1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Ten Seconds – Cutting Jade

Cutting Jade

Cutting Jade

Cutting Jade were one of a number of edgy rock bands that sprung up in South Africa around the turn of the millennium. The difference between them and a lot of the others was that they rose above the pack and looked set to become another Saron Gas/Seether success story. Despite showing a lot of promise and garnering some international interest, it was not to be.

And this is where the fickleness of the music industry is brought under the spotlight. Listen to ‘10 Seconds’ next to something by the Springbok Nude Girls or the aforementioned Seether and you would be hard pressed to say that this does not hold its own next to those other bands. It has everything needed to catapult a band into the big time – ominous, growling guitars and edgy vocals that explode into a catchy and soaring chorus.

The song did manage to top 7 SA radio stations’ charts, got to number 3 on the SA Rockdigest Chart and was voted the 2nd best song of the year (behind Seether’s ‘Gasoline’) by that publication. ‘10 Seconds’ should have given Cutting Jade more than their 15 minutes of fame.

Where to find it:
So There We Were – Cutting Jade, (2002), David Gresham, CDDGR 1544

Video:

Taximan – éVoid

Taximan - éVoid

Taximan – éVoid

The main force behind éVoid were the Windrich brothers Erik and Lucien. And behind the massive hit ‘Shadows’ there was the little brother ‘Taximan’ a song which has had to live in the, erm, shadow of it’s big brother all these years. Had they not written ‘Shadows’ éVoid would have always been remember as the band that brought you ‘Taximan’.  There may be some out there who prefer this younger brother to the older statesman hit and that is perfectly acceptable because, well, ‘Taximan’ is such a brilliant song in its own right.

The song itself is a bit like a taxi ploughing its trade between Soweto and Jozi. It’s overloaded with great ideas, it doesn’t obey the usual rules but choses to plough its own furrow, there is a great dance beat booming away, someone is leaning out the song shouting ‘heya!heya!’ and then it comes to an abrupt stop without much warning.

‘Taximan’did not fare (no, not what you pay for the ride) quite as well as ‘Shadows’ but reached a respectable 6 on the Springbok Charts in comparison to the latter’s 3. That said, it did manage number 3 on the Radio 5 charts where ‘Shadows’ stalled at 4. One can just imagine the sibling rivalry that went on in the LP sleeve way back when. Both songs have grown up and matured, yet both sound as vibrant and youthful as they did in 1983/4. So come out of the shadows for a bit, head out on that highway and head into town with the most loveable ‘Taximan’ in South African musical history (with Karen Zoid’s ‘Taxi’ coming a close second).

Where to find it:
éVoid (2000), RetroFresh, freshcd 106
SA Top 40 Hits of All Time – Various Artists (2001), Sting Music, STIDFCD037

Video:

Shake – Tananas

Tananas

Tananas

I often wonder how musicians come up with names for instrumental pieces. I suppose it’s a bit like modern artists who put a few blobs of paint on a canvas and call it ‘Ash on a Moonscape’ or something equally bizarre. It is sometimes more about the feel of the painting that the artist wants to put over rather than what the actual visuals show. Similarly, the titles of instrumentals are about the feel that the musician has for the song.

That said, I am at a bit of loss as to why those Tananas dudes called this track ‘Shake’. To me it’s more thwacks and pops and bubbles and bangs and crashes than something that would make one shake in a ‘Shake Rattle And Roll’ sense. It is also earthy and funky and a little chilled to be make one shake in a ‘shaking in my shoes’ kind of way. Perhaps it is the sort of bubbling rolling sound that Steve Newman manges to extract from his guitar that makes it light and frothy in a milkshake kind of shake sense.

Whatever the reason behind naming the track ‘Shake’ it is a strutting piece of expert musicianship that blends bubbly beats with fruity flavours to give you a brilliant blend for slaking your thirst for cool sounds on. So get on down to the Tananas Roadhouse and order youself a delicious ‘Shake’.

Where to find it:
Tananas – Tananas (1988), Shifty, CDSHIFT(WL)26

Video:

I Loved ‘Em Everyone – Billy Forrest

I Loved ‘Em Everyone - Billy Forrest

I Loved ‘Em Everyone – Billy Forrest

There is a very definite connection between the song ‘I Loved ‘Em Everyone’, singing under a pseudomyn, your original first name being William and your surname starting with a ‘B’. In 1981 William Neal Browder (better known as T.G. Sheppard) recorded the song which was penned by Phil Sampson and it became his 7th number 1 on the Country Singles Charts in the US. In 1983 William Broad (aka Billy Forrest) took his version to number 17 in South Africa.

The song covers the same ground as the Willie Nelson/Julio Iglesias song ‘To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before’ as it is a tribute to all the women the singers have loved and how they “Loved Them Everyone” and how he would loved to have “kept ‘em all”. It paints a picture of a wanderer who strikes up relationships and then moves on. There is a mixed emotion in the song as it seems that the singer enjoyed having met all these woman, but at the same time there is an undercurrent of regret at not being able to settle down with one.

Its not a full on country song with twangy guitars and voices, but would probably better be described as country rock as there are some heavier touches on the guitar which give it a harder edge, but it still has that sort of wide open prairie sound to keep it country.

There is not a huge amount to choose from between Billy and T.G.’s versions. They are pretty similar, but as South Africans, we got to know the song through Billy Forrest. He was a prolific singer, coming up with songs under a variety of names, but we ‘Loved ‘Em Every One.’

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

Video:
Billy Forrest:

T.G. Sheppard:

Save Me – Clout

Save Me - Clout

Save Me – Clout

With all the excitement about Clout’s version of ‘Substitute’ getting to number 2 in the UK (and number 67 in the US), other hits of theirs get a bit relegated. One of their other great hits was ‘Save Me’, a cover of a song originally recorded by Irish singer Clodagh Rodgers. Like ‘Substitute’ (which was the b-side of a Righteous Brothers hit), the first recording of the song did nothing for the artist who first recorded it.

Clout, however, injected some vooma into the song and had it speeding up the local charts and some of the European ones. It peaked at number 8 in SA and made number 6 in Holland, number 4 in Switzerland, 14 in Austria, 4 in Germany and 5 in Belgium. Comparing it to the Clodagh Rodgers version, it’s not too surprising that Clout’s one was the hit. Clodagh does a pleasant enough job of it, but it seems a bit bland in comparison to the dose of ROCK! that Cindy Alter et al brought to the song. To put it in other terms it’s like comparing a Carpenters song to a Suzi Quatro one. You can listen to Clodagh, but you can dance to Clout.

Clout open their version with a strong harmonised voice of “Save Me/Take Me Away To The Moonlight/The people around me don’t feel right” before tumbling into a stomping beat that is reminiscent of Slade (sans the howling of Noddy Holder) with drums a-pounding, guitars a-roaring and Cindy giving a great vocal performance. Perhaps it is time to substitute your favourite Clout track with this for a little while.

Where to find it:
20 Greatest Hits – Clout (1992), Gallo Records, CDCLOUT 1

Video:

Clout:

Clodagh Rodgers:

Gange Van Babylon – Valiant Swart

Deur Die Donker Vallei - Valiant Swart

Deur Die Donker Vallei – Valiant Swart

In 2002, after having given us 3 albums (‘Dorpstraat Revisited’, ‘Die Mystic Boer’ and ‘Kopskoot’) a live album (‘Voetstoets’) and an EP (‘Roekeloos’) all of high quality music, one could have been forgiven for thinking that perhaps Valiant Swart was due a dud one. But instead he gave us arguably his best album…ever in ‘Deur Die Donker Vallei’. It is an album chock full of great tunes and they don’t come much better than ‘Gange Van Bablylon’.  But what are the gange van Bablyon?

Perhaps a quick Biblical lesson is necessary here. In Old Testament times, the Jewish nation was forced into exile in Babylon, one of the major powers of the day. So the song is about being transported back in time to be exiled in an ancient city, right? Well no, not really. Babylon is said to be derived from the Hebrew word for ‘confusion’, so it may be about being a bit deurmekaar. Maybe. A closer look at the lyrics suggests that it could be about the upheaval and violence in the country post the collapse of apartheid.

Whatever the subject matter, it’s safe to say that the song is a smooth blues ride. There’s a steady rhythm courtesy of Vernon Swart on drums and Schalk Joubert on bass, which is supplemented by one of the finest blues guitarists south of the Limpopo – Albert Frost. Valiant himself, apart from singing, plays guitars and adds a harmonica to the bridges between verses. The whole package is firmed out by Simon ‘Agent’ Orange’s Hammond organ. This song is a bit like the ring in Lord of The Rings. It is like a strange, beautiful thing to keep you company through those confused times, something polished, beautiful and powerful to accompany one on your journey. And something that strangely gives you a reason to keep going. This song is precious.

Where to find it:
Deur Die Donker Vallei – Valiant Swart (2002), Rhythm Records, SWART004

Hear here:

https://myspace.com/valiantswartmusic/music/song/gange-van-babylon-40272628

Lyrics:
Dis die winter van die jakkels
Die somer van die slang
Wat ‘n sluwe seisoen
Onder ‘n hartseer son
Die sout van die aarde
Dwarrel en draai
In die gange van Babylon
Brabbel almal in brabbel taal
En niemad wil luister nie
En niemand verstaan
Pandemonium in die gange van Babylon

Dit rammel in die vlei
Dit huil by die bobbejaankrans
Dit dreun met die laning langs
Oor die plein kom dit aangedans
En niemand skenk aandag daaraan
Want daar’s niemand wat verstaan
Wat gaan aan vanaand in die gange van Baylon

In die bosse van Babel
Rank die kinders van Kaan
Tussen die dorings
In die hangende tuin
En die water van verwarring
Syfer deur die mure
In die gange van Babylon
Slaan die laaste ure
En daar’s niemand wat verstaan
Hoekom alles vergaan
Langsamerhand
In die gange van Babylon

(Written by Valiant Swart)

A Proud People – Vusi Mahlasela

Miyela Afrika - Vusi Mahlsela

Miyela Afrika – Vusi Mahlsela

Vusi Mahlasela is known as The Voice, so it is a bit strange to hear an instrumental piece from him, but this is what we find in ‘A Proud People’ and it is a reminder that he is more than voice. Perhaps it is because his voice is so beautiful that we sometimes forget that there are instruments playing on his songs.

Like many black South Africans, Vusi started out playing on a guitar made from fishing line and an old oil can, but as he grew up, his voice took centre stage and his playing faded into the background. On ‘A Proud People’ we get a chance to focus on this other side of The Voice and we find that he has another ‘voice’ which is just as gentle and beautiful. This jazzy, laid back guitar piece is as good for the soul as listening to Vusi singing a capella. Okay maybe not quite as goosebump inducing, but certainly as relaxing.

Frontmen always take the limelight in any band, sometimes to the point of totally obscuring the engine room of sound makers behind them. Here we get a good opportunity to see the musician in Vusi step up and take front stage for a moment, while the voice takes a little break.

Where to find it:
Miyela Afrika – Vusi Mahlasela (2000), Colossal, CDCLL7040

Video:

Martyr – Awakening

The Fountain - Awakening

The Fountain – Awakening

The Awakening, fronted by the enigmatic Ashton Nyte, took the work that No Friends Of Harry had done in establishing a Gothic base in South Africa, and took it to new levels. Incorporating elements of industrial dance music (which No Friends Of Harry did not have at their disposal), and featuring an ever changing line up, The Awakening have blazed a fire of black flames across the country since 1995.

Taken from their 2001 offering ‘The Fountain’, ‘Martyr’ climbed to number 5 on the SA Rockdigest charts and led the way for 3 more top 20 hits in that chart. It seems a little redundant to call a Goth song dark, but this one is full to the brim of all the necessary components of a good Goth track. It has the arcing, portentous orchestral sounds, a steady rock beat and some screaming guitars thrown in now and again for good measure. But at its black heart it has the back of the throat growling vocals that force themselves out of dark lipsticked lips, like a mutant child not wanting to be born.

Ashton has perfected the Andrew Eldritch (the King of Goth who fronted the Sisters of Mercy), yowl. He can do that evil-voice, emotive gravelly growl, but can also soar to the peaks, creating sonic darklands for one to hurtle over in a fighter jet made from a long black coat. ‘Martyr’ is more than a song, it is a journey into the unsettling, it is a going over to the aural dark side.

Where to find it:
The Fountain – Awakening (2001), Intervention Arts, INT016

Video:

Safe As Houses – aKing

Dutch Courage - aKing

Dutch Courage – aKing

‘Safe As Houses’ starts off with a big Western Soundtrack sounding guitar, but, as the vocals kick in, becomes a dark and brooding rock song. Its sort of a cross between the goth rock of Fields of The Nephelim and the grunge of Nirvana except its not as noisy, it is more controlled. Laudo Libenberg’s vocals are deep and gloom laden but Inge Beckman who accompanies him brings a female component to proceedings and the synergies from this prevent the song from becoming too depressing.

The video for the song show a man wearing a toy crown building a cardboard castle on what looks like the bit of park by the Sea Point Promenade in Cape Town. The problem occurs when it starts raining and the cardboard castle begins to disintegrate and this is quite a good visual representation of the lyrics. ‘Safe As Houses’ is at odds with its title in that we are not quite as safe as we think we are. Our inner thoughts and dreams invariable leak out into the open and leave us vulnerable. “And vinyl floors can’t hide/Stained memories bleed and bloom/Our secrets like weeds”.

Its not a happy song, but it is one that makes you think.

Where to find it:
Dutch Courage – aKing (2008), Rhythm Records, RR087

Video:

 

Wishboan – Boo!

Seventies Eighties Nineties Naughties - Boo!

Seventies Eighties Nineties Naughties – Boo!

A bass guitar saunters out of your speakers as an anxious xylophone flaps around it. Then Chris Chameleon’s shifty-eyed vocals come sliding across this. A monkey (punk) impersonating a harmonica adds a ‘woe is me’ background and then the song swells with warm trumpets as Chris pleads “Oh my wishboan/oh my shooting star/walk with me”.

This is a less hectic Boo! track that threatens to bubble over, but only loses control of itself mometarily at two points in the song when Princess Leonie goes a little ape on his drums and Chris Chameleon’s attacks his bass with a little more vigour, but just as they try and lead the song down a heavier path, the Nordic Viking looking Ampie Omo calms them down with a soothing trumpet.

Boo! were better know for more punkish and faster songs, but occasionally they would calm things down and produce deliciously laid back songs like ‘Wishboan’.  Somewhat melancholic it has warm brassy moments and the occasional moments of letting off steam but overall it is a song that draws you in and makes you feel safe.

Where to find it:
Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, Naughties –Boo! (2000) Monki Punk Productions, BOOCD03

Video:

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