1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Lifeline – Rabbitt

The Hits - Rabbitt

The Hits – Rabbitt

Rabbitt slowed things down a notch when they recorded this one. Their bigger hits such as ‘Charlie’ and ‘Locomotive Breath’, although not frenetic or particularly noisy, were certainly rockier affairs. But here we are in slow rock ballad mode. There are some aaahh’s underpinning the verses which are not that far away from the similar part on 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’, but where 10cc keep it cool, Rabbitt do throw in some electric guitars every now and then to remind one that they knew how to handle an axe.

‘Lifeline’ really shows off the craftsmanship of Trevor Rabin and the boys when it came to putting a song together. The production is also slick, giving this love song a velvety feel as it seems to glide along on a cushion of air.

While their rockier numbers like ‘Charlie’, ‘Morning Light’ and ‘Locomotive Breath’ had chart success, ‘Lifeline’ prefers to hang around in the background, taking a slow seductive approach compared to the more ‘in your face’ sound of the hits. It showed another side of Rabbitt that I’m sure the girls loved just as much as their bouncier side.

Where to find it:
Boys Will Be Boys – Rabbitt (September 2006) RetroFresh, freshcd 153 (CD)
The Hits – Rabbitt (1996) Gallo, CDRED 602

Video:

Katrina’s Theme – Jill Kirkland

Katrina’s Theme – Jill Kirkland

Katrina’s Theme – Jill Kirkland

The Katrina in the title of this song was a character in a 1969 film of the same name which was directed by Jan Rautenbach and starred Jill Kirkland in the title role. It was a stark look at the effect apartheid had on people whose families were split as some were classified white while others classified coloured. Katrina is ostensibly white and trying to live a ‘white’ life of privilege but cannot escape her ‘coloured’ roots. The film is at times quite brutal as it explores its themes and was quite out of kilter with the mainstream thinking of the day.

The theme tune which Katrina performs in the film, captures the mood. It is a sad piece, with a strong vocal trying to to disguise the fragileness of Katrina. There is a melancholic orchestra backing creating a haunting tune that teases with some warm, comforting sounds trying to break free from the sadness of the the song. Perhaps the line that sums up the character Katrina as well as the sound that Kirkland creates is the line ‘lost is the girl/lost is the girl’. This theme is the perfect compliment to the film. It is not a happy tune, it is poignant, sad and profoundly moving.

Despite the film’s dig at the apartheid system, it obviously hit a note with the South African record buying public of the time as ‘Katrina’s Theme’ spent 6 weeks on the Springbok Top 20 and peaked at number 11.

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

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Wuthering Heights – Not The Midnight Mass

Mass Hysteria - Not The Midnight Mass

Mass Hysteria – Not The Midnight Mass

Generally if you are going to do a cover version of a song, it is advisable not to pick something that is going to be pretty difficult, especially if you want to create a similar sounding vocal. Not The Midnight Mass decided to ignore this advice when they took on Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’. But then Jenny Delenta does do an exceptional job of recreating Kate’s unique voice.

Backed by the capable vocal gymnastics of bother and sister, Graham and Christine Weir along with Tereence Reis and Bruce Alex on the studio version on the CD ‘Mass Hysteria’ or Alan Glass instead of Bruce Alex if you are lucky enough to have the super-rare cassette of them live, this acapella group took the Bush classic and, while I would be overexaggerating to say they made it theirs, they certainly made it part of their repartee while Delenta was part of the group. It has all the whoops and swoops of the original as well as the ‘foggy moor’ mystic.

This version would not work half as well if it wasn’t for Delenta’s magical vocals on this. She really steals the show here. The Mass certainly had the talent to continue making good music once Delenta moved on and have continued to have success in a post Delenta world, so they cannot be written off as mere backing vocalists should you only ever hear this track of theirs, but this one certainly belongs to Jenny.

Where to find it:
Mass Hysteria – Not The Midnight Mass (1996), BMG Records, CDBSP(WL)7010

Fanagalo – Petersen Brothers

Fanagalo - Petersen Brothers

Fanagalo – Petersen Brothers

It would be easy to look back at this song and write it off as a racist piece, taking the mickey out of the mish-mash language that was used, and is still used as far as I know, to help communication between the whites and black, most prominently in the mining industry where migrant workers from other African countries were prevalent making the exclusive use of one of the local languages such Zulu of Xhosa difficult.

The Petersen Brothers (Mervyn, Basil and Andy) took this language as the subject for their song way back in 1955 when Fanagalo was in its infancy and was probably something novel at the time. It was also the norm back then for black ‘boys’ (the derogatory term used for any black male) to be servants working in the gardens of white people. Interestingly this song also has Jim, the servant in the song, not only working in the garden but also doing the cooking in the kitchen. It is further interesting to note that Fanagalo was one of the few linga franca’s in the world that took on more of the local language rather than pervert the English of the settlers from Europe.

There is an innocence to this bright and breezy pop tune, which is driven along by the boere musiek sound of the Nico Carstens Orchestra, that belies the offensiveness that it would carry today, to the extent that one is hard pressed to believe that the Petersen Brothers were being deliberately racist. Rather they seem to be seeing something humourous in a time of weirdness and in things that we today would see as politically incorrect, but back then would have been perfectly normal.

This track is included on this list as one that is part of South Africa’s chequered past. It has historical significance in reflecting the attitudes of the day, attitudes that are no longer regarded as acceptable.

Where to find it:
10” Vinyl: On Safari – Three Petersen Brothers, (1955) Columbia, 33JS 11011

Video:

Fiasco – TKZee

Guz Hits - TKZee

Guz Hits – TKZee

Tokollo, Kabelo and Zwai took their initials and made a band out of it. They also took the kwaito sound of the mid to late 90’s and made a Ricky Martin out of it when they made the song ‘Fiasco’. The song features the dance syncopation of the kwaito style but has a latin beat and rhythm going on. It’s as if TKZee had taken a holiday on the Copacobana and then returned to a recording studio in Soweto dragging all the influces of those 2 places with them.

Into this blend they also throw some rapped vocals which recall the old skool style of early rap and just when you think they can’t pack another style into the song, you get a short burst of soulful vocals. And its not only the various types of music that are mixed together. There are also a number of languages to contend with as there is English, the odd Afrikaans phrase and some Spanish alongside what I think is a mixture of some the Black South African languages, but unfortunaly my knowledge of these languages is not good enough to tell the difference. All this fusion of sounds and words creates a highly danceable track that is full of the joys of life. It is a warm, brassy and toe-tappingly party of a song. The video features the band dancing around on what looks like a beach in the Carribean which adds to the sunshine of the track.

TKZee were one of the few local acts who perfomed live at the opening of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and, although it was not this song that they played, it is easy to see why they were given the honour of playing at that huge gig as they did local with an international appeal.

Where to find it:
Guz Hits – TKZee (2005), BMG Africa, CDHOLA2004
Video:

Inkanyezi Nezazi (A Star And The Wisemen) – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

A Star And The Wisemen – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

A Star And The Wisemen – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

If you want to advertise Heinz Baked Beans to a British audience, the best thing to do is to take a song sung in a language that almost no Brit would understand and use that as the soundtrack to your pitch to get people buying everyone’s favourite toast topping, isn’t it? Put in those terms it sounds a bit far fetched, but this is exactly what happened with Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s ‘Inkanyezi Nezazi (A Star And The Wisemen)’ in 1997 when it was chosen to be the music for the baked beans ad. But this is perhaps a testament to the power and the beauty of the voices of the Mambazos. They could be singing the telephone directory for all the Brits knew, but boy could those voices shift the beans.

Despite what I have just said in the previous paragraph, the words are not trivial or a telephone directory. They talk of the coming of Christ and the wise men and the star as the English subtitle says. There is a reverence and a lullaby quality to the singing which shows the strong faith that the group show in this and many other of their songs.

It is difficult to find new ways of raving about the beauty of the harmonies that Ladysmith Black Mambazo produce. The words one has at one’s disposal seem to be too inadequate to describe the feelings that the music gives one. So my advice is to stop reading my ramblings about the song and just go listen to it, feel it, immerse yourself in it and just let the sound do the talking. Cool beans!

Lyrics & translation:

Kuye kwamemeza baprofethi emandulo (The prophets prophesied long ago)
Kumemeza abantu abadala kangaka (The elders are calling)
Webantwana kanisalaleni ngani (Children, listen and learn)
Umbiko wokuzalwa kenkosi uJesu (Their message is on the birth of Jesus)

Nansoke inkanyezi (The wise men)
enhle kunazozonke (Followed this star)
Eyalandelwa isiswe (That appeared)
Zivela empumalanga (in the East)

Baba/Mama, baba/mama wami; (Father/Mother, My Father/Mother)
Mama/Baba (hmm) Bhinc'(hmm) ibeshu lakho (Father/Mother, Your apron)
Simemeza ngazwi linyi (hmm) (We declare that which we know)
Sithi (hmm) Izelwe (hmm) (The word says that He is)
Inkosi Yamakhosi (The King of Kings)
(Repeat)

Uquinsile umprofethi (The truth spoken by the prophets)
Yinhle kunazozonke (To the whole world)
Masiyindandeleni (Of that star)
Khona sizophumela (That we should follow)
(Repeat)

Saqala Sabezwa besho (He first heard them tell us) x2
saze sabona nathi embhalweni (then we saw the writings)
{Sabe, sesiyakholwa, (Then we believed)
yilolo esikufundayo lithini ibhabeli} x? (What we read in scriptures)
(Repeat)

Amen Halleluya Amen

Where to find it:
The Best Of (The Star And The Wiseman) – Ladysmith Black Mambazo (1998), Polygram, 5652982

Video:

Trying To Believe – Semisane

Semisane

Semisane

Semisane’s debut album, ‘A Life Less Strange’ starts off with a quiet, almost unassuming intro, almost as though it is tip-toeing into our lives. The start of ‘Trying To Believe’, the opening track, is understated, yet beautiful. Even when Tikara’s vocals arrive, it is still a softly softly approach with a sweet sound.

The only time the song gets a little bit louder is when the chorus arrives, and this does so in a controlled yet somehow soaring kind of way. There is a lot of emotion and feeling in this track. It has a feel of one of those song in a film soundtrack where it’s the morning after the characters, who have gone through a rough patch and have made up (usually in bed), have woken up wondering if they have done the right thing and do not know what will happen next. There is an aching in the song like people who really want to be in love but just don’t know how to make it work.

‘Trying To Believe’ was Semisane’s first hit to make the SA Rockdigest Charts in 2000 where it went to number 7, enjoying a run of 8 weeks on the charts. Yes, they would go on to have bigger hits (including 3 SA Rockdigest number 1’s), but this subtle, yet beautiful, piece should not get left in the shadow of their other hits.

Where to find it:
A Life Less Strange – Semisane (2000), BMG Records, 74321 77593 2

Molly Trampoline – Three Bored White Guys

We Been Robbed (EP) – Three Bored White Guys

We Been Robbed (EP) – Three Bored White Guys

I met up with a friend just after having bought the Three Bored White Guys’ EP, ‘We Been Robbed’ and as we were sitting having coffee, I showed him my recent music puschases. He turned the CD case over and on seeing the picture on the back he asked me why, if they were called Three Bored White Guys, were there five white guys in the picture. I replied that two of them weren’t bored.

One of the guys on the cover (not sure if he was a bored on or not) was Greg Donnelly who was also a Dolly Rocker and this is what attracted me to the CD. I was not disappointed, especially as ‘Molly Trampoline’ came on. It’s a neat little rocker, nicely paced, guitar driven, slightly countryfied with a somewhat yowl-y vocal that recalls some of the Dolly Rockers stuff. The rhythm is a mix of train on a track and a galloping horse which gives the song it’s country flavour while not being a country song. It’s a bit like Valiant Swart’s ‘Die Mystic Boer’ which has that country blues sound.

If this is what Three White Guys (along with their 2 mates) can do when they are bored, I’d love to hear what they could do if all five of them were not bored. ‘Molly Trampoline’ is a song that you can, well, bounce along to.

Where to find it:
We Been Robbed (EP) – Three Bored White Guys (2006)

Enter The Ninja – Die Antwoord

$O$ - Die Antwoord

$O$ – Die Antwoord

Before 2009 if you had asked virtually anyone if they thought rapping with a heavy South African accent would propel one into the music charts in the US, they would have probably laughed at you, but after 2009 while most Saffers watched with their lower jaws suffering form gravity overload, Die Antwoord somehow came up with the answer to how to crack the US charts and their debut album $O$ crept into the Billboard 200 album charts, spending a week at number 109.

Aided by a disturbing video that went viral (and has nearly 70 million views at the time of writing) the skollie vocals of Ninja offset by the girlie chanting of Yolandi Visser and underscored by DJ Hi-Tek’s beats, Die Antwoord defied all odds and stepped onto the world stage. There is something catchy about the innocent lyrics ‘Ay-I Ay-I Ya I am your butterfly/ I need your protection’ which Yolandi introduces the song with and as the beat come in the song becomes quite danceable to while Ninja (aka Watkin Tudor Jones or Max Normal) lets loose with a hyperspeed rap that introduced the world to Zef culture.

Even after the initial excitement of the success of ‘Enter The Ninja’ few would have predicted that this new Zef fad was nothing more than a fad, but hats off to Die Antwoord who have gone from strength to strength and improved on the initial success their album, ‘Mount Ninji and da Nice Time Kid’ peaking at 34 on the US charts while ‘Donker Mag’ peaked at 37. I think it is fair to say that they have surprised all their doubters and detractors and they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they certainly are doing something right and it started with this one, ‘Enter The Ninja’.

Where to find it:
$O$ – Die Antwoord (2009), Rhythm Records, RR118

Video:

Ace Blues – Spokes Mashiyane

Ace Blues – Spokes Mashiyane

Ace Blues – Spokes Mashiyane

Born Johannes Mashiyane in Mamelodi, Spokes became a name synonymous with the pennywhistle kwela sound that emanated from the townships of South Africa in the 50s, 60s and even into the 70s. His life had simple beginnings, but he went on to be a special star in our culture and he did so by taking the simple pennywhistle and doing something special with it.

‘Ace Blues’ is just one example that showcases his prowess with the tool of his trade. A bouncing somewhat tinny guitar underpins the weaving magic of the pennywhistle with its bright and breezy sound. It takes one on a journey, skipping through the rural beauty of the land. And perhaps this was what gave the music its appeal as it took people out of the daily hardships of township lives and, just for a few brief moments, let them run free.

When it came to the pennywhistle, Mr Mashiyane was the ‘spokes’person (sorry) for the instrument and he let the instrument do the talking. It is small wonder the Mango Groove, years after Spokes’ death in 1972 included the song ‘Special Star’, a dedication to Spokes, on their debut album. Spokes and his pennywhistle is an integral part of South African music history and it there was a South African Hall of Fame, he would undoubtedly have been inducted into it.

Where to find it:
King Kwela – Spokes Mashiyane (1991), Gallo records, CDZAC50

Video:

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