Pros:Great songs, great music, an important humanitarian figure as well as singer
Cons:Few... or perhaps none
The Bottom Line: Anthology is perhaps the definitive Johnny Clegg album. Excellent.
Johnny Clegg’s Anthology album is an excellent showpiece for the South African bred singer (he was born in Rochdale, England, and his family moved to South Africa when he was very young) became a hugely important figure there, not only for his music but for his fight against apartheid (segregation of blacks and whites, government policy in South Africa from 1948 and officially destroyed with the landslide victory of the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela in 1994). As a result many of his songs had a political theme, such as “Scatterlings of Africa”, which is about the early years of African slaves being sent to work in the diamond and gold mines, and “Asimbonanga” about Nelson Mandella. He wasn’t very popular with the government but became extremely popular with the people – black and white. In fact he integrated so well that he became known as “The White Zulu”.
Recommend this product?
“Anthology” features his songs with two different backing groups, “The Savuka” and “Juluka” – both made up exclusively of black Zulus. Such a mix was uncommon but not unheard of – for instance, “Mango Groove” also featured a white singer with black musicians. Clegg sings in a mixture of English and Zulu, so you’re not always going to understand what he’s saying, but from the English parts the lyrics seem very good. To the average listener who has English as a first language however it’s the music and Clegg’s distinctive vocals that really matter, and neither disappoints.
The music itself is generally either very upbeat or soulful, depending on the mood of the song, and as with all African music has a very strong beat throughout. The songs are catchy and, at times, quite beautiful. My personal favourite is Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World, though “Take My Heart Away” comes a close second. The political message doesn’t come across strongly, at least not in the English. (As someone not into politics this is a good thing, though obviously I strongly agree with the antiapartheid sentiment.) The style is really a mix of modern and traditional African sounds, and works superbly – sometimes quite breathtakingly. I always tend to find it difficult to describe a particular sound, but in this case it’s even harder because it’s so unique. I feel that if Clegg had a bit more exposure to the wider world he would have been a big hit here in England and in the States, and probably across Europe too.
The cover inlay (which has a cover picture of Johnny Clegg looking like a young, mildly insane Robin Williams – or to put it another way, like a young Robin Williams!) gives a brief history of Johnny Glegg and his music, with a small write-up of various important songs and why they upset the hierarchy of the time. For instance, the song “African Litany” (not in this compilation) from 1981 deals with a multi-cultural affair between a high-born girl in a colony far away from England who finds herself attracted to one of the native men. “Asimbonanga”, track 16 of the Anthology album and his greatest hit, was the first commercial song about Nelson Mandela and was banned in South Africa in 1986, when it was originally released. However, Joan Baez covered the song later and it was a hit across Europe. This track is of a live performance, as is the last track “Hambile / The Dance”, which is great – I always think having at least one or two live tracks adds to the atmosphere of any album. One thing that comes across in several of his songs, most particularly track 15 – Africa (What Made You So Strong) is Clegg’s celebration of the strength and spirit of survival despite many atrocities over the decades.
Of the 17 tacks of Anthology, I like al lot of them, really like at least half of them, and really love two of them. It is also special because it basically encapsulates two decades of Johnny Clegg’s music and social commentary of a turbulent time in South African history. A full track listing is supplied below for those who are interested, but that’s about it as far as my review goes.
Full Track Listing
1. Universal Men
3. High Country
4. Woza Friday
5. Scatterlings Of Africa
6. Bullets For Bafazane
7. Nans Impi
9. Orphans Of The Empire
10. Great Heart
11. Take My Heart Away
13. Cruel Crazy Beautiful World
15. Africa (What Made You Strong)
17. Hambile/The Dance
Anthology was given an honorary mention in my Top Ten Music Albums list, though in retrospect I’m finding it hard to work out why it wasn’t actually in the top ten itself!