In addition to being one of my favorite bands of all time, Juluka was the first mainstream musical act from South Africa to have both black and white members, and therefore instantly controversial. Frequently they were arrested simply for performing, and were no stranger to death threats. Their music understandably had a strong protest vibe, but most would be surprised to hear how much fun a band with such an important history could really be to listen to.
Juluka's core was the friendship between white English-born student Johnny Clegg, and Zulu farmer Sipho Mchunu. Their music was a fusion of Zulu dance music with English folk-rock, which reached its most brilliant heights on their second album "African Litany" (1981). Over the next few years Juluka's fame would grow until Sipho and Johnny called it quits in 1985. But before the band broke up they released "Musa Ukungilandela" (1984) , their second all Zulu-language effort and probably the most fun album they ever released.
This is a dance party record, plain and simple. On "Musa Ukungilandela", Juluka focuses on cranking up the fun, propelled by a lively rhythm section, horns, and a blend of electric and acoustic guitars. The band loves to lay on shiny synth melodies in an incredibly dated and totally awesome sort of way. I've always thought there need to be more saxophones and synth washes in pop music, and this is solid proof.
Juluka couldn't have asked for a better farewell record, turning in a solid set of songs with not a single dud among them. Perhaps the most memorable tune is Ibhola Lethu" ("Our Football"), a fist pumping soccer anthem complete with an enthusiastic radio commentator during the bridge section. True, American's won't understand what they're singing about, but for dance-pop that doesn't really matter. I understand that most people think that white people listening to African music are just being pretentious, but screw that, Juluka is fun. Give them a listen, kick back and enjoy!
Juluka's albums, including this one, can be purchased on the iTunes store right now!