Title: Third World Child
Published/distributed:Hollywood,CA:Capitol Records,© 1987
Performer: Johnny Clegg &Savuka
Archive Call Number: ARLP 5261
Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of selected reviews written by students in the course series Ethnomusicology 20A-B-C:Musical Cultures of the World.
Third World Child is Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s first album,the album that won Johnny Clegg international acclaim. The name Savuka means “we have awakened,” and is indicative of the band’s political and musical objectives. As a South African band,Johnny Clegg and Savuka created and released Third World Child in a country divided by apartheid,a context that would dominate the band’s career and this album in particular. Only forty-four minutes in length,this album seeks to communicate three things:the value of diversity,the tragedy of apartheid,and the universality of its message. The value the band places on diversity is apparent in many of its creative choices. A glance at the album cover tells us that the band itself is diverse. Half of the members have light skin;half have dark skin. This diversity in the band’s lineup facilitates its exploration and integration of various Western and African themes. Johnny Clegg,the British-born composer and lead vocalist,finds inspiration in both Celtic and African musical styles. He also mixes English and Zulu lyrics. The band accompanies these lyrics with both Western and African instruments. The guitar,keyboards,and saxophone are accompanied by drums,flutes,and the mouth bow.
Indigenous and Western influences also merge in the album’s spiritual references. In the song “Are You Ready” Johnny Clegg sings “Remember to cross yourself twice,” a clear Christian reference. Later on in the album,however,the song “Great Heart” reflects more indigenous religious sentiments. This song is about the search for the spirit of the Great Heart,and it references the power of natural elements like wind,thunder,and grass. The inclusion of both types of religious belief ties the various cultures of South Africa together. The overall sound of Third World Child is therefore a mix of Western and African traditions. By making popular music that incorporates both of these traditions,the album proves the potency of such a union in music and in society. While the overall tone is thus one of general support for union,some songs on the album are more specific to South Africa and the conditions there. “Asimbonanga,” the second song on the album,is one of the most powerful. It calls for the release of Nelson Mandela —the leader of the South African anti-apartheid movement was imprisoned on Robben Island at the time —and it remembers those who have died for his cause. The music for this song is simpler than for others on the album. The track begins with a single voice,which is then gradually accompanied by percussion,and later by keyboards. The voice is calm,which seems odd for a protest song until it is understood as a calm but tireless voice of resistance. The music is a gradual yet inescapable buildup of passion. The opponents of apartheid,the music tells us,will not stop,and they will only grow more forceful with time.
The homophonic texture of the song is also significant,as it is reminiscent of the Zulu people’s traditional use of harmony. It is a reminder of the importance of indigenous culture. The call-and-response vocals further emphasize this importance,as they recall a great African tradition of community. South Africa’s development was not simply the result of Western contributions. Much of the prosperity enjoyed by White South Africans came as a result of the foundations laid by Black South Africans. Now that these Black South Africans have found a leader worthy of their cause,this song warns,they will not give in to such exploitation. They will demand recognition and they will demand the return of their leader.
The sixth song of the recording,titled “Missing,” similarly addresses the unacceptable condition of South Africa,but it does so in a very different way. This song begins with an instrumental introduction. It has an intense beat and the voice is slightly relaxed;it cracks at points,as if the strain is too great. This time,therefore,the pressure is on the band and the anti-apartheid movement,rather than the established government. The Western bass is featured more prominently,and the Western element in South Africa seems to be the dominant force. Thus while “Asimbonanga” encourages the anti-apartheid movement through its confidence about its inevitable victory,“Missing” encourages people to support the anti-apartheid movement out of fear of its possible failure,and of what that failure would mean.
These South Africa-specific songs are followed by songs that stress the universality of South Africa’s struggle. The song “Third World Child” for example addresses the mentality of the West and the effect that it has on Africa and the entire underdeveloped world. It looks at Western advice —like
You should learn to speak a little bit of English.
Don’t be scared of a suit and tie.
Learn to walk in the dreams of a foreigner.
–from the perspective of a third world child. The message is that violent oppression in places like South Africa is not the only means by which Western forces have hurt local identities and freedoms. Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s crusade against injustice does not,therefore,end with South Africa.
On an even more broadly inclusive scale,the song “Berlin Wall” ties the struggle in South Africa to a contemporary struggle in the West. It asks Berlin and its people to take up the call for a global community. The divisions it highlights feel artificial and inappropriate for a nation anywhere,whether it be in Europe or in Africa. The global reach of this song thus helps to connect Johnny Clegg and Savuka with its Western audience. There can be a common goal and a common community,but only if injustices like those in South Africa are mediated.
Third World Child thus comes out strongly against apartheid and oppression. The bravery of such an act in its time is unarguable. The artistry involved in the perfect match between music and lyrics is admirable too. Johnny Clegg and Savuka are successful in conveying their message because of their understanding of the music and lyrics. The often upbeat and dance-inducing music makes the initial connection and draws the listener in. The lyrics then personalize the music and explain its meaning. The variety of musical styles balances the consistency of the message,creating an overall enjoyable and yet simultaneously meaningful political commentary.
- Review by Erin Swen