Obituary: Johnny Clegg, the man who united SA when it was most ...

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Obituary: Johnny Clegg, the man who united SA when it was most divided

The musician will be remembered for his adventurous spirit and resolute stance against apartheid

Andrew Donaldson

Johnny Clegg, who has died aged 66 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, was one of South Africa’s most beloved musical icons, a respected cultural ambassador and a resolute anti-apartheid activist. Throughout a career that spanned almost five decades, he remained true to an original vision of a “crossover” music that fused Zulu maskandi traditions with Celtic folk and rock elements.

“I love it,” he told America’s National Public Radio in 2017. “I love the hybridisation of culture, language, music, dance, choreography. If we look at the history of art, generally speaking, it is through the interaction of different communities, cultures, worldviews, ideas and concepts that invigorates styles and genres and gives them life and gives people a different angle on stuff that was really, just, you know, being passed down blindly from generation to generation.”

Fifty years earlier, however, the apartheid authorities took a dim view of such interaction; not many artists have faced the sort of obstacles in Clegg’s musical journey. The same, obviously, could also be said of Sipho Mchunu, his lifelong friend and musical partner...

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