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Johnny Clegg, South African artist who fought apartheid with music, dies at 66

Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

South African musician Johnny Clegg, who formed one of the first rock bands with black and white musicians that performed together when apartheid was still the law of the land, has died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 66.

Clegg died at his home in Johannesburg, his manager, Roddy Quin, confirmed in a statement.

Clegg was part of a community that brought Afro pop music to a global audience in the 1980s, along with Nigeria's King Sunny Ade, Tabu Ley Rochereau from Congo as well as Western musicians such as Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel.

Through recordings with his first band, Juluka (the Zulu word for "sweat"), which he and black musician Sipho Mchunu formed in the late 1970s, and its successor, Savuka (meaning "awakening" or "we have arisen"), Clegg wedded Zulu rhythms and lyrics to Celtic folk and Western rock and pop music in a string of albums, the most successful of which helped him build a solid following in the U.S. He made stateside tours in the '80s and '90s.

In 2017, during a respite between cancer treatments, he mounted a "Final Journey" tour through Europe and the U.S. during a period when he felt healthy enough to take on extensive travels, uncertain about what the future held for him.

"I don't know what's going to happen -- nobody knows," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2017. "But while I'm strong and able to do stuff, I wanted to do a nice, big 'Final Journey' tour."

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In part it was a way of connecting with the cadre of fans he'd established over nearly four decades as well as a form of therapy, despite the toll his highly kinetic live show took on him.

"But when I get onstage, something switches all those messages off," he said.

One of Clegg's breakthrough moments came in 1997 when his song "Dela" was featured prominently in the live-action comedy film "George of the Jungle."

When Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison in 1990, he joined Clegg onstage during a performance of Clegg's song "Asimbonanga," written in protest of Mandela's imprisonment by the ruling white government, which banned the song from radio airwaves upon its release in 1987.

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