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Jesse Clegg follows confidently in father's footsteps

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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There's no question music runs deep in Jesse Clegg's DNA.

The South African singer-songwriter is the son of Johnny Clegg, and he spent his early life on the road with his father, who led the bands Juluka and Savuka and played as a solo artist. The impact, he acknowledges, was enormous.

"I would watch the shows, constantly internalizing the whole environment, the whole atmosphere" Clegg, 27, says from a tour stop in Philadelphia. "I used to dance and go crazy at the shows. It was great as a young person to be able to travel like that."

Nevertheless, Clegg did not get his music career off to an early start. Even as he began recording albums he was pursuing a law degree and an Honors degree in English literature in Johannesburg and Toronto. "I never felt pressured to do" music, Clegg says. "I was on the receiving end of the hard times of music -- having my dad away nine months of the year, the lifestyle, the ups and downs. I think it was a bit intimidating for me. It kind of unglamorized it, witnessing it at such close quarters.

"My folks said, 'Do what you love and the success and fame and money, that all follows afterwards if you're doing it for the right reasons you committed to it.' That was a first lesson, and it's been an organic progression to becoming a pro. I never planned on this. I never wrote those first songs with the intention of releasing them. I just went to a little studio and put them together and ended up offered a deal."

Clegg's two albums -- "When I Wake Up" and "Life On Mars" -- earned critical acclaim in his homeland, and he's on his second tour of North America to establish himself further here before his next album, "Things Unseen," comes out later this year. It has a bit more of an electronic flavor than its predecessors, according to Clegg, and it will take another step in separating him from the specter of his father -- though Clegg, who's playing some shows with his father, feels that's always been more of an issue with the median than wtih fans.

"I initially had to deal wtih some critique and negativity; I suppose the perception of having it all handed to me in a way," he says. "The the reality is I wrote my whole first album myself and pretty much played every instrument. I didn't copy his style. I went my own direction.

"I felt like I was being criticized for something I really had no intention of falling into, y'know. Now that it's the third album and I've been doing it for eight, nine years and had some radio play and people know me, I've definitely been accepted as a separate entity, which is nice."

The Johnny Clegg Band and Jesse Clegg

8 p.m. Wednesday, April 13.

The Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor.

Tickets are $30.

Call 734-761-1818 or visit theark.org.

Web Site: wwwtheark.org

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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