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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Johnny Clegg bringing worldly sounds to E.J. Thomas

3/6/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

South African recording artist Johnny Clegg will stop in Akron as part of his 2014 U.S. tour. Also on the bill that night is Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Photo courtesy of Appleseed Recordings
DOWNTOWN AKRON — The rhythms of South Africa will reverberate through The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall March 15 as two of that nation’s most popular artists take the stage.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the a cappella male vocal group best known for its appearance on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, and Johnny Clegg, a British-born, South African-raised musician who is credited with helping to change his country’s apartheid culture through his integrated bands, are co-headlining select U.S. dates.

For Clegg, for whom the Akron date is just the second on his 2014 tour, the chance to return to the U.S. is something he’s looking forward to.

“I love touring the USA — it’s a touring country and is geared to deal with bands and their buses,” he said in an email interview from his home in Johannesburg. “This is very different to Europe, that’s for starters.”

According to his biography, Clegg was a university lecturer in anthropology when he started exploring the concept of combining English lyrics and Western melodies with Zulu musical structures. A producer took note of his work and began working with Clegg and his musical partner Sipho Mchunu, eventually forming the band Juluka. At the time, South African radio censored music made by mixed-race groups.

Despite the country’s attempts to keep their music away from the public, Juluka toured South Africa and challenged laws forbidding public performances. The band did find success internationally, recording two platinum and five gold albums.

After Juluka broke up in 1985, Clegg formed Savuka with a mission of embracing more of a rock sound. For the next few years, the band toured Europe and the U.S. extensively and developed a major following in France, where Clegg earned the nickname “White Zulu.”

Savuka disbanded in 1993 and Clegg maintained a career as a solo artist. When in Akron, he’ll perform with his six-piece band. He said he hopes that Ladysmith Black Mambazo will join him and his band at some point during the Akron show.

Tour officials said Clegg’s concerts this year will include a tribute to the late South African President Nelson Mandela. Clegg said he played for Mandela at private functions and at a series of AIDS awareness concerts organized by Mandela in recent years.

“The few private moments we shared were always funny and witty,” Clegg said. “He had a great sense of humor and enjoyed putting me on the spot from time to time as the ‘White Zulu.’ We miss his gravitas, his ability to make all people feel they have a place in the sun and in his universe, and his concern to unite the country into a single nation.”

For his efforts, Clegg has received numerous honors, including the South African Presidential Ikhamanga Award, the highest honor a citizen can receive there. He also received, in 1990, the Humanitarian Award from the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office.

“It was after the mayor of Los Angeles awarded me an official recognition for the contribution I made in the struggle against apartheid through music,” he said. “When we arrived in Ohio, we were told the secretary of state wished to do something similar.”

The E.J. Thomas show will begin at 8 p.m. It’s part of the E.J. UpClose series, which means seating will be in the orchestra section only. Tickets are $26.50 and available at all TicketMaster locations, ticketmaster.com, by calling 800-745-3000 or the Thomas Hall Ticket Office at 330-972-7570.

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