1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Taxman – Lucky Dube

Taxman – Lucky Dube

Taxman – Lucky Dube

No this is not a cover of the Beatles track of the same name, this is a Dube original. But, while the Beatles track just bemoans the fact that the taxman taxes everything (‘if you get too cold I’ll tax the heat’), Dube questions what is being done with his tax. The opening stanza has Dube listing people he pays and what he gets in return for the payment (‘I pay my gardener to clean up my garden’), but then ends the stanza wondering where his tax money goes (‘There is only one man I pay, but I don’t known what I’m paying for/I’m talking about the taxman’).

The subject matter is one that most people can relate to, and one could debate for ages on politics of the topic. However, there is a sad irony in the lines where he sings that he pays for the police, but there is still crime, given that the taxes he paid could not prevent the crime of his murder. There is anger in the words, but Dube’s voice stays steady enough to keep it from becoming a rant, but rather tries to make if a call for a stop to corruption.

All this is done to a pacey reggae beat but there is an electric guitar let loose at various times throughout the song which add to the anger in the message. The song is a bit like a cross between Peter Tosh’s ‘The Poor Man Feel It’ and his ‘Johnny B Goode’ in that it has lyrics akin to the former and a sound akin to the latter. Dube’s voice also has a similar edge to that Tosh’s has, making this a great reggae tune that is not only South African because of who the artist is, but also global because of the subject matter.

Where to find it:
Taxman – Lucky Dube, (1997), Gallo Records, CDLUCKY11

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Cry Bluebird Cry – Rising Sons

Cry Bluebird Cry – Rising Sons

Cry Bluebird Cry – Rising Sons

‘Cry Bluebird Cry’ was the second single by Rising Sons to make the Springbok Top 20. It followed up the success of their 1970 hit ‘Stand Up For the Lady’ and peaked 1 place lower (at 14) than its predecessor. Unlike ‘Stand Up For The Lady’ which is an upbeat pop song, ‘Cry Bluebird Cry’ is far more sedate.

And that’s not too surprising, a quick look at the titles of the two songs should tell you that one would be more upbeat while the other would be more sombre.While ‘Cry Bluebird Cry’ starts with what could potentially be a bit of a rocker, it settles quickly into a kind of melancholic rhythm and when vocalist Dennis East comes in singing ‘Bluebird, you’ve got the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen’, you know its not going to rock in the way the intro suggested.

The song continues in this vein, rising only for the chorus which features some higher pitched harmonies and it takes on a kind of lazy circling in the sky on a hot summer’s day feel. Even the guitar interlude, which has a harder edge to it, still maintains this more serious feel to it. The feeling of a bird circling lazily in the sky pervades the song and the fade out feels like that bird slowly becoming just a dot before disappearing completely.

Where to find it:
Singles bins

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Anthem (aka ‘Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika’) – Lungiswa

Lungiswa – Lungiswa

Lungiswa – Lungiswa

Most South Africans know the history of ‘Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika’. It was a prayer in the form of a hymn, composed by Enoch Sontonga and was asking God to bless Africa. During the height of the Apartheid years the song was used by the ANC and those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle as an anthem. It has been adopted by Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe as their national anthems and when apartheid fell, it was incorporated into the national anthem of the new South Africa.

Lungiswa is Lungiswa Plaatjies and is the niece of Dizu Plaatjies, a member of the percussion band Amampondo. As a youngster Lungiswa would be the vocalist for Amampondo. In 2000 she released her debut solo album simply entitled ‘Lungiswa’. The album opens with a beautiful rendition of Nksoi. The song draws strength from 3 areas. Firstly the simplicity of the instrumentation which is mostly percussive and harks back to Lungiswa’s musical roots with Amampondo. Secondly, she drafts in a rich bass male choir which vibrates throughout the song.

But the main beauty of this track comes from her pure and somewhat soulful voice. Lungiswa sings this slow and relaxed version of the hymn with great feeling and her voice is only just a notch louder than the bass singers and both are muted against the percussion. This makes for a reverential song that has a feeling of giving thanks and praise alongside the request for blessing of the lyrics.

There are many versions of ‘Nkosi Sikilele’ out there but this one and the magnificently powerful version from the film ‘Cry Freedom’ (entitled ‘The Funeral’ in the soundtrack and attributed to Thuli Dumakude) are the two I keep coming back to. The latter is for days when you want to experience the power of the song while Lungiswa’s version is for when you want to bathe in the beauty of it.

Where to find it:
The Great South African Trip – Various Artists (2007), African Cream

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Happy Birthday – Frank Opperman

Serial Boyfriend - Frank Opperman & Prime Time Addiction

Serial Boyfriend – Frank Opperman & Prime Time Addiction

Frank Opperman came to mainstream attention in South Africa as an actor, not a musician. His role as Ouboet van Tonder in the TV comedy show ‘Orkney Snork Nie’ soon established him as a loveable car mechanic. Nearly a decade after the show first appeared, Frank put together a band called Prime Time Addiction and released an album called ‘Serial Boyfriend’ which would get to number 5 on the SA Rockdigest album charts.
The band included such local luminaries as Anton Lamour on guitar, Barry van Zyl (Savuka) on drums and Concorde Nkabinde (Savuka and UK band Black) on bass. On ‘Happy Birthday’, they bring a kind of laid back blues feel to the song with Lamour’s guitar moving seamlessly between a relaxed sound similar to that found on the band Luna’s material and a more grungy sound as the song swells to its chorus.
Released in 1999, the song looks forward to the change in millennia and hinges around the fact that the marking of the years is based on the birthdate of Jesus. Frank unashamedly sings, ‘Happy Birthday Baby Jesus’ and throughout there is a sense that there is a seriousness to the lyrics. Opperman focusses on how, despite the message of peace Jesus brought, the world has failed over the past 2000 years to act on it. He issues a plea to Jesus to return as it is ‘time to save the world again’.
In 2009, Opperman re-recorded the song for his ‘Let’s Be Frank’ album. This version (which is the only one of the 2 available on Youtube at the time of writing) is a more laidback affair.
While not all share the same faith or belief in Jesus, it is hard not to agree with the sentiment that was valid in 1999 and is probably even more valid in 2022 that the world needs saving from our destructive ways. ‘Happy Birthday’ is unlikely to change the hearts of those who seek destruction of others, but it is one small (and very necessary) reminder that we need to learn to live together. Maybe in the year 3000 we will get there.

Where to find it:

Serial Boyfriend – Frank Opperman & Prime Time Addiction (1999), Gallo Records, GWVCD 17
Let’s Be Frank – Frank Opperman (2009), Next Music, LULI 051


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Durban Poison – Trans Sky

Killing Time - Trans Sky

Killing Time – Trans Sky

Trans Sky consisted of Kalahari Surfer’s Warrick Sony and Urban Creep’s Brendan Jury. They would come together for 1 album (‘Killing Time’) and 1 single (‘Slow Thighs’) and would not sound much like either the Kalahari Surfers or Urban Creep. With a title like ‘Durban Poison’, one would be forgiven for expecting a stoner kind of track as the phrase is used to refer to a particular strain of marijuana.
But the song and the lyrics are far from the drug. Instead, the lyrics use ‘Durban poison’ to describe the toxicity of modern society. The first verse refers to a suburban woman seeing her children ‘grow up in Durban Poison’. It seems to challenge the ‘American Dream’ lifestyle that we are promised, reminding us of the struggles, we all face.
Musically, the song kicks off sounding like something off Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica’ with its syncopated rhythms and beats. However, within seconds Jury’s viola injects the track with a kind of desolate melancholy as it cries like a mournful bird circling in the sky. The vocals are gothic laden, at times reminiscent of Bauhaus’ Pete Murphy, at other times akin to The Awakening’s Ashton Nyte.
Overall there is a dark and dense feel to the track. The thudding beat feels like someone trudging through a thick undergrowth in a humidity drenched climate. It is a far cry from the sun, sea and surf that Durbs is usually associated with. It makes the sometimes asked question, ‘What’s your poison?’ take on a strange new slant.

Where to find it:
Killing Time – Trans Sky, (1998), Tic Tic Bang, BANGCD039

Buy here:
https://transsky.bandcamp.com/

Video:

Nightmare – Peach

Nightmare – Peach

Nightmare – Peach

Like many, I guess, my first introduction to Peach was ‘A Lot Of Things’. It was also one of my early introductions to local punk. I remember being a bit confused about the track as I sort of liked it but wasn’t sure if I really did (I do now love it by the way). Then came their second hit, ‘Nightmare’ which was not as jerky and more tuneful and I was hooked on Peach.

Right from the start, the song was more catchy than ‘A Lot Of Things’. It still had the sneer-in-the-voice vocals of Angie Peach and the wailing guitar, but the rhythm seemed to sit better with a lightie who was just beginning to discover there was more to music than what was on the Springbok Hits records. There is a slightly ska-punk sound to the rhythm guitar while the lead guitar seems to be echoing in from another room. Angie struts around the front of the song delivering the dystopian lyrics about modern life being a nightmare.

The song would go 1 place better on the Springbok Top 20 than ‘A Lot Of Things’ as it peaked at 6 and where we thought we had a good band on our hands when we heard ‘A Lot Of Things’, we knew we had a great band when we heard ‘Nightmare’. However, the nightmare seemed to be happening to the band as it fell apart after just 1 one album, despite the feeling that they would go places. We only have ‘On Loan For Evolution’ to fall back on when remembering this great group. Apart from the 2 singles already mentioned, it also featured a wonderful cover of XTC’s ‘Complicated Game’. They should have done so much more but sadly that was not to be. I can’t say that nightmares are something that I would usually recommend to one, but this ‘Nightmare’ is certainly worth having.

Where to find it:
On Loan For Evolution – Peach (2002), RetroFresh, freshcd 123

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Perfect Souls – The Gathering

In From The Cold - Various Artists

In From The Cold – Various Artists

Sometime in the mid 80’s something weird started happening on Radio 5. There was this dude called Barney Simon who was a sound engineer, but who began to muscle into the Saturday afternoon show and eventually took over the slot entirely. He played strange music, stuff that was not dipped in honey, or dripped with disco floor sweat. Bands like Joy Division, The Mission and Fields of The Nephilim began to fill Saturday afternoons with black thundershowers.

This also gave an outlet for the few South African bands who embraced the alternative with No Friends of Harry being one of those leading the way. In 1988, there were 2 brilliant compilation albums released which tapped into the local alternative scene. One was ‘The Flying Circus’ which featured acts such as Dog Detachment and Penguins In Bondage. The other was ‘In from The Cold’ and the opening track on this album was The Gathering’s ‘Perfect Souls’.

There is not much information available about this band which was packed with potential. ‘Perfect Souls’ has all the blackness of a perfect goth track. It is a brooding affair and the lead vocals are fraught and goth-deep. The beat is also such that those dressing up in black and heading off to the alternative nightclubs (after listening to Barney’s show of course), could dance to.

The Gathering saw 1 other song on that album (‘Wooden Walls’) and I have found 3 other tracks on Youtube (including the wonderful ‘Lambstricken’), but that seems about it for a band that coulda and shoulda done much much more. They were forerunners in the South African goth race of the late 80’s. But they were beaten into polo position by No Friends Of Harry and a little later The Awakening took over the baton. The Gathering should not be forgotten and ‘Perfect Souls’ is a bit of a lost classic from those days.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: In From The Cold – Various (1988), Principal Records, PRINCE013

Video:

Amen – Peanut Butter Conspiracy

Amen – Peanut Butter Conspiracy

Amen – Peanut Butter Conspiracy

I suppose I should have saved this one for last given the title, but when I realised early on while doing this list that my own tastes and likes would mean I ran out of my favourite tracks early on, I enlisted the help of Microsoft Excel to randomise the order and ‘Amen’ comes just over halfway through.

‘Amen’ goes back to 1948 when it was first recorded by the Wings Over Jordan Choir. It was then used in the 1963 Sidney Poitier film ‘Lilies Of The Field’. This inspired Curtis Mayfield, who was in The Impressions at the time, to record their own version of the track. That version would go to number 7 in the US and is a brassy number, done to a marching beat. As the lyrics suggest it is a gospel song which talks about Jesus calling his disciples and John the Baptist baptising people.

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy slow the song down when compared to The Impressions and make it more of a crowd dancing and skipping down to the River Jordan, than the march that The Impressions make of it. The PBC version also builds deliciously, starting out with clicking fingers and a muted chorus singing the repeated ‘Amen’. Brian Mulder’s gruff voice tells us that ‘anybody who doesn’t know the words to this song has a hole in his soul’. The clicking fingers are joined by handclaps and then a swaying from side to side bass as the ‘Amen’s grow louder and Mulder’s starts singing the various bits of biblical stories. The song now has the feel of one of those scenes in a movie where a musician starts something while walking down a street as as they walk, they are joined by more and more people until a whole parade with trumpets has joined in.

But just as this parade takes shape, the song seems to turn a corner and fades out. It is a great builder, and the Peanut Butter Conspiracy would definitely have plugged any holes in souls with this rousing gospel track and would, I am sure, have gathered together a crowd, had they marched down a street singing this. They scored their 3rd Springbok top 20 hit with ‘Amen’ which ended up spending 3 weeks at 2 while Charisma’s ‘Mammy Blue’ was busy setting the record for weeks at 1 by a local song (it would manage 12 weeks there). It would also be 1 of 5 local songs to enter the top 20 at position 10 or higher. This is not surprising as it is a great track. Can I get an ‘Amen’?

Where to find it:
Vinyl: Peanut Butter Conspiracy – Peanut Butter Conspiracy (1971), CBS, ASF1627

Video:

Riempies/Bamboesbos – Sons Of Trout

Tassenberg All Stars 3

Tassenberg All Stars 3

This one is a bit of fun from the offspring of Mr Trout. Recorded live at the Tassenberg Stalteater in Oudsthoorn, this sounds a bit like it was played late in the evening when almal was lekker gesuip and dancing around with abandonment. It starts with a lekker ay-chikka-lay guitar and is soon joined in this dance by a rusty fiddle.

The song harks back to old style Cape music, somewhat similar to what David Kramer highlighted in his Karoo Kitaar Blues project. The boys in Sons of Trout take turns with vocals which tell stories in a similar way that the Karoo Kitaar Blues players do. A fine example is the bit that goes ‘I had a girl and she love me so/she stays down there where the lillies grow/she rides with me on my handlebars/but I’m saving up for a donkey cart.

This track is drenched in the Karoo and the traditions of that part of the Cape. It also has all the sunshine of a typical day in that part of the world. It will have you doing that knees bent kind of twist type dancing that Kramer does so well. This is not a typical Sons of Trout song. It sounds like they were just messing around at the end of their set, but it turns into a bit of a classic and those in charge of selecting the tracks for the 3rd in the Tassenberg All Stars CD’s thankfully recognised this.

Sadly, unless you have a copy of the CD, you will probably struggle to find this track. There is a version of ‘Riempies’ by Mikanic (who feature guys from Sons of Trout), Riaan van Rensburg and Schalk Joubert to be found on Spotify (https://open.spotify.com/artist/3xNEtdG0BCJ1cHE3WWtKa3) and while this version captures something of the feel of the Sons of Trout version, it sounds like a studio version and lacks the rawness of the live version, but it is a good substitute if you can’t lay your hands on the Sons of Trout version.

Where to find it:
Tassenberg All Stars Volume 3,(2002), Trippy Grape, TRIP006

Heart – Gene Rockwell

Heart – Gene Rockwell

Heart – Gene Rockwell

Anyone who was pointed to ‘The Best Of SA Pop Volume 1’ as an introduction to South African popular music, would have become aquainted with Gene Rockwell and his ‘Heart’ by the time they hit the second track. With its heartbeat bass line underpinning the whole track, you can identify with the song from the very start. A heartbeat is what keeps us alive, so that sound is always a comfort to hear.

But Gene is not feeling comfortable as his yearning vocals soon elaboarate that the song is about unrequited love. Released in 1965, the emotion in Gene’s voice tugs at the heartstrings, dragging you into his world of despair. And that is perhaps what made the song so popular as most people have experienced the pain and anguish of unrequited love. Gene captures that feeling and bottles it into this 3 minutes of 60’s pop perfection. You are taken with him on his journey of despair and wrapped up in the emotions. Yet the whole time the heartbeat is there, subtly bringing comfort and as the song begins to fade, Gene tells his heart that ‘we will find somebody new’.

Gene would be one of the most successful local acts on the Springbok Charts, seeing 10 hits make the top 20, however, ‘Heart’ was not one of them. The only thing I can put this down to is that the song must have been released early in 1965 and the charts only started in the June of that year, otherwise I am sure it would have done well on the top 20.  

Where to find it:
The Best of SA Pop Volume 1, Various Artists, (1994), GMP, CDGMPD 40485 (CD)

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