Neglected pioneer of the real African/Western music fushion
Kevin Miller | Penshurst, Kent United Kingdom | 08/13/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Long before Paul Simon's justifiably acclaimed Graceland brought the talents of South Africa's black musicians to Western attention Johnny Clegg had conceived the idea of fusing black South African music traditions with western folk and pop music. Born in England but raised in South Africa he befriended Zulu migrant workers in his white Johannesburg suburb and learned their guitar techniques and their language. He went with his Zulu friends to migrant workers' hostels and watched and performed in their musical styles, risking arrest along the way. He studied Zulu at university and became a lecturer in Zulu cultural history before embarking full time in the ground-breaking multiracial groups Juluka and Savuka.Unlike Paul Simon, who grafted white middle class American lyrics on to black South African songs and rhythms, Clegg writes in both English and Zulu and fully integrates the two cultures.Heat, Dust and Dreams, released in the early 1990's, was his last recording with Savuka - his more western orientated group. The album was recorded in the USA and includes top American session musicians as well as his black and white South African group. The result was perhaps his most obviously commercial album. Despite this his image as a "world music" artist has always restricted airplay of his records to specialist stations and programmes and he has never received the wider acclaim his talents as a writer and performer have deserved.Look beyond the Zulu choruses and what you have here is gritty tough driving rock full of powerful themes laced with exquisite harmonies and choruses. The "Crossing" is a hauntingly beautiful song about the transition from life to death while "Tough Enough" shows that the concertina can be a powerful rock instrument in the right hands. As with all of Clegg's 17 or so albums this one is full of great tunes, lovely choruses, powerful guitars and drums and intelligent thoughtful lyrics.Over some 25 years or so producing unique music which straddles the musical traditions of both black South Africa and western pop and folk Clegg has shown himself to be one of the most creative and consistent artists in the world. He has never produced a bad album - this one is amongst the best."
Inevitable Consequence of Genius
The Orange Duke | Cupertino, Ca United States | 08/07/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Johnny Clegg has been marketing his unique blend of western and African music for many years now, though he is criminally ignored in the US, he is better known to European and African music fans. Johnny's mix of rock music with traditional Zulu singing was the inspiration for Paul Simon's critically acclaimed GRACELAND album and is somewhat similar to music made by South African ex-pat Dave Matthews. A peerless songwriter, Clegg is known both for his politically charged stompers (check out the poignant, pointed `Inevitable Consequence Of Progress', told from the perspective of a helicopter gunman hunting African tribesmen) and moving love songs (like `I Can Never Be (What You want To Be)'). He concentrates on the political here, and given his South African originals it's no surprise that he has a leftist, pro-democracy bent. South Africa has seen all to recently the ravages of the right, and doubtless only hard line racists will find conservatism's disingenuous lies appealing. Any Clegg album could just as easily be a greatest hits for a lesser artist, and every track is excellent, but special kudos go to the stomping, irresistible `These Days', the thoughtful "When The System Has Fallen' and the lively, ferocious `Foreign Nights'. Worth whatever you pay for it. As for his live shows, well, they have to be seen to be believed."
A MUST HAVE
mtevcm | NEW JERSEY | 07/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Johnny Clegg is overlooked in the U.S., and this album proves he is 100 times better than the majority of dreck on the airwaves today. This album succeeds on many levels...strong hooks, enchanting rhythyms, memorable melodies and lyrics...even the Zulu language parts of the songs blend so well with the English lyrics that you will start to phonetically sound them out and try to sing it...you can't stop dancing, singing and loving this album...older fans of Clegg's various bands will think this more commercial and slick...it is a little different than his Juluka band days, but great nonetheless! A must have in any collection."
Awesome Artist - a great unknown
J. Mallernee | Macon, Georgia USA | 11/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first heard Johnny Clegg in the early 1980's, just before I had the pleasure of seeing Juluka in concert. After Sipho McHunu left, the band was renamed Savuka, and is just as good to me. More accessible to western pop & rock listeners, but still very rooted in African music. Zulu is a beautiful language and this album is accented with zulu background and chorus vocals.
Out of the thousands of vinyl LPs and hundreds of CDs I have, this album remains in my eternal top 20. If I were stranded with only a CD player and 10 CDs, I would hope this would be one of them."
Sadly, the last Savuka album, possibly Johnny Clegg's last s
BaronFellDown | A galaxy far, far away | 08/08/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Heat, Dust & Dreams, by Johnny Clegg & Savuka. Release date: 1993. Currently out of print in the U.S., so you'll have to buy used or as an import. But do buy it if you like worldbeat or African music at all.
The opening track, "These Days", kicks off with the buzz of bagpipes and immediately informs the listener that they are listening to some serious fusion here. The styles blended by Johnny Clegg are South African mbaqanga, Western pop, Western rock, Celtic, reggae, and even Indian music, which makes it very hard to define. "These Days" is pretty heavy, with Clegg belting out the lyrics in one of the angriest, most biting tones he's ever done on any song. It makes "Soweto", off of 1982's Ubuhle Bemvelo, sound gentle. And, considering what South Africa and the world have just been through and what the future seems to hold for the tattered Africa, it's appropriate. What is surprising is the absence of hope or celebration even in the wake of the release of Nelson Mandela and the fall of apartheid.
The next song is one of the group's best. It's a short, softer piece in memory of a friend and former bandmate - the little note on the lyrics reads simply "For Dudu" - entitled "The Crossing (Osiyeza)". The song deals with the crossing from life into death, and how Clegg feels that it's like "coming home". It also deals with the impression that the departed leave behind. The Zulu chorus is effective, as usual.
"I Can Never Be (What You Want Me To Be)" has the subject matter of a man who feels inadequate and unsuitable for the woman that he loves and is bitter that she will never accept him because she's always want him to be someone who he can't be, which is oddly at ease with the uptempo, happy-go-lucky bounce of the instrumentation. Somehow, it works - it's charming and, most important of all, it's honest. Works for the Goo Goo Dolls; works here, too.
The next song is...well, it's honestly one of the best songs I've heard recently. "When The System Has Fallen" - even the name is promising. It starts off strong, with the always-awesome jaw harp and then the introduction of excellent, sharp vocals from Clegg, and just gets better, featuring a powerful Zulu-language chorus, which is almost always excellent and is brilliant here. Later in the song, the English and Zulu chorus lines are layered; the ending has downright majesty as the Zulu chorus is chanted over and over. The instruments drop down to drums, then finally the drums fall out and the last ten seconds are chanted a cappella. Definitely a "whoa" moment.
The fifth song on the album, "Tough Enough", kicks into gear with some cool concertina playing by Clegg. The lyrics aren't classic, but they work for the song. It's not a brilliant piece, but it's worth listening to and it's on my iPod, even if "When The System Has Fallen" and "The Crossing (Osiyeza)" are a lot better. This rock is fairly political, and has its merits. The bridge, which takes things down a notch, is pretty good.
And it's certainly a great deal better than "The Promise", which is weak. Clegg tries singing in a fashion that doesn't suit his vocal style at all, and the lyrics fall flat. It serves the purpose of calling attention to the main theme of the album, which is survival and "making it through".
It is followed by "Inevitable Consequence Of Progress". Now, the reviews I read said that this song was "brilliant", and it sounded promising: the perspective of a naive helicopter gunner shooting down native African tribesmen. Unfortunately, Clegg takes the previous bad vocals of "The Promise" to a whole new extreme of awful. There are really no words past that.
"In My African Dream" has good verses and a good bridge, but a very poor chorus with female backup singers that sound ridiculously out of place. There's a nice repeating keyboard thing going on beneath the main instrumentation of the song. Overall, the song doesn't hold up well. The chorus is regrettable.
The next song opens in a way that really shocked me. There's a heavy Hindi influence here; the usual bilinguality of the songs is between English and Zulu. Here, it's between English and Hindi. It's not that bad of a song, but it's not very good either, and the references to "the story of Ram" give the impression that Johnny Clegg just heard about some inspiring Hindu mythology and decided to write a funky song all about it. Definite slump over these past four songs.
Thankfully, "Foreign Nights (Working Dog In Babylon)" pulls it out. It's not a jaw-droppingly amazing or powerful song, but it's a good, solid track and is a marked improvement over the past four.
The closing piece is mostly Zulu and is awesome. It's called "Your Time Will Come". Towards the end, the deserved hope and celebration finally breaks through, as if the album itself symbolizes the dark times of apartheid that finally, at the end, break into the future: "I saw the Berlin Wall fall / I saw Mandela walk free / I saw a dream whose time has come / Change my history - so keep on dreaming". And that's a hell of a way to end an album.
Despite four songs in a row of "meh", I still have to recommend this for the rest of the album's worth of material. It's not for everyone. If you're only comfortable on the manufactured pop of the '90s and '00s, or the gangsta rap and hip-hop of the recent generation, or the shrieking, growling heavy metal of the U.S. of A., don't bother unless you want to break free. But if you like classic rock music, there's something for you here; if you like world music, it's quite recommended; if you like the bouncy sort of power ballads popularized by bands like Styx, Foreigner, and Boston, give it a go; if you just want to try something new, I can guarantee that it is definitely new."