1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Homeless – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Homeless - Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Homeless – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Yes, yes, you all know this one from Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ album, but there are versions of the song floating around that don’t feature the “outside” American vocals on the track. However, listening to the two versions, there is very little to choose between the two as the whole driving force of the song (which was mostly written by Simon) are the whoops, the “he-ee ihe-ee ihe-ee”’s and the beautiful harmonies of the kings of isicathamiya.

It is debatable whether the world would have ever got to hear this style of singing had it not been for Paul Simon’s boycott busting trip to SA. And one could go further and ask how many white South Africans would have got to love songs like these had the one half of Simon & Garfunkel not visited our fair shores, but without going into the politics of it all, one can say without too many arguments that the world would have been a poorer place musically speaking, had ‘Graceland’ not happened.

‘Homeless’ is full of African imagery and the clicks and sounds of the continent. It evokes images of beauty and vast countrysides unpoilt by man. The Mambazo’s harmonies are immediately recognizable these days especially Joseph Shabalala’s unique voice many will point to ‘Homeless’ when asked where they first heard this voice. In some ways it is sad that it took a white American to bring this music to the world (and white South Africa’s) attention, it should have been able to get there on its own steam, but we’ll be dragged into the ugly world of politics if we persue that line of thinking and ‘Homeless’ is too pure, too innocent and just downright beautiful to be tainted by those sort of discusions.

So grab your copy of ‘Graceland’ (surely you must have one), or better still seek out the Simonless version and enjoy music that revels in naked talent without intruments getting in the way. This is the real deal. So, all together now: “Homeless, homeless, moonlight sleeping on the midnight lake.”

Where to find it:
The Great South African Trip – Various Artists (2007), African Cream


Night Of The Long Knives – Face To Face

Night Of The Long Knives - Face To Face

Night Of The Long Knives – Face To Face

While Face To Face’s ‘Here We Are’ made the Radio 5, 702 and Capital 604 charts in 1984, ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ the follow up single did not manage to emulate that success. And it is a little surprising as this song was as strong as its predecessor. Yes, ‘Here We Are’ was a slower ballad and ‘Night…’ is more upbeat, but it was still as fine a piece of New Romantic music to be made in South Africa as anything else from that time.

With their NewRo hairstyles and airbrushed album covers, Face To Face were set to be our own Duran Duran, but they disappeared after only the one album. They had the looks, and with ‘Night…’ they had the sound. Pulsing electric drums, rocking synths, the odd bit of guitar thrown in for good measure and a strong vocal. They also threw in a few French lyrics (which may possibly be the only ones to appear on an original South African song – but don’t quote me on that).

It was perhaps the fact that ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ was the name given to a Nazi purge operation in 1934 that prevented the song from gaining too much airplay. Interestingly though, while ‘Here We Are’ was their big hit, it was ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ from their set at the 1985 Concert In The Park in aid of Operation Hunger that made it onto the album from the event.

Where to find it:
Face To Face – Face To Face (2010), Fresh Music, FRESHCD180

Die Son Kom Weer – Piet Botha

Piet Botha - Live & Rare

Piet Botha – Live & Rare

If you weary and feeling small, don’t worry, be happy because ‘Die Son Kom Weer’. Well that’s according to Piet Botha anyway in a song that was recorded for possible inclusion on ‘Die Hits’ album, but, for reasons known only to the Botha powers that be, was not released then. It has since surfaced on a compilation called ‘The Demos 2001-2002’ which, from what I can tell is only available as a download.

For a song with an upbeat title, it is surprisingly melancholic and downbeat, which makes one investigate it a little deeper. And it’s not really saying that there are better days before us (and a burning bridge over troubled water behind us) where everything will be absolutely lovely, but rather it is just a gentle encouragement to continue battling on as if Piet is gently pushing you forward, through the difficult times.

Although, the song was recorded as a demo and it is a little raw round the edges, it is still a quality recording with Piet’s deep and laid back tones rubbing shoulders with some gentle blues guitar which plays an almost hypnotic riff while a steady rhythm comes from the drums with splashing cymbals that are almost like a steady, soaking rainfall on the song as we await the return of the sun.

Where to find it:
The Demos 2001-2002 (Not an official release, but available on iTunes, Amazon and as an MP3 at: http://www.jackhammer.co.za/mp3.html


Move Up – Mango Groove

Move Up - Mango Groove

Move Up – Mango Groove

Way back in 1987 a group called Mango Groove decided to move up the Radio 5 and Capital 604 charts. They peaked at 6 on the former and topped the latter with a catchy tune called, erm, ‘Move Up’.  Not quite as fast paced as some of their other tracks but no less danceable to. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that you could sway rhythmically to the tune on the dance floor than actually show off your more frenetic moves as the song has a gentle lilt to it which takes pleasant to new heights.

And for those of you who have spent time studying the dance moves in the TV and film productions of Jane Austin novels, there is a neat little string quartet interlude to bow and courtesy to your partner to. But on the whole it’s a lekker piece of finger-clicking, foot tapping, laid-back, groovy music. Muted brass gives a warm bed for Claire Johnson to roll her vocals around on and a pennywhistle reminds us where the band is from. There is, also a slightly calypso sound to the song (a little like some of the Goombay Dance Band stuff, but less cheesy).

The video for the song firstly placed the band in a trendy bar with classily dressed Claire Johnson drinking cocktails, then moves out to Zoo Lake in Johanesburg where they go out on a rowing boat, dressed to the nines. Personally, I would have stuck Claire in a grass skirt and had her doing a hula dance under the palm trees on a beach down the South Coast of Natal as the song seems to fit that image. But then that may have been too raunchy for us way back in the 80’s.

Where to find it:
Mango Groove – The Essential Mango Groove (2008), Gallo, CDREDD 694 (AN)


Stand Up For The Lady – Rising Sons

Stand Up For The Lady - Rising Sons

Stand Up For The Lady – Rising Sons

This is an old song. How do I know, well it refers to a form of chivalry that has all but disappeared from out society. Now I don’t want to get into a debate about whether it is a good or bad thing that this no longer happens, I just want to put the song into context. So, with lyrics that today may seem a bit politically dodgy, one needs to remember that back then, this would have been regarded as a ‘good’ message in a song.

Apart from the lyrics, the song is a nice sing-a-long ditty that was written by Paul Ditchfield (who was in the Bats) that has a foot tapping rhythm, a nice echo-ey vocal and some funky sax thrown in for good measure. The Bats were well known for producing quality pop songs and in ‘Stand Up For The Lady’, they could easily have kept it for themselves, but The Rising Sons did a great job of it.

Hailing from Pietermaritzburg and featuring Rod Kielly on vocals, Andy White on bass, Gerald Hawes on keyboards, Malcolm Watson on guitar and Dave Campbell on drums, Rising Sons took the song to number 13 on the Springbok Radio charts and number 11 on the LM Charts. All in all it was a good mannered song.

Where to find it:
Singles bins


December African Rain – Juluka

December African Rain - Juluka

December African Rain – Juluka

One of the set works I had in English at school (a long time ago) was a book called ‘I Heard The Owl Call My Name’. So when Johnny Clegg and Sihpo Mchunu came along singing about December African Rain and ‘I heard the owls calling my name’, I had some idea of what the song was about. The book was set in British Columbia where the native Kwakwaka’wakw people believed that if you heard the owl call your name then death was imminent.

But Juluka were not about to die. This was 1983 and they still had a few more years in them yet. However, the song is about a person facing their demise, but it is not a morbid farewell he is saying to the world. He is accepting of his fate as a natural progression. Yes, there are some regrets – “where did the time go?” and taking leave is not easy – “It’s so hard to say goodbye to eyes as old as yours my friend”, but we are told to “wipe away those tears and remember the good times”. This is a much more upbeat song for a funeral than the dirges we usually have. It celebrates life rather than mourning the loss of it.

‘December African Rain’ was one of those rare things, a Juluka chart hit. It got to number 7 on Capital Radio 604’ chart and 15 on Radio 702. In amongst all the imagery and ‘Yum-um-um-um-bo’s’ there is one line that stands out for it pure beauty and imagery and that is, ‘The firelight has danced its last across your face my friend’. That may well have been the case for the friend, but for the song, I am sure it will be a long time before it dances it’s last across your sound system.

Where to find it:
Original vinyl: Work For All – Juluka (1983), Minc, MINC(L)1070 (also available to download from iTunes)


Speedtrain – Frankie’s Playground

Frankie’s Playground

Frankie’s Playground

Part German, part South African, Frankie’s Playground is not a place you’d let you little kids hang out in. There are no health and safety rules with this band. And with a ‘Speedtrain’ on the loose, you need to lock uup your daughters (and sons) because this one is coming helter skelter down the tracks straight-atcha.

Frank Riester is the German driving force behing this juggernaut. He was in a band called Deadlock which opened for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and ZZ Top at the Balinger Open Air Festival in 1996. When you are opening for such acts, you need to know your noise if you want to make any impact and, judging by the thundering rock of ‘Speedtrain’ Frankie’s Playground know how to make a noise.

Starting off with the sound effects of a steam train, chugging along, it suddenly bursts into a highspeed one, guitars blaring, drums thundering and the yowling vocals of Frank which have been distilled in hours and hours of great heavy metal bands like Deep Purple, Iron Maiden and the aforementioned Rainbow. One thing’s for sure, if you bang your head in this playground, there will be no teacher around to put a plaster on it, so sit back and enjoy the noise of the playground and this speeding train. Tickets please.

Where to find it:
Frankie’s Playground – Frankie’s Playground (1999), Riester International, CD5820

Weeping – Erik Windrich


Erik Windrich

Okay, we need to start this one with a statement that this is not a cover of the classic Bright Blue song by the éVoid frontman. No this is a song which Erik wrote around the same time that Bright Blue were writing their song, however, Erik took about 26 years longer to release his song of the same name.

A lot had happened in that time. Erik, had re-located to London with his brother Lucien and the 2 of them were plying their trade as éVoid, performing live at The Springbok Bar in Covent Gardens. After years of that, things went quiet on the Windrich front till Erik decided to record a new album and when he did, he included this track which had been sitting around in his back pocket for a while. He found himself a few musicians to record with, including a guy called Mosi Conde from Guinea who brought a kora to the proceedings.

The result is a gently bittersweet song that has Mosi’s kora cascading around Erik’s guitar picking, the latter still having that South African sound that éVoid had managed to pluck from their instruments. It is a matured éVoid sound, no longer the manic bounce around the stage stuff, but a more refined take on life, but no less catchy. Like the éVoid track, ‘The Race Of Tan’, the lyrics ponder the fate of those whose ancestory was regarded as questionable and borderline acceptable under the apartheid regime. It looks at identity and racism.

This song should not be played next to the Bright Blue one to compare them just because they share a title. Both songs bring out the tears because of the injustices seen in the country back then, but while Bright Blue drag the extra sobs from you due to the dramatic beauty of their composition, Windrich seduces them from you using sheer gentle beauty.

Where to find it:
backyard Discovery – Erik Windrich (2003)


Hear here:

Duisand Myl Blues – Valiant Swart

Deur Die Donker Vallei - Valiant Swart

Deur Die Donker Vallei – Valiant Swart

A thousand miles is a long way. To put this in perspective, Johannesburg is about 785 miles from Cape Town. To go a thousand miles you’re talking about a trip from Polokwane to Cape Town. By Air that is about a 2 and a half hour flight (if you can get a direct one). By car it would be (depending on how you drive) about 16 hours travel (without stops). However, if you have this song as company for you on the road, then the journey would not be that bad.

This is a song of longing for a loved one who is far away and was probably written by Valiant when he was touring and missing his baby. It is possible that he was performing in Polokwane and wishing he was “by my baby in my Khaya in die Kaap”. The melancholy that he feels being alone on the road transmutes into this song of aching blues.

But it is not all despair as he find solace in singing “songs van die sterre en die maan” and he admits “dan vergeet ek so bietjie van jou”. Now a woman waiting for her man back home may not like to hear that she is forgotten, so Valiant goes on to tell her what happens  after singing the songs which have made him feel a bit better – “Maar dan gaan ek af/en gaan uit in die strate/en ek mis jou”. It would take a hard woman not to be moved by this.
‘Duisand Myl Blues’ find Valiant in a melancholic mood, singing to a muted, strummed guitar. His voice conveys his longing for his baby and lyrically, these are words straight from the heart. They will strike a chord with anyone who has every missed their loved one.

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


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

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