1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Snor City – Bernoldus Niemand

Snor City – Bernoldus Niemand

Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand

Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand

When ‘Wie Is Bernoluds Niemand’, his only album under this name, came out in 1984, the public were not quite sure what to make of this cool looking dude with purple shades on the cover. With years of experience under our belts, we now know that that dude was James Phillips and that he made some brilliant music.

James Phillips has recorded under a number of different guises – Corporal Punishment, Cherry Faced Luchers, James Phillips & The Lurchers, James Phillips – and, while the other names produced some interesting stuff, one keeps coming back to where it really all started to take off for James and you put on ‘Wie Is…’

‘Snor City’ is an ode (or odour perhaps) to Pretoria, where Bernoldus pokes fun at the city’s moustachioed civil servants that littered the place. Bernoldus acts as your guide around the city, searching for “net een skoon bo-lip”. The song is cheeky, some (mostly Pretorian bureaucrats of the 80’s) would say irreverent and disrespectful, but then it wouldn’t have had any impact if it wasn’t.

Starting out with a dub bass sound, ‘Snor City’ sort of slides gently into gear. It’s slinky and, despite the subject matter, sort of sexy. It has the sound of one of those songs that play over a scene in a movie where the hero (or heroine) is driving through a city at night in a limousine or taxi watching the lights go by and contemplating some major life event. It’s almost like the song is taking a drive round your streetlit brain as you contemplate the hair on your upper lip.

The version on ‘Wie Is…’ is far slicker than the live version that appeared on the ‘Voelvry Die Tour’ album. The latter does not have that limousine feel to it, it’s a bit more like taking ride a beat up Ford ‘Snortina’ through the lunchtime traffic. It doesn’t matter which method of transport you choose, either way, it’s a journey you have to take.

Where to find it:
Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand – Bernoldus Niemand (1995), Shifty Records (distributed by Tic Tic Bang), Bang CD 007
Voelvry Die Toer – Various (2002), Sheer, SHIF002



Indigo Girl – Watershed

Indigo Girl – Watershed

Indigo Girl - Watershed

Indigo Girl – Watershed

If you are ever looking for the South African answer to REM’s ‘Nightswimming’, look no further than Watershed’s ‘Indigo Girl’. It has that same piano-driven melancholy feel to it, Craig Hinds vocals are also somewhat akin to those of Michael Stipe and both songs introduce lush sting arrangements to make the song swoop and soar.

Some may say that ‘Indigo Girl’ song is completely derived from REM, and that may well be the case, but to imitate something is the highest form of flattery and to do so with such skill is the highest form of flattery I can give to Watershed. The execution and production (by Brian O’Shea’) of the song is of such a standard that you cannot help but take you hat off to them. If you, like me, loved ‘Nightswimming’ then you should love this. It’s a bit like going to the cupboard and having two favourite shirts to choose from, both feshly cleaned and pressed and ready to wear.

‘Indigo Girl’ had some success in Europe going to number 27 in Germany, 17 in Austria and 58 in Switzerland.

Where to find it:
In The Meantime – Watershed (2000), EMI ‎– 724353995621


Transplant Calypso – Jeremy Taylor

Transplant Calypso – Jeremy Taylor

Transplant Calypso - Jeremy Taylor

The Best Of – Jeremy Taylor

Everybody in South Africa (and some from further afield) know Jeremy Taylor’s ‘Ag Pleez Deddy’, but it is only an older generation and ardent fans that know some of his other songs. One of his other funny songs is ‘Transplant Calypso’ which is dedicated to Dr Christiaan Barnard and “his particular brand of medical satire” as Jeremy says in the introduction to the live version of the song. It was written around the time that Dr Barnard was pioneering the art of the heart transplant where he “takes hearts out of people who are nearly dead/Puts them into other people who are also nearly dead/With the result that they both die”. Jeremy goes on to say that Barnard is “A man after my own heart”. All this by way of intro which he delivers with a stand up comics timing, before he launches into his song about a being made up of animal parts after seeing his doc and getting various tansplants. The punch line arrives when he moans to his doc that he doesn’t want anything from an animal. The doctor offers him another organ “I looked at this thing with dismay and suspicion/It was the brain of a politician” and he opts to go for the animal parts instead. Taylor wrote brilliant satirical songs and ‘Transplant Calypso’ was him at his biting best. Yes, medicine has moved on drastically since those transplant days and the subject matter is somewhat outdated, but it is still darn funny and all sung in Taylor’s wry smile voice. Look beyond the popcorn and bubblegum and you’ll see that when it came to hysterical South African satire Jeremy Taylor was the deddy.

Where to find it: Ag Pleez Deddy (1997) Gallo, CDRED608

Hear it here: https://myspace.com/taylorjeremy/music/song/transplant-calypso-7953599

The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson – Des & Dawn Lindberg

The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson – Des & Dawn Lindberg

The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson - Des & Dawn Lindberg

The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson – Des & Dawn Lindberg

Des & Dawn Lindberg are an institution in South Africa. Not only have they have been around for along time, but they have been involved in the music business for longer thas they have been around (that’s because they used to be Des Lindberg and Dawn Silver). They have been banned (yes, ‘Folk On Trek’ was an undesirable item way back when) and panned, but are still well fanned.

Undoubtedly, ‘The Seagull…’ is their best known and best loved hit. Released in 1971 it tells the story of “a long time ago in ‘67” (4 years can be a long time in the music biz) when a small boy met a oil drenched seagull on the beach, cleaned him up and then released him. It is sung to an upbeat folk sound with whistlers a-whistling, guitars a-jangling and bongos a-bongo-ing. Des takes the main lead on the vocals but is joined by a healthy chorus (led by Dawn).

It all seems lovely and save the planet-ey, just what you’d expect from those hippy folkie folk of yore. But was there an underlying message in the song. Just across from the oily shore where the seagull was found was someone else named ‘Nelson’ who was wanting to be freed of the pollution of apartheid. Could the song possibly have been about him?  You decide while we all sing together, “And the seagull’s name was Nelson/Nelson who came from the sea/And the seagulls name was Nelson/Nelson The seagull free.”

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 1 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40485 (CD)
The Des & Dawn Collection – Des & Dawn (1994) Gallo, CDGMP40523


Fantasy – Trevor Rabin

Fantasy – Trevor Rabin

Trevor Rabin

Trevor Rabin

Yes, this is the Trevor Rabin who was in Rabbitt and spent some time in the group Yes. ‘Fantasy’ is the song that fell in the period between the two, where he was heading out on his own into the big bad world and seeing what he could do.

The song itself seems to land somewhere between Rabbitt and Yes not only on a Rabin timeline, but also in its sound. It still has that sort of 70s, clean-cut rock feel about it that Rabbitt perfected, but it also has leanings towards the big sound of ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ that Rabin would help Yes score a big hit with. There are pounding disco-rock beats, loads of showy prog-esque guitars and Rabin’s AOR vocals that all pummel their way through the three mintes and tweny two seconds of this wall-of-sound pop barrage.

‘Fantasy’ was Rabin’s only solo top 20 hit in South Africa. It reached number 12 on the charts during its 8 week stay. This was better than anything he managed in Rabbitt whose best achievement on the Springbok charts was getting to 14 with ‘Charlie’. He did go one better with Yes when ‘Owner of…’ reached number 11. So chronologically, musically and chartwise, this is very much middle ground for Rabin. So why should you hear it? Because it is the lesser known chapter in the development of one of South Africa’s most successful musical talents.

Where to find it:
Beginnings – Trevor Rabin (2011), Voiceprint, VP254CD

Hear it here:


Blue Water – Julian Laxton Band

Blue Water – Julian Laxton Band

Blue Water - Julian Laxton Band

Blue Water – Julian Laxton Band

Julian Laxton is a name synonymous with great South African music. He was in the folk group Mel, Mel & Julian, he blasted us in Freedom’s Children and fooled around and fell into Hawk. Behind the desk he produced Suck, Otis Waygood, Stingray and Rabbitt. And in between all this, he found a bit of time to form his own band – The Julian Laxton Band. Under this guise, he garnered 3 top 20 hits, ‘Blue Water’ being the middle and most successful one, reaching number 7 on the Springbok Charts.

One might be forgiven for thinking you are listening to ‘The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson’ as the song starts with seaside noises – gulls crying and surf gently lapping the shore. But you are soon told that Julian had (despite there being a line in the song that goes “take me back, take me back”) not reverted to his folk days, as a funky guitar and thudding drum arrive and you quickly tumble into Eugene Havenga’s high pitched vocals. The plea of “take me back” is supplemented by “to Blue Water”. By this time you are out in the waves, surfing the funky rhythms of the song, scaling the crests of the vocals and ultimately, gently riding the song back to shore, feeling like you’ve just conquered the big one. It is no surprise that the song was a success. It is loud, proud and you can dance to it.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 2 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40486 (CD)


The Party Song – The Electric Petals

The Party Song – The Electric Petals

Polynation - The Electric Petals

Polynation – The Electric Petals

The Electric Petals were Danny de Wet (early eVoid and Wonderboom), Angus Rose and Ajay. They produced a single album (‘Polynation’) and then went their separate ways. But what an album it was. It contained some great music with witty, incisive lyrics.

In the ‘The Party Song’ the Petals ask “How long till we dance to The Party Song?” and they are not imploring you to get up and boogie to this particular piece. It’s not really a song you can dance to and ‘the party’ is not a political one, it’s the celebration of the end of apartheid. This is made clearer in the line “I’m not talking about changes in the weather, I’m just talking about living happily together”.

Starting off slightly maudlin with a funereal organ and light military beat, it soon grows to a stomp-a-thon song, guitars flaring, drums banging the occasional sax going mad and a rousing chorus that seems to include everybody in the studio. This chorus is not quite in the league of Band Aid or USA For Africa, but the almost rabble-like quality of it makes it right for this song. It’s a song for the people and for the people to party to and the chorus certainly seems to be partying.

Where to find it:
Polynation – The Electric Petals (1995), Teal Records, MMTCD-1906

Beautiful In Beaufort Wes – Gert Vlok Nel

Beautiful In Beaufort Wes – Gert Vlok Nel

Beautiful In Beaufort Wes - Gert Vlok Nel

Beautiful In Beaufort Wes – Gert Vlok Nel

Gert Vlok Nel was from Beaufort Wes and studied at Stellenbosch. Perhaps that is why he manages to make the blues sound like boere musiek. Or to be a bit more accurate about ‘Beautiful In Beaufort Wes’, it is country & boere blues. It has the country & western theme to the lyrics, a blues harmonica and rhythm and yet, even without the aid of an accordion, there is something boer-ish about it. Perhaps it’s just because Beaufort Wes is farming territory that this has rubbed off on the music.

But Gert Vlok Nel is a poet more than a musician. While the music has a pleasant lilt to it and (like Dylan) his voice is not the greatest singing one, his (Beautiful) words are what drag you into the song and tie your heartstrings in a knot. This is a bittersweet song about a carefree love of youth that is lost. But it’s not just the loss of the love that is mourned, but also the loss of youth and the freedom it brings. Perhaps the most telling line is, after describing how the girl would ‘vry’ in trains and graveyards and in the back seats of Ford Fairlanes, she grows up to be a computer analyst and “Last winter you tried to cut both of your wrists”. You almost feel the knife going into yourself as the line comes up.

The song has an aching beauty about it. There is a delicious mournfulness that is as comforting as it is disturbing. ‘Beaufort Wes Se Beautiful Woorde’, the album that it comes from made it to number 59 in the Dutch album charts, a testimony to the strength of his words.

Where to find it:
Beaufort Wes Se Beautiful Woorde – Gert Vlok Nel (2006) Munich Records, MRCD281


En jy was beautiful op Beaufort-Wes
en ek was so verskrik en verskriklik lief vir jou
en jy het op grafte en op treine
en op Ford Fairlane se agterseats gevry
en nou is jy en jou man both computer analysts
en laas winter you tried to cut both of your wrists
en nou skryf jy vir my jy kan nie meer slaap nie,
nie meer lag nie,
nie meer iets vir jouself doen nie,
nooit ooit weer vir my soen nie

En mooi mooi mooi was jou woorde ook
terwyl jy menthol sigarette rook
en daai sweet sweet dinge vir my se
terwyl jy sweet sweet in my arms le
en die presiese woorde het ek presies vergeet
ek onthou net die rook en die sweet in Beaufort-Wes
en jou kaal liggaam onder ‘n cool summer cotton dress
nie meer slaap nie, nie meer lag nie
nie meer iets vir mekaar doen nie
nooit ooit weer vir jou soen nie

En dis miskien soos ‘n storie uit die Huisgenoot,
maar jy’t een aand skielik vir my weggestoot
en in die rear view mirror jou gesig gekyk
en gese ‘miskien moet ek gelukkiger lyk’
daardie aand kon ek nie aan die slaap raak nie
en het gevoel hoe my hart losruk uit my lyf
en soos ‘n roeiboot in die rivier afdryf
ek kon nie meer slaap nie, nie meer lag nie,
nie meer iets ooit reg doen nie,
nooit ooit weer vir jou soen nie

En die laaste herinnering waaroor ek sing
is die nag toe ek en jy die melktrein aan en aan in die nag in ry
tot anderkant die ding dong gong
van die breakfast waiter in die gang verby
en dit was my wake-up call my lief
jy het gese wees asseblief lief vir my
maar ek het gedroom ons het in Beaufort-Wes gaan woon
en ek kon nie meer slaap nie, nie meer lag nie,
nie meer so iets doen nie,
nooit ooit weer vir jou soen nie

Up – Zen Arcade

Up – Zen Arcade

Snowflake - Zen Arcade

Snowflake – Zen Arcade

‘Up’ by Zen Arcade is a grunge song to chill out to. It has a cascading guitar riff that you can sort of glide around on like going on a lazy Sunday stroll down one of those twirling water slides. You keep expecting the song to burst out of its chill straitjacket but it never does and this creates a bit of nervous tension as the Zensters keep tight control of themselves, never letting ‘Up’ spill over into the noisy splash of the wave pool.

Iain McKenzie’s vocals weave a brittle spell over the song, vying with the guitar riff for centre stage. Neither wins the battle as the listener is absorbed into the intensity of the voice and the beauty of the instrument. The song was taken from the band’s debut album ‘Snowflake’ and has all the suble touch of a snowflake gently brushing your life before it melts off to the fade.

‘Up’ gave Zen Arcade their second number one on the SA Rockdigest charts in 2001. They would go on to score 3 more number 1’s, but never with such a deft touch of a song.

Where to find it:
Snowflake – Zen Arcade (2001), Zen Arcade, ZACD001

Almal Moet Gerook Raak – Johannes Kerkorrel

Almal Moet Gerook Raak – Johannes Kerkorrel

Voelvry - Die Toer

Voelvry – Die Toer

As every good tweetaalige South African knows, ‘Almal Moet Gerook Raak’ translates as ‘Everybody Must Get Stoned’. And as every good Dylan fan knows the song containing that lyric is actually called ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’. (The lyric is not the title of the song!).

Kerkorrel’s song is not an Afrikaans cover of the Dylan classic. It is his own compositon which implores everyone to get high and clean up the mess (“Die germors hier skoon maak”). The song was recorded live and features on the Voelvry- Die Toer album. Given the political leaning of Kerkorrel during the Voelvry period, one can safely assume that ‘die gemors’ he refers to was Apartheid. However, I am not sure how getting stoned would help as stoned people seem to sit around in a bit of a haze doing bogger all. I guess he was imploring to the hippy sense of the 60’s where everything was peace, love and smoking boom.

That said, the song itself is not particularly laid back or stoned. It’s a lively piece of honky-tonky-rocky-rolly-bounce-a-roundy-howling-guitary-get-up-and-dancey music that is at the opposite end of the serious scale to its underlying subject matter.

Sadly, as we know, Kerkorrel took his life in 2002 which lent an irony to the line in Dylan’s song just before ‘Everybody must get stoned’ which goes ‘But I would not feel so all alone’. However, let’s not dwell on the sadness. Put on ‘Almal Moet Gerook Raak’ and let’s rock this joint.

Where to find it:
Tien Jaar Later – Johannes Kerkorrel (1998), Gallo, GWVCD 4
Voelvry – Die Toer – Various Artist (2002), Sheer, SHIF002 (Live version)


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