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With his groups Juluka and Savuka, South Africa's Johnny Clegg created a unique fusion of Western music and the traditions of his homeland, a blend that came at things from the opposite perspective of Paul Simon's Graceland. But while he managed a fair amount of crossover success in the U.S. in the '80s, Clegg has not had a very high profile in North America since the '90s. In fact, Human is the singer/songwriter/bandleader's first official U.S. release in 17 years, even though he has maintained an active recording career all along. For his reintroduction to the American market, Clegg chose the folk-oriented label Appleseed. This might seem like an unusual move, but it begins to make more sense when you realize that many of the other artists on Appleseed's roster write politically minded material, and even after all these years, Human finds Clegg still battering away at social injustice, with his words -- and music -- as the weapons. Of course, that's not to say that this is an album full of dour didacticism -- that was never Clegg's bag in the past, and he's not about to start down that road at this late date. As ever, Clegg's tunes are full of energy and vibrancy, often achieving a kind of celebratory, triumphal vibe that transcends the sociopolitical issues at the core of some of his songs. The album opens with "Love in the Time of Gaza" and "The World is Calling," two tracks that focus on the Western-flavored rock side of Clegg's musical personality and stylistically hark back to his '80s work. Over the course of Human's subsequent tracks, the South African influence becomes more and more prevalent, from the group backing vocals of "Congo" and "Asilazi" to the township jive-tinged riffs and rhythms of "All I Got Is You." Further in, pop
ock production touches crop up once more, but Human closes out on a pair of tracks -- "Nyembezi" and "Magumede" -- sung in the language of Clegg's homeland; these are the most overtly South African-sounding tunes on the record, and let the world know where the artist's heart lies.