1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Superstar – Stewart Irving

Stewart Irving

Stewart Irving

‘Everybody’s trying to be a superstar/But nobody knows what for’. So sings the one time singer with Ballyhoo. The ironic thing is that he does it in what we would nowadays refer to as an Idols/X Factor voice. Not only does he do the voice, but it is one of those songs competitors in the aforementioned competitions would have no problems singing (or attempting to sing as the case may be.)

The thing with Irving is that he does it so well with this song. He does have a great voice (although he wasn’t the voice behind ‘Man Of The Moon’ – he joined Ballyhoo just after they recorded that) and the song is a solid (bordering on power) ballad. Irving puts a lot of emotion into the performance and it paid dividends as the song made it to number 6 on the Radio 5 charts in 1985 and it was included on Ballyhoo’s 1989 album ‘Alive’.

Despite the pleading note in Irving’s voice, the answer is quite simple. People want to be superstars for fame, money and (in the case of male rock artists) to pick up chicks, although they may not necessarily be in that order. Ballyhoo were Superstars in South Africa and in putting out this solo effort, Stewart Irving enjoyed his 15 minutes (or 6 weeks according to his Radio 5 chart run) of superstardom.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – Sharp Cuts Vol 1


Danser – Anton Goosen

Danser - Anton Goosen

Danser – Anton Goosen

You could be forgiven for thinking you had accidently put on a Bob Marley CD when you hear the start of Anton Goosen’s ‘Danser’ as it is pure reggae with those short sharp organ bursts peppering a skip-jump bass and that chaka-chaka sound that the reggae bands love. But then he throws in some sax and pennywhistle and of course his growly laid back vocals and this, along with the fact that he is singing in Afrikaans, tells you it’s not Bob, but Anton.

He also then throws a spanner in the works by having a little interlude that sounds almost like sakkie-sakkie just to mix things up. But at no time during the just under 3 minutes of this song can you stop dancing. And that is how it should by. A song entitled ‘Danser’ should not be a drige or some strange experimental jazz, that would be false advertising.

To top it all and be a bit contrary (it wouldn’t be Anton if he wasn’t) he goes and records the song again with English lyrics. This time round it sounds as if he was doing a vocal stint for Mango Groove as the song sounds a little like their ‘Love Is The Hardest Part’. He does, however, steer clear of any trouble with the Advertising Standards people as if you see the song spelt ‘Dancer’ it’s in English and ‘Danser’ is in Afrikaans. The English version can be found on the album entitled ‘Danzer’ (yet another spelling just to ensure we remain confused – go Anton) or the ‘Grootste Treffers’ album, while the Afrikaans version can be found on ‘33 Sea-Sides (Om Te Rock ‘n’ Roll)’.

Where to find it:
Grootste Treffers Van Die Liedjieboer – Anton Goosen (2010), Select Musiek,SELBCD 887
Danzer – Anton Goosen (2007)
33 Sea-Sides (Om Te Rock ‘n’ Roll) – Anton Goosen (2008), Rhythm Records, RR090

Hear here:



The Watch – Tribe After Tribe

Power - Tribe After Tribe

Power – Tribe After Tribe

When the Asylum Kids broke up in 1982, Robbi Robb went on to form Tribe After Tribe. Their first album made a statement purely with its title – ‘Power’. And that’s what they made – powerful music. ‘The Watch’ is one of those controlled anger songs. One can feel the venom in the song, but you can’t really put a finger on what the menace is. Is it the thump-thump thump of the bass, or the steady barrage of drums? It could be, but can you dance to anger? Perhaps it’s the guitars that snarl and growl around the beat. But it’s too tuneful to feel fully angry. There is an eerie synth that seems to want to escape from the song, heading off at landscape tangents and that just helps one to not identify the anger.

This leaves the lyrics and vocals. The former, if they contain the answer, are too cryptic for one to say with certainty. I mean what does ‘Sum up the fading decadent stallion/behind the door lost in snow’ signify? Or ‘cat’s on the rhine’ for that matter. The vocals are probably the closest one gets to seeing the anger without any disguise. Robb’s voice sounds angry. He could make ‘Unchained Melody’ sound like a hate song if he wanted, he has one of those voices. But even here, he’s not cranked that element up to full.

This leaves one with two options. Either ‘The Watch’ is not an angry song, it’s just a pleasant rock song by one of South Africa’s premier bands of the 80s. Or it is angry, but Robbi is just too good at disguising it. Either way, there is no denying that this is a powerful song as it thunders along. ‘The watch is in line’ Robbie tells us. In line with what? In line with all the other damn fine songs that Tribe To Tribe recorded.

Where to find it:
Power – Tribe After Tribe (2003), Fresh Musci, FRESHCD140


Praha Paradise – Ernie (Ernestine Deane)

African Dope Vol 1

African Dope Vol 1

Praha, for those of you who don’t know is the local name for Prague, the Capital of the Czech Republic. Anyone who has visited this beautiful city with its magnificent cathedral and the stunning Charles Bridge across the Vltava River would immediately understand someone referring to a Praha paradise. Ernie’s (Ernestine Deane from Moodphase 5ive) idea of this paradise is a slightly seedy sounding dub laden tune which is coated by her breathy vocal in a layer of silk.

The song falls neatly into the trip-hop genre that acts such as Massive Attack and Tricky were the exponents of and there is no reason why this song could not sit comfortably at the table with anything offered by the aforementioned. It has tight production and great vocal performance and is a bubbling cauldron of bass and voice. Put simple this is the best trip-hop song to come from South of the equator.

‘Praha Paradise’ spent 15 weeks on the SA Rockdigest top 20 of which 1 was spent at the number 1 spot.

Where to find it:
African Dope Vol 1 – Various (2001), Sony Music, CDEPC 8193


See Yourself (Clowns) – Ella Mental

See Yourself (Clowns) - Ella Mental

See Yourself (Clowns) – Ella Mental

Don’t be fooled by the word ‘clowns’ stuck in the brackets of this song’s title. This is not a red nose, honking horn, large shoe, custard pie in the face song. There is something dramatic about this song from the tension building strumming guitar that opens it, through the silkily ominous alto vocals of Heather Mac to the chorus ending staccato, ‘Self!!!’ which echoes into a moments silence before the song resumes again for another go at your senses.

Ella Mental were one of the big bands of the 80s in the country. ‘See Yourself (Clowns)’ topped the 702 charts, made number 9 on Capital 604 and 15 on Radio 5 (what were those 5 jocks thinking letting it flounder so low in the charts while letting Wham! top the charts that week?) and is not only one of Ella Mental’s memorable songs, but also one of the songs of the 80s.

They performed the song live at Operation Hunger’s ‘Concert in The Park’ and this version can be found on the CD release of that event. This version has the band speeding the song up drastically for the last chorus, becoming an almost thrashy punk version of its former self. The audience at Ellis Park that night were also treated to some fine guitar licks from Tim Parr. It’s worth checking this one out as well as the studio version.

Where to find it:
Uncomplicated Dreams – Ella Mental (2002), RetroFresh, freshcd127


I Am A Fadget – éVoid

I Am A Fadget - éVoid

I Am A Fadget – éVoid

If by some weird twist offate you had not already heard ‘Shadows’ or ‘Taximan’ and then decided to buy this strange looking LP (because they were LPs back then) with an opening track called ‘I Am A Fadget’ thinking that it some how related to British Indie band Fad Gadget (Fad + Gadget = Fadget), you would probably have gone ‘Blimey,’ (because you are a fan of British music and the poms say ‘blimey’) ‘that Frank Tovey’ (the front man of Fad Gadget) ‘has gone all ethnic and funky.

On ‘I Am A Fadget’ the Windrich boys took those serious-sythn-sounds-from-the-lower-notes-on-the-keyboard sound that bands like Fad Gadget were playing and injected it with some earthy Africa rhythm and threw in a funky guitar over the top of it to create a jerky, fashion conscious slice of ethno-pop-punk. Erik’s voice stretches across the quirky beats giving an overall effect of something unsettled and nervous, tightly wound and full of pent up energy.

The song did not do as well ‘Shadows’ and ‘Taximan’ and its easy to see why. It is not as catchy as those two, it is a little too edgy for the mainstream, but it is a great song that probably would be better remembered if it didn’t have to live in the, erm, shadow, of its bigger brothers.

Where to find it:
éVoid – éVoid (2000), RetroFresh, freshcd 106


Little Lemmy – Little Lemmy

Little Lemmy - Little Lemmy

Little Lemmy – Little Lemmy

Kwela and the pennywhistle are almost synonymous with the townships in the 50s. It is a sort of jazzy sound with a big dose of joie de vivre thown in. It brings up images of Saturday night dances in town halls where well dressed people do polite dances in black and white. Little Lemmy Special was one of the luminaries of this style of music (and was the subject of Mango Groove’s song ‘Special Star’).

Not too many acts produce songs that have the same title as their name (‘Talk Talk’ by Talk Talk and the lesser known 80s his in South Africa ‘Hey You’ by ‘Hey you’ come to mind), but Lemmy Mabaso decided to call this jaunty little stroll down a friendly street on a Saterday arvie, ‘Little Lemmy’. It will have you smiling and whistling along with it as you listen, but there will be a little something in the melody that will bug you. ‘Where have I heard this before?’ you may well ask. Then you put on Bert Kaempfert’s ‘A Swinging Safari’ and you realise that the latter is ‘Big Lemmy’ except Kaempfert has given it a fuller sound compared to Little’s sparse, yet cheerful tune. Yes, it’s not exactly the same notes being played, but they are darn close. But here’s the rub, Little Lemmy was our special star, whereas Bert was just a German bloke doing what is now referred to as ‘a Graceland’.

Where to find it:
South African Souvenirs – Various Artists (1993), Teal Records, TELCD 2346


Bloodsport – Swanhunters & Chakk

Bloodsport - Swanhunters & Chakk

Bloodsport – Swanhunters & Chakk

Okay, I’ll admit that this one does cheat a little as Chakk were a band from Sheffield in England who had some success on the UK Indie Charts and worked with Richard H. Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire. But it was this unlikely pairing of this UK industrial funk band with little known South African band called The Swanhunters that we are interested in here.

How did the two bands came together? Who where the Swanhunters? And with the cultural boycott of South Africa in full swing in 1986, why did Chakk risk collaborating with the Swanhunters? These are questions I do not have the answers to. From somewhere is a dusty compartment of my memory of first hearing this track on Barney Simon’s Powerhaus show on Radio 5, there was some mention of The Swanhunters hailing from Durban. This was confirmed when looking at the cover of the 12” single of the songs as emblazoned across it was the message “A collaboration between the Swanhunters of Durban S.A. and Chakk of Sheffield S.3”. This answers to a small degree the second question above.

The third question is perhaps answered in the first line of the song: “You’ve lost the will to live a township lie on a burning wasteland” and the ranting message that encircles the back cover. It was without a doubt an anti-apartheid (and a whole lot more) song which has the lead singer sounding as if they are shouting protest slogans through a megaphone agains a hail of machine gun beats which you can dance to. Not the toyi-toyi dance, this is not black protest, it was whites protesting against an environment of their own creation as well as the part the international community played in supporting it.

For most of you familiar with the music of Cabaret Voltaire, you will be familiar with the sound on this record as it is very reminiscent of them and actually quite difficult to believe that a South African band was involved in this project as I am not aware of any other local group to embrace this dance sound (forgive me if there are any, I just never got to hear you).

So questions two and three are answered, but I have no answer yet to question one, and I have a further question relistening to this song – how the hell did Barney manage to get to play this on the SABC?

Where to find it:
Maxi singles bins


1999 – Freedom’s Children

1999 - Freedom’s Children

1999 – Freedom’s Children

Way back in 1971, the year 1999 was some mythical sci-fi time in the way distant future where we could beam ourselves all over the place (thanks Scotty), travel though time and heading off to the moon or mars even for our annual hols. Wars would be fought against the machines using lazers and we would drive to work in little hovercraft style cars.

However, the question on Freedoms Children mind back in 1971 was not about what scientific developments will take place, all they wanted to know was: ‘In 1999 would you still be the mine/Would you still be the woman that I love?’ A bit like The Beatles asking if you would still love them when you’re 64. The difference being was the Beatles where rather cheery and singing with their tongues in their cheeks on that track, but for the Children this was a matter of life and death if Brian Davidson’s vocals are anything to go by.

Also, the future for them was not beaming and time travelling and lazers. There is an apocalyptic feeling to the thundering sounds that surround the vocals. Drums pound and guitars growl in a dense radioactive cloud, full of energy and almost claustrophobic. One almost feels you need to get out of the way of this song as it crashes towards you, destroying everything in its path.

We may not have perfected time travel yet, but thanks to Retro Fresh, we can travel back to 1971 to enjoy 1999 all over again. The CD re-release of ‘Galactic Vibes’ also included an extended version (perhaps the leap year remix?) of the song.

Where to find it:
Galactic Vibes – Freedom’s Children (2002), RetroFresh, freshcd 126


Backroom – Tim Parr

Backroom - Tim Parr

Backroom – Tim Parr

It starts with a haunting, twisting sax dancing an early-hours-of-the-morning-when-the-joint-is-closing-but-you’re-still-dancing-with-your-girl shuffling dance and it never really leaves the room. It is an intense song that draws you into it as it snakes through your brain, opening those dark thoughts that you throw into the backroom of your mind and hope that no one ever sees it.

It was a little odd coming to this song, knowing that Tim had worked firstly with Larry Amos in Baxtop and then was the guitarist in Ella Mental. Both of those previous bands produced some great songs which have/will also made this list, but theirs were more pop-rock numbers. His first solo album ‘Still Standing’ opens with this song which is aimed at a more serious listener than a youngster wanting something to headbang to. It is more bluesy-rock than pop-rock and shows us a more serious side to one of the countries talented guitarists.

But it’s not just his guitar on display here. One can understand why in Ella Mental he didn’t take the lead vocal role – they had Heather Mac. Had they not been blessed with her voice and were looking for someone else to step up to the mike, then, based on what one can hear here on his solo material, Tim would have been more than capable of fulfilling the role. He moves from sardonic verses to soaring choruses with ease and injects the words with a desperate edge that compliments the music. Although not as successful as his previous bands, this opening song of his solo album is quite worthy of the accolades ‘Jo Bangles’ or ‘See Yourself (Clowns)’ got.

Where to find it:
Standing Still – Tim Parr, Tim Can Records


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