NEW YORK — In spite of prohibitions against whites and blacks performing music together in South Africa, Johnny Clegg formed a band called Juluka (``Sweat'') with Sipho Mchunu, a Zulu migrant worker in 1970. The two recorded seven albums. When Mchunu returned to his father's farm in 1985, Clegg formed Savuka, bringing into it two former members of Juluka - Dudu Zulu and Derek De Beer. Its other members are Steve Mavuso, Solly Letwaba, Mandisa Dlanga, and Keith Hutchinson.
The instrumentation of the band reflects the styles of both Western and African pop music - electric guitars and bass, drum kit and percussion, saxophone and flute with strong backup vocals. Although Clegg is the lead singer, everyone in the group plays an important part in recordings and live shows.
Ask Clegg what made him so receptive to black culture, and he'll tell you it had a lot to do with the open-minded attitude of his mother, as well as his brief experience living in Zambia and attending a mixed-race school.
``That was great, because all my friends were black - I had only one white friend. Also, I lived right on the edge of the bush, a really wild African outdoor experience, which was very important in helping me shape an African identity.''
By the time Clegg got to South Africa, nothing could stop him from getting to know the Zulu people and their culture - and butting his head against the spirit-crushing rigidity of apartheid.
How have the release from prison of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and subsequent events affect Clegg's music?
``At this moment I'm singing songs which were written prior to the release of Nelson Mandela,'' Clegg said in a recent telephone interview from Chicago. ``I haven't really captured any of that excitement.'' But he hopes to do so on future albums, and during his American tour he appeared at Mandela's Boston stop.