South African Music Legends: Juluka were Masters of the 20th Century

Updated: 6 March 2022

Juluka. The name is synonymous with SA music, protest, non-racism and a damn fine, ethnic sound for decades, isn’t it? Without a doubt, the band has forged a name for themselves as SA music royalty. Juluka are South African music legends, with primary members, Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu, household names to most South Africans, and others the world over.

How did Juluka achieve their status as South African music legends? Let’s travel back in time to the beginning and examine the history of this truly grassroots band…

A “White Zulu” is Born

Jonathan Paul Clegg, at 14 years old, had never seen or heard music played in such a way. Playing Zulu street music on his guitar was a regular evening occurrence for flat cleaner Charlie Mzila, but for Clegg, what happened outside the Bellevue corner café in Johannesburg in 1967, was a life changing event. For the next two years, Mzila tutored the young teen in the Zulu language, Maskandi music and Isishameni dancing.

A Young Johnny Clegg

A Lasting Friendship

Sipho Mchunu was a few years older than Clegg. In 1969 he arrived in Johannesburg from Natal to seek employment. Mchunu already had talent as a Maskandi guitarist when he found the “white boy” that everyone on the streets and taverns was talking about. , Sipho challenged Johnny to a guitar-playing contest. The result remains unknown, but the enduring friendship that developed left a lasting imprint on South African music.

Jonathan & Sipho

Clegg and Mchunu began performing together as Jonathan & Sipho. The pair performed on the streets and in underground venues, out of the sight of patrolling apartheid policemen.

Juluka’s Later Version of “Woza Friday”

Their success grew from word-of-mouth and, in 1976, they released their first single, “Woza Friday”. The song, mostly in Zulu, refers to the struggle of the working man and his ongoing wish that Friday would come so the weekend could start.

Johnny’s Studies

Johnny Clegg completed his BA Honours degree in Social Anthropology at Wits University. He followed an academic career lecturing, while writing several papers on Zulu music and dance. Activist David Webster, assassinated by apartheid security forces in 1989, was a major influence on Clegg’s teaching and writing. The same security forces also arrested Clegg on many occasions for contravening of South Africa’s Group Areas Act.

What’s in a Name?

Juluka, or “sweat” in Zulu, formed in 1979. The name originated from a bull Mchunu had owned. Juluka began recording their first album with Sipho Gumede (bass), Mervyn Africa (piano, keyboards), Colin Pratley (drums), and the legendary Robbie Jansen (flute, sax). The result was the critically-acclaimed “Universal Men”.

“Universal Men” (1979)

Juluka’s debut album met with resistance from the South African government. Radio stations within the country’s borders declined it airplay. As a result, producer Hilton Rosenthal approached the Transkei’s Capital Radio and Swaziland’s Radio Swazi. Both chose to play the album’s lead single, “Africa”.


“African Litany” (1981)

By 1981, Juluka had expanded into a quintet. Jansen (flute, sax), Johnny Boshoff (bass, percussion) and Derek de Beer (drums, percussion) joined Clegg and Mchunu for the band’s second album,“African Litany”. The album’s first single, “Impi”, was immediately banned by the government. The song refers to the Zulu victory over British colonial troops at the Battle of Isandlwana. Its politically-motivated lyrics immediately made it popular among those opposed to apartheid. and it became an underground smash hit. “Impi” has become synonymous with many post-apartheid South African sports teams and players.

“Mud and sweat on polished leather

Warm rain seeping to the bone

They rode through the season’s wet weather

Straining for a glimpse of the foe

Hopeless battalion destined to die

Broken by the Benders of Kings

Vain glorious General and Victorian pride

Would cost him and eight hundred men their lives”

“Impi” – Juluka

International Exposure

“African Litanybrought Juluka international exposure with the band touring Europe and the US during 1982 and 1983. On the home front, due to government propaganda, official exposure remained scarce. Even Radio Bantu, a government-owned “black” station, placed a broadcast ban on the band. The station referred to Clegg’s inclusion in Juluka as “an insult to the Zulu and their culture”.

“Ubuhle Bemvelo” (1982)

French Album Cover referencing “The White Zulu”

Juluka’s released their third album “Ubuhle Bemvelo” in 1982. The title means “Natural Beauty”, in English. The 100% Zulu album included a re-recorded version of “Woza Friday”. Zola Mtiya (drums, percussion) and Gary Van Zyl (bass, percussion) replaced Jansen, Boshoff and de Beer, who had left the band. “Ubuhle Bemvelo” didn’t spawn any major single releases.

“Scatterlings” (1982)

Tim Hoare (keyboards) and Scorpion Madondo (flute) joined Juluka during 1982, increasing the band membership to six. This coincided with the recording of the band’s fourth album, “Scatterlings”. The album’s release took place in South Africa in late 1982.

“Scatterlings of Africa”

In 1983 the album’s international release brought Juluka further success abroad. It peaked at #50 on the UK album chart, and “Scatterlings of Africa”, the lead single, reached #44 on the UK singles chart. The single peaked at #12 in Sweden, #27 in Canada, #93 in Australia and at #106 on the official US Billboard chart as well.

Recognition from Abroad

Esteemed American rock critic Robert Christgau described “Scatterlings” as follows:-

The musical and political strengths and weaknesses of apartheid-fighters Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchuna are best understood if you think of them as folkies. Beginning as a biracial guitar-and-voice duo committed to Zulu traditionalism, which many apartheid-fighters consider objectively counterrevolutionary, they’ve become a rock band out of commercial happenstance. Like most folkies, they’re often corny–“Simple things are all we have left to trust” and so forth. But being a folkie in South Africa takes a lot more guts than it does in liberal societies, and that’s audible all over this album–as are the melodic resources of the Zulu tradition, which happen to be vocal rather than percussive.”

Robert Christgau

“Work for All” (1983)

Juluka released “Work for All” in 1983 to massive local acclaim. The band’s fifth studio album was politically-driven, including songs like the title track, “Bullets for Bafazane”“Gunship Ghetto” and  “Mdantsane (Mud Coloured Dusty Blood)”.

“December African Rain”

This shift meant that Juluka were no longer subtle about their protest of South Africa’s political climate. “December African Rain”, the premier single release, was an instant hit on independent radio stations. It reached #7 on Capital Radio and #15 on the Bophuthatswana homeland’s Radio 702.

“Stand Your Ground” (1984)

The Music Video for “Fever”

After “Work for All”, Juluka again underwent personnel changes. Tim Hoare and Zola Mtiya departed, replaced by the returning de Beer and new members, Glenda Millar and Cyril Mnculwane (both keyboards).

1984 saw the international release of “Stand Your Ground”. The album included four new songs, including the singles “Fever” and  “Kilimanjaro”. The rest came from the “Work for All” album. In South Africa, the band released an alternate album, “The International Tracks”. It included the same four new songs from “Stand Your Ground”, remixes of the two singles and a reissued track, “Umbaqanga Music”, which had debuted on the “Scatterlings” album. A video for “Fever” was also released to coincide with the single’s US release. The video was ‘westernised’ for greater exposure on channels such as MTV.

“Musa Ukungilandela” (1984) & Juluka’s Disbanding

Another Zulu album, “Musa Ukungilandela”, saw release later in 1984 (without Glenda Millar). This would be Juluka’s last release for 13 years. Sipho Mchunu decided to return to his Natal farm to care for his family, which brought an end to the band. Johnny Clegg continued to record and release with a new band, Savuka. Savuka scaled great heights, achieving almost legendary status in certain European countries.

Re-uniting, a World Tour & “Ya Vuka Inkunzi” (1997)

Juluka’s Final Single

Clegg and Mchunu reunited as Juluka in 1996. They underwent a world tour with King Sunny Adé, a Nigerian jùjú singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.

Juluka’s final album did not have the same success or acclaim as earlier offerings. Times had changed, and more ethnic South African music now featured in mainstream society.

On returning home, the pair released their swansong album, “Ya Vuka Inkunzi” or “The Bull has Risen”, in South Africa. They named the album “Crocodile Love” for international release. “Ya Vuka Inkunzi” served its purpose as a celebration of previous achievements. During a difficult political period, Juluka had reminded us that all races, colours and creeds could exist together through music and dance. To this end, Johnny Clegg, Sipho Mchunu and the band achieved more than chart and financial success alone.

Beyond Juluka, The Legends

In 2018, the Durban University of Technology (DUT) conferred honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Visual and Performing Arts degrees on both Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu, in recognition for changing the face of South African music. Mchunu was present to receive the honour but, unfortunately, Clegg had prior obligations.

Dr. Sipho Mchunu

New Journeys

On 16 July, 2019, Dr. Jonathan Paul Clegg passed away from cancer, aged 66. Dr. Sipho Mchunu entered the studio in May 2021, after 24 years away from the music industry, to record a solo album called “Iselula (The Cellphone)”. These two South African music legends have now begun separate journeys of a different kind.

“Spirit is the journey

Body is the bus

I am the driver

From dust to dust

Spirit is a story

Body is a book

I am the writer

Together we flow

We hold on, and when the story ends

We hold on, until it begins again…”

“Spirit is the Journey” – Juluka

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