Juluka, a multiracial sextet from South Africa, has released two American albums that offer a mesmerizing hybrid of traditional Zulu street music and international folk-rock. Americans who have only heard those records, though, have no sense of the band's roots and thus no context to appreciate the hybrid. Juluka provided that context at the 9:30 club last night by interspersing its new songs with traditional Zulu singing, dancing and costumes. To hear these same elements incorporated into the hybrid songs a few minutes later was to understand just how remarkable Juluka's achievement is.
When Sipho Mchunu chanted a Zulu song, translated as "Two Humans (on the Run)," his co-leader, Johnny Clegg, did a traditional war dance, shaking his furry armbands and flicking his kicks right by his ear. When Clegg later sang the English lyrics to the band's new protest anthem, "Work for All," Mchunu led the band in a similar chant. The same dance rhythms were discernible, but they were pumped up by synthesizer and rock bass. Perhaps the evening's highlight was "Bye Bye December African Rain," which combined nature imagery, references to Africa's current droughts, a captivating melody, booming Zulu chants and street dance rhythms into a dazzling synthesis of South Africa's past, present and future.