A highlight of the opening night party at the Tribeca Film Festival last night was without a doubt the performance by South African musician Johnny Clegg. A friend turned me on to Juluka, Clegg’s band (with longtime musical collaborator Sipho Mchunu), back in the mid-80s when the cross-cultural collaboration was still illegal within apartheid South Africa (Clegg was born in the UK, but raised in Zimbabwe and South Africa, with Mchunu was a migrant Zulu before becoming a touring musician). Clegg and Mchunu’s all Zulu language album, Ubuhle Bemvelo, has been a favorite of mine for years. While Clegg’s English language music, which fuses Zulu and Western styles, was showcased by his band Savuka from about 1985 – 93. His Savuka songs were the primary basis of his set last night, but I still refer the Zulu language recordings.
My introduction to Juluka’s distinctive music in college, mixed with anti-Apartheid activism at the time (and subsequently the end of apartheid in 1990) opened my ears to Mbaqanga, the dance music of South Africa’s townships. A special moment during that era was meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1991 when we at UCLA CEC brought him to speak on campus. Tutu was in NYC yesterday, participating in the opening of the festival, to celebrate ten years since the birth of a new democratic government in South Africa.