Monday, January 12, 2009

Thank You Juluka and Johnny Clegg

Sometimes major historical trends start with things that seem trivial. The US ended over twenty years of diplomatic estrangement in 1972 with a much heralded visit of an American table tennis team to China, giving rise to the term "ping pong" diplomacy.

The end of apartheid in South Africa had similarly humble beginnings founded not in the world of sports but in music. Johnny Clegg, a white Jewish South African was born in 1953, and grew up under apartheid, the rigid form of statutory racial separation that attracted world condemnation. His love for music opened his eyes to the beauty of the rich musical traditions of South Africa's African black communities. In the early 1970's, he was already performing with a racially and culturally mixed band known as Juluka.

Although non-segregated bands were not forbidden, Clegg's music was banned from South African radio. Despite this, "Universal Men" Juluka's first album became a word of mouth hit. Clegg could be compared to Miriam Makaba, who achieved wide fame in the sixties earlier for popularising African music with general audiences. Both of them developed their fame out of South Africa and were essentially borne into the South African market on the wings of their reputation abroad.

Johnny Clegg remains very popular in South Africa and abroad. With the fall of apartheid, his multi ethnic musical collaboration is no longer cutting edge. An ongoing legacy of his music is the heightened public appreciation for South Africa's music.

South Africa has embraced the noble idea of the civic equality of all people. This has, however been a painful process. People of all races are plagued by a skyrocketing crime rate, in part caused by the slowness of integration in yielding tangible material rewards. Some sectors of the population such as white Afrikaner farmers are beset by a wave of racially motivated horrific murders intended to drive them out of South Africa. This has contributed to an economic instability that has hurt Black as well as White and Coloured (racially mixed) South Africans.

Starving and strife torn Zimbabwe next door to South Africa stands as a stark lesson to South Africa. Zimbabwe has plunged into a whirlwind of class and racial hatred that has pushed them to the brink of starvation. If South Africa can take this lesson to heart, it might avoid going down Zimbabwe's tragic road.

The lesson of Johnny Clegg and Juluka remains relevant today. In the new desegregated South Africa, its citizens of all races need each other to build peace and prosperity. A band working together to create beautiful music is a powerful metaphor for a harmonious and productive society. South Africans and Zimbabweans would be well served to reflect upon the lessons of Juluka. So much of human wealth is a direct outgrowth of the ability to tame the collective and individual soul. Whether South Africans dig their riches from their famous gold mines or cultivate their fertile soil, their beautiful land is an instrument in the hands of its citizens. With G-d's help, may they move forward in peace and prosperity.

Thank you Johnny Clegg and Juluka, for the vivid and wonderful lesson that is your music. May it be G-d's will that it be played often and on many joyous occasions.


Anonymous said...

Hi, impressed by the shared insight re: Johnny Clegg's music serving as a much needed healer in a more than ever divided post-apartheid SA...would like to share two recently released SA tracks that are as powerful and honor a similar journey as carved out by Johnny Clegg... where can I email these to...? Luke Eleftheriou

Magdeburger Joe said...

You can e mail them to me at Loooking forward to listening