When South Africa was still suffering under the apartheid system in the 1980s, Johnny Clegg & Savuka was the last thing apartheid supporters wanted in a pop group. Their lyrics were often vehemently anti-apartheid, and apartheid supporters hated the fact that a half-black, half-white outfit out of South Africa was integrated and proud of it. Released in the U.S. at the end of the 1980s, Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World is among the many rewarding albums the band has recorded. Sting and the Police are a definite influence on Clegg & Savuka, who have absorbed everything from various African pop styles to Western pop, funk, rock, and reggae. The lyrics are consistently substantial and frequently sociopolitical – "Bombs Away" addresses the violence of the apartheid regime, while "Warsaw 1943" reflects on the horrors Eastern Europe experienced at the hands of both communists and fascists during World War II. Clegg and company enjoyed a passionate following at the time, and this fine CD proves that it was well deserved.
Globally, Clegg is probably best recalled for "Scatterlings of Africa," understandably the leadoff track here. If not his manifesto (which was established long before his international fame), it makes his point, the mixing of rock and Zulu music, quite succinctly and wonderfully – and he was doing it long before it became fashionable (indeed, while it was illegal under South Africa's apartheid laws). (…) Johnny Clegg & Savuka were always about more than the music, however; they put it together politically, too, a huge act of defiance that was reflected in the lyrics and sound. As the man said, think and dance.
A nice album of pieces, with almost lilting vocals coming from lead singer Johnny Clegg, from time to time almost reminiscent of some mixture of Dylan and Springsteen. The guitar work seems slightly influenced by reggae, which wouldn't be too surprising given the half-South African membership of the group. Overall rather pop-like, but a decently higher quality of pop than the majority that's generally pushed on the American market. For those curious as to what's happening in cross-cultural pop music, it would be a great addition. For those who are looking for strictly South African music, Ladysmith Black Mambazo or the Mahotella Queens might be a better choice.
"Asimbonanga (Mandela)" is an anthem already adopted by Joan Baez and others, while the title tune devastatingly discusses what it's like to be asked to "walk in the dreams of the foreigner."