1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Sleep Tight Margaret – Vusi Mahlasela

Silang Mabele - Visu Mahlasela

Silang Mabele – Visu Mahlasela

Vusi Mahlasela has a beautiful voice. Well, that’s a bit like saying water is wet because, just as anyone who has felt water would tell you that it is wet, anyone who has heard Vusi would tell you he has a beautiful voice. So what happens when a beautiful voice collides with a beautiful song? To start with the word ‘collides’ takes on a velvet smooth kind of merger or combining rather than its usual harsh clashing together of objects. And with ‘Sleep Tight Margaret’ we have this coming together of the voice and the song.

‘Sleep Well Margaret’ is a lullaby that sits like a comfort blanket on your soundsystem with gently plucked guitars, hushed drumming and a muted bass which slide by you in a dreamy state, Vusi’s tender vocals caressing your ears, taking you on a aural trip into dreamland.

But, as with a lot of Vusi’s material, there is more to the song than beautiful voice meeting beautiful song. The lyrics reveal a pain in the Margaret that Vusi is singing to as he sings, ‘Carry you to a new day/New day, new life/Releasing the misfortunes/That carried us through yesterday’. There is a deep care for this ‘Magaret’ and Vusi is trying to help her through this pain, singing her to sleep, and bringing her peace so that she can face the ‘new day’ with optimism. I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that the Margaret in question was Margaret Singana, but I can’t say this with certainty.

A song is often the best envelope in which to deliver a message of hope and no more so in this bittersweet, soul-filled offering from Vusi.

Where to find it:
Silang Mabele – Vusi Mahlasela (1997)

Chapel Of Love – June Muscat

Chapel Of Love - June Muscat

Chapel Of Love – June Muscat

The Chapel of Love is one of those Las Vegas places when you can rock up and get married on the spur of the moment. Apparently this one also offers (or used to offer) a drive thru service. It is therefore quite fitting that when Dan Hill was fretting about the fact that the vocalist who was meant to sing on the version of ‘Chapel Of Love’ they were recording hadn’t turned up (was she in a drive-thru somewhere?). June Muscat was working as a secretary at G.R.C. (aka Gallo Record Company) and happened to walk into the studio at that time. Dan Hill immediately married her to the song and it became a huge hit for her in 1964.

The song was a cover of the well know tune which was first made famous by The Dixie Cups and also recorded by Darlene Love as well as The Ronettes. Listening to these versions by those luminaries of US soul and then comparing it to June’s version, the one thing that struck me was how much to the fore June’s vocals were pushed. While there is nothing wrong with the other versions, its worth checking out June’s one purely for the strength of her voice which rings out like a chapel bell over a warm, brassy and funky sound.

It is always difficult to compare different versions of the same song, especially when people have a favourite version, or stick to the one they first heard, but for many South Africans this may well be their version and it is easy to see why they would stick to this one as it is a strong cover of the song which was probably played at many a wedding in the country during 1964 and, I’m sure, for a good many years thereafter.

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


Lucky – Boo!

Shooting Star - Boo!

Shooting Star – Boo!

Those Boo! Boys (yes, despite the dress sense of their lead singer and names like Princess Leonie they were boys) were pretty lax in the spelling department as this song has appeared as ‘Lucky’ and ‘Lucki’ on various of their releases. However, this is not the list of ‘1001 songs you have to see mis-spelt before you go blind’ so we can give them the benefit of the doubt and put this down to typos and then get on with listening to the song.

A popular live tune at their gigs, this songs fairly bounces along on a funky bass line with Ampie Oma’s trumpet blasting hot air into the song that give it a slightly Latin-American sheen, while at the same time maintaining the ska-punk feel that pervaded Boo!’s music. Chameleon’s vocals are, as always on his Boo! material, gloriously quirky with a few primeval yelps thown in for good measure.

Boo! were one of the best fun bands around on the local scene in the late 90’s early 00’s and a tune like ‘Lucky’ is a prime example of how the music and their comedic repertoire blended together in what at times seemed to be a shambolicly lucky way, however, don’t be fooled, the band were not lucky, they got to where they did by having a serious amount of talent going on which carefully orchestrated the chaos. This song was just another example of how good they were at that. You say lucky, I say lucki, you say quirky I say quirki let’s call the whole thing pretty darn excellent.

Where to find it:
Shooting Star – Boo! (2002),Sheer Sound


Ten Tons Of Loving – Johnny Collini

Ten Tons Of Loving - Johnny Collini

Ten Tons Of Loving – Johnny Collini

Ten tons is pretty heavy, but this song was not. Released in 1969, Johnny Collini makes light work of this John Edmond composition. With the composer also taking on the production ‘Ten Tons Of Loving’ is one of those pop songs that Cliff Richard or Herman’s Hermits perhaps would have taken into the charts in the middle to late 1960’s. It’s a lighthearted song about the huge amount of love the singer has.

Collini, who was born in Heidleberg and sang in The Zombies (no not the UK band featuring Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, but the South African one that morphed into Four Jacks & A Jill), brings a strong vocal to the song and with his voice being brought right to the fore, the instrumentation seems almost muted against his big voice.

‘Ten Tons Of Loving’ did not make the Springbok charts (only his hit ‘That’s Why God Made The World’ managed that), but was a popular tune in its day. Collini went on recorded a number of singles, but as far as we know he never released an album. With its title being what it was, one could regard the song as being about a Whole Lotta Love. Hopefully that last comment doesn’t go down like a lead balloon.

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

Feel So Strong – Steve Kekana & Hotline

Feel So Strong - Steve Kekana & Hotline

Feel So Strong – Steve Kekana & Hotline

Sometimes when big named stars get together to record a duet the results are not that great and do not add up to the sum of the parts. Perhaps it is competing egos that result in the disappointing output, who knows. However when the local talents of PJ Powers and Hotline got together with our own Stevie Wonder, Steve Kekana, the result was not disappointing.

Written by PJ, ‘Feel So Strong’ is a song that jammed rock and township with a bit of gospel organ thrown in for good measure into 7 inches of vinyl brilliance and this is all coated in a thick layer of pop sensibility. The result is a catchy tune that rocks and you can dance to.

Despite the obvious contravention of Apartheid laws (a white woman and black man singing a song where the lyrics hint at a relationship across the colour bar – ‘I’ve never felt like this before/but being alone isn’t scary anymore’) the song got heavy rotation on the radio stations and climbed to number 6 on the Springbok Radio top 20. It was perhaps the use of phrases such as ‘I never thought I’d find a friend quite like you’ that made the censors think they were just friends.

Given Kekana’s European successes (he charted in Finland, Sweden and Switzerland) it is not too surprising that he and Hotline performed the song on the German Television music show Musikladen (see the Youtube video link below). Together they were beautiful and made beautiful music that rocked our world. Powers to the people who ‘Feel So Strong’.

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


Lungile Tabalaza – Roger Lucey

Roger Lucey

Roger Lucey

Lungile Tabalaza was a man arrested during the apartheid years and died while in police custody, ostensible committing suicide by jumping out of a fifth floor window. One man who was angry about this was Roger Lucey and when you hear his song about the incident, you can feel the emotion in his voice. There is an abrasive bass, an edgy beat and a wailing woman’s voice that mixes grief with pain.

Despite not actually accusing the police of killing Tabalza, the lyrics between the sung lines are fairly obvious what Lucey thinks happened. He sings “Well whatever happened in that office only God and the cops will only know” and “well some say it was murder and some say suicide, but this is not the first time that men have gone in there and died” which nakedly reveal what Lucey’s views on the event were.

Included on his ‘The Road Is Much Longer’ album, it was just one of 11 reasons why the album was banned (the other 10 reasons being the 10 other tracks). In a post apartheid 2000, the song resurfaced on ’21 Years Down The Road’ and it serves as one of many politically charged songs from the era when they were usually banned. It is a bit of a history lesson, giving us an insight into things that often didn’t make our television news broadcasts.

Where to find it:
21 Years Down The Road – Roger Lucey (2000), 3rd Ear Music


Lungile Tabalaza

I Still Hear You Breathe – John Ireland

John Ireland

John Ireland

This song was definitely a single released by John Ireland. I remember because, as an awkward teenager I bought a copy of it for a girl I was mad about and she happened to mention that she liked it. Well, if my experience is anything to go by, I wouldn’t recommend you run out an buy this (if you can find it) as an attempt to get a date as the girl in question moved to the States a little while later. I still blame John Ireland for this.

However, as a much more mature person, I can now listen to the song and appreciate, despite lines like ‘you’ve been gone for almost 3 years’ (more like 30+ in my case) and ‘remember running through the park, remember holding hands in the dark’ (nope, never happened), that this was a good solid unrequited love song. It has a melodic piano line which overlays some rather dramatic strings and builds to a solid crescendo. The song got stuck in the shadow of Ireland’s massive hit ‘I Like…’ as it was the second single off the eponymous album that featured the latter hit. It did get a little bit of airplay (how else could the girl of my dreams back then have heard it?) but didn’t make any inroads into any of the local charts.

So, Jenny if you’re out there, you may remember that boy who used to give you strange gifts like obscure 7” singles. He was head over heels in love with you, but too shy to say so. This was ‘our song’ although you probably never knew it.

P.S. in case you’re worried, I am happily married now, but as they say, you never forget your first love.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: John Ireland – John Ireland (1982), Transistor Records, CBK(L)


Baby Love Affair – Buttercup

Baby Love Affair - Buttercup

Baby Love Affair – Buttercup

There is no denying that the introduction to Buttercup’s ‘Baby Love Affair’ with Eugene Havenga’s high pitched wails is a little reminiscent of First Class’ ‘Beach Baby’, however the song does not continue to follow the one that it sounds a bit like other than that it, like ‘Beach Baby’, carries on to become a high quality pop song.

‘Baby Love Affair’ was the first hit that the songwriting team of Ken Levine and Ernest Schroder had in South Africa as it climbed to number 7 on the Springbok Top 20. It started life during a lunch break when Ken Levine was messing around with a piano at EMI’s offices. Ernest walked in and 30 minutes later that had a ‘teeny bopper’ hit on their hands, all they needed was someone to record it. Cue Ernest’s brother Robert who was a producer. He drafted in Havenga (who would later be heard on Julian Laxton Band’s hits like ‘Blue Water’) to do the falsetto wailings and a demo of the song.

However when it came to a final product, they kept the falsetto bits from Eugene and Robert drafted in a band from Pretoria that featured Lefty Daniels, Stephen Swann, Philip Colyn, John “Fluffy” de Kock and Boet Spies. At that stage Buttercup were not well known, so a marketing campaign featuring cardboard hearts that contained a lollipop and a message saying “Have you heard Buttercup sing Baby Love Affair” which was sent out to stores and DJs across the country. Peter Feldman of The Star newspaper plugged the song and the rest, as they say, is a lekker local song.

Where to find it:
Singles bins

Ken Levine website:

1999 – Kalahari Surfers

Russian Lyrics to '1999' - Kalahari Surfers

Russian Lyrics to ‘1999’ – Kalahari Surfers

In South Africa we had 1999 in 1971 and then again in 1986 and finally in 1999. How you may ask. Well, Freedom’s Children recorded a song called ‘1999’ which appeared on their 1971 album ‘Galactic Vibes’. This was the inspiration for the Kalahari Surfer’s 1986 release of their song called ‘1999’. And finally in 1999, we had the year 1999.

The Freedom’s Children song asked the question, ‘In 1999 will you still be mine?’ and did so in a dense, heavy rock fog. The Surfers were less concerned with matters of the heart as in their song they wanted to know, ‘In 1999 will we still around’ and they did this in a rather loose, somewhat punk-ish way. The vocals have a strange menacing feel to them while the music is somewhat avant garde with a down and dirty production that keeps the song raw and edgy. Lovers of guitar music will enjoy the instrumental break about three quarters of the way into the track where the guitar is set loose for a work out.

The album that ‘1999’ appeared on called ‘Living In The Heart Of The Beast’ manged to get noticed in the UK and was favourably reviewed in some of the music press there, however this did not translate into commercial success.

The year 1999 has come and gone and the Kalahari Surfers are still around, so we have the answer to the question they posed back in ’86, but that is no excuse to ignore the song. It is still as brilliant a rough gem now as it was back then.

Where to find it:
Living In The Heart Of The Beast -Kalahari Surfers (1986), Recommended Records


Buy it here:

Strate Van Pretoria – Beeskraal

Huis Toe - Beeskraal

Huis Toe – Beeskraal

I’m going to throw a rather strange concept at you here – boerepunk. About 30 years ago this would have been laughed at or even worse, regarded as some sort of heresy and worthy of banning. But Afrikaans music has come a long way in the last few decades and one of the stranger developments has been the fusion of punk/blues with the traditional accordion heavy boere musiek.

Early pioneers of this sound were Beeskraal (which is Afrikaans for ‘cattle enclosure’ for those not familiar with the language). Led by Charles Smidt, they opened their first EP (simply entitled ‘Beeskraal’) with this little gem, ‘Strate Van Pretoria’. From the word go you knew you are in for something new. The accordion kicks in within the first few bars, but there’s a punky guitar bashing out a reggae beat and the bass is not the usual dom-dom dom-dom langarm sound, instead it dares to have a little bit of a melody to it. And none of these sounds take centre stage. Even Smidt’s slightly off-key vocals don’t take command. And that’s fine as the song is more than the sum of its parts. The mish-mash of styles works because the ingredients compliment each other.

In an earlier entry on this blog, I likened The Genuines to The Pogues and Les Negresse Vertes in that they were bands who took their somewhat old fashioned traditional sounds and injected them with a punk attitude which made the old sounds cool again. To this collection of names we can add Beeskraal. They made boeremusiek kool.

Where to find it:
Huis Toe – Beeskraal, Woema Music (2001), WMCD2004

Hear here:

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