba
He tells a good story just as well as he makes music. He’s an interviewer’s dream. You ask one question and he tells one great story after another.
It’s perhaps a wonderful thing that he’s writing a book on the band Juluka, which took him and his friend Sipho Mchunu from the obscurity of playing music in the migrant hostels of Johannesburg to international fame back in the late 70s and early 80s.
In September 2013 he’s hoping to take his life story, through a musical titled The Johnny Clegg Story, to the stage.
Hopefully this story will portray incidents like the one that happened while he was walking down Rissik street in central Johannesburg back in the early 1970s, strumming his guitar, singing maskanda music, an almost unthinkable sight in a South Africa in which the apartheid laws forbade any sort of inter-racial or cultural flirtation.
“Vuilgoed!” a white firefighter, seemingly disgusted by the sight of a young white man flirting with black culture and language screamed from the top of a building.
“Voetsek!” came Clegg’s defiant response.
Before he knew it, the fireman and an accomplice were chasing him down the street. But when he reached Walmer hostel, where he was well known among the Zulu migrant community, his pursuers backed off and resorted instead to insults.
It was incidents like these, which happened often, that saw him earn the isiZulu praise names, bamzonda eKillarney\bamzonda eHillbrow\ abafuni umlungu odla uphuthu nabantu!
Loosely translated, it means “they hate him in Killarney, they hate him in Hillbrow, they despise a white man who eats uphuthu with black people.”
But he was popularly known in Zulu street music circles as Madlebe, big ears, for reasons best understood by looking at his ears.
“That was my life. I grew up in the hostels,” says Clegg just hours before he is set to receive the Order of Ikhamanga from president Jacob Zuma on Freedom Day.
Clegg was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga for his excellent contribution to and achievement in the field of bridging African traditional music with other music forms, promoting racial understanding among racially divided groups in South Africa under difficult apartheid conditions, working for a non-racial society and being an outstanding spokesperson for the release of political prisoners.
“Hee, mfowethu! People don’t know what we went through,” he says of his constant conflict with the apartheid laws.
His forays into the hostels and befriending Zulu migrant who also doubled up as street musicians, often led to his arrest and police harassment.
As a white man, he had to apply for permission from the authorities to be allowed into in a hostel. But such an application would most probably be turned down or take many months before it was granted. And even then permission would be granted for just a few hours.
“I just wanted to play music. That’s all I wanted to do. But the white people could never understand why I wanted to spend time with black people. To them it was always something criminal, they thought it was about dagga, they never thought these were just normal people. But I went anyway, I wanted to play,” says Clegg.
And he paid a heavy price.
He was often arrested for trespassing, for being in a black area without a permit; at school he was ostracized by some of his peers and on the family front, some relatives accused him of bringing disgrace to the family name, all because he dared to defy apartheid’s racial segregation laws and reached out to the other side.
“I always asked them why they were criminalising my behaviour because I was doing nothing illegal? Even then I was aware that there’s something as an unjust law. I never even thought of giving up,” he says.
And from the hostels he learnt more than strumming the guitar and dancing. Instead he learnt important aspects of Zulu life and culture, isiZulu, stick fighting, traditional dance, ukuphalaza, the use of intelezi and the sacred ways of healing. But what intrigued him the most were the stories of the men, proud warriors in their villages and regions, but reduced to sweeping the streets for a pittance in the city, yet remaining upbeat and continuing to embrace life with a wicked sense of humour.
It was these stories, he says, which influenced his strong lyric writing which produced such hits as Woza Friday, ScattIerlings of Africa, African Sky Blue, The Mainstay Cup Final Song, Zodwa and many others.
His proficiency in isiZulu and his adept dance moves earned him the monicker The White Zulu. But Clegg thinks otherwise.
“I’m more than a Zulu. I’m a South African. The Zulu experience helped me develop an African identity,” he says.
Clegg points to his childhood in Zimbabwe and Zambia as the strong foundation to his non-racial outlook on life.
He went to five different primary schools in five years in three different countries, in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa. But it was in Zambia where he went to a multi racial school, that the idea of multi-racialism was entrenched.
When he began touring overseas with Juluka, Clegg used the opportunity to campaign for change in South Africa. Many of his songs were banned by the SA Broadcasting Corporation but this never stopped him from scaling great heights in the international charts. He’s been honoured widely overseas and here at home, but fame, it seems, has not gone to his head.
He still visits the hostels and his friend Mchunu in Kranskop, KwaZulu Natal and has his feet firmly on the ground.
And while many artists from his generation struggle to grapple with our fast changing society, Clegg believes the ground is fertile for a new revolution, which is transformation.
“During apartheid we were always against something. But when apartheid ended we had to be for something, which is what I think many people have struggled to deal with. But these are exciting times, transformation is the new agenda,” he says.
Thanks for the music, Madlebe! – This article first appeared in the City Press in 2012
Previous Return of The Dreamers instalments had the make-up of a mixtape, the soppiness of a demo and were lethargic as those preseason warm-up matches in sport. But Revenge of The Dreamers III is purely a case of third luck’s a charm for J.Cole and the Dreamville squad.
The first ROTD was released in 2014 with the follow-up coming in 2015. The projects left one with a sense that Dreamville was just testing the waters. But this current shit here slaps, quite hard.
I’m only realising this as I write, that we were actually conditioned to expect more than we got from the previous projects, by the marketing gimmick Dreamville pulled earlier this year. They publicly invited artists they wanted to have on this project, on social media. I ain’t an artist and I’m not even in the US nogal. But those invitations didn’t only leave one excited, but just wana be in there…even nje just to witness the sickness. I can bet you my speakers that a shit load of artists, in the US were green with envy.
“Cole was like ‘man we should make invitations’ and then I was just like damn that’s actually kinda genius. We literally got it out to people the day we got here, we were supposed to do it ahead of time and then that day, we just stared seeing people posting, posting, posting,” said Ibrahim ‘Ib’ Hamad, President and co-founder of Dreamville speaking in a the documentary Dreamville Presents: REVENGE.
The album featured 34 artists and 27 producers, this is out of the 343 individuals invited to record it in 10 days.
“That shit worked out crazy like, people hit my phone, everybody wana come and everybody’s welcome at the same time, you know what I mean,” said Cole. “For me it was like, literally a golden ticket typa situation.”
Months flew and the excitement fizzled, but somehow, sporadically reignited by a J.Cole verse on other artists’ joints in the months leading up to now. But the eagerness for ROTD III came back to us quicker than Babes did to Mampintsha, after watching the enticing Dreamville Presents: REVENGE.
Sonically, ROTD III is refreshing…looking at where Dreamville comes from as a label. They were, and are largely still seen as one of the torch bearers of the Boom-Bap sound and that real rap shit. This album has various sounds, but each song never veers off what Dreamville seems to represents, realness.
It’s symbolic that Dreamville hosted a slew of artists, and even in the web of sounds, no one forgot that these dreamers are tryna pay revenge. The stable has grown in sound and artistry…the songs uniquely represented the folks at Dreamville. The seemingly organic chemistry they had with the outside artists, isn’t unusual for Dreamville because the stable has an assortment of artists, who hail from different parts of the country.
The weed joint, 1993 produced by Elite is so Wu-Tang. I’ve been listening to Buddy’s music for a year or two now, and his energy on shit is always palpable. He doesn’t rap on this track, but serves his purpose on the song. The blunt is seen as the microphone, and vice-versa to which Buddy is the conductor. Cole and JID complemented each other well with their verses, coming correct.
JID is Dreamville’s poster boy and he further proved why on this project. Ladies, Ladies, Ladies produced by Kal Banx has JID musing over past lovers alongside the big bro from ATL T.I. It’s a smooth ditty, delivered in an attempted to sound hard, but both kats come out sounding dope cute.
I would’ve liked to see Cole, Ib and Top Dawg’s reaction soon as they heard LamboTruck. I saw Reason as just a decent kat before this joint, but his cadence and pen game was above par. So was Cozz…and they both sounded deliberately humorous. The two West Coast kats’ comfortability with each other reminded me of the chemistry between East coast’s Method Man & Redmad. LamboTruck also represents the kindship between Top Dawg Entertainment and Dreamville, far more than just the business.
Ari Lennox, Dreamville’s empress, owned her space on the project. Self Love featuring Bas and Baby Rose is one of those songs that would sit well on an Ari project. She got swallowed up though, by Ty Dolla $ign on Got Me– if that beat was America, Ty Dolla $ign would be the white race. Omen hasn’t shrugged off sounding like Cole, but the Friday Night Lights/ The Warm Up Cole- nice, but still on the come up. The track is produced by Mdbeat, Deputy and OZ.
Bas can be a bit sluggish when solo, on his own shit but Abbas Hamad rapped out of his skin on Down Bad, rapping with stable mates JID, EARTHGANG, J.Cole and 21 Savage’s cousin Young Nudy.
Sacrifices, Wells Fargo, Oh Wow…Swerve are other songs worth mentioning that give the album more body and gravitas to even dare call it an album. There are songs the alum could’ve done without, like Swivel and Sleep Deprived .
It’s natural to wonder what will happen to the songs we heard in the documentary, which were recorded in the 10 days but didn’t make the 18 track cut. And I suppose it’s also natural to sit there and think why they didn’t invite so-and-so…because of the vast possibilities and expectations that come with putting together such a project. So it is what it is.
But Dreamville gave dreamers hope with this one, without being melodramatic about it.
While the majority will make noise about the high youth unemployment numbers, the ubiquity of retrenchments and the paucity of genuine commercial platforms for creatives, this time has also given black youth an opportunity to show their leadership qualities. It was US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. who said genuine leaders do not search for consensus, but are the ones who mould consensus. Lwazi Nonyukela is doing so with his media company, Hip-Hop 411.
“I felt like our stories in underground Hip-Hop weren’t being told enough, commercial platforms are not giving emcees and creatives enough opportunities to showcase their talent and tell their stories, plus I’ve always had the passion to be a Hip-Hop entrepreneur,” the Sowetan from Orlando West tells me.
Founded four years ago, the company specialises in content creation, pre and post production of its visual and audio platforms. Their content celebrates South Africa’s pop culture, largely driven by their passion for the Hip Hop culture. Their involvement in the Hip Hop scene was recognised by the South African Hip Hop Awards “…we were nominated for the Kings Of Gauteng for The South African Hip-Hop Awards for various elements in Hip-Hop before Battle Rap, but Battle Rap brought in a new and extended market to the brand including cyphers that we do across the country,” says Nonyukela.
Ever since the demise of Scrambles4Money there have been sporadic battle leagues around the country, but none have shown the consistency and meticulousness as the Hip-Hop 411 brand. Through their efforts, the league has become the premier battle movement in South Africa, managing to build relationships with brands to sponsor their movement. “…as a brand (Hip-Hop 411) we were able to collaborate with each other by tapping into each other’s markets which brought in huge values by also monetizing our content, growing numbers on social media, and getting more traffic into our website to attract new advertisers and for the battle rappers to see themselves as future brands by utilizing the opportunities we giving them on our platform and to also grow and maintain the culture.”
“I didn’t imagine it to be the home for just Battle Rap in South Africa, but I imagined it to be the home and movement for all cultural Hip-Hop elements in Africa, extending to other continents as well,” a determined Nonyukela tells me.
The involvement of emcee Kriss Anti-B has given the Hip-Hop 411 brand more clout, especially on the battle rap front, thanks to Kriss’ personal brand growth over the last few years in the local Hip Hop scene. “Kriss has been a major boost for the battle rap division in Hip-Hop 411…. he is giving opportunities to a lot of Battle Rappers and emcees from around the country to come and showcase their talent.”
There’s a tad bit of confusion about Kriss’ exact contribution at Hip-Hop 411, with many wrongly assuming he’s the founder of the company. But he’s a content producer for Hip Hop 411 Radio and has his own show, a promoter and Nonyukela also describes him as “a creative director/partner, and a huge ambassador for the brand.”
In his parting shot, Nonyukela says “The long-term objective of the company is to expand its service offering by not just focusing on content creation but participating across all sectors of the Visual, Media and Entertainment industry. This strategy will see the company expanding to 2D and 3D cinema experience, online content creation, digital rendering, application software, co-production to local and African markets (clients) and content creation and distribution.”
With those sort of objectives laid-out, it’s not difficult to foresee a future where young black people such as himself become important role players in our industry. Maybe next time I talk to him, Hip-Hop 411 would have more employees than the 15 he already has working in his team- quelling the noise that comes with high youth unemployment numbers, the ubiquity of retrenchments and the paucity of genuine commercial platforms for creatives.
BEFORE Google was in the palm of our hands, in the form of our smartphones, many a time arguments took place between friends and family about who the real Glen Lewis is.
The irony is that, neither of the two men were born with that name. Lewis Mposteng Tshinaba, the South African radio jock took up the ‘Glen Lewis’ nickname long before most South African were introduced to the Don’t You Forget singer, Glennon Ricketts Jr. who is better known as Glenn Lewis.
It’s humorously intriguing where the DJ derived the ‘Glen’ in his name from and also puzzling what inspired the ‘Lewis’ in the Neo-Soul singer’s stage name. Their music genres are far apart from each other than Julius Malema and Pravin Gordhan, but like two fellas unknown to each other falling for the same girl, the artists connected to the same moniker.
But there’s a difference in the spelling of their names. The club DJ’s name is simply written Glen Lewis, while the Canadian artist has an extra ‘n’ to his first name.
The latter is coming down to Mzansi with other hasbeens; 90s R&B quartet Blackstreet and Melanie Fiona, for the second annual SoulFest which will take place at the Joburg’s Ticketpro Dome, on Women’s Day in August.
The event is hosted by the same company that brought SWV, Dru Hill and TLC last year in their inaugural SoulFest. “Last year was a great success. The idea is to create one magical night of music with young and old singing along to every song,” said Glen Netshipise of Glen21 Entertainment, in a statement.
IT’s like being soul-crushingly stood-up last minute by the one you’ve been pursuing for a long while, and then jiki-jki you’re cringingly excited by a random call or text from your perpetrator, not long after being let down.
So that was it; how I felt after the announcement of this year’s AfroPunk Joburg line-up. A friend who had the flyer on his WhatsApp status was going crazy over GoldLink finally coming down south for a performance. SMH. After a closer look, I also saw the names of Solange Piaget Knowles and Micah Davis. SMFH.
The three of them; Solange, GoldLink and Masego abandoned their South African fans and left them hanging in the past few years. It was in the afternoon of December 2017 , Central African Time, when Beyoncé’s baby sister dropped the bombshell on Insta, stating health reasons for cancelling her performance at AfroPunk’s inaugural African event. “…however it is important to me for the people in South Africa, a place that has tremendous meaning to me and that has given me SO SO MUCH, to know why I won’t be performing at Afropunk this NYE. The past five months I have been quietly treating, and working through an Autonomic Disorder,” she wrote on social media.
AP organisers vehemently promised to have the dope-ass creative the following year, mara nex in twenty18. A part of me is like “Tsek!” after I saw her name on this year’s flyer while another leans on the proverb “better late than never”.
While Solange was specific about her condition, rap singer GoldLink just said he had a health issue, in a statement released by Rocking The Daises organisers. “Due to unforeseen personal health reasons, GoldLink will not be performing at this year’s Rocking The Daises and In the City festivals in Cape Town and Johannesburg. GoldLink is extremely disappointed that he won’t be playing to his South African fans this weekend but promises to return soon.” He is returning soon, sooner than Solange was promised to us.
Jamaican-born musician Masego had fans dissatisfied last year, when he was booked to headline the Flying Fish Flavour Odyssey together with rapper J.I.D but cancelled due to “unforeseen circumstances”. The Navajo singer was stranded at an airport, in another continent just a day before his performance. Like a decent human being, he apologised and made the promise to return. And he kept it. Masego performed earlier this month to throngs of his fans. I’m just not sure whether South Africans want to see more of the lanky dude,so soon.
AP better have a back-up plan should all three decide to take a rain check-the three have left scars on their Mzansi fans which will take some time to heal. “I have very hectic trust issues. This line-up is triggering me. The ghosts of all the money I threw away at Flying Fish, Rocking The Daisies and AfroPunk2018 is screaming at me right now,” said ManchaM on twitter.
This year’s line-up was released earlier than AP usually publishes their list of performers. It’s kinda too good to be true. Only time will tell if the said artists will perform at this year’s AP.