1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

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:

As Sly As The Fox – Falling Mirror

As Sly As The Fox – Falling Mirror

As Sly As The Fox – Falling Mirror

Living in the shadows of ‘Johnny Calls The Chemist’, ‘As Sly As The Fox’, which was also released as a single, was perhaps not quite as quirky as the title track from the album from which it came and did not enjoy the popularity of the former. The album was something of a concept album, in which Johnny’s life is taken apart and examined.

‘As Sly As The Fox’ is a darker tune than the title track, feeling slightly sinister and reflecting the murky world in which Johnny lived. Neilen Marais’ somewhat psychotic vocals are at their creepy best while an ominous synth does battle with a rat-a-tat-tat drumming that at times sounds like gunshots. The Fox in question is the Chemist whom Johnny has a crush/obsession with as the lyrics compare her to a fox. ‘As sly as the fox/that’s caught in the box/she hides behind the counter’.

Guitar fans won’t be disappointed as Alan Faull is allowed his 15 second of fame as he cranks up the edginess of the song with some eerily wailing licks. The overall effect is a dark and mysterious song which has a disturbing feel all done in the most intriguing way. The only thing it leaves one asking is what the hell does the line in the song mean when they sing ‘It’s almost as if they’ve drunk astronaut wine’?

Where to find it:
Johnny Calls The Chemist – Falling Mirror May (2001) RetroFresh, FRESHCD 112

Shadows – Wonderboom

Wonderboom

Wonderboom

When you take on a classic, you often take a huge risk. ‘It’s not as good as the original’ or even, ‘why don’t they just leave the old songs alone, you can’t make it better’ will often be thrown at you, invariably by the older generation who grew up with the original. And I must admit, I am like that sometimes with cover versions or remakes of films that I grew up liking.

However, with Wonderboom’s take on arguably the best South African track of the 80s, I am quite content to sit back and enjoy one of my favourites being given a update, and I did my growing up in the 80s. Wonderboom are one of a handful of South African acts who could have pulled this off in this style, injecting the the old ‘bundu bush’ ethno-punk original with a hard edged rock swagger and the result is an in-yer-face, wall-of-sound song that retains the feel and tune of the original, but has dragged it through the bush backwards into the naughties.

It is a much more straight forward cover than their take on Rabbitt’s ‘Charlie’ where they took that one and turned it into a heavy kwaito track and I would have to say it is not as good as the original (because I am old), but it certainly shows respect to the éVoid version and as one who grew up with the original, you can’t ask for more than that. Like nearly every cover of a classic, this will live in the, erm, shadow of the original, but it is not so pale that you can hardly make out the details shadow. It is a clear, well-defined one created by a sharp African sun, it is one that demands to be noticed.

Where to find it:
Rewind – Wonderboom (2001), David Gresham Records, CDDGR 1533

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Audio:

Santana Sessions:

The Return – Hawk

Africa She Too Can Cry - Hawk

Africa She Too Can Cry – Hawk

There’s a fuzzy dustiness to ‘The Return’ by Hawk. It’s not just the gravelly growlings of Dave Ornellas that make, it so it’s also the instruments which seem a little out of focus and don’t come across in fine detail. But that’s not a bad thing and was probably deliberately recorded in that way (although they may use different phrases to describe it) to create an earthy African feel to a song that would otherwise have been a West Coast American 70s rock tune.

A slightly trippy guitar dances around some handclaps to create the backdrop to Ornellas’ ‘wild man’ vocals which tell the story of a man returning to the one he loves. ‘I’m going home/to the one I love’ is sung a few times before the dramatic cry of ‘I’m on my wa-ay-ay-ay’ astonishes the instruments into a moments silence.

As their name suggests, Hawk made wild free music that soars. There is also a sense of the predator in their music and ‘The Return’ captures all this in its rough-edged way. It is one that you will return to again and again.

Where to find it:
Africa She Too Can Cry (Official CD re-issue) (2004) RetroFresh, freshcd137

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I Never Loved A Man – Margaret Singana

I Never Loved A Man – Margaret Singana

I Never Loved A Man – Margaret Singana

Yes, I know Aretha Franklin also did a song called ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)’, but hers is a breathy, soulful song written by Ronnie Shannon. Margaret Singana’s is a completely different song, written by John Russell and produced by Patric van Blerk, Trevor Rabin and Julian Laxton. And with that production team, you know you’re going to have a great song.

‘I Never Loved A Man’ (Margaret’s one) was first seen, as far as I can tell, in 1977 when it was released as a single and included on her ‘Tribal Fence’ album. It has an early disco bounce to it that would have enticed most on to the dancefloor back then for a little boogie. It’s got a funky bass, a thumping beat interwoven with some 70’s rock guitar. All of this underpins Margaret’s strong vocals.

The song made it on to the Springbok Top 20 where it managed 18 weeks, spending 3 frustrating weeks at 3 while Heart’s ‘Barracuda’ and McCully Workshop’s ‘Buccaneer’ battled it out for the top 2 spots, then eventually made it to number 2 for a week on 13 January 1978, but was denied the top spot by ‘Barracuda’. This would be her most successful effort on our charts and also the best performance for the 3 producers with the exception of van Blerk who eventually saw a number 1 hit as producer with Joy’s ‘Paradise Road’. I guess one could say that We never loved a song (produced by Patric van Blerk, Trevor Rabin and Julian Laxton) the way we loved Margaret’s ‘I Never Loved A Man’.

Where to find it:
Lady Africa – Margaret Singana (1996), Gallo, CDRED603J

Video:

Working Girls – Working Girls

Working Girls – Working Girls

Working Girls – Working Girls

Was the name of this group and the song inspired by Dolly Parton’s 1981 hit ‘9 to 5’ which was taken from a film of the same name and which was about women in the workplace? Or did the inspiration come from slightly further back when in 1980 Sheena Easton arrived on the scene with her ‘9 to 5 (Morning Train)’? Listening to this 1984 hit from the Working Girls, I would say that the latter was more the inspiration as the lead vocals by Julia Jade Aston are quite similar to Sheena’s (and Julia just needed to add an ‘E’ at the front of her surname to have the same one as Sheena Easton).

The song is a synth driven one that takes on the sound of the time and the intro sounds a little like that of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ (although it also reminded me of the song ‘Space Invaders’ by Player 1). The strong beat accompanies the strong vocal to produce a solid 80’s dance track that precursored the Hi-Energy craze of that decade.

The song made it to number 26 on what had become the Springbok Top 30, peaking 4 places lower than the Working Guys (also known as Face to Face who were the male equivalent looks wise and who also had an Aston in the band, he was Jarrod Aston) who reached 22 with ‘Here We Are’. Julia Jade Aston had already had some success with Café Society, singing lead vocals on their popular ‘Somebody To Love’ and she went on to release a few solo singles, but ‘Working Girls’ would be her biggest success chartwise.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: Streetenergy – Working Girls (1984), WEA, WIC 8019

Video:

Above My Room – Jo Day

No Warning - Jo Day

No Warning – Jo Day

Somewhere between 1991 and 2003 Jo Day went from looking a little bit like Lisa Stansfield and sounding like Heart in their more relaxed moments to a leather-clad-spiky-black-haired-heavy-rock rock bitch, yowling like a banshee and generally making a lot more noise.

Some may say that’s a bad thing, but have a listen to ‘Above My Room’. It is a thunderous affair that is the perfect vehicle for Day’s ominous to a scream vocals. Starting off with some slightly laid-back guitar, one quickly feels the storm clouds gathering as a fiercesome electric guitar builds to flashes of lightning and a roll of thunder. The music quietens for moment as Jo starts off in sultry voice but one that has an undertone warning in it to be careful. It seems to prowl restlessly around the song before she leaps up and makes you realise just how perfect the word ‘scream’ is suited to being sung as a scream.

This is thick and heavy heavy rock. It is not the dense sound that earlier guys like Freedom’s Children brought us. This is a crisp and clear wall of sound not too dissimilar to Metallica and the like. Jo Day was one of the few local acts who took this style of music and managed to make it work and especially so on ‘Above My Room’. It is hard rock at its best. Lisa Stansfield had to go ‘All Around The World’ for her hits, but Jo managed to do it in the room upstairs.

Where to find it:
No Warning – Jo Day (2003), Legend Music, LEGMCD1

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Reggae Vibes Is Cool – Bernoldus Niemand

Wie is Bernoldus Niemand - Bernoldus Niemand

Wie is Bernoldus Niemand – Bernoldus Niemand

If you put the word ‘reggae’ into Google’s translate machine and ask for the Afrikaans of it, it comes out as ‘reggae’. Odd that. But one man who realised that you can translate reggae into any language, even Afrikaans, was a cetain Bernoldus Niemand. And if you translate Bernoldus Niemand into English you get James Phillips.

Closing the ground breaking album ‘Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand’ (released just over 33 years ago for those of you who want to feel really old), this dub laden piece still feels weird to listen to. Virtually all recorded reggae of note features Jamaican accents and Jamaican slang but with this trippy tune, we find a dude singing in Afrikaans in a heavy East Rand Seth Afrikin accent. And it is only the accent and language that make this feel wonderfully strange as the music could quite easily have been recorded in the West Indies with Augustus Pablo or Scratch Perry at the desk.

Having done with all the other tracks on the album, Niemand decides to end his masterpiece by kicking off his tekkies, lighting up a spliff and seeing out the album in a haze of dagga smoke. ‘Al’s is lekker hier’, he kroons in his slightly slurred voice. And indeed it is. No matter what language he choses to sing in – he mixes English and Afrikaans together – these reggae vibes is almost as cool as the purple sunglass toting dude on the cover of the album. It was mostly Afrikaans rock music that Phillips inspired with his Bernoldus Niemand persona, but he did get a few of those whom he led to try their hand at reggae. Koos Kombuis did, for example, ‘Babilon’ and ‘Duco Box Rasta’, Valiant Swart brought us ‘Onna Cheek’ and Akkedis sang ‘Ai Man Rasta’. These are all worth a listen, but they don’ come as cool as this.

Where to find it:
Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand – Bernoldus Niemand (1995), Shifty Records (distributed by Tic Tic Bang), Bang CD 007

Hear here:
https://bernoldusniemaand.bandcamp.com/track/reggae-vibes-is-cool

Tchaikovsky One – Omega Limited

Tchaikovsky One – Omega Limited

Tchaikovsky One – Omega Limited

My father was not big into popular music. I think that the only pop album he ever bought was The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’. He did however also splash out on an imported version of Deep Purple’s ‘Concert For Group & Orchestra’ which teamed the hard rocking Deep Purple with the classical sound of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Somewhere inbetween this was one of those cheapo MFP albums called ‘Classics With A Beat’ which did exactly what it said on the tin. It took popular classical music and put a beat to it.

This mixing of classical and rock was pretty prominent back in the late 60’s and early 70s with songs like Miguel Rios’ take on Beethoven’s ‘Song Of Joy’ making the Springbok charts in July of 1970. But earlier that year (in the April to be a bit more precise), we took Omega Limited’s dense rock take on Tchaikivsky’s Piano Concerto Number 1 to heart and propelled it to number 3 on the Springbok Top 20. Instead of a piano, the band (who hailed from Cape Town) used guitars, one for the more bassy tune while a more jangly one flits round it.

The result is a brilliant, rocking, slightly psychedelic piece of music that even your parents would recognise and maybe, just maybe, you could have got away with saying, ‘Look mom, dad, I’m listening to classical music’ and they couldn’t really argue…although they probably would have anyway. But for a short while in recent musical history, classical was cool, as long as we didn’t worry about all that orchestra stuff and let the guitarists get on and rock those tunes for us.

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

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