Politics is one thing, art is another. That’s one lesson to be drawn from Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World or any other album by Johnny Clegg, an admirable white South African who, defying every tenet of apartheid, lives an interracial life in Johannesburg. His band, Savuka, has both white and black musicians; he’s even an active member of three Zulu tribes.
But when Clegg translates his life into music, something seems to get lost. His philosophy, so daring in practice, sounds none too remarkable in his lyrics. He wants people to be honest; he wants his country to be free. His songs are a blend of pop and black South African music, danceable enough and attractively garnished with phrases shouted and sung in Zulu. But it’s surprisingly tame, and hardly unprecedented in its blend of styles. And there’s nothing cooking between the lines to suggest what impelled him to break out of white South Africa’s self-constructed ghetto. Is he one of those rare souls who — no matter what the world around him might teach — simply can’t see another human being as inferior? Is he burning with a passion for justice? Or did he just fall in love with the taste and smell of Zulu culture? His music, unhappily, sounds so impersonal you can’t even guess. C+