1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Atlantis In Jou Lyf – Koos Kombuis

Mona Lisa: Die Mooiste Love Songs - Koos Kombuis

Mona Lisa: Die Mooiste Love Songs – Koos Kombuis

Hand ups who remembers the TV show ‘Dallas’. Quite a lot of you I imagine. Now hands up who remembers that other TV show shown in South Africa sometime in the 80s that starred Patrick Duffy who played Bobby in ‘Dallas’. Not so many I guess. Well that show was the short lived series called ‘The Man From Atlantis’ (or possible ‘Die Man Van Atlantis’ – although I cmn’t remember if it was dubbed into Afrikaans).

Perhaps it was this show, which had Duffy swimming underwater for vast periods of time, that inspired The Bard of Gordon’s Bay to pick up his guitar and write the song ‘Atlantis In Jou Lyf’. Then again, given the strange, dolphin-like way Duffy would swim in the show, I have my doubts, especially as Koos’ song is a gentle affair with Koos singing in quiet, almost whispered tones over a simple guitar with a soothing sax interlude brought to you by the wonderfully named Koos Slaptjip.

This is a love song that, like The Man From Atlantis, floats around gently in a deep blue sea through beautiful underwater scenes, almost as if Koos himself is swimming along behind the woman he is singing about, a woman who has ‘die Sahara in jou oë/en Atlantis in jou lyf.’ This must be one impressive woman.

Koos Kombuis has the ability to write seriously funny satirical songs, blistering rock songs and then he can churn out a song as beautiful, both musically and lyrically as ‘Atlantis In Jou Lyf’. Slip into the ocean with him and immerse yourself in this little pearl of a song.

Where to find it:
Mona Lisa – Die Mooiste Love Songs, (1999) Wildebeest Records, WILD014

Goema – The Genuines

Goema - The Genuines

Goema – The Genuines

There came a time in South African music when Afrikaans musicians were breaking free of the shackles of sugar candy coated music that sang of innocent things, and began to rock and sing of things political. This was the Voelvry movement. Slightly lost in this ‘Afrikaans’ revolution was a Cape Coloured band called The Genuines. Led by Samuel ‘Mr Mac’ McKenzie on banjo, this band were doing a similar thing with the traditional music of the Cape Coloureds. And in ‘Goema’, the title track of their debut (I think) album they really broke the mould.

‘Goema’ is a thrashy, punky piece that races along at a blistering pace (completely out of sync with life in the Cape) with Gerard O’Brien’s searing guitar trying to out pace Ian Herman’s (he of Tananas fame) machine gunning drums while Mr Mac’s throaty vocals cascade over the top of this. It last a mere 3 minutes this song, but it would take some stamina on the listener’s behalf to cope should the song be longer as it leaves you quite exhausted.

Parallel’s could be drawn with The Pogues and Les Negresses Vertes who took the traditional music of their respective cultures and punked it up. The Genuines did this with their ‘Cape Carnival’ style of music with 2 of their songs appearing on the original Voelvry album (‘Blikkie Se Boem’ and ‘Ou Klein Jannie’). With ‘Goema’ they took things a step further and nearly did away completely with any traces of their roots – there is just a trace of the Cape Coloured accent in the vocals – and stepped out of their comfort zone to give us probably the best punk song ever by a band of Coloureds.

Where to find it:
Goema – The Genuines (1986), Shifty Records, SHIFT22



Your Kind – Pongolo

Jah Do That - Pongolo

Jah Do That – Pongolo

Who the heck are Pongolo I hear you ask. And you may well be justified in being mystified as they got almost no airplay (as far as I am aware) in 1989 when they released their album ‘Jah Do That’ which contained the song ‘Your Kind’. If memory serves me correctly, I did hear what could possibly have been the only airing of the song on Barney Simon’s Powerhaus show and was taken by this bright, breezy reggae tune.

When I finally stumbled across a vinyl copy of the album I found out that the band contained a certain Gito Baloi on bass. For those who need to be told this, Baloi was a member of Tananas alongside Steve Newman and who was tragically killed in 2004.

Joining Baloi (whose surname is spelt Baloy on the sleeve notes) in the band were Ilidio Matola, George Sunday, Morris Mungoy, Joe Mathseka (who was in Bayete) and John Hassan. Together they made gentle poppy reggae which could be filed alongside Inner Circle (remember ‘Sweat’) and Big Mountain (remember their cover of ‘Baby I Love Your Way’). ‘Your Kind’ is a laid back and catchy tune which may or may not be your kind of reggae, but it’s a bit of a lost gem which should get a bit of exposure.

Where to find it:
Only on vinyl: Jah do That – Pongolo (1989), Principal Records, NUBL5011


Fever – Juluka

Fever - Juluka

Fever – Juluka

Could one ever get sick of listening to Juluka? Well the answer to that is probably ‘no’, but you could well get a bit of a fever, especially listening to this little gem from their ‘The International Tracks’ album. The song finds Johnny Clegg ‘walking through the night street’ and if you have ever walked down a night street in Africa you may well understand what he in on about when after singing about ‘walking through the night street’ the chant goes up ‘Fever! Fever!’ There is something feverish about the scene. The air is warm and, depending on exactly where you are, there could be mosquitoes buzzing about with their malarial threat, and, most importantly there is a sense of life happening, the streets are alive and active.

This is Juluka at their best as they mash together the beats and exotic sounds of Africa with western synths and dance sounds. The result is a thumping great song that has you wondering around Clegg’s ‘night street’ having the time of your life and feeling somewhat intoxicated with it all. And as you wonder along, you spot a previous England Cricket captain and Clegg sings out ‘Ian Botham-ham-ham’ (okay it’s actually yum-bo-hum or something like that). Still, it would make for a good evening out, feverishly drinking in the sighs and sounds of a vibrant African night street and spotting a celeb!

Where to find it:
The International Tracks – Juluka (1984), MINC, CDM 4064772


Time And The River – Dream Merchants

Time And The River - Dream Merchants

Time And The River – Dream Merchants

People often refer to Father Time and depict him as a white haired, bearded individual. There is also a song called ‘Old Man River’ so the subject of The Dream Merchants’ ‘Time And The River’ seems to refer to elderly men. However, the Billys (Forrest and Andrews) who sang this version of the song were not that old when they sang it, being in their late 20s in 1967 when it was released. Nat King Cole who also sang a version of it in 1960 was a bit older being around 41, but still not an old man. Despite this age difference in singers and age gaps, the song is well worth a listen, no matter what your age.

Cole’s version is as silky smooth as one would expect from a crooner like him, it is a lazy river slowly meandering its way down to the sea. The Dream Merchants on the other hand are a little faster flowing, upping the tempo and building in a big sound with guitars a-strumming, a pounding piano and a soaring vocal that would probably lift the eyebrows of a few reality talent show judges these days, especially as Billy (not sure which one) builds up to the crescendo finale of the song and moves his vocals up a few notches.

This is one of those songs that is so full of good things (energy, passion, vooma and any other word that describes a similar thing) that it is difficult not to be moved when listening to it. It’s too suave a song to be classified as white water rafting, but it certainly flows smoothly over the eardrums.

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


Starlight – Grannysmith

Starlight - Grannysmith

Starlight – Grannysmith

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, or so the saying goes. Whoever came up with that phrase would not have been talking about this particular Grannysmith as I rememeber hearing that said when I was a child and Grannysmith the band were not around when I was a youngster. In fact when Mike Turner, Adrian Shannon and Riaan Combrink got together to form Grannysmith, it was well into the 90s.

However, the saying about keeping the medical profession at bay could quite easily be applied to the band that should have appeared on The Beatles Apple Records label as ‘Starlight’ is a song that will put you in a healthy frame of mind. It is a relaxed piece of pop rock with pseudo-classical guitars, breathy, mellow vocals and a laid-back mindset. It’s a de-stresser of a song.

The band were ‘discovered’ by Denholm from Just Jinger and signed to BMG near the end of of previous millennium (1999 in case you can’t remember that far back). ‘Starlight’ was their first single and it went on to just miss out on the S.A.M.A. best single of 1999 award where, despite its nomination, it was pipped at the post by Sugardrive’s ‘Disco Lazarus’. Some say winning is everything and second is nothing, but those that do can miss out on having a healthy bite of good music.

Where to find it:
Grannysmith – Grannysmith (1999), Colossal


Asimbonanga – Johnny Clegg

Asimbonanga - Johnny Clegg

Asimbonanga – Johnny Clegg

The phrase ‘stirring anthem’ is sometimes used by music critcs to describe songs that reach into our minds and finds exactly the right buttons to press to envoke a emotion so strong it sends shivers down our spines, tears down our cheeks or what ever physical reaction you experience when you are completely moved by a song. And ‘Asimbonanga’ is one of those great stirring anthems. Even the rather tame version that Joan Baez recorded (tame in comparison to Clegg’s that is) still does something to one.

‘Asimbonanga’, the plaintive cry that kicks off the song, means ‘we have not seen him’ and the song then goes on to name who we have not seen – Mandela. Back in 1987 when the song appeared on the international version of ‘Third World Child’ (we locals had a different track listing), sightings of Mandela were limited pretty much to those on Robben Island. The strange thing about this song is that if you take out the Ladysmith Black Mambazo-esque harmonies, this does not show too much of an African influence. It is practically pure western rock and yet you know it was made in Africa just from its feel.

However, if you are still not convinced by Johnny Clegg’s version, listen to the Soweto Gospel Choir’s version they recorded as a flashbmob at Woolworths 2 days after Mandela died (see Youtube link below), and feel the power of this masterpiece. It worked as a protest song back in 1987 and it worked just as well (if not better) as a suitable farewell to a man whose life was a stirring anthem.

Where to find it:
The Very Best Of Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Johnny Clegg & Savuka (2002), EMI, I-8575762
The Great South African Trip – Various Artists (2007), African Cream


Johnny Clegg:

Soweto Gospel Choir flash mob:

Joan Baez version:

White Rabbit – No Friends Of Harry

In From The Cold

In From The Cold

When you cover an old Jefferson Starship song from one of their most highly rated albums (‘Surrealistic Pillow’) and which goes on to be rated by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the top 500 greatest songs of all time (albeit 478th on the list), you are surely either brave or stupid. I think one can safely say that Rob McLennan and his band were not stupid when they took on this challenge.

No Friends Of Harry, were the front runners in the local goth/alternative scene in the late eighties and soon after the appearance of the debut mini album ‘One Came Runing’, a few of their tracks appeared on the brilliant compilation of alternative music of that era, ‘In From The Cold’. In amongst these was their blistering version of the old Jefferson Starship number.

Of course comparisions are almost obligatory when discussing cover versions so here goes. For a start, JS’s version is a builder with the instrumentation sounding almost muted while Grace Slick’s witchy vocals start off as threatening and dark, but as the military tattoo drum beat builds to an ‘into battle’ frenzy, so her voice becomes more banshee like. NFOH, decided to start out in full battle mode and McLennan’s vocals, while a long way off Slick’s in terms of technical ability, are dripping with sneers and anger while a menacing bass circles round the enemy.

Both versions have their merits and there will be those that say Jefferson Starship’s is better, while other will go for No Friends Of Harry’s and other still, like me, who enjoy both equally. Where NFOH’s version does trump Starship’s is that it is almost 5 minutes long compared to a paltry two and a half minutes Slick & Co. Feed your head on some white rabbit, the slick, quick way or, the longer, more harried route.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: In From The Cold – Various (1988), Principal Records, PRINCE013


Junk Food And Disposable Ladies – Neill Solomon/The Passengers

Rule Of The Swallow - Passengers

Rule Of The Swallow – Passengers

This has to be one of the coolest song titles around for a local track. It conjures up images of seediness and unhealthiness. It is often the case that songs with great titles disappoint once the needle hits the record or lazer beam hits the disc or the central processor accesses the mp3 file (somehow the first of these 3 sounds best), but with this Neill Solomon classic you are not disappointed. The version he recorded with the Uptown Rhythm Dogs on the album ‘The Occupant’ is haunting, with seedy overtones.

There is a venom in the piano playing which feel like the player was hitting the keys in anger at the dark life that is being sung about. A sax wails its despair and sleigh bells shudder like a rattlesnake while Solomon’s gruff ‘voice in the wilderness’ vocals entwine themselves around the music. Making it a most deliciously decadent take away.

The re-recorded version Solomon did with his band The Passengers is a quite different song as it is a reggae version with (almost) upbeat vocal, a stoned bass and some disposable ladies on backing vocals.

So now you have a menu of versions to choose from, but this is high class fast food. This is not a Big Mac of a song, there is real meat to it. This is flame grilled and juicy with loads of monkey glad sauce, crisp lettuce and tomato with a huge helping of vinegar drenched slup chips on the side. The added bonus here is that it won’t harden your arteries.

Were to find it:

The Occupant – Neill Solomon (1997), Fresh Music, NSCD001
Rule Of The Swallow – The Passengers, 1989, D.P.M.C. records, DMK9005 (Cassette ZDMK 9006)



Thank You – Lionel Bastos

Rising Above The Madness - Lionel Bastos

Rising Above The Madness – Lionel Bastos

Leonel Levy Lopes Bastos is another of those artists who weren’t born and bred in South Africa, but who we count as one of our own. I know it’s a bit of a cheat, but when you’ve got people from other countries who come to our fair shores and make great music, you can’t help but claim it as ours. Bastos was born in Maupto in Mozambique, but made his music in South Africa.

It is gentle, beautiful music that Bastos makes and ‘Thank You’ is a fine example of this. Describing ‘Rising Above The Madness’, the album this was taken from and Bastos’ 3rd, The SA Rockdigest called it “an assortment of stirring vocals, sweeping strings, and wide-screen, emotional arrangements” and goes on to talk about Bastos having “a fluid songwriting touch, an ear for the hooky lyric, and a warm, emotive voice”. I quote this review of the album here as it goes a long way to summing up ‘Thank You’. It has mellow vocals that stir the senses, althought the strings on this track are more classical plucked than sweeping, but there is a sense of wide screen-ness to the song as it seems to stretch out (as lazily as a Sunday arvie) across an aural landscape. The sweeping comes more from the backing vocals which are floating ‘aaahs’ that are the velvet cushion on which the honey edged vocals of Lionel are presented to you.

This is perfect relaxing music. Think James Blunt without the annoyingly smug attitude.

Where to find it:
Rising Above The Madness – Lionel Bastos (2000), SAFM, CDVM35

Hear here.

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