1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Die Ou Kalahari – Danie Pretorius

Die Beste Van Danie Pretorious

Die Beste Van Danie Pretorious

Danie Pretorious has that Sid James (him of that laugh made famous in the Carry On films) bemused look to his face. You do not expect him to be a serious chap and in a previous entry on the blog ‘Sjeef By Die Koffie’ we found him living up to his face (if one can do such a thing). But he could also, it seems, be not serious (for ‘Die Ou Kalahari’ is not a serious song), but shall we say, light-hearted without necessarily being funny.

‘Die Ou Kalahari’ is an old Afrikaans standard. It has been recorded by numerous artists over the years including in more recent time Dozi and Die Grafsteensangers. Koos Kombuis even twisted the lyrics a bit for a version on his album ‘Ver Van Die Ou Kalahari’. But perhaps the strangest version is that by American country singer Jim Reeves. Reeves did a few albums of Afrikaans songs and while he gets an A for effort, his pronounciation doesn’t quite get there. Dozi also makes it a country song while a guy called JJ Stephens does a rock n roll version and Marulaboom turns it into a dance record.

But I have chosen Danie’s version because he was an old oom singing an old Afrikaans song and, while covers and new takes on songs can be a bit hit and miss, he seems to encapsulate the essence of this. His sounds like an old toppie sitting on the stoep of a Kalahari farmhouse in his Sunday best, playing his accordion and singing to the passing goats and sheep. That is how this song should sound.

Where to find it:
Huisgenoot 90 Jaar Van Afrikaanse Musiek – Various (2010), NML, NEXTCD267



Tao Ch’ang Wu Wei – Steve Linnegar’s Snakeshed

Classic Epics - Snakeshed

Classic Epics – Snakeshed

A quick lesson in ancient Chinese (because that’s what rock music is all about isn’t it?) Tao Ch’ang Wu Wei translates as something like ‘the way and high virtue’. This was the title of a book by a certain Laotzu who was believed to be a contemporary of Confucious. Now, like ever good person ignorant of these things, I used Google to find this out, but way back in 1982 when Steve Linnegar recorded this song, we didn’t have Google, so he would have had to use an old fashioned thing called a book.

Given the cover image of ‘Classic Epics’ on which this song first saw light of day, with its Oriental imagery and the title of other songs (‘Tao Rider’ and ‘Kamakura Dragons’ for example), along with the fact that his other albums were called ‘Music For Shogun’, ‘Karate Moves’ and ‘The Art Of Mist’ it is fairly clear where Linnegar’s interests lay.

However, there was something else he must have been interested in as the song does not sound very eastern. It is definitely a western rock sound that eminates from your speakers when you put the song on. In fact it doesn’t sound like something from the early eighties, but more like something that missed the seventies bus. There’s the heavy bass with raw guitar on top, somewhat ethereal and mystic vocals and swirling organ sounds that would not sound strage if they had appeared on a Yes album, for example.

Linnegar never enjoyed huge commercial success in South Africa in the eighties and it was probably due to the fact that he was making music for an earlier time. And why should we hold that against him. We don’t dismiss penicillin because we could really have done with it a good few years ealier than it was discovered.

Linnegar and his Snakeshed made great music and should be enjoyed for that fact. ‘Tao Ch’ang Wu Wei’ is a classic epic.

Where to find it:
Slowly From The South – Various Artists (2009) Fresh, FRESHCD (D) 163
Also on the 2014 CD release of ‘Classic Epics’ by Spanish record label Guerssen


Hear here:


The Meaning Of Goodbye – James Stewart

A Man Like Me - James Stewart

A Man Like Me – James Stewart

Men At Work (you know the Aussie band that sang ‘Down Under’) released an album called ‘Business As Usual’. Well, at one point James Stewart would have thought of ‘Usual as Business’ as he was the lead singer of local band The Usual. But there is a sting in this tale and that sting is a certain Gordon Sumner whom James sounds somewhat like.

‘The Meaning Of Goodbye’ is a laid-back rock ballad that features James doing a breathy Sting impersonation, especially when he stretches his vocal chords. Working with Richard Black of McCully Workshop fame, he produced ‘A Man Like Me’, his debut solo album and this song was featured on it. Apart from the vocal comparisons mentioned above, one can also hear similarities in style to fellow Cape Townian Robin Auld.

‘The Meaning Of Goodbye’ with its lyics, as the title suggests, about break ups, made it to number 2 on the South African Rock Digest’s charts in 2003 and was used in the Canadian animated TV show ‘Clone High’. In 2012, The Usual got back together for some gigs, so despite singing ‘now I know the meaning of goddbye’, he didn’t really.

Where to find it:
A Man Like Me – James Stewart (2004), Street Level


Pambere – Mapantsula

Forces Favourites

Forces Favourites

Okay guys, we’re going to make an album for the End Conscription Campaign and we want your song to open it. Remember this was the eighties and the government of South Africa did not take too kindly to people trying to persuade young men not to go and fight. How would you have reacted? Well Mapantsula seemed to think, sod it, we’re up for the challenge and we will do something as upbeat and joyful as we can. Perhaps they wanted to persuade the youth of the country that not fighting was something to be happy about and that dancing was a far better idea.

The band featured Kenyan born musician, Simba Morri and one can hear a slight East African influence in the guitar work and in the use of the word ‘uhuru’ in the lyrics, this was the Swahlili word for ‘freedom’. They also draw on the Portugese of Mozambique chanting ‘a luta contuinua’ which means ‘the struggle continues’.

The End Consciption Campaign, could hardly have asked for a better song to open the album, it was political, it was life affirming and you could dance to it. It bounces around your speakers as if the band had given their instruments free rein to do what they pleased, and the instruments liked to make upbeat music. Thrown into the mix is a lively sax which gives the song a bit of a ska feel to it. Revolution and music often go hand in hand and in ‘Pambere’ we had a song that grabbed us by the hand and took us skipping through the times that were a-changing.

Where to find it:
Forces Favourites – Various Artists (1986), Shifty Records (SHIFT10)
Shot Down (Resistance Music from Apartheid South Africa) – Various Artists (2006),Shifty Records

Hear here: Shifty Records Bandcamp (artists listed as Simba Morri)

Makoti – Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Makoti is the Zulu word for a young married woman or a bride. Yvonne Chaka Chaka was young (the tender age of 16) but not married when she became the first black child to appear on South African television on a talent show called ‘Sugar Shack’. Since then she has gone from strength to strength, and in 2012, once she was married (and no longer that young), she publicly declared that she would not allow her husband to take a second wife.

But let’s forget the marital issues that the word makoti has conjured up and concentrate on the song as it has a beauty and innocence that its title suggests. Yvonne’s voice is strong and is underpinned by a choir of both male and female singers, the former adding a great bass to the higher pitched Chaka Chaka and the harmonies of the female singers. The music is a simple township bass, a beat that has one swaying gently on the dancefloor and a string effect synthesizer flitting in and out of the song.

Sometimes it pays to not understand the language a song is being sung in as the vocals and music can be misleading. Despite the beauty of the song, the makoti in question is not as prim and proper as one might think. She is apparently a gossip who spends her time on the phone trying to find out the latest juicy stories. This somewhat sullies the pure sound of Yvonne’s voice and the gentle lilt of the rhythm, but if you concentrate on the latter, you can forget about the faults of the makoti, the subject of the song, and just enjoy its loveliness.

Where to find it:
The Best Of – Yvonne Chaka Chaka (2008), Universal
The Great South African Trip – Various Artists (2007), African Cream


Second husband article can be found here.


Blue – Chris Chameleon

Shine - Chris Chameleon

Shine – Chris Chameleon

It took just 2 years for Chris Chameleon to go from Boo! to Blue. After he broke up with bandmates Ampie Omo and Princess Leonie in 2004, Chameleon released a solo album in 2005 called ‘Ek Herhaal Jou’. The following year he released ‘Shine’ and ‘Blue’ was the opening track to the album. It is quite a dramatic start to the album. Starting with a riff similar to Blur’s ‘Girls And Boys’ and followed immediately by a synth riff that reminds one of Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’, the song is a thick stew of synths and beats.

Chris himself is in fine voice, coming over just as strong as the music, albeit an octave or so higher. He throws in a little of his vocal gymnastics with ‘oo-oo-oo-oo’s and ‘ee-ee-ee-ee’s and such likes at the end of each line. It’s not quite an Olympic perfect 10 score with a high difficulty vocal (which he is quite capable of), but rather a sort of stretching exercise before the routine, but this is what the song requires.

‘Blue’ is wall-to-wall bounce and beats. It has as much energy as a three year old stuffed full of sweets and chocates and let loose on a bouncy castle. And the reason for it being so cheerful? Well that’s because he is in love and ‘Blue-oooooo is no longer my favourite colour’, or to use the title of a Bombay Bicycle Club album title, ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose.’ This was Chris striking out on his own, making a thundering statement and doing so as only the most versatile voice in the country could. This was nothing like the punky sounds of Boo! or the REM does Boeremusiek, guitar heavy music of ‘Ek Herhaal Jou’. This was a new colour for Chris and not surprising given his surname.

Where to find it:
Shine – Chris Chameleon (2006), Rhythm Records, RR070


Inner City Blues – Lungiswa



‘Inner City Blues’ is the closing track on Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece ‘What’s Goin’ On’. It’s a satin smooth song that has a street walking beat over which Gaye’s silky smooth vocals glide giving the impression of something chic and wealthy. But the lyrics tell a different story. There is a dirty underbelly to the song that tells you ‘Crime is increasing/Trigger happy policing’. Well, what do you expect from a song called ‘Inner City Blues’? A cover of a Rodriguez song? (No, Rodriguez recorded his in 1969, Gaye’s song was released in 1971).

Roll on 29 years and we meet a young lady who was not even born when Gaye was singing about the struggles in the American ghettos. Lungiswa Plaatjies (born in 1973) was the lead female vocalist for Amampondo for a while before making her eponymous solo album. On the album she put down two versions of Marvin’s ‘Inner City Blues’, one with the original English lyrics and one with a Xhosa lyric.

Lungiswa kept to the original version’s silky smooth instrumentation, not deviating too much from the sound but did made it slightly jazzier and little more funky than Gaye’s soulful version, but still retained that soul feel. So why bother listening to this version when you have one by the great Marvin Gaye? Well a few seconds into the vocal you’ll know why. Lungiswa is blessed with a beautiful voice. It sounds girlie and somehow mature at the same time and, dare I say it, seems to make the song more poingnant than Gaye did as it is almost as if the lyrics are coming from a child. It hits one harder when a young person recognises and articulates the horrors of the world around them and with her sweet innocent voice, Lungiswa drives the point home in a way that Marvin Gaye never could. And that’s saying something given that Gaye’s version had a huge impact in its own right.

Where to find it:
Lungiswa – Lungiswa (2000), Melt 2000, BWSA106

Umkhovu – Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens

Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens

Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens

It does sound a bit like Mahlathini is singing ‘Oom Jan in the house’ at the start of ‘Umkhovu, but he’s not. Don’t ask me what he is singing, or which of the 1001 Official South African Languages you must speak before you go deaf (could be Xhosa due to some clicks) he is singing in. What I can tell you is that there is some really funky township guitar going on in this song that bounces around joyfully over a thudding bass. Mahlathini’s trademark vocals groan away over this toe tapping instrumentation and The Mahotella Queens provide a lovely harmonised juxtaposition to the deep growl of Mahlathini.

It is not surprising that this song appeared on the compilation CD ‘Next Stop Soweto’ as it is almost stereotypically representative of the sound of the townships of South Africa. That may sound a little condescending as there is far more to the music that eminates from Soweto, Mamelodi, Khayelitsha et al, but this sort of sound, particularly in the 80’s became synonymous with the townships and ‘Umkhovu’ has all the ingredients of that style – the guitar, bass and vocal harmonies mentioned above. However, Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens have been acknowledged as masters of their craft and here, they do it with toe tapping aplomb that would have even Oom Jan nodding along appreciatively (even if only in the privacy of his house).

Where to find it:
King Of The Groaners – Mahlathini (1993), Earthworks, CDEWV29
Next Stop Soweto – Various (2010), Strut Record


Little Bird – Fuzigish

Skankers Union - Fuzigish

Skankers Union – Fuzigish

The name Fuzigish sounds like it is a spoonerism, but then Guzifish makes no sense either. What does make sense is the delightful ska-punk that comes from the speakers when you put ‘Little Bird’ on. It’s a delightful rush of sound that has racing drums and growling guitars skateboarding over a pavement of trumpet. There is a huge amount of energy in the song, everything is jumping. The drums are poppin’, the guitars spark, the vocals tumble and even the trumpet manages to sound busy in a laid back manner.

Lead singer, Jay-Bones, has a strange accent that sounds like a Nu Yorkian cockney, which makes for an intriguing sound. But he clips the end of each line of the verses and this fits in with the bouncy and choppy music. One feels that this is the kind of song that the term ‘helter skelter’ was invented for, but one of the definitions of ‘helter skelter’ I saw was that it is in chaotic and disorderly haste. The only part of that definition that fits is the haste bit for this is not chaotic, its tight music and there is no disorder as the speed of the song is never at the expense of tune.

This little bird is not one to be caged, it has too much of free spirit for that. Set it free on your sound system and let it fly across your senses. Bob Marley’s song ‘Three Little Birds’ always makes me smile and gives me  lift and what Bob did with three, Fuzigish managed with one.

Where to find it:
Skankers Union – Fuzigish (2000), Red Ambulance


Die Ou Kraal Liedjie – Groep Twee

Groep Twee

Groep Twee

And the award for most prominent use of a banjo (or is it a mandolin?) in an Afrikaans song goes to…Groep Twee and ‘Die Oukraaliedjie’. Whatever the instrument is (sometimes the internet lets you down), it gives this well known South African song a slightly country and western sound, althought it is essentially a boere song. They also throw in a little bit of ballroom organ for good measure.

Groep Twee were originaly (and at the time this song was released in 1967) Gert van Tonder and Sias Reynecke. Listening to them they seem to be a bit like an Afrikaans Mel, Mel & Julian as their sound is country tinged folk and they also have those great harmonies that M,M &T had.

‘Die Oukraaliedjie’ was apparently written by Mannas and Amy de Villiers for the Ou Kraal Jukskei Club in Paarl and it talks of stream, olienhout trees, snakes and buck. It also mentions bandolientjies and mandolientjies which (again the internet has let me down here) may be banjos and mandolins, but don’t quote me. However the instruments do sound like one or the other and this sound is used prominently throughout the song, which makes for great Afrikaans folk music.

Where to find it:
Springbok Radio Afrikaanse Treffers, EMI, CDEMIM 337


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