Johnny Clegg on life after music: ‘It’s bittersweet but what I’ve done is turned it into an autobiographical show’

2019-07-16 20:09
Johnny Clegg

South African music legend Johnny Clegg has died at the age of 66, Channel24 reported.

The singer was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015 ad opened up to The Juice about his disease.

"I’m dealing with another parallel world that I work in with my diagnosis. Pancreatic [cancer] is lethal. There’s no way out of it."

During an interview with YOU in February the legendary musician opened up about his new album and life after music.

Johnny Clegg

As the frontman of Juluka and Savuka he gave us unforgettable and distinctly South African songs such as Impi, Asimbonanga and Scatterlings of Africa.

After four decades in the industry – during which he broke barriers, wowed audiences around the globe, jived with Madiba and earned an OBE from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth – Johnny announced his retirement last year following a battle with pancreatic cancer.

We caught up with the legend, who’s just completed the SA leg of his Final Journey world tour, to find out more about his new album and life after music.

What’s it like to know you’re on your final tour?

“It’s bittersweet but what I’ve done is turned it into an autobiographical show. So it follows the various stages of my career – Sipho [Mchunu, who he started Juluka with] joins me for the Juluka part, then I move onto Savuka and my solo stuff up until now.”

Why did you call your new album King of Time?

“It’s a tongue-in-cheek title. I’ve managed to outlast a lot of my contemporaries with a musical style that’s uniquely my attention own. It hasn’t been easy. For many years my music wasn’t played on radio as I didn’t fit into any category. So I’m saying that after all this time I’m still standing, my music is still being played and I still have my fans around the world.”

What can fans expect?

“I’ve always written about the country, politics – that’s never changed – but there are also songs about the environment, and some love songs. I think SA is in a pretty dark place right now, but I believe we have the tools to change it. It’s a very fertile place in which to write. I have a song called Colour of My Skin, basically saying we’ve had 23 years of democracy and yet colour is still such an important issue.”

Apparently shooting the song’s video was a bit of a family affair.

“Yes, it was directed by my younger son, Jaron, who’s a filmmaker.”

Your other son, Jesse, has followed in your footsteps but with a different style of music. Was that deliberate?

“Oh yes, right from the beginning he told me, ‘Dad you do your hybrid thing, and I’ll do my rock thang!” 

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing musicians nowadays?

“I think these days a lot of music is being pre-digested for audiences because people have such short attention spans. It’s hard. Music is competing for people’s attention – they’re watching a documentary or something on a screen while listening to a new song. And they use tricks now, like the get-stop, which we use in one of my songs. It’s a long pause. I said to my producer that sounds like a mistake and he said no, it’s to keep people’s attention.”

What’s the one song you wished you’d written?

“There are lots, but mostly songs by Peter Gabriel or The Police’s Walking on the Moon.”

Tell us something most people don’t know about you.

“I can’t read music! I play entirely by ear.”

Which local bands do you rate?

“I think Beatenberg from Cape Town have something special.”

What’s next for Johnny?

“I’m writing my autobiography and I’ve got the European and Australian legs of my tour later this year. I’ve also got my business recycling electronic waste, which I’m looking to expand. And I want to give talks on the topic of South African identity. I’m very interested in that.”

What would you have done if music hadn’t grabbed you?

“Become an anthropologist.”

What soothes your soul these days?

“I’m very close to nature and a big bird watcher. I have these big bird feeders outside my window and every morning I lie in bed and watch them – that’s my half hour of reality TV!”

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