1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

The Wedding – Jody Wayne

The Wedding – Jody Wayne

The Wedding – Jody Wayne

‘The Wedding’ started life in 1958 as a Spanish song written by Chilean songwriter Joaquin Preito. His version was called ‘La Novia’ which translates as ‘The Bride’ and it was originally recorded by Prieto’s brother Antonio. Some time later a guy called Fred Jay did some translating and produced the English lyrics. Jay would have success writing songs such as Percy Sledge’s hit ‘What Am I Living For’ as well as co-writing a number of Boney M’s hits.

The English translation of ‘La Novia’ was a big hit in 1964/65 for Julie Rodgers as it went to 3 in the UK, 10 in the US and topped the Australian charts. Jody Wayne released his version in 1970 and it would spend 3 weeks at the top of the Springbok Top 20. The song has a slow circular beat with an organ giving it a ‘churchie’ sound. To this Wayne brings a strong, bordering on operatic, vocal and is able backed by an angelic choir.

Rodgers’ 1964 version is slightly faster and builds to a dramatic orchestral number which seems to capture the joy and excitement of a wedding. Hers is a catherdral wedding version. Wayne on the other hand looks at the more solemn side of the ceremony as he slows things down and the lack of a big orchestra, replaced by a small church organ sound makes his a more intimate affair. And while people can dream of big weddings in cathedrals, the reality for most people is a ceremony at their local church and perhaps it was this kind of spiritual feel that Jody tapped into that caused the song to have been snapped up by brides and brides-to-be (and possibly some grooms and grooms-to-be) as a song by which to remember that special day.

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


Woodpeckers From Space – Cafe Society

Woodpeckers From Space - Cafe Society

Woodpeckers From Space – Cafe Society

Some songs are really irritaiting and some songs you know you should find irritating but for some reason you can’t help listening to it and (secretly) enjoying. ‘Woodpeckers From Space’ is one of the latter. There is something unexplainable about this track which your sensible side say, ‘dismiss this as a load of tosh’, but a deep dark side of the brain is saying, ‘come, get down and boogie to this’.

Café Society started off sensibly with a dance cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Somebody To Love’ which made it to 22 on the SA charts. They followed this up with a cover of Dan Harman’s ‘Relight My Fire’. And then, who knows what happened. They somehow got to hear ‘Woodpeckers From Space’ by a Dutch band called Video Kids. The Video Kids refused to have their song released in South Africa due to Apartheid, so Costa Anadoitis, the driving force behind Café Society, decided to release a cover version of the song.

With its helium induced vocals, 80’s white guy rapping and Woody Woodpecker laugh sound reproduced by synthesizer, it is a cross between a kiddie’s dance song (something akin to ‘The Birdie Song’) and bubblegum pop with a disco/hi-energy dance beat thrown in for good measure. It would have had people on the dancefloor of the clubs in 80s South Africa as most people when dancing at a club just care about the beat and nothing else. But somehow, this one leaked out of the clubs and onto the radio and pecked its way to the top of the Springbok charts, where it sat for 7 weeks. It’s one saving grace was that it prevented Modern Talking’s ‘You’re My Heart, You’re My Soul’ from making it to number 1 as the latter sat at number 2 for 4 of the 7 weeks. For that alone it deserves recognition.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: Relight My Fire  – Café Society (1985), Passion, RSL1012


Slow Rain – Celtic Rumours

This Day - Celtic Rumours

This Day – Celtic Rumours

Anyone who has lived on the Highveld of South Africa for most of their life would probably be unfamiliar with something called slow rain. On the Highveld the rain does not hang around. The clouds build, the skies blacken and then there’s a moerse downpour, usually accompanied by hail, thunder and lightning, which makes it nigh on impossible to see more than a metre or 2 in front of you.

But Celtic Rumour hailed (pardon the pun) from Durbs by the sea and there you are more likely to see slow rain. It is rain that soaks in, gets under your skin and replenishes the water table. The song ‘Slow Rain’ starts off with slow drops of bass notes which are quickly added to by splashes of guitar. And then along comes lead singer Kevin van Staaden and he is singing in the rain. But it’s not a Gene Kelly playful tune to dance around to, there is a seriousness and intensity to this love song.

Comparisons were made at the time between Celtic Rumours and Simple Minds and it is not only the similarity of van Staaden’s voice to Simple Minds forntman, Jim Kerr, but the song itself has that same ‘big song’ feel that Simple Minds hits such as ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ and ‘Alive And Kicking’ had. Perhaps it was no coincidence that Simple Minds were a Scottish band and the local act that seemed to have been influenced by the Scots as they called themselves Celtic Rumours.

The band would only make 2 albums (‘This Day’ and ‘Greed’, ‘Slow Rain’ featuring on the former) before calling it a day. Lead singer Kevin van Staaden was just embaking on a solo career when he was sadly killed in a car accident in the December of 1994. But despite their short-lived career and lack of success, they did leave us with one of the great local hits of the 80’s in the form of ‘Slow Rain’ which made it to number 3 on the Radio 5 charts.

Where to find it:
Slow Rain – The Complete Celtic Rumours (2003), Fresh Music, FRESHCD136


Russian And Chips – Wilderbeest

Bushrock 1 - Wildebeest

Bushrock 1 – Wildebeest

Very few people who are not South African would understand one going into a take-away joint and ordering a Russian and chips. Most people check you out skeef if you happen to mention Russian and chips in conversation. They wonder why you would wish to eat a person from a large east European country along with sliced and fried potatoes. You would confuse them even more if you asked for slap chips.

However, most South Africans will know that a Russian and chips is a chorizo like sausage with chips and that most take-away joints in the country offer this delicacy. But why would anybody sing about this. Is it some form of alternative to ‘popcorn, chewing gum etc’? Perhaps it is a pean to ‘Russian, chips and toasted bacon and banana’ (the latter being another particularly South African thing). But no. When you put it on and listen to it, you may find the lyrics somewhat familiar as the first line goes ‘The Kid He Came from Nazareth’. And yes, it is a cover of the Freedom’s Children classic, ‘The Kid He Came From Hazareth’ and maybe the reason Freedom’s chose to use ‘Hazareth’ instead of ‘Nazareth’ also prompted Wildebeest to change the song’s title as the kid from Nazareth would have been a reference to Jesus and you could not have that in a rock song back then.

Not only did the ‘Beests change the title but they also gave the song a completely different sound. Where Freedom’s Children had a dense brooding rock sound of doom to their version, Wildebeest turn it into a kind of Irish jig that had been listening to too much folk rock as there is a persistent drum throughout that sounds akin to the Irish bodhran. This is accompanied by a violin (courtesy of Dave Tarr) which sound like it has been through an electric shredder and Karlien van Niekerk’s pure vocals which have that Irish lass quality.

Despite all this Irish-ness I have spoken about, one can hear the kind of Cossack-y sound coming through that perhaps gave the song its new title. This was a great cover of a great original. It is the old classic with a new recipe.

Where to find it:
Bushrock 1 – Wildebeest (1981 – reissued in 2010), Fresh Music, freshcd171


White Flag – Dog Detachment

Barriers - Dog Detachment

Barriers – Dog Detachment

The white flag is usually regarded as a sign of surrender and it is perhaps a little ironic that the song called ‘White Flag’ appeared on Dog Detachment’s final studio album ‘Barriers’. They had gone through the rough punk of ‘The Last Laugh’, the maturing, ‘Fathoms Of Fire’ and then they really pulled it all together in ‘Barriers’ probably their most commercial album. But sadly this was a barrier that they hit as there was to be no more from the band other than the essential Retro Fresh collection ‘Best Kept Secrets’.

‘White Flag’ combines the pop sensibilities they displayed on ‘Fathoms Of Fire’ but still shows their punk roots. Mike Adams had left the band and it was essentially the Armstrong brothers (Brian, Terry & Alan) who continued flying the (white) flag. They drafted in Sharon and Anne Armstrong (presumably their sisters) for backing vocals. It was just a pity that they were Armstrongs and the person leaving the band was Adams. If it had been the other way round they could have called themselves The Adams Family.

‘White Flag’ is a melancholic rock track with slightly ethereal vocals bringing a sort of darkness to the poppy guitar sound. Sharon and Anne’s vocal are reminiscent of some of the 80’s UK Indie bands like The Marine Girls, Talulah Gosh, early Bananarama and early Everything But The Girl. While the lyrics could be viewed as being about lost love and regrets, it could equally be about the demise of the band and their relationship with record labels. Lines like ‘Where did we go wrong, where did it all fall to pieces’ and ‘Your promises made, I know they’ll all empty’ would apply to both scenarios.

Either way, this track was one by a band maturing and showing great potential to go on to great things, but fame continued to elude the Dogs and they went their separate ways.

Where to find it:
Best Kept Secrets – Dog Detachment (2001) Retrofresh, freshcd115


Suburban Hum – Jennifer Ferguson

Hand Around The Heart - Jennifer Ferguson

Hand Around The Heart – Jennifer Ferguson

Before her debut album, ‘Hand Around The Heart’, came out, Jennifer appeared on the End Conscription Campaign album, ‘Forces Favourites’ with this bohemian song exploring the suburban psyche of while apartheid South Africa. The song was stylistically somewhat at odds with the other songs chosen for the compilation as it did not have the punky, dancey style of its fellow tracks, however, it was lyrically as hard hitting as any of the others.

Jennifer has a voice that could have given her loads of fame singing saccharine Afrikaans songs al la Sonja Herholdt and Carike Keuzenkamp. She could equally have gone down the Via Afrika/Ella Mental route, putting out fine rock tracks calling on the haunting sounds that she can extract from her vocal cords not too dissimilar to Rene Veldsman or Heather Mac. But she chose to plough her own furrow, especially on ‘Suburban Hum’ which is somewhat ethereal, somewhat jazzy, somewhat smokey, somewhat sharp as knives.

Her voice stretches itself in a kind of yoga like way over the lyrics, there is incredible effort and passion going into the words, yet it still seems to come out graceful and peaceful. But the lyrics tell a different story. It compares the easy life lazying in the sun in the backyard of a white household to a scared and confused life of a young girl in the township trying to find her brothers to get them to safety before the police wade in with batons and guns. The song comes and goes in waves of peaceful jazzy interludes that suddenly burst into swirling madness, with a dischordant saxophone confusing the senses and putting one on edge.

This was a strange song in a strange time, yet it seemed to fit so well into the the way a lot of people felt at the time. ‘Boetie on the border’ gets a look in to this track which hints at the PTSD that many suffered from the army stint and that is perhaps what helped get this song onto the ‘Forces Favourites’ compilation. Some may argue that her ‘Letters To Dickie’ which is purely about the effects national service had on some, would have been a better track to include, and I would agree, although I am not sure if that track had been recorded by the time ‘Forces Favourites’ came out. However, ‘Suburban Hum’ is a complex song that cut to the core of what was going on at the time and deserves its place in this list.

Where to find it:
Hand Around The Heart – Jennifer Ferguson (1985) Shifty Records


Die Donker Kom Jou Haal – Valiant Swart

Deur Die Donker Vallei - Valiant Swart

Deur Die Donker Vallei – Valiant Swart

Having a title that translates as ‘The darkness is coming to get you’ is probably not the best way to advertise a song. I mean who wants to be taken by darkness. But when you add Valiant Swart to the promotional package, you have to say, ‘well we should at least give it a try because Valiant is a class act.’ Furthermore, the track is off the ‘Deur Die Donker Vallei’, an album about which the great Koos Kombuis once said that it was the greatest Afrikaans album ever made.

So put aside your fears. All this talk of darkness coming to get you and going through dark valleys with a guy whose surname translates as black is not something to be afraid of. Despite all this darkness, ‘Die Donker Kom Jou Haal’ is blues and blues of the highest order. From the very first guitar note you are sucked into a desolate landscape with vast blue skies, wide open desert spaces and a dizzying sense of being very alive. Albert Frost’s laid back guitar swirls with Schalk Joubert’s bass in a dust devil created by Simon ‘Agent’ Orange’s Hammond organ. It is atmospheric music that is there to comfort while Valiant’s voice tells of nightmares and darkness. It has a sense of being lost is a hell-ish place, yet strangely being at ease with this because the music keeps you safe.

There is space in this song, there is comfort, there is darkness, there is bittersweetness. It is scary yet life-affirming. It is a song that touches the core of your soul and makes you wonder how beauty can be almost painful. You want to immerse yourself in it and never come out. It is arguably the best Afrikaans blues song every recorded (although Valiant’s ‘Die Mystic Boer’ does give it a good run for its money).

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


Let’s Get It on – Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse

Let's Get It on - Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse

Let’s Get It on – Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse

No, this is not a cover of the 1973 Marvin Gaye song. That was a smoozy soul track that is certainly worth putting on if you want to get it on. No, this 1985 Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse track was the follow up to ‘Burnout’. ‘Burnout’ really introduced Sipho to a white South African audience as it featured on the Radio 5, Capital 604 and Radio 702 charts, although some may have been familiar with his work while a member of Harari.

‘Let’s Get It On’ lives somewhat in the shadows of ‘Burnout’, only making the Capital 604 charts (where it got to number 5). It is a more subdued track, somewhat soulful, somewhat seductive, somewhat dance-y, but there is the same catchiness to it that ‘Burnout’ had. The beat is a pretty simple 80’s township jive and it is accompanied by the synth sound that a lot of that genre featured.

The vocals are somewhat breathy and gentle which give the song its appeal. Sipho is backed up in the singing department by a group of three women (Marilyn Nokwe, Nonhlanhla Dlomo and Jean Madubane) who went under the name The Angels and who released some records in their own right. And The Angels almost steal the show with they sexy singing. They are super seductive when singing ‘I’m in love with you/you’re in love with me/let’s get it on’ and this pretty much sums up what the song is all about. It is a song of seduction. Even the sax that comes in later on has a late night making out feel to it.

Perhaps Sipho was influenced by the Marvin Gaye track of the same name as it his song is also about seduction and getting it on. One can’t help but wonder if Marvin Gaye had been born in Soweto in Sipho’s place, would we have got to hear this track, or something very similar. I think we would have. So when you want to relax with the one you love, maybe over a candlelit dinner, then dig out ‘Let’s Get It On’ by Sipho and put it on. For dessert you could put on Marvin’s song.

Where to find it:
Let’s Get It On – Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse (2007), Gallo, CDGPS3119


Ballad Of A Working Man – Davy James

Ballad Of A Working Man – Davy James

Ballad Of A Working Man – Davy James

There is not a lot of info available about Davy James on the ‘net. He, with his brothers, Bobby, Alfie and Stan formed a group called The James Brothers who recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ on which Davy played rhythm guitar. In 1968 Davy recorded what I believe is his only album, ‘Ballad Of A Working Man’. The album was produced by Peter Lotis and the title track was released as a single with ‘It’s Only Getting Worse’ which, like the a-side, was a Davy James composition.

‘Ballad Of A Working Man’ is one of those beautiful songs that one heard at the time. An acoustic guitar underpins some atmospheric strings with Davy’s slightly gravelly voice telling the story of a day in the life of a working man as he heads off for his job, saying goodbye to his ‘baby’, but on his way to work, the beauty of the day helps him take the love for his ‘baby’ with him as he travels. There is a sense of one wandering down a country lane on a sunny morning feeling good about life.

Listening to this beautful track, I can’t help thinking of the Bobby Goldsboro hit, ‘Honey’ which has that similar melancholy feel but, while the latter is a sadder song lyrically, ‘Ballad Of A Working Man’ is a more uplifting. And it’s not too surprising that there is this similarity as Peter Lotis has recorded a version of ‘Honey’ the same year as he produced ‘Balald Of A Working Man’.

Sadly Davy James would die in 2005 and it still remains a mystery why his music has not been made more readily available. There is a copy of ‘Ballad Of A Working Man’ on Youtube (at the time of writing as you never know if something will stay up there), so we can enjoy that one track, but given the strength of this one track, it leaves one wanting to hear the rest of the album. It along with John Oakley-Smith ‘Matinees On Sunday’ are 2 albums that are way way past due a re-release in the digital age.

Where to find it
Singles bins if you’re lucky


Magical Touch – Petit Cheval

Magical Touch – Petit Cheval

Magical Touch – Petit Cheval

If you can imagine Spandau Ballet without a saxophone, then you will have an idea of what Petit Cheval sounds like. The main reason for this is the yearning vocals of Jonathan Sleby which has a close similarity to Spandau’s Tony Hadley. But listening to ‘Magical Touch’ there is more than just a saxophone missing as there is a kind of naivety to the synthesizers that dance around in the background while Selby does his thing.

Given that this was one of Petit Chevals very early songs, it is no wonder that there is a rawness and simplicity to the track. But then, have a listen to some of the early tracks of more famous (globally) new romantic bands like Depeche Mode who’s ‘Dreaming Of Me’ (their first single) also shows their inexperience. But, as with ‘Dreaming Of Me’, there was something in there that said this band were capable of greater things and it proved so in both Depeche Mode and Petit Cheval’s cases. Listen to other Petit songs like ‘Once In A Lifetime’ and ‘It Was The Wind’ to see how, even over their first album, they matured.

But there is always something appealing about going back to these original hits that brought a band to one’s attention. For a short while Petit Cheval were one of the biggest bands in the country and ‘Magical Touch’ was, for many if us, the first introduction to the band and will stick in our memories.

Where to find it:
Once In A Lifetime – Petit Cheval (2005), Fresh Music, FRESHCD157


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