1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

The Crossing – Johnny Clegg

The Crossing – Johnny Clegg

The Crossing – Johnny Clegg

Written for Dudu Ndlovu, one of Clegg’s dancers who was killed during the violence of the early 90’s, ‘The Crossing’ is a moving song and one of the standout tracks on ‘Heat, Dust & Dreams’ his album from 1993. On the face of it the song could be about crossing over from the land of the living to be with the ancestors, but, given the time this song was released, it was also a metaphor for the crossing the country was making from apartheid to democracy.

This is argueably one of Clegg’s most polished songs and possibly one of his best vocal tracks. That’s not to diss the rough folkiness of his other stuff, that’s what gave it it’s charm. But the sombre subject of this song demanded this be a polished affair. The more subdued verses talk of loss and violence but they are offset with the rousing chorus of ‘O Siyeza, o siyeza, sizofika webaba noma’ (We are coming, we are coming, we will arrive soon). The heartfelt delivery is the kind of stuff that can bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye.

Roll on 15 years after Johnny recorded the song and in 2018, about a year before his death, a group of leading South African musicians recorded a moving version of the song in honour of Johnny. This conglomeration included among others Johnny’s son Jesse, Karen Zoid, Vusi Mahlasela, David Kramer, Kahn Morbee from the Parlotones, Patricia Lewis, Zolani Mahola from Freshlyground, Arno Carstens and a special guest appearance of Peter Gabriel. It is not only the power of the song that reflects Clegg’s genius, but the mix of people from all colours of the South African rainbow working together that makes this a fitting tribute to him. It honours his music and his values.

But perhaps it is the line ‘Oh, it’s funny how those once so close and now gone can still so affect our lives’ that really gets one when listening to this. Johnny has now made his crossing, but his music and legacy lives on in his music. We will be listening to ‘Scatterlings’, ‘Impi’, ‘Asimbonanga’ and many others for a long time to come. I think that ‘The Crossing’ will also be one that people turn to when remembering Johnny and as one comment on the page for the Friends of Johnny Clegg version says ‘If you watched this and didn’t get tearful are you even South African?’

Where to find it:
Heat, Dust & Dreams – Johnny Clegg (1993), EMI,  CDEMCJ(WF)5499

Johnny Clegg:

Friends of Johnny Clegg version:

Sally Sunshine – Clive Bruce

Sally Sunshine – Clive Bruce

Sally Sunshine – Clive Bruce

The story goes that Clive Bruce’s stepmother, Virginia Lee, brought a copy of the song ‘Sally Sunshine’ back with her when she returned from a trip to the UK. It is likely that the version she brought back (if it was a single rather than a demo tape or sheet music) would have been by a guy called Miki Anthony. No matter exactly how Clive first heard the song, he liked it enough to record his own version and it proved a good idea as it gave him his first (of 2) Springbok Top 20 hits where it would peak at 11. It would also top the LM Radio charts for 2 weeks.

When you first put it on, it doesn’t immediately grab one, sounding a little bit like a kids’ nursery song with a xylophone and a single bass note accompanying Clive’s vocal. But then a tambourine arrives and you start thinking, ‘this okay although I’m still not convinced.’ Then comes the chorus and you know you will be humming the song (well the chorus) for a good while as it is a nice little sing-a-long one.

Not to be confused with The Everly Brothers song with the same title, ‘Sally Sunshine’ by Miki Anthony also has that kids’ feel to it and it is in the innocence of it that the song’s appeal lies. It is pleasant pop from the early 70’s and would probably be an easy choice for a list of 1,001 catchy choruses you must hear before you go deaf. Still, it was a hit for Clive, the SA public enjoyed it enough as it brought some sunshine to our lives.

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


Better The Devil You Know – Stingray

Better The Devil You Know - Stingray

Better The Devil You Know – Stingray

Stingray were a bit of a supergroup in South Africa, featuring Tidal Waves’ Mike Pilot, Dennis East, Rising Sons’ Eddie Boyle, Julian Laxton and Hocus’ Allan Goldswain. And with all these talents coming together singing ‘Better The Devil You Know’, well, one wouldn’t be taken to task for running out and buying this single without even hearing it, because you knew what these ‘devils’ were capable of.

And you wouldn’t have been disappointed as the song kicks off with a guitar riff that has ROCK!!!!! Written all over it. There is a bit of a Led Zep feel to this opening and this feel continues into the track with the thumping syncopation of the drums and East’s howling vocals. The chorus moves the song into more AOR territory, with higher pitched backing vocals intertwining with the raw rock of the lead.

And we took to the devil we knew as the song went all the way up to 4 on the Springbok Radio charts in 1979, spending 12 weeks in the top 20. This was a better peak than all of Dennis East’s solo hits, the Rising Sons hit and The Julian Laxton Band’s ones. Only Tidal Wave manged better as they hit the top spot with ‘Spider Spider’. But the average weeks the songs by the band members’ other hits managed was 9.2 and their peak positions averaged 9.4 so one could say that in the case of Stingray, the whole was better than the average of the parts.

‘Better The Devil You Know’ is one of the great tracks in the South African musical chest. It has all you need for a perfect rock song – wailing and fuzzy guitars, a howling lead vocal, high pitched backing vocals and thundering drums. Would surely rank highly in a top 100 South Africa rock tracks list.

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


Don’t Dance – Kalahari Surfers

Own Affairs - Kalahari Surfers

Own Affairs – Kalahari Surfers

Contrary to the beliefs of the authorities of the day, the Kalahari Surfers were not people running around using a certain brand of washing powder to try and turn everyone in the Kalahari whiter than white. However, those dudes (for of course all surfers must be called dudes) were about as far away from the Kalahari Surfers I have just described as the Kalahari is from Parliament in Cape Town, in fact even further than that.

The first clue to realising this if ‘Don’t Dance’ was your first exposure to the Surfers (as it was mine), is that it was included on the End Conscription Campaign compilation album ‘Forces Favourites’. The song has a persistent synthesizer bass line that reminds me of an instrumental remix of The Human League’s ‘Hard Times’, but unlike the clinical sound the League create, there is a slight fuzz to the Surfers’ sound which gives it a certain rawness and grittiness, as if it is coated in a layer of Kalahari dust. It it is aural equivalent of a soldier coming back to base after a week or two in the bush.

And from the word go you are told not to dance. But this is not telling you not to foxtrot, pogo, tango, floss, boogie or even to do the Mashed Potato, it is quickly made clear that the song is a call to people not to dance to the tune of the government’s conscription policy. The rapped lyrics basically were saying, ‘open your eyes man, this situation is not right’ and towards the end of the song you get the sounds of an army drill just to remind you what you should not be dancing to. The persistent bass line becomes almost oppressive as the song continues, asking if you really want to dance to this monotonous message that you keep getting. It’s not easy listening, even now that conscription and apartheid are a thing of the past, but give it a listen. Just don’t dance to it. But you can Surf.

Where to find it:
Forces Favourites – Various Artists (1986), Shifty Records (SHIFT10)

Hear here:

Hoenderman – Kobus!

Kobus! – Kobus!

Kobus! – Kobus!

The word quirky sometimes comes to mind when I think of Kobus!. But not the sort of clean cut quirky of bands like Devo or early Talking Heads. Neither is it the obscure rock quirkiness of people like Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart. There is a sort of sinister quirkiness to Kobus! They sit on the darker side of the quirky spectrum. Just have a look at the video for ‘Hoenderman’ (see below) and you will surely come away a little disturbed.

Not only are the images in the video a little nightmarish at times (although interspersed with girls dancing in various environments which reminds one of The Spice Girls’ video for ‘Say You’ll Be There’) but the different vocals also unsettle one. A sort of witchy voice has a conversation with the rough growl of a voice that has escaped from a Slipknot track and occasionally a goth growl also has a look in on this strange tale of an encounter with die hoenderman, a devilish character.

And then there’s the frenzied clucking of chickens against thudding industrial beats that pops into the song every now and then. One is not sure whether to laugh, cry or run away. ‘Hoederman’ does have a kind of car crash attraction to it. You know you shouldn’t stare, but you can’t help yourself slowing down to look. It’s bizarre, weird, enticing, scary and exciting all in one. There was nothing like it before and there has been nothing like it since.

The song made it to number 2 on the SA Rockdigest charts and spent a record 30 weeks on those charts. The album from which it came, simply entitled ‘Kobus!, made it to the top of the SA Rockdigest charts and was only beaten by Moodphase 5ive’s ‘Steady On’ for weeks on the charts (46 compared to 54). Listen to ‘Hoederman’ if you dare, it’s a song for those who are not chicken.

Where to find it:
Kobus! – Kobus! (2002), ENT Entertainment, CDENT001


Hazy Hazy (Crazy Crazy) – Billy & Geli

Hazy Hazy (Crazy Crazy) – Billy & Geli

Hazy Hazy (Crazy Crazy) – Billy & Geli

Billy Forrest has made a very good living covering some of the more obscure international song and turning them into hits in South Africa. In 1974 he teamed up again with Angelika Illman aka Geli (they had had a hit the year before with ‘Do You Love Me’, a cover of Sharif Dean’s song), and recorded ‘Hazy Hazy (Crazy Crazy)’ a song written by Chris Andrews. Andrews had seen a number of Springbok top 20 number 1’s in the late 60’s/early 70’s with songs such as ‘Yesterday Man’, ‘Pretty Belinda’ and ‘Carol ‘OK’.
It seems that the song was first recorded by a group called Bubbles which may have been British or possibly German or Dutch (very little info available on this). Their version also features a male and female vocal, both of which are rather breathy on the verses but do get a little less so on the choruses. Billy and Geli produce a straight forward pop vocal on this catchy tune that has the boy and the girl in the song falling hazily and crazily in love and looking for the other’s number.
‘Hazy Hazy (Crazy Crazy)’ did not do as well as the duo’s previous hit. ‘Do You Love Me’ peaked at 2 on the Springbok Top 20 while ‘Hazy Hazy (Crazy Crazy)’ only got to 18. Perhaps by 1974 we were moving away from the catchy bubblegummy pop songs of the early 70s that Chris Andrews was so good at writing and maybe if Billy had picked up the song when it first came out (1972), he may have had a bigger hit on his hands.
However, listening to it with hindsight, we can just enjoy it as a reminder of a past time that is full of hazy and crazy memories for many.

Where to find it:
The Heart And Soul Of – Billy Forrest Gallo CDREDD 654, 2001


What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes – The Knights

Rock 'n' Roll Invasion - The Knights

Rock ‘n’ Roll Invasion – The Knights

Way back in the early sixties, there was a kind of record called a 78. This was named so because it had to be played at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). The Knights’ ‘What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes’ is so old that it was released on a 78 as well as the more familiar (to some of us) 45 or seven inch single. The song itself goes back even further to 1917 when Ada Jones and Billy Murray recorded this little ditty written by Joseph McCartney and James V Monaco. In 1959 it became a popular hit when Emile Ford & The Checkmates took a version to the top of the UK charts.On the other side of the Atlantic a version by Ray Peterson made it to 104 on charts.
I must admit that The Knight’s version doesn’t quite match up to the Emile Ford or Ray Peterson versions. There is nothing wrong with The Knights’ rendition, but it doesn’t quite have the same oomph. Alan Brooker’s vocals don’t have the same kick as Ford’s or Petersons. But The Knights produced a pleasant piece of early 60’s pop which has that garage band sound that was popular a little later in the decade. So why include this song on the list if I don’t think it’s as good as an international version? Well, the Knight’s version is important as it was the first local song to top the LM charts, so it has historic significance.
The lyrics asks why someone is flirting with the singer – ‘What do you want to make those eyes at me for/if they don’t mean what they say?’ and there is an innocence to Brooker’s vocals that leave you feeling sorry for him as the girl is just flirting and not serious. And I guess that this must have tugged on a few heartstrings way back when things seemed so much more innocent. The song is the opening track on 3rd volume of the essential The Best Of SA Pop series.

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

Geraamtes In Jou Kas – Brixton Moord En Roof Orkes

Spergebied - Brixton Moord En Roof Orkes

Spergebied – Brixton Moord En Roof Orkes

After 1994, the darkness of apartheid was lifted from the land and we moved into a sunny new South Africa with rainbows and rugby world cups and everything was lovely. But few who didn’t live through the dark days and the struggle through to a democratic country, will understand the shadows that followed many on that journey, shadows that continued (and still continue) to dull the brightness of the New South Africa.
One of those shadows was the memories many white South Africa men carried with them about time spent doing compulsory National Service in the townships in the eighties. This was a time of great upheaval and one can only imagine what the township residents and those tasked with trying to suppress them went through. Die Brixton Moord En Roof Orkes (named after a notorious police division based in Brixton, a suburb of Johannesburg) bring some of these memories to life with startling clarity in ‘Geraamtes In Jou Kas’ a dark and brooding song about dark times and dark memories.
Translated as ‘Skeletons In Your Closet’, the gravelly voice of Andries (Roof) Bezuidenhout talks about how these skeletons start squabbling when memories of the townships return to haunt those who had to do National Service there. “Jy onthou die vure/ en die wiele van ‘n Casspir/ en die reuk van brandende rubber/ deur die neus van jou gasmasker” (You remember the fires/and the wheels of a Casspir/and the smell of burning rubber/through the nose of your gas mask). Burning rubber here is not about tyres on a road, it was tyres filled with petrol, placed around a person’s neck and set alight (known as necklacing). How can this sort of thing not scar a person and how can the skeletons rest in peace after witnessing such things.
There is an ominous sound to this song. It is one that is born of disturbing memories and frightening things that one would like to leave in the past, but which keep coming back to haunt one. There is an acknowledgement at the end of the song that these memories will never go away and they offer skant answers about how to cope with them, but there is a sliver of hope in the line, ‘Swaai aan jou droome sodat you skoene nooit nat word word van die mode op die grond’ (swing on your dreams so that your shoes don’t get wet from the mud on the ground). Perhaps this is saying that you need to focus on other things sometimes to get away from these memories. Aspire to something better. But it is cold comfort against the setting of the rest of the song.
While not a happy or uplifting song, nor one you can dance to and, for some, a song that will bring back unwanted thoughts, this song is an important documenting of the scars that apartheid brought, scars that may never heal. There are many other songs on this list that are uplifting and life affirming but one has to acknowledge that we all have things in our life we would want to forget. So, listen to this occasionally, acknowledging that it is part of our history, but then go and listen to something uplifting and carefree so that you can swaai aan jou drome and let those geraamtes and nagmerries krivel on their own.

Where to find it:
Spergebied – Brixton Moord En Roof Orkes (2002), Rhyhthm Records, RR21

Always – Gangs of Ballet

Always – Gangs of Ballet

Always – Gangs of Ballet

When one hears the word ‘gangs’, one thinks of rap music, knives, tattoos, motorbikes, drugs and such like. When one hears the word ‘ballet’ one thinks of tutus, grace, beauty and ‘boy those guys are muscular’. So, Gangs of Ballet must surely be tattooed muscular guys in tutus pirouetting on their motorbike while rapping and taking drugs. Well, the answer to that is no, Gangs of Ballet are a bunch of clean cut guys who make catchy rock tunes and there is not a tat in sight (well not on any of the photos I saw of the band on the internet).

‘Always’ is a strong rock track with a rousing chorus. There are shades of Springbok Nude Girls in this, but it a is somewhat cleaner sound. Where the Nude Girls have a scuzzy sort of edge to their music, Gangs Of Ballet live up to their name and have a kind of gracefulness to their sound. Based in Durban, the band bring a bit of sun and surf to keep the song feeling bright despite the video depicting a guy parting from his girl to go and explore the big wide world. The girl is left somewhere in the Cape (judging by the dramatic mountain scenery) while he wonders around London looking a little lost without his girl. However, when he sings, ‘Always, always, always I’ll be waiting here for you’ and, although the video suggests that she will be the one waiting for him, you feel that his heart is always there for her.

They may have a strange name with ballet juxtaposition-ed with gangs, but they made some great music and despite calling it quits as a band in 2018, the song will be around for, well maybe not always, but certainly for a while to come (but ‘a while to come’ does scan as well for song lyrics as ‘always’ does).

Where to find it:
Form & Function Part 1 (EP) – Gangs of Ballet, (2015), Universal Music Group, UMGCD 131


Woman Yeah – The Gonks

Woman Yeah – The Gonks

Woman Yeah – The Gonks

The Gonks hailed from Durban and were the backing band for Billy Forrest (who was going under the name Quentin E Klopjaeger at the time) on his single ‘Lazy Life’. The mainstay of the band in its early line up was a guy called Howard Schachat who was the guitarist for the band. He had been in a band called Invisible Church before that.

The Gonks only made a few singles and then disappaeared, but one of those singles was ‘Nobody But Me’ which featured as its b-side ‘Woman Yeah’, a fuzzy garage-ey piece of rock pop from 1967. It has an insistent guitar riff that drills itself into your head going round and round while the vocals come across as a little bit soul, a little bit punk and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, giving it an interesting effect.

The track was written by band members Noel McDermott and Craig Ross, the latter eventually moving on to be part of Freedom’s Children. Grahame Beggs (who was one of the main members of Charisma who had a massive hit with ‘Mammy Blue’) produced the tracks.

There is not a lot of Gonks material available and what is out there is hard to find but the chaps behind the excellent ‘Astral Daze’ series decided that reviving an old Gonks b-side for the second compilation was a good idea and I for one agree. This is great stuff from what would be a lost era of SA music if we didn’t have the archive trawlers that we are fortunate enough to have. I found a copy of ‘Nobody But Me’, the a-side of the single on Youtube and its not bad, but I think the Astral Daze dudes chose right with going for the b-side.

Where to find it:
Astral Daze 2 – Various Artists, RetroFresh, (2009), FRESHCD162


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