Johnny Clegg’s music marked a very special period in my life and has connected me to lifelong friends. I was saddened to learn of his death at the relatively young age of 66.
I’d been introduced to his story and music with Juluka during my first year of graduate philosophy at Rutgers by my classmate and friend, Sarah.
Later, when I transferred to anthropology at UVA, my very first outing in Charlottesville was to a Johnny Clegg concert. Sarah was visiting, and we were thrilled to be able to catch them at small venue like Trax. I was new to the area and anthropology, missing my NY/NJ life, and ready for good music and the good vibes Savuka invoked among fans.
My expectations went awry as this happy outing was where I was also embroiled in my first and only barroom fight. As Johnny and Savuka sang about racial harmony and peace, I found myself fighting off a humongous, belligerently drunk blond woman who tried to push us out of our front row spaces.
In one of the more surreal moments of my adult life, I watched as the band’s eyes grew larger and two bouncers moved toward us. After a series of flirtatious moves with a member of Savuka, I also watched helplessly as my friend’s hopes of hanging out with the band went down in flames. It was a memorable night for us and for years afterwards, I harbored a hope of running into Mr. Clegg and explaining to him why my face seemed familiar.
Living in married graduate student housing and later renting a house in the Fifeville section, I played hostess to an assortment of wonderful students and locals and dancing to Savuka was pretty much a daily ritual. Dances learned from Donna Graham at Chihamba were adapted to Johnny Clegg songs. Friends courted loved ones to Dela and African Dreams, we invoked Third World Child , One Human One Vote, Warsaw 1943, and other political numbers as we waged our own battles against racial, class, and gender discrimination. The music was part of the fabric of our lives and we considered Johnny to have been “a white boy anthropologist who made good: a man who tried to live his values in difficult times, insisting on recognizing the humanity of all people and being willing to face being banned for his antiracist work. Honorable.
Asking forgiveness for my poor Zulu, with a sad heart and gratitude for the music I say: