“African Sounds”: Night Flight remembers Johnny Clegg & his “Scatterlings of Africa”

By on July 23, 2019

“The black and white band members of South Africa’s controversial Juluka defy their country’s apartheid policy while mixing their own brand of Zulu and Western music, sometimes banned even in Britain,” Night Flight’s Pat Prescott tells us during her introduction to the group’s “Scatterlings of Africa” video, as seen in this vintage episode we called “African Sounds,” now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

We also wanted to note the recent passing of British-born South African activist and musician Johnny Clegg, who died at his home in Johannesburg on July 16, 2019, at the age of 66, after bravely battling pancreatic cancer for the past four years.

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It was with two interracial groups, Juluka and Savuka — who both experienced harassment and censorship by the South African government while violating the apartheid legislation dubbed the Group Areas Act — that Clegg made his mark musically while helping unite people against South Africa’s apartheid, the institutionalized racial segregation that plagued the region for five decades.

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Arguably Clegg’s signature song was “Scatterlings of Africa,” which he first recorded with Juluka (which means “sweat” in Zulu), the group he formed with Sipho Mchunu.

A “scatterling” is an uprooted drifter, but Clegg’s use of the term was also meant to highlight the displaced people of his adopted home country, victims of British colonialism.

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Clegg used the term here to acknowledge that we are all “scatterlings of Africa,” meaning we’re all from the birthplace of the human race, which has been traced back to the “Olduvia” Gorge in Tanzania, which many scientists believe is the original source of all humankind.

“Copper sun sinking low, scatterlings and fugitives
Hooded eyes and weary brows seek refuge in the night
They are the scatterlings of Africa,
Each uprooted one on the road to Phelamanga
Beneath the copper sun,
And I love the scatterlings of Africa,
Each and every one, in their hearts a burning hunger
Beneath the copper sun, broken wall, bicycle wheel
African sun forging steel, singing
Magic machine cannot match
Human being human being
African idea — make the future clear”

“Phelamanga” is a Zulu word which refers to a metaphysical, ideological destination.

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“Scatterlings of Africa” — first appearing on Juluka’s 1982 album Scatterlings — was Clegg’s biggest hit in the country of his birth, reaching #44 on the UK Singles Chart in February of 1983.

He also recorded the song with Savuka (which means “awakening,” and “we have risen”), which he formed with Dudu Zulu after Mchunu’s departure from Juluka.

Savuka’s version made it to #75 in May 1987, and it was this version that appeared on the soundtrack to Rain Man, the 1988 Oscar-winning Best Picture.

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Read more below about Johnny Clegg.

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Johnny Clegg was born in Bacup, Lancashire, England, on June 7, 1953.

Clegg’s mother — a Zimbabwe-born woman of Lithuanian Jewish heritage — married a journalist who was fascinated with African cultures and traditions.

As a family they lived in several African countries, including Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia) and Zambia. In 1965, when he was six, they moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Clegg would live for most of the rest of his life.

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Clegg — who shared his stepfather’s love for African culture — was by all accounts a remarkable student, becoming fluent in isiZulu, one of three indigenous languages he learned to speak during his lifetime.

By age fifteen, Clegg was defying local laws by getting a Zulu gardener, Charlie Mzila — who was playing street music near Clegg’s home — to teach him traditional South African songs on a Spanish guitar.

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For the next couple of years, he learned about Zulu culture — including their traditional “inhlangwini” dancing — as he accompanied Mzila to the migrant labor haunts.

He was often the only white person performing at events attended mostly by black South Africans (he was fondly called Le Zulu Blanc, a.k.a. “the white Zulu”).

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Clegg was still a teenager when he first met black musician Sipho Mchunu, a migrant Zulu worker who challenged him to a guitar-playing competition.

By 1969, their friendship and musical partnership had evolved into Juluka, who would mix Zulu and traditional folk music, or “mbaqanga.” Clegg and Sipho Mchunu recorded seven albums total with Juluka, two of which went platinum in sales, while five others were certified gold.

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After graduating with a B.A. degree in Social Anthropology and Political Science from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Clegg spent four years as a lecturer.

He was eventually ceremonially inducted into three Zulu tribes, becoming a founder and vice president of the social-change-minded South African Musicians Alliance.

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Johnny Clegg wearing a traditional Zulu outfit during his wedding in 1989

With Savuka — the band he formed in 1986 which blended African music with European (especially Celtic) influences — Clegg recorded one EP and four albums that were released between 1986 and 1993 before leaving to go solo.

In 2012, Johnny Clegg received South Africa’s highest civilian medal, the presidential Ikhamanga Award.

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Upon hearing of his death, Steven Van Zandt tweeted:

“RIP Johnny Clegg. One of the greatest artists of South Africa and the world. Musa Ukungilandela by his band Juluka is one of the great albums of all time. He was a great friend when I needed one during my Sun City research. His use of Zulu influenced me to use it in Pretoria.”

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African Sounds” also features music videos by pan-Africanist Fela Kuti, Senegalese brothers Touré Kunda and Nigerian Juju music leader King Sunny Ade, as well as videos by Stewart Copeland, Specials AKA, Hugh Masakela, Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Colin James Hay and UB40. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.