Judge Adam Arseneau misses the rains down in Afri—wait, wrong band.
"Who the hell is Johnny Clegg, and why does he have a DVD?"
That is the question I asked myself when I got this DVD in the mail for review. As it turns out, Johnny Clegg is a musician; a very well-known one on the international music scene, apparently, and hence the concert DVD. In fact, Clegg is something of a musical legend in Africa, and is certainly recognized throughout Europe and Asia, although he has made little to no impact in North America (short of a brief popularity surge in the late '80s). This also explained how I had absolutely no screaming clue who he was. If anybody from North America reading this knows Clegg's music well, I would be both surprised and impressed. I would also assume that you probably spend too much time browsing the "World Music" section of your local mega-bookstore while drinking overpriced coffee.
Actually, I shouldn't stereotype like that. You might be drinking chai tea. Really, I have no way of knowing for sure. My apologies.
According to Clegg, he is a "songwriter, dancer, guitarist, and vocalist…in that order." Born in the UK but growing up in South Africa, Clegg's music is upbeat, high-energy and infectious, with heavy African rhythmic influences, a healthy dose of Zulu dancing, dashes of Celtic styling, and liberal amounts of cheesy synthesizers and horn sections. Try to imagine Graceland-era Paul Simon on speed, dancing about the stage in neon parachute pants, singing in Zulu. That is the best comparison I can make, and it isn't a very good one. Clegg started the very first multiracial band in South Africa back in the 1980s, performing Zulu-inspired music with street musicians collected from the alleys of Johannesburg, and in short order became a cultural phenomenon—an especially difficult feat considering that apartheid was going on at the time. The government-enforced segregation prevented his band from performing in public, let alone even getting paid for their efforts.
Throughout the '80s, Clegg's band Juluka achieved an incredible level of success and popularity throughout Africa, his music a perfect blend of cultures, styles, dancing, and rhythms that accurately reflected the social and political climate of Southern Africa during a period of intense social inequality and strife. After Juluka disbanded, Clegg's second group, Savuka, picked up right where Juluka left off, increasing both the influence of Western and Celtic rhythms and harmonies into the songs, as well as the band's level of political and social commentary.
Suffice it to say, Clegg's music is good, very, very good. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the spectacle, the musicianship, and the downright fun of his live performance. His music might not be to your tastes, but the sheer entertainment factor of his show makes up for it. I mean, the dude can dance. Sweet fancy Moses, can he dance! Now that I have seen his performance, I understand that the photo of Clegg on the front cover of the DVD is in mid dance-step, which makes more sense than the epileptic seizure I initially speculated upon. And you should see the size of the crowds he plays in front of! Man, sure makes me feel silly and ignorant for having no idea who the guy was.
The majority of the DVD constitutes a concert in Paris with Johnny Clegg and Savuka, recorded in 1999. In addition, we get eight music videos from Savuka, an acoustic performance of "Giyani" in Mae Sai, two songs performed from 1983 by Clegg's first band, Juluka, as well as four music videos from Juluka. To round out the musical content, the DVD contains a few special features, including an interview with Clegg, song lyrics, a performance of "Asimbonanga" dedicated to Nelson Mandela, and a Juluka standalone song performed at Concert in the Park. That's a lot of Johnny Clegg to go around. The track listing is as follows:
Savuka—Live in Paris
Savuka Music Videos
Acoustic in Mae Sai
Juluka Music Videos
Juluka—Live in Cape Town
The DVD itself covers five different live performances and twelve music videos, so the quality varies wildly depending on the feature being watched. However, the bulk of the material constitutes the live performance in Paris, so for the sake of reviewing purposes, it shall be judged as the main feature. No other way to put it—the transfer looks as if it was taken from a VHS tape that somebody left in the trunk of a car for the last fifteen years. The colors are washed out, the picture suffers from heavy grain and lack of clarity, and the whole experience has a particular analog haze that gives me anxiety and nightmares about magnetic tape. It only gets worse from there. The Juluka footage is all from the early '80s and looks every bit its age, with horrible distortion, grain, and blurring, and even the music videos look pretty ratty and ugly. From a visual point of view, this DVD is an absolute mess; half the time, the performer's lips do not even sync up with the lyrics.
That being said, however, there is a saving grace to this DVD—its audio. Though the concert in Paris may very well have been recorded with a ratty home video camera, the cameraman certainly had the foresight to spend his money on audio recording equipment to make up for it. Two audio tracks are included, a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track and a Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 track. Both have excellent rich bass, great channel distribution, fantastic presence, and expansive sound, and offer a pleasingly warm and organic tone to the ears. Clegg and his band are fantastic performers, and every note hangs perfectly in the sonic space. Both tracks sound impressive, but the 5.1 surround track spreads the rear channels out a bit more naturally. All of the main content, including the music videos, is presented with both audio tracks—a nice touch indeed.
I have to admit that by the end of this DVD, I found myself seriously digging the style of Johnny Clegg. His music is insanely catchy, his band is incredibly talented, his performances are vibrant and energetic, and Johnny Clegg with Savuka & Juluka—Live! and More… just makes you want to dance like your bones were made of Jell-O. Plus, absolutely nobody in Johnny Clegg's band, including Clegg himself, seems to have escaped the pastel tank tops, parachute pants, and white tennis shoes of the 1980s, and you just gotta respect the heck out of that. Even though the dreadfully poor visual quality of the concert tanks the DVD in the technical department, the sheer passion and vibrancy of the performance and the infectious rhythms of Clegg's music should make up the difference in the enjoyment department for fans and newcomers alike.
After all, only total nerds prefer a technically perfect presentation to an enjoyable one.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Red Distribution
• "Asimbonanga" with Nelson Mandela in Frankfurt
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