JOHANNESBURG, July 27 ― South Africans bade an emotional farewell yesterday to singer Johnny Clegg, who defied apartheid with his unique fusion of African and Western culture and sounds.
Ten days after Clegg succumbed to a long battle with cancer, hundreds of fans gathered at a memorial service in Johannesburg where fellow musicians paid homage to the “White Zulu” by performing some of his best-loved tunes.
Actor John Kani delivered a moving eulogy for Clegg, whose music blended Zulu rhythms with Western styles and who defied the apartheid regime's laws of racial segregation.
“It was very easy for Johnny to make a choice and just enjoy white privilege and be a rock star, but he had a heart that told him: 'You have to see the plight of other people as well',” Kani said.
Apart from a solo career, Clegg created and performed in two inter-racial groups, Juluka and Savuka, enduring constant harassment at a time when black and white South Africans were prohibited from mixing by law.
Clegg, whose best-known track was arguably Asimbonanga (We Haven't Seen Him), written for then-imprisoned anti-apartheid fighter Nelson Mandela, saw his work repeatedly censored by the white minority regime.
Born in Lancashire, Britain, Clegg moved to Johannesburg with his mother when he was six years old.
Exposure to migrant workers in adolescence introduced him to Zulu culture, dancing and music, and his involvement with black musicians saw him frequently arrested.
Country 'in mourning'
As a singer, he often performed in traditional Zulu dress, complete with animal skins and tails, and was known for his flawless rendition of the high-kicking Zulu war dance.
After a career that brought international stardom, Clegg died at his home in Johannesburg on Tuesday last week, aged 66.
“Our country and cultural workers across the globe have been in mourning,” said Nathi Mthethwa, the minister of arts and culture.
“Through his music, he inspired courage as we struggled to extricate ourselves from a long night of despair,” Mthethwa said, adding Clegg's work would forever “form part of our national memory.”
Clegg's son Jesse took to stage with the Soweto Gospel Choir to perform a song he wrote with his father, entitled: “I've been looking”.
“Despite his successes, he regarded being a dad as his highest duty,” Jesse said.
Long-time musical partner and mentor Sipho Mchunu praised his friend's talent as a lyricist, recalling how Clegg had penned a love letter on his behalf to a woman who would later become one of Mchunu's six wives.
“We won her eventually!” he reminisced.
The memorial closed with more than 30 South African musicians performing his hit The Crossing, in which Clegg sang of “coming home”.
He was buried last week in a private ceremony. ― AFP-Relaxnews