1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Strate Van Pretoria – Beeskraal

Huis Toe - Beeskraal

Huis Toe – Beeskraal

I’m going to throw a rather strange concept at you here – boerepunk. About 30 years ago this would have been laughed at or even worse, regarded as some sort of heresy and worthy of banning. But Afrikaans music has come a long way in the last few decades and one of the stranger developments has been the fusion of punk/blues with the traditional accordion heavy boere musiek.

Early pioneers of this sound were Beeskraal (which is Afrikaans for ‘cattle enclosure’ for those not familiar with the language). Led by Charles Smidt, they opened their first EP (simply entitled ‘Beeskraal’) with this little gem, ‘Strate Van Pretoria’. From the word go you knew you are in for something new. The accordion kicks in within the first few bars, but there’s a punky guitar bashing out a reggae beat and the bass is not the usual dom-dom dom-dom langarm sound, instead it dares to have a little bit of a melody to it. And none of these sounds take centre stage. Even Smidt’s slightly off-key vocals don’t take command. And that’s fine as the song is more than the sum of its parts. The mish-mash of styles works because the ingredients compliment each other.

In an earlier entry on this blog, I likened The Genuines to The Pogues and Les Negresse Vertes in that they were bands who took their somewhat old fashioned traditional sounds and injected them with a punk attitude which made the old sounds cool again. To this collection of names we can add Beeskraal. They made boeremusiek kool.

Where to find it:
Huis Toe – Beeskraal, Woema Music (2001), WMCD2004

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All The Time – Quinsey

All The Time - Quinsey

All The Time – Quinsey

If, like me, you grew up in the 80s, and someone started talking to me about Quinsey, I would immediately have thought of the medical examiner in TV show Quincy starring Jack Klugman. Those more mature than me may well shake their heads sadly and moan about the youth of today and such like as they had clearly said Quinsey, not Quincy.

And when you put on Quinsey’s ‘All The Time’ you no longer think of murder and solving crimes (without the help of DNA analysis, I might add), because what you get is a big voice embracing a smooth and gently flowing song. There is an element of Scott Walker in the voice and the song clearly moulds itself around the formula that Engelbert Humperdinck made popular, and it does so in a stylish manner.

Quinsey’s real name was Alan Elderkin and he hailed from what was then Rhodesia. He played with a band called the Etonians, before coming to the attention of producer Grahame Beggs. ‘All The Time’ was released in 1968 and made number 14 on the Springbok Top 20, spending 8 weeks on the chart. Despite several further releases, including the theme tune to a local film called ‘The Long Red Shadow’, ‘All The Time’ would be his only chart hit which I guess goes to show that you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the the people with your second single.

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


Fokofpolisiekar – Fokofpolisiekar



Sometimes one can take a joke too far and Fokofpolisiekar took the joke of forming a band with a deliberately offensive name to the heights of the SA music scene and went on to spawn bands like Van Coke Kartel, aKing and Die Heuwels Fantasties as well as inspiring acts such as Jack Parrow and Die Antwoord.

They first came to prominence through the song with the same name as the band which is a thrashy, adrenaline fuelled piece of punk. Full of energy, roaring guitars and maniacal drums, there is something more to it than just noise – there is a tune in there, and a soaring sing-a-long chorus, things which a lot of punk bands tend to ignore as they endeavour to make a noise. And it is this fine balance between noise and tune that makes this song work.

Aside from that, the thing which set this apart from just about every other punk band on the planet was that these guys sang in Afrikaans. We had had the revolution from innocent sweet music to Afrikaans rock through guys like Anton Goosen, Koos Kombuis et al, and there had been a Afrikaans blues movement with Valiant Swart, Piet Botha and that crowd, but I think even with this hardening of the Afrikaans music sound, few could ever imagine Afrikaans punk working. But it does and with this, one of the very first songs of the genre, it could not have got off to a better start. There is anger, nose, tune and controversy all rolled into just over two and a half minutes of brilliance. In the 70s we all loved Squad Cars (a Springbok radio programme for those too young to remember), but in in the early 2000s we moved on and told those polisiekars where to go.

Where to find it:
Fokofpolisiekar 10 Year Anniversary – Fokofpolisiekar (2012), Rhythm Records

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Magic Dragon – The Idiots

The Idiots

The Idiots

Warning: this song is not ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’. However it is a trippy little ditty that is somewhat reminiscent of some of the Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd songs (‘The Gnome’ for example). It has a strange childish feel to it with the subject matter being the stuff of kid’s books, and there is an innocent piano riff which could almost be the soundtrack to a nursery rhyme.

Those of you who are familiar with The Idiots only SA Top 20 hit, ‘In The Park’ may find ‘Magic Dragon’ a little surprising as the former is a breezy poppy number, but it does have a hint of what the latter delivers in that there is a brief organ interlude that wonders to the border of the world of pop and gazes at the land of psychdelia. On ‘Magic Dragon’ the Idiots pack their bags and cross that line.

The singer invites you to ‘climb upon my magic dragon/trip along in space’ and the sounds are ethereal and otherworldly and promise a strange journey. But it’s a ride worth taking. Don’t worry it’s only a 2 minute 11 second trip so you won’t get too much motion sickness from the weirdness of the song, but you should have a little smile on your dial when it’s over. The song originally appeared on the b-side of their single ‘Toyland’.

Where to find it:
Astral Daze – Various Artists, RetroFresh, (2005), FRESHCD148

As I Went Out One Morning (aka ‘Damsel’) – Tribe After Tribe

As I Went Out One Morning (aka ‘Damsel’) - Tribe After Tribe

As I Went Out One Morning (aka ‘Damsel’) – Tribe After Tribe

Cover versions always bring out the debaters in us. Which is better, the original or the cover?  Should anyone even dare cover the song? How can anyone make it better than the original? These are the kind of comments and questions people ask and make when faced with a cover version. But, it would take a brave man to question Robbie Robb and his Tribe After Tribe for daring to cover a Bob Dylan track. Granted it was not one of Dylan’s better known songs, but hell, it was still Dylan for goodness sakes.

But like Abstract Truth’s cover of ‘Oxford Town’, Tribe After Tribe did a spectacular job of covering Dylan and I would venture that only the most hardened of hippies would begrudge them having done so. With Robbi’s edgy, menacing guitar and primal yowling (i-e-yeah) thrown against Bruce Williams rattling drums and Fuzzy Marcus’ dark and threatening bass and those tribal ‘oh-uh’s, this is a juggernaut of a cover version that rams itself through your senses, pummelling you on all sides.

My advice is that you don’t try listen to this alongside Dylan’s version (which appeared on his ‘John Wesley Harding’ album) as the two as so chalk and cheese, so north and south, so folky and rock that you have to be in two completely different moods to enjoy them both. When you smoke some weed and grow your hair, then Dylan’s your man, but if you, like Twisted Sister, wanna rock, then Tribe After Tribe’s the version to go for.

Many have covered Dylan, few have done so with as much anger, energy and sheer force as Tibe After Tribe do with ‘As I Went Out One Morning’. This ranks alongside Eddie Vedder’s ‘Masters Of War’ in the list of great Dylan covers.

Where to find it:
Rocking Against The System – Various Artists (2002), RetroFresh, FRESH CD119



Vicki – Lance James

Vicki - Lance James

Vicki – Lance James

Lance James is a name synonymous with South African country music, but with ‘Vicki’, we find him in more of a ballad mode than country ballad. The song was taken from the 1970 Afrikaans film called ‘Vicki’ which starred Sandra Britz, Johan Esterhuizen and Leonie Ross.

The song is full of harpsichords, gently flowing stings and women singing ‘aahh!’ over which James’ vocals vascillate between being a bit Jim Reeves-y and soaring as a Ge Korsten wannabe, but he does managed to get the mood of the piece very well, injecting emotion and desperation into his singing which would have fitted in well with the film which was about a guy who falls in love with a girl and the girl’s parents do everything in their power to keep them apart. It is a song of longing and of loving.

‘Vicki’ would be Lance James’ 2nd top 20 hit on the Springbok charts (after ‘Dankie’). It charted on 2 April 1971 and it made to to number 4 during a 14 week run on the charts.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 1 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD40485

Wanna Make Love – Sunshines

Removable Tattoos - Sunshines

Removable Tattoos – Sunshines

The Sunshines were Tanya Blue, Greg Luke and Russel Weston and on their album ‘Removable Tattos’ from which ‘Wanna Make Love’ comes, they added the talents of Chris Letcher and Brendan Jury and had the added boost of Lloyd Ross and Willem Moller on production duties. Despite some of the Shifty characters helping out, the song is surprisingly poppy and full of, well, Sunshine.

It is in some way reminiscent of the Katrina & The Waves hit ‘Walking On Sunshine’ with its bright, breezy and bouncy feel and Tanya’s carefree vocals, but it’s a bit like an indie version of the song as it doesn’t have the final few layers of polish that a full on pop song would have and there are Smiths-eque jangling guitars underpinning the song. There is even an oblique reference to The Smiths in the lyrics with the line ‘I wanna make love/like a hand in glove’ (for those unfamiliar with The Smiths back catalogue, they released a song called ‘Hand In Glove’) although it is difficult to say if that was deliberate or not.

Those who like their pop to be pristine and sterile, you may not take too kindly to this, feeling it a bit too ‘indie’ for you, but for those who like their pop a little rough round the edges, then this is jangly pop perfection.

Where to find it:
Removable Tattoos – The Sunshines (1995)
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I Wanna Go To Mauritius – Paul Ditchfield

I Wanna Go To Mauritius - Paul Ditchfield

I Wanna Go To Mauritius – Paul Ditchfield

Mauritius, in case you didn’t know, is an island on the other side of Madagascar and is famed for its white beaches and blue seas. Is it any wonder then that one time Bat man (no, I’m not talking about a masked superhero, but rather a member of the SA Fab Four, The Bats) wants to go there?

Released in 1981 and possibly cashing in on Ditchfield’s popularity as a TV presenter at the time, the song has waves of piano cashing around beaches of xylophone and with a sunny sax breezing in. Ditchfield’s voice has a slightly rasping quality to it, as if he’s been sipping a few too many cocktails the night before, but the beautiful surroundings let him forget about his hangover and he’s in Bermuda shorts and an Hawaiian T-shirt dancing a conga on the beach with anyone who want’s to join in.

There are hints of Madness’ ‘The Return Of The Los Palmos 7’ on this that come through in the honky tonk piano dancing a two step with the xylophone. Paul just missed out on a top 20 hit with this. It made it onto the programme ‘Bubbling Under’ on Springbok Radio which used to play the possible future top 20 hits, and even made it to the top of the ‘bubbles’, but sadly got the cold shoulder from the record buying public, although I’m not sure why. This is bright breezy pop, that is pumped full of feel good. Forget Madonna’s ‘Holiday’, take a trip with Paul.

Where to find it:
Singles bins


Makin’ out With Granny – Falling Mirror

Falling Mirror & Granny

Falling Mirror & Granny

There are two ways you can start makin’ out with granny, you can either       storm the loft and pound it out on the piano or head off to the chemist and howl and yowl. Now if that sounds a little cryptic, weird, or downright unsettling then let me explain. There are, as far as I know, 2 different recorded versions of the classic Falling Mirror track ‘Makin’ Out With Granny’. The first appears on the ‘Zen Boulders/The Storming Of The Loft’ 2for1 CD which starts with a ominous piano riff. Then there is the version that appears on the ‘Johnny Calls The Chemist’ CD which start with a yowl and howl of guitar.

Whichever version you chose, both are a bit weird and downright unsettling. And that what makes it such a great song. Nielen Marais’ vocals are edgy, dirty and quite frankly psychotic. The lyrics about a granny holding shotguns to your head, wounded minds and grannies filled with hate, do nothing to ease the sense of unease within the song. Throw into this Alan Faull’s searing guitars (in one version) or a hypnotic, slightly psychedelic but menacing repeated piano riff (in the other version) and you have a perfect mix for the perfect psycho-rock-pop song.

‘Makin’ Out With Granny’ is as tense and edgy as the name of the band. Falling Mirror counjures up images of slow motion scenes predicting impending disaster and bad luck if the mirror shatters. ‘Granny’ is not a slo-mo-vrou, but everything about her screams out a disaster about to happen. The song is the musical equivalent of a good horror movie.

Where to find it:
Johnny Calls The Chemist – Falling Mirror May (2001) RetroFresh, FRESHCD 112
Zen Boulders/The Storming Of The Loft – Falling Mirror (2002), Retrofresh, freshcd124

Born In A Taxi – Blk Sonshine

Blk Sonshine - Blk Sonshine

Blk Sonshine – Blk Sonshine

People born in a taxi are usually born before their time as invariably the mother is in the taxi with the express purpose to getting to the hospital on time. However, one would be hard pressed to say that Blk Sonshine and their remarkable song,’Born In A Taxi’ was before its time, and it certainly isn’t rushing to get somewhere.

The song fitted so perfectly into its time, a time when we were just beginning to settle into a post-apartheid South Africa and Malawian-born Masauko Chipembere and South African Neo Muyanga (who make up Blk Sonshine) seemed to encapsulate the sense of freedom and joy that the New South Africa was experiencing.

With just a guitar and some muted beats flitting around the beautiful harmonies of Neo and Masuako, the simplicity of the song is breathtaking. It is almost as if two street buskers have walked into a studio, pushed the record button and laid down the track in one take. But what a take! If you could record carefreeness, it would sound like this. This is Blk Sonshine at their brightest best and it is no wonder that ‘Born In A Taxi’ raced to to top of the SA Rockdigest charts. It was fresh and breathtakingly brilliant.

Where to find it:
Blk Sonshine – Blk Sonshine (2000), Fresh Music, FRESHCD105


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