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Johnny Clegg & Savuka "Heat, Dust & Dreams" Capitol

June 03, 1993|RANDY LEWIS

In three previous albums with Savuka, and before that with Juluka, Johnny Clegg has created a unique musical amalgam that reflected his equally unusual background: a white, British-born kid who grew up in South Africa listening to Western rock 'n' roll but was also fascinated with the African styles he heard on the streets and surreptitiously in black bars. Filtered through his own experience, Clegg's own music wedded instantly hummable pop melodies and the bubbling, hypnotically infectious rhythms of Afro-pop.

So it's a little surprising to hear Clegg say in the press materials accompanying Savuka's latest al bum, "My music has always made a demand on the listener. This album was inspired by the adage, 'It's easy to write a difficult, complex song, but much harder to write a simple, but convincing one.' "

That's a bit like Brian Wilson saying the Beach Boys' music needs to be a little catchier.

Clegg has, nonetheless, expanded the musical mix, though it is not a dramatic shift in direction. "These Days" opens the album with the sound of droning bagpipes giving way to a propulsive rock groove that underpins the message of how personal priorities can change over time.

"In My African Dream" establishes a swirling mood akin to Marvin Gaye's seminal early-'70s R&B workouts, "What's Goin' On" and "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" while lyrically echoing Gaye's concern about society marching down a potentially destructive path. He veers over to the subcontinent for the Indian flavor that infuses "Emotional Allegiance (Stand By Me)."

Along the way, he retains the choruses in Zulu that add an earthy power.

Occasionally Clegg's politics sound a bit more strident than on previous Clegg outings. Yet on "Inevitable Consequence of Progress," in which a soldier discounts the leveling of a indigenous people's village, putting it down to "the price of progress," Clegg skillfully paints progress as a double-edged sword.

As to whether it's ultimately less demanding on the listener? Accessibility, as they say, is in the ear of the beholder.

* Johnny Clegg appears Thursday, June 3, at 8 p.m. with singer-songwriters David Baerwald, Lisa Germano and Freedy Johnston for the "In Their Own Words" round-table discussion-performance at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $18.50. (714) 496-8930.

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