1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Fragile – Venessa Nolan

Burn - Venessa Nolan

Burn – Venessa Nolan

In 2001, a new talent emerge on the local scene and that was Venessa Nolan (no relation to the Nolan sisters as far as I know). Her debut album ‘Burn’ set the music scene alight with smouldering and moody songs. Despite its name, ‘Fragile’ was not the quietest track on the album. In fact it ranks up there as one of the rockiest.

Not that Venessa is a rock chick, she is more a singer/songwriter in the mould of Carole King, except she rocks a bit more. ‘Fragile’ is built around Venessa’s piano, and Paul Tizzard’s ever present dumming. Yo Yo Buy’s provides a solid backbone bass and Tigger Reunert chips on on the guitar to round off the sound of this solid pop-rock tune.

‘Fragile’ provided Venessa with one of her 3 number 1 hits on the SA Rockdigest Charts. It is difficult to say that it was one of the stand out track on ‘Burn’ as there were so many good tunes on that album and ‘Fragile’ stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the others. Fragile? They don’t break them like they used to.

Where to find it:
Burn – Venessa Nolan, (2001), Rhythm, RR005

Butchers & Bakers – The Staccatos

Butchers & Bakers - The Staccatos

Butchers & Bakers – The Staccatos

And just what did those Candlestick makers do to be left off the title of The Staccatos number 7 hit of 1968. Sure, they get a look in in the lyrics, but no headline billing. I was going to shed some light on this, but there was some load shedding and where are those candles I ordered…?

The Staccatos knew how to make pop records. They hold the record for the longest run by any song on the SA Top 20 (38 weeks by ‘Cry To Me’ in 1969 and 1970), but only managed 10 weeks with this little ditty. There is a catchy tune around which Brian le Gassick wraps his soulful vocal chords. He is helped out by a chorus of backing singers in that big sound 60’s style. There are also some brassy bits thrown in for good measure on a sing-a-long song that brings up visions of housewives tapping their toes to this song on the radio while doing the ironing. (Not that one wants to be sexist about this, but that is the sort image that would accompany this style of song in films from that era – and usually the woman would be in curlers.)

But this is no longer the 60’s and the ironing is no longer just the woman’s job, so that can’t stop people (of any gender) enjoying this song and tapping you feet along to it while listening to it on your iPod. This is a prime cut of a song, warm and fresh and (so that the Candlemakers don’t feel left out) one that you can wax lyrical about.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 3 (1994) GSP, CDREDD 610


Johnny & The Mermaid – Johnny Kongos & the G-Men

Johnny & The Mermaid - Johnny Kongos & the G-Men

Johnny & The Mermaid – Johnny Kongos & the G-Men

Before the thundering power-pop of ‘Tokoloshe Man’ and ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ John Kongos went by the name of Johnny Kongos and he had G-Men. He also made rock ‘n’ roll records and ‘Johnny & The Mermaid’ was one of his early offerings that goes way back to 1963. The song shot up the LM Radio charts and peaked at number 6. There’s nothing fishy about this tail (apologies) of a man who is off fishing to try catch himself a mermaid. It is a classic rock-a-billy song with Elvis-y vocals, Hank Marvin-y twangy guitars and has an added girlie chorus in a question and response set of lyrics. It’s toe-tapping, ducktailing, boogie that announced to all and sundry that Rock ‘n’ Roll had arrived in South Africa.

It is quite hard to connect the dots between this and his later offerings when he went to the UK and began to rock, or even to the full-on hectic stuff he’s produced with his sons of late. Although the Mother Grundies of the day would disagree, the song takes one back to an age when music seemed innocent. Those opposed would be be moaning about what this young upstart had in mind, once he found himself that mermaid and would ensure that any memaids that were found had the appropriate stars across offending parts of their anatomy. But stick on a Seether track afterward and show them the uncensored video of ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke and you may find them saying that, yes, things were innocent back then. And we should not forget this era of music. It is always refreshing to pop back to it now and again and pretend that all is right with the world.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 3 (1994) GSP, CDREDD 610

Lisa Se Klavier – The Parlotones

Unplugged - Parlotones

Unplugged – Parlotones

Comparing The Parlotones version of ‘Lisa Se Klavier’ to Koos Kombuis’ is a bit like comparing the piano playing of Richard Clayderman to that of Jerry Lee Lewis. Now, I can already see you have one foot in the stirrup of you high horse and are getting ready to blast off a riposte that Koos Kombuis is nothing like Richard Clayderman, so let me explain. I am not saying that Koos did a boring,bland version, I am just trying to highlight the difference between Koos’ quiet, gentle and highly moving version and the ‘Tones racing, bouncing one.

There will also be those who say that The Parlotones have destroyed the song by speeding it up and making it rock and you are welcome to be like that if you want. However, if you want to live a little and break out of the mould and see things from a different angle, then follow me down this review. The rest of you go back to your bland old covers of this song and marvel at how much like the original they sound.

If you’re still with me then let’s us take a tumbling, foot-tapping Afrikaans-sung-with-an-English-accent roll through the song. Replete with ‘da-da-da-da-da-da’s’ and (heaven help us!) drums and (gulp!) rock guitars. The ‘Tones throw in a bit of klavier and some organ for good measure (although renaming it ‘Lisa se Organ’ would not be a good idea). They have taken a great tune, given it a great injection of rock, scared off the sissy’s who can’t bear to hear their sacred cow being taken for a run round the meadow, and produced an interesting cover of a classic. This is their own version of it and they did it their way. Enjoy it.

Okay, you can let those worshiping at the shrine of Koos back into the room now.

Where to find it:
Unplugged – The Parlotones (2008), Sovereign, SOVCD 036


For Annette – Jack Hammer

Anthology - Jack Hammer

Anthology – Jack Hammer

‘For Annette’ finds Piet Botha and his band in a quieter, more reflective mood. There is a sadness running through the song which seems to be about a woman who has turned to the bottle: “I know the way the she drank her wine/Red yellow all the time just to get away”. It is sung from a stand point of a friend of this ‘Annette’ watching and understanding but not liking. The reasons for the “Too many living sharpened tears” is what “Some call [it] love in a place that died”.

To match the subject of the song, there is that distinctive Jack Hammer rough edged guitar sound and a grungy emotional vocal, but it’s not as in your face as some other material in the band’s portfolio. It’s serious subject and the music matches it.

It’s not all doom and gloom thought, there is the bittersweet line “And I can see you smiling” which suggest that there is some positive left in ‘Annette’s’ life. This is a song to sit in solitude and listen to, while reflecting on life and friendship. It’s a song for watching the sun go down on a particularly emotional day. It has a certain soothing quality to it that won’t wash the blues of the day away, but will slowly dissolve them, leaving you better off for the experience.

Where to find it:
Anthology – Jack Hammer (January 2000), Wildebeest Records, WILD020

Heidi – Peter Lotis

Heidi - Peter Lotis

Heidi – Peter Lotis

Heidi was a little cartoon girl who lived in the Swiss mountains who had been drawn by Japanese animators and who spoke Afrikaans to her grandfather and friend Pieter. Well, that’s how any child growing up in the late 70’s in South Africa would remember her. There is a lot more to her story and you can read up all that on Wikipedia if you want.
Those children of the 70’s would be very familiar with the theme tune to the TV cartoon, as would any parents of such children, although they would probably have heard the Afrikaans version by Herbie and Spence more than the English one that Peter Lotis recorded. Lotis had been churing out records since the late 50’s, but was enjoying success presenting ‘The Money Or The Box’ on TV at the time this came out.
The song has a typical German oompah-band style to it as well as the obligatory yodelling to give it a Swiss feel. Such was the popularity of the TV show that both Lotis’ and Herbie & Spence’s versions made the Springbok Top 20. Lotis fared far better, reaching number 2 while Herbie & Spence faltered at 13. This song will bring back many memories for those growing up at the time. It is a specific song from a specific time, so if you weren’t there, it may not appeal, so you could just press the skip buttion if you want, or take a trip down some elses memory lane. It’s up to you,

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


Heidi on Wikipedia:


My Kind Of Girl – Cinema

My Kind Of Girl - Cinema

My Kind Of Girl – Cinema

In 1987, Cinema were the band to watch. They were going places with bright and breezy pop full of saxophones and keyboards and they had a snappy dress sense and…mullets!!! Of course the mullet was poular back then, especially if you wanted to make it in the music world. Who knew that it would become a hairstyle of ridicule years later?
Despite the dodgy hair, ‘My Kind Of Girl’, which was most people’s introduction to this new band, was as poppy as you could want. There is a bouncy danceable rhythm and a strong vocal performance (unlike today’s boybands, back then, you didn’t have to sound like you were in huge amounts of pain and distress in order to attract the girl’s attention). Written by band members Chris Frank and Alan Lazar, lead singer Jarrod Aston, brings the song to life and it remains one of the standout pop tracks from the second half of the 80’s.
‘My Kind Of Girl’ charmed it’s way to number 6 on the Springbok Charts, pretty-boyed  to number 9 on the Radio 5 charts, sharp dressed itself to number 2 Capital 604’s charts, and mulletted a number 1 spot on the Radio 702 ones. Yes, there was a lot of image going on around the band, but as the styles back then are no longer popular, you have to look at the song itself without the posing and it stands up to the test of time.
Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 2 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40486 (CD)


National Madness – The Aeroplanes

The Aeroplanes

The Aeroplanes

The Aeroplanes never really took off in South Africa, well not to the masses, but they were one of those shifty Shifty groups that did well in the ‘alternative’ or ‘underground’ music scene. It’s not too difficult to see why they never hit the mainstream, their music is too angular and unpolished and their lyrics were too close to the bone for the average South African. And that is what made them so good. Despite their lack of polish and their music being somewhat jolting, they still managed to inject the songs with some great lo-fi tunes. Their songs had genius written all over them.

‘National Madness’, by it’s very title, would not have garnered much (if any) airplay. The fact that this song first appeared on the End Conscription Campaign’s (“ECC”) tongue-in-cheekly titled album ‘Forces Favourites’, would also not have helped its cause (but did help the ECC’s).

There are two versions of the song to choose from. The one that appears on The Aeroplanes’ ‘Greatest Hits’ has sad but angry vocals which are applied to raw beats and bandaged up with bruised guitars. It is an open wound of a song where you can feel the hurt. A second version which appears on the ‘Shotdown’ compilation and re-issue of ‘Forces Favourites’ is a slightly smoothed over one with a burping sax and a female backing vocal is thown in. This does take away some of the edge of the original, but none of the venom. Either way, the song worms itself into your brain, unsettling you slightly and doing what all good music does, makes you think.

Where to find it:
Shot Down (Resistance Music from Apartheid South Africa) – Various Artists (2006),Shifty Records
Greatest Hits – The Aeroplanes, (No label or year given) CDCJM001
Forces Favourites – Various Artists (1986), Shifty Records (SHIFT10)

Hear here:


Oyebisi Nga – Egyptian Nursery

New Anthem - Egyptian Nursery

New Anthem – Egyptian Nursery

‘Oyebisi Nga’ finds Egyptian Nursery in a quiet mood, with an almost lullaby lilt to the song it floats gently along on a fluffy cloud as Mojama’s and Ariane’s sweet vocals make slow passionate love to each other, moving slowly on a bed of relaxed beats and scratches that Cragie Dodds provides. This is a sensual lights-down-low song. It lights a hundred candles to create a misty soft light.

The lyrics are sung in a mixture of English and Lingala (a language spoken in Mojama’s native Congo). The language should not sound too unfamiliar to the South African ear as it is part of the same “Bantu Languages” that Zulu comes from. While the shapes and sounds of the words are not completely foreign, the meaning may escape us. But, there is no misinterpreting the emotion in the voices.

This is chill-out at its best. In fact this song could be the one you finally drift off to after the hectic night of clubbing, followed by a time back home sitting around listening to quieter music to calm the pulse before eventually heading off to bed. It’s the chill-out track for chilling out to after listening to the rest of your chill-out music.

Where to find it:
God’s Window – Egyptian Nursery (2000), Fresh Music, FREDCD100

Down At Marlene’s – Flash Harry

Take What You Can - Flash Harry

Take What You Can – Flash Harry

There is a slightly hollow and echo-y sound to the guitars that introduce you to ‘Down At Marlene’s’ which suggests that Marlene’s is a seedy backstreet joint. Phrases like ‘sidewalk’, ‘out in the street’ and ‘neon lights’ in the lyrics enhance this image. The singer is addicted to going to this place, even though “there’s nothing for me” there.

The song itself feels like that. It has an addictive punky wreckless guitar rhythm and menacing bass. The vocals are threatening, yet you are drawn in by them. Its frenetic forbidden fruit that leaves you feeling dirty afterwards, but at the time, you can’t help yourself. A further line talks about “the band and the audience are part of the show”, which draws you deeper into the voyeurisism of it all, suggesting that by merely listening to it, you become a part of this sleazy set up.

The inner sleeve of ‘Take What You Can’, the album that this gem first appeared on, has a picture of a torn up old ten rand note (you remember the ones with van Riebeeck on?). No, Flash Harry are not saying that buying this album was a waste of money, but could be pointing to the social scene set up in the song. It is an eye into a world that you may not want to visit in reality, but thank to Keith Berel and the rest of Flash Harry, you can view it from the safety of your speakers and maybe not feel quite so grimy afterwards.

Where to find it:
Vinyl album: Take What You Can – Flash Harry (1982), A.D. Records (DTC 1000)

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