LONG BEFORE Paul Simon got the same idea, Johnny Clegg had been leading interracial bands that mix South African township jive music and Western pop.
"Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World," Clegg's new album with his Savuka band, tilts the balance more toward Western pop than his previous albums have. Clegg's vocal melodies and lyrics recall the Anglo-American folk-rock of U2 and the Police, but the synth tracks, backing vocals, percussion and horns are built atop township rhythms and harmonies.
The music tugs in two directions at once -- back to the specific Zulu neighborhoods where Clegg grew up and out to the international pop marketplace -- and the resulting tension makes the music resonate. The album's first song, "One (Hu)'Man One Vote," was written in response to the assassination of David Webster, Clegg's good friend and an anti-apartheid activist. The song begins with a verse sung in Zulu about young boys running through the streets with homemade weapons, vowing not to live their lives voteless as their parents have. The second verse addresses in English the too- comfortable West that forgets the blood shed to secure its own freedom.
There are a few more powerful political songs: "Jericho" uses biblical imagery to describe the walls between people, and "Bombs Away" uses accordion jive to address the dilemma of being caught between government violence and rebel violence. On "Woman Be My Country," Clegg seeks refuge in a woman's love from a country that is no home. In fact, the album's best songs evoke a romantic connection as antidote to the world's madness. "Dela (I Know Why the Dog Howls at the Moon)" is Clegg's lustiest song yet, while "Moliva" describes his traditional Zulu wedding through Zulu music and language.