PAUL SIMON'S "Graceland" was an inspired merger of indigenous South African Zulu music and Anglo-American rock-pop, but it was not without precedent.
Before Simon ever heard South African music, a young white South African, Johnny Clegg, and an older Zulu street musician, Sipho Mchunu, formed the inter-racial group Juluka . The group broadened the appeal of traditional Zulu music with Clegg's English lyrics and Beatles-like arrangements. In fact, when Simon ventured into South Africa, his first contact was Juluka's producer, Hilton Rosenthal.
After seven quite successful albums at home (two of which were released here), Juluka broke up in 1985 when Mchunu returned to his father's farm. Clegg and two other members of Juluka rebounded last year in a new band called Savuka. Pursuing the same hybrid sound that made Juluka so delightful, Savuka's debut album, "Third World Child," should satisfy anyone who has longed for a sequel to "Graceland."
Two songs from "Third World Child" have already been banned by the South African government for their political content, but Clegg's anti-apartheid sentiments are often transformed into fables full of resonant images drawn from the African landscape. His melodies and strong tenor bear an unavoidable resemblance to Sting's, but the sprung rhythms and percussive harmonies are unmistakably South African.
From the synthesizer anthem of the title song and the bilingual lament for political prisoners in "Asimbonanga" to the old fashion township cheating song, "Ring On Her Finger," this is an exceptional tribal-pop album that could easily break through to American audiences.
JOHNNY CLEGG & SAVUKA -- "Third World Child" (Capitol CLT-46778). Appearing Sunday at the 9:30 club.