Johnny Clegg Visits Dartmouth (2011)


photo by Jon G. Fox

Visit with Students

South African musician, environmental and cultural activist, and anthropologist Johnny Clegg took time out from his six week, 32-show tour of the U.S. and Canada to speak with a group of students in a crowded Environmental Studies Library in Fairchild on the afternoon of April 6th, 2011. This is the second time that the Environmental Studies Program has brought Clegg to Dartmouth. Clegg, who was born in England and lived in several African nations during his childhood, spoke about his adopted homeland, the struggle to end apartheid, and his musical influences.

Clegg told the group that South African politics have shaped the country’s cultural development, including its music industry. During the late 1980s, most American record labels divested of their assets in the country as part of sanctions against the apartheid government. As a result, an entire generation was cut off from foreign music, which encouraged home-grown artists. Today, while events like the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament hosted in South Africa have helped promote national unity, the country remains divided. This cultural reality is manifest in South African music, where traditional Zulu musical styles compete with more popular Kwaito rap for radio airtime.

Although Clegg has drawn heavily on Zulu music and dance – he is often called Le Zoulou Blanc (“The White Zulu”) – he was philosophical about the process of musical evolution, calling all musical styles “cannibalistic” and the tastes of the listening public “cyclical.” When a student asked him for his thoughts on Paul Simon’s foray into African music in the 1970s, Clegg stated that all music shares the common traits of rhythm, melody, and lyrics, and any music that evokes an emotional response from the listener is “valid.”

Clegg concluded his remarks with some advice for the future activists and artists in the room, encouraging them always to keep a sense of humor in order to prevent their issue-based art from becoming blatant propaganda. Drawing on his experience campaigning for racial equality, environmental protection, and HIV/AIDS awareness, Clegg argued that an effective activist engages in “conscription,” recruiting the audience to his or her cause rather than making them feel guilty for their faults.

The George Link Jr. Environmental Awareness Lecture

Johnny Clegg spoke to about 175 students, faculty and community members in Filene Auditorium on Wednesday, April 6, 2011. His talk centered on the metaphors and symbols in relationships among people, domesticated animals, and the natural world in South Africa. He then connected these cultural symbols to concepts of masculinity, stick fighting, and sorcery which figure prominently in traditional tribal societies. He also incorporated a multimedia aspect to his talk with a few video clips, including an interview with Sipho Mchunu, Clegg’s South African musical collaborator in the band Juluka. The symbol of the bull was prominent in the talk, not simply as a powerful, masculine animal but as an animal that guarantees the life and prosperity of family.

Clegg played one Zulu melody on acoustic guitar, demonstrating his inimitable ability to switch from academic discourse to musical expression. The audience of local residents, faculty, and undergraduate and graduate students appeared to enjoy the diverse presentation. Without a formal performance scheduled, it was a non-work day for the band, and most of them were in attendance, which we think might have been the first time the band heard Johnny give an academic talk.

After answering a few questions, Clegg described the song “Digging for Some Words” and its connection to the theme of environmental change, including global climate change today. Then he and fellow band members Mandisa Dlanga and Andy Innes performed it, with Dlanga on vocals and Innes on acoustic guitar.

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photos by Jon G. Fox

The Concert

The Johnny Clegg Band was in its element during a Thursday, April 7th, 2011 concert in front of an almost sold-out audience at the Lebanon Opera House. Clegg, 57, brought a palpable energy to the two hour long show, constantly dancing and moving on stage. He allowed for time in between songs to share humorous and informative anecdotes from his 30+ year musical career that touched upon anthropology, ethnography, history and environment. The band, comprising some members like Andy Innes and Mandisa Dlanga, who have performed with Clegg for decades, remained technically precise and rocked the intimate venue. Impressive instrumental solos from Innes, as well as Dan Shout on alto sax and Trevor Donjeany on bass reminded the audience that the band is not just about its frontman, Clegg. Linda Zakwe, percussion, and Qalubheke "Sabela" Quoma performed two superb Zulu dances. The audience wasted little time in abandoning its seats to dance in the aisles. After the concert, members of the band took the time to sign CDs and meet a long line of fans.

Set list:
Love in the Time of Gaza
Africa
Bullets for Bafazane
Giyani
Asilazi
Tough Enough
All I Got is You
Touch the Sun
Give Me The Wonder
I Call Your Name/Dance
December African Rain
Impi
Emalonjeni
Hidden Away Down
Great Heart
Dance
Scatterlings
Cruel Crazy Beautiful World

Encore:
Asimbonanga
Dela

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YouTube Video - Johnny Clegg Band, Lebanon, NH 4/7/11

YouTube Video - Dance

Playlist and Johnny Clegg's Thank You to Dartmouth

Johnny Clegg Visits Dartmouth in 2004

kink.fm - The Johnny Clegg Band

NPR Morning Edition - Johnny Clegg: South Africa in Song

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On June 10, 2012, Johnny received an honorary doctor of humane letters from Dartmouth College (photo credit: Jeff Woodward).

Authors: Matt Nichols, ’13, and Andy Friedland