A Scatterling of Africa is born
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MUSIC legend Johnny Clegg had a stubborn determination like that of a bull, say his sons.
Jesse and Jaron were speaking on a webinar about the book Scatterling of Africa: My Early Years, which predates them and was put together from his writings.
The newly released book highlights his childhood, looking for a father figure, which he finds in Zulu friends and their culture.
“What he lacked growing up, he was for us,” said Jaron, a film-maker.
“The epitome of that was in his final years with his disease. He took it on with such warriorship. It was the bravest thing I have ever seen. He (his example) gave us strength to take on things every day.”
Jesse, also a musician, added that even as his father battled cancer, he would never speak to a therapist but rather perform Zulu dancing as a banishing ritual. Their father died in 2019.
“We would be sitting around after school doing our homework and see Dad in his Zulu gear and we would know ‒ Dad had had a stressful day.”
The brothers were speaking to Daily Maverick associate editor Marianne Thamm, who hosted the webinar.
They described how they spent much of their childhoods on “amazing adventures” with their dad and his troupe, travelling to other continents.
“The tour bus was the best place to be. We didn’t want to hang out in hotels. We would hang out with the band and hear all their stories and take in the world as it passed by, sleeping on bunks. It was pretty wild. Such an adventure,” said Jaron.
“In places we had never heard of and where they spoke a language we didn’t speak, Dad would go on stage singing in English and Zulu. There you would see the power of music transcend political, language and geographical boundaries.”
At the same time, the brothers felt his long periods of absence when he went on tour and they stayed at home in Johannesburg with their mom, Jenny.
“We felt his absence but there was something very special – he was making sacrifices for. This was our gift. A sacrifice that came with it.”
Jesse added that when he was present, he was “completely present”.
“We felt we were his priority.”
The brothers said he also gave them perspective when it came to facing challenges, reminding them that he faced arrest for playing music with his black friends during apartheid.
“He would say ‒ you’re not in jail!”
Jesse said he had to use the stubborn determination he inherited from Johnny when he started to make a career for himself in music.
“People expected me to be a certain type of artist but I stayed true to my own.”
Just out is Fire in Your House, a song Jesse and Johnny performed together in the US along with a popular local band, Walk the Moon.
The family is in discussions about making a movie based on the book.
Clegg was born in England on June 7, 1953. He grew up in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and spent a formative year in Zambia as that country transitioned to independence in 1964.
He and Sipho Mchunu formed Juluka and toured the length and breadth of South Africa, performing in township halls and at music festivals. The song Scatterlings of Africa, a hit in 1979, launched their international career. Clegg died on July 16, 2019, leaving his wife Jenny, and sons Jesse and Jaron.
- Scatterling of Africa: My Early Years
The Independent on Saturday