Thursday, July 18, 2019


Johnny Clegg, the so-called "White Zulu" and writer/singer of the song "Scatterlings of Africa," which enjoyed worldwide fame for a brief time, has died of pancreatic cancer at the young age of 66. The Wikipedia entry on Clegg notes that he was an anthropologist—a fact that surprised me, as I knew Clegg only for his music, which fused Western and African melodies and lyrics (Clegg spoke fluent isiZulu). Clegg began his adult career as an academic, writing anthro papers on African art, music, and culture, but he eventually transitioned into the musician/activist role for which he became famous, doing his part to fight apartheid, thereby earning the respect of the Zulu nation in the process. In an interview, Clegg insisted he was not an activist because he associated activism with a fixed ideology, whereas he claimed to have no ideology other than human rights. We can debate him on that point, but I, for one, respect the brave work Clegg did to bridge the race/oppression gap in South Africa. "Scatterlings," which made a splash in the MTV era, was released in 1983, back when I was in high school and fairly unaware of how interconnected this big, beautiful, happy, suffering planet is. The term "White Zulu" meant little to nothing to me back then; it was a curiosity bordering on being an oxymoron. But that perspective obviously wasn't shared by the Zulus who lovingly embraced Clegg: they saw no contradiction in there being a white Zulu. I salute the man and his many worthy deeds. In Neil Diamond's mournful words, Clegg and his work were "done too soon," and the world is a little bit dimmer.

Rest in peace, Mr. Clegg.

Below: "Scatterlings of Africa," featuring a very young Johnny Clegg:

The lyrics to the song can be found here. It's the only song of Clegg's repertoire to make the UK Singles Chart, and apparently, it featured in the movie "Rain Man."


John Mac said...

Wow, not sure how I missed even being aware of Mr. Clegg or his work. I did see Rain Man but don't recall the song either. Thanks for sharing this tribute!

Kevin Kim said...

A South African friend tells me that tributes to Clegg have been pouring out over the past few days in South Africa.