1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Can’t Get You Outta My Mind – Diamond Dogs

Diamond Dogs

Diamond Dogs

A long long time ago (by that I mean the 80’s) I was browsing through the records at The Turntable in Eastgate when an ou came in who worked in the shop. He was chatting to the guy behind the counter and I overheard him mention that he had just started up a band called Diamond Dogs and then went on to explain that they had named themselves after the David Bowie album. At the time I was into Depeche Mode and the whole New Romantic scene so wasn’t that interested, but it was my first close encounter with a real live rock musician and somehow that memory stuck with me.

A couple of weeks before writing this review a video popped up on my Facebook page via Marq Vas’ excellent Southern African Music Collectibles page and this video was ‘Can’t Get You Outta My Mind’ by the Diamond Dogs. This naturally piqued my curiosity as I had not heard anything about the band since that encounter. So of course I played the track as my music tastes have widened extensively since those days of my youth when anything that wasn’t Depeche Mode or such like, wasn’t worth listening to.

Well I was surprised at how good the Dogs’ track sounded. There is a kind of Bon Jovi on their slower days thing going on (something like ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’) with a great, gravelly vocal set against a big rock sound while electric guitars do exactly what is expected of them on such tracks. But, interestingly on this track, there is a prominent piano which is not always something you find on a big rock ballad, but it brings poignancy to the love song lyrics.

Reading up a bit on the Dogs (again go to Marq Vas’ pages as there is a great interview with Greg Pentopolous, one of the band members), it seems that they were a popular act at Roxy’s Rhythm Bar in Melville with many have great memories of their gigs. I was too nerdy back then (and am still somewhat nerdy these days) to go out gigging and clubbing which was why I never heard more about the Diamond Dogs other then the encounter with that guy in The Turntable, which, as it turns out was Nick Slade, the lead singer. But listening to them now, one can only wonder why they didn’t make it big as they were an accomplished act and tunes like ‘Can’t Get You Outta My Mind’ and ‘How Do You Sleep Tonight’ (which I have just found on Youtube and included in the links below) were great rockers. These Diamonds were a hidden treasure that only those few who hung at to Roxy’s knew about. They are worth checking out.

One final note is that a track of theirs called ‘Going Home’ appears on the ‘SA Gold Rock’ compilation.

Video:

How Do You Sleep Tonight video:

Prisoner – Lucky Dube

Prisoner - Lucky Dube

Prisoner – Lucky Dube

This is the story of a little boy whose father told him that education is the key, yet he knew better and ended up in jail. And he calls himself Lucky? Well of course he can call himself Lucky as he became a massive reggae star, known and loved throughout the continent and beyond.

I don’t know how much of his musical skills he learned in school, but they certainly put in him good stead as he crafted songs like ‘Prisoner’ with challenging lyrics and a Jamaica meets the townships lilting tune that is simultaneously uplifting and yet somehow slightly sad. This was 1989, in the twilight hours of apartheid. Black people in South Africa were tasting freedom, yet Lucky Dube decided to sing about being a prisoner so its hard to imagine that this song was not a reference to the suffering under apartheid, yet it could quite easily have been. However, it could also have been a message for the future, saying to the generations to come, that education is the key, you get nowhere without it.

The song would reach number 7 of the Radio 702 charts and 12 on the Capital 604 ones which was quite unusual as Dube was largely ignored by the white radio stations back then. However, ‘Prisoner’ remains as relevant today as it was back then. Despite running out of luck when he was murdered in 2007, the messages of Lucky live on in in his songs.

Where to find it:
Great South African Performers – Lucky Dube (2011), Gallo, CDPS16

Video:

Fire – Third Eye

Fire – Third Eye

Fire – Third Eye

The late 60s and early 70s in South Africa saw the emergence of heavy rock acts like Freedom’s Children, Hawk and the Otis Waygood Blues Band. To this list one can also add Durban based band Third Eye (sometime spelt Thyrd Eye) who crashed onto the scene in 1968 or 1969 (depending on which source you use) with a blistering and wailing thunderball of a cover of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’.

From the first cry of ‘I am the son of hellfire’ (I guess they had to change the ‘god of hellfire’ to the ‘son of hellfire’ to avoid a ban from the ultra conservative at that time SABC), the song is racing against the flames that the song is about with Dawn Selby’s Hammond organ swirling like a whirling dervish dancer on fast forward. Maurice Saul’s vocals cry out from this vortex at first with ominous rock sensibilities but as the song gets more frenetic it slowly morphs into a screeching banshee as he starts to wail as one burning up.

The song, produced by Billy Forrest, would get to 16 on the LM Radio charts and it certainly holds it own when placed next to the Arthur Brown original. It has that same intensity of heat and burns just as bright. We certainly knew how to rock back then, whether producing original material or covering some of the classics of the day and Third Eye were spot on with this cover. Maybe its because we South Africans are so good at braai-ing that The Third Eye could so easily (so it seems) knock off a great cover of ‘Fire’. As Neil Young says, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

Where to find it:
Astral Daze – Various Artists, RetroFresh, (2005), FRESHCD148

Video:

We Could Be Divine – Kahn & Karen Zoid

We Could Be Divine – Kahn & Karen Zoid

We Could Be Divine – Kahn & Karen Zoid (Video screen grab)

I must admit to not particularly liking the trend in modern pop music where every other song is Artist 1 Featuring Artist 2 and sometimes Artist 3, Artist 4, Artist 5 etc. However, in recent-ish history there have been some cracking collaborations on the local music music scene and 2 of these have already featured on the list, namely Francis van Coke and Karen Zoid’s sublime ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ and Koos Kombuis and David Kramer’s magnificent ‘Ek Wil Net Huis Toe Gaan’. To this list of great local collaborations of the current millennium I now add Kahn and Karen Zoid’s ‘We Could Be Divine’.
Kahn is of course Kahn Morbee who came to fame as the lead singer of the Parlotones and Karen Zoid needs no introduction as she continues to embed herself into the SA Music Treasure Chest.
Starting off sounding like an early 80’s new romantic hit with a synthesizer introduction, ‘We Could Be Divine’ quickly introduces Kahn and Karen’s distinctive vocals which playfully intertwine as the song builds with a stomping rhythm coming in and the voices soar. It’s a sort of 80’s pop rock with shades of 90’s grunge draped like a lace curtain over it while a 20-teens pop bigness inflates the tune to heights that engross the listener.
Given the number of views the Youtube video has had, (only 127,000 at the time of writing), this seems to have eluded a lot of people, which is odd given the strength of this track. The video shows Zoid as an Alice in Wonderland character with a rather odd-looking Kahn playing the Mad Hatter. It’s a great video and an even better song. So my advice is lose yourself in the wonderland of this song, you won’t be disappointed.

Where to find it:
A Noise In The Void – Kahn, Sheer Sound

Video:

Woza Friday – Juluka

Woza Friday - Jonathan & Sipho

Woza Friday – Jonathan & Sipho

Way back in the day, before Juluka was invented, a guy called Jonathan and another called Sipho recorded a song called ‘Woza Friday’. Later on, when Juluka came into being, the band recorded a cover of that early Jonathan and Sipho track. Of course, you will all be telling me that Jonathan and Sipho were Juluka, so what the hang am I on about. Well, yes, the Jonathan and Sipho in question were Jonathan Clegg (Johnny to his fans) and Sipho Mchunu who were the mainstay of Juluka. However, in 1977, before they became famous, they released a single called ‘Woza Friday’ under the name Jonathan and Sipho. It was only the following year that they released the seminal album ‘Universal Men’ under the name Juluka and it took 5 years before ‘Woza Friday’ had an outing under the Juluka brand name when it appeared on their ‘Ubuhle Bemvelo’ album.
That early 1977 recording of the song was a beautiful rough diamond. It has that sort of urgency and racing quality of township jive with a natural rhythm allowing one to visualise Johnny doing that dance where he skitters to one side then the other. It also features a more prominent vocal from Sipho and was a joyful introduction (which most of us never heard) to what would become one of the most important bands the country has ever seen. The later version has 5 years of experience to draw on and is a more polished one, showing off Johnny’s western rock sensibilities.
However, both versions are life affirming affairs and how can they not be when they sing ‘Woza, Woza Friday, my darling’ (‘Come, come Friday, my darling’). The lyrics tell of the hardships of work, the yoke of poor wages, but the joy that arrives with Friday and the weekend. It’s time to party and enjoy life, freed from the shackles of work. How can a song about this subject not brighten anyone’s day?
The Easybeats sang about ‘Friday On My Mind’ (a cover by the band Chilly made the Springbok charts), the Cure said ‘Friday I’m In Love’, the Specials had a song called ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ and in 2011 Rebecca Black became a Youtube sensation with her song ‘Friday’. All of these look at the one workday a week when life doesn’t seem so bad.

Jonathan and Sipho tapped into that great ‘Friday Feeling’ and put it to music in a way that has you jiving round the office, or shop floor, or down in the mine or wherever it is that one may work. We all love Fridays, in fact we sometimes give thanks to God for the day like it is some sort of divine gift. A listen to ‘Woza Friday’ (either the 1977 or 1982 version) does feel like you are listening to something God given. Thank God for Fridays, without it we would never had had this song.

Where to find it:
Anthology – Johnny Clegg (1999), Rhythm Safari, VE150683

Video:

School Kids – The Gents

School Kids – The Gents

School Kids – The Gents

Around 1980 punk arrived in South Africa with bands such as Asylum Kids, Dog Detachment and Peach leading the way. One of the lesser known bands to take to the genre was Durban band The Gents. Consisting of Kevin Flame, Tim Rocker and Sydne B Good (not been able to find out their real names), they produced, as far as I have been able to find out, a single single and a single album.
The album was called ‘The Gents’ and featured Jo Day on backing vocals, but oddly did not feature ‘School Kids’, their only single. Nor did the b-side of the single, ‘1917’, make the album. The latter is a darker, more sinister track and is a pretty decent song in its own right, but it would have had a less wider appeal than ‘School Kids’. Faster, lighter and poppier, ‘School Kids’ motors along on a sea of mixed up hormones as it tries to make its way in life. It features a rough and tumble guitar that has all the energy and innocence of a playground barney between friends while Flame’s vocals mix the coolness of a schoolboy that tries to hide a slightly romantic side.
It’s a catchy tune but with a bit of punk venom thrown in for good measure. It captures those angst filled high school days when one is caught in the no-man’s land between boyhood and manhood. Cocksure and vulnerable at the same time but played with a maturity and skill that belies the line ‘we’re just school kids, holding on’. Sadly, the band disappeared after their brief career and they weren’t noticed by many. Fortunately though there is a Youtube video of ‘School Kids’ so you can hear it for yourself.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: The Gents – The Gents (1982), Rap Records, SRLP C5

Video:

Kom Psalm – Sons Of Trout

Ticks On George – Sons Of Trout

Ticks On George – Sons Of Trout

Generally Sons of Trout were known for their funky rock style not too far away from the sounds of Red Hot Chili Peppers and that ilk. But when they asked us to ‘Kom Psalm’ (a play on the Afrikaans ‘kom saam’ which means ‘come with’) they take a different approach. They seem to take a bunch of genre’s and stick them in a blender. Right from the get go we are introduced to a scratchy fiddle which could be at home in an Irish Folk song, except it wouldn’t quite fit as it contains echoes of a Zulu bow harp. It conjures up images of rural Kwazulu Natal in the winter with brown and yellow grass bathing in the sunshine. But at the same time it feels like it could almost fit into a boeremusiek song.

After this brief introduction, we move into a relaxed stomp where the fiddle dances around a synchopated thudding rhythm which leads onto a gospel choir-ish rousing chant of ‘Lord have mercy on me’. This fades to a beautiful acoustic, somewhat folky guitar and harmony singing. ‘I feel that I have been shined upon, all my bad days are gone’ they sing, which portrays a message of hope. This was 1999 and the new South Africa was just beginning to find its feet.

But why then, do they need to sing ‘Lord have mercy on me’? Perhaps it was an allusion to the uncertainty and apprehension people in the country had as they still did not quite know what the future held and where they would fit it. And maybe that’s why the different sounds occur in the music. The styles sort of want to merge into a coherent sound of unity, yet still want to maintain their individuality. Lyrically and musically, the song captures the mood of the country at that time. Even the title ‘Kom Psalm’ could mean ‘come with’ or possibly ‘come together’, an invitation both to join in on the journey that lay ahead and to unite.

Where to find it:
Ticks On George – Sons Of Trout (1999), Gallo

Africa – Juluka

Juluka

Juluka

Way back in the 80’s when Juluka were recording their early stuff, the internet had not yet spread to the common man, so recording a song called ‘Africa’ and then one called ‘Scatterlings Of Africa’ did not take into account the trouble one would end up having when Googling ‘Africa Juluka’ and then having to go through all the results for ‘Scatterlings Of Africa’ before finding a link to the one you are actually looking for (Oh and Johnny Clegg also went on to record ‘Africa (What Made You So Strong)’ with Savuka). But we can’t really blame Johnny and Sipho for that, now can we. Apart from the fact that not many could have foreseen the growth of the internet and search engines, Juluka would not have been the Juluka we came to love and know had they not sang about Africa.

The song simply entitled ‘Africa’ appeared on Juluka’s debut album ‘Universal Men’ in 1979, an album that was groundbreaking and probably could lay claim to being the springboard from which bands like éVoid, Hotline and Via Afrika took off from. Like many of the early Juluka songs, ‘Africa’, is a simple song which has Robbie Jansen’s flute fluttering gently around Johnny’s singing and Sipho’s guitar culminating in the catchy chorus of ‘Afrika kukhala abangcwele’ which Google translate tells me means ‘Africa Cries For Saints’.

‘Universal Men’ introduced us to a band and a talent in Johnny Clegg that would go on to become one of the biggest and most respected acts in the land. Their rootsy take on local sounds mixed with Western ones showed us what could happen if black and white worked together. ‘Africa’ is just one of many Juluka tracks that you should hear before you go deaf. It’s gentle, its powerful, its catchy, you can dance to it and it relates to the greatest continent on the planet. Sorry if you think otherwise, but you probably haven’t visited Africa (the continent or the song) if you disagree.

Where to find it:
The Best Of Juluka / Savuka Featuring Johnny Clegg – Juluka/Johnny Clegg & Savuka (1999), Primedia Record Company, CDVM(WL)22

Video:

Welcome Home – Harvest

Welcome Home – Harvest

Welcome Home – Harvest

Let’s get this straight from the start, ‘Welcome Home’ by Harvest is not a cover of the Peters & Lee song that got to number 1 in the UK. It is rather a cover of the Dutch duo Big Mouth & Little Eve song which did not make the Dutch charts. Big Mouth was the Mouth half of Mouth & MacNeal, a successful Dutch duo that brought us hits like ‘How Do You Do’ and ‘Hello-A’, both of which were covered by locals. The former was covered by The Rising Sons and the latter by a duet consisting of Billy Forrest and Sharon Tandy.

And Forrest and Tandy were both involved in the cover of ‘Welcome Home’ with Forrest producing the song and Tandy being a member of Harvest alongside Hawk’s Dave Ornellas. Their cover was released in 1978, a year after Big Mouth & Little Eve’s version. Harvest would get to 10 and spend 11 weeks on the Springbok Charts with their version.

‘Welcome Home’ is a pleasant 70s pop song with a catchy chorus and Harvest give it a slightly harder sound than the original with guitars, harmonica and Ornellas’ whiskey and honey vocals giving it a more bluesy feel than Big Mouth & Little Eve’s version. The picture sleeve of the cover shows a troopie knocking on the front door of what is presumably his home. This image would have helped to sell the single as many families were having to live with young men conscripted into the army and only returning home occasionally.

With big names like Forrest, Tandy and Ornellas being involved, coupled with a catchy song and a sentimental sleeve cover, it was no wonder this was a hit record in South Africa.

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

Video:

Never Ever Ever Ever – Wonderboom

Never Ever Ever Ever – Wonderboom

Never Ever Ever Ever – Wonderboom

‘Never Ever Ever Ever’ was the ’Boom’s second EP and it was released in 2000. There had been quite a hiatus between this and their 1996 debut EP ‘Is It?’. Their debut was a bit of a mixed bag featuring the Afro-reggae tinged ‘Smile Pantsula’, the rush-rock of ‘Jafta Rebel’ and the Red Hot Chili Pepper-ish ‘No Left Stone Unturned’. It was a raw and energetic affair and well worth getting hold of. Between their debut and their second EP, they smoothed out the rough edges of ‘Isit?’ and produced 5 polished tracks of funky rock and added a dance mix of ‘Never Ever Ever Ever’ for good measure.

‘Never Ever Ever Ever’ has all the strut and swagger that we have come to know and love about Wonderboom. Cito’s vocals are quite languid but still have a kind of cocky confidence which he let’s loose on the chorus while the band swing nicely between a sort of funky laid back groove and then introduce a roaring guitar to try and match Cito’s energy on the chorus.

I can’t say that I am that enamoured by the ‘Ziggy’s #6 Mix’ of the song which closes the EP, it’s a decent enough dance track but to me it’s one of those mixes that is so different to the original that it is a different song. This one seems to meander without really going anywhere. But that may just be me as this sort of drum ‘n bass, trance-y kind of stuff has never been my cup of tea, so check it out for yourself.

As for me, I’ll stick with the non-mix version which would spend 6 weeks on the SA Rockdigest charts, peak at number 2 and consolidated Wonderboom’s position as a premier SA band of the naughties.

Where to find it:
Never Ever Ever Ever (EP) – Wonderboom (2000), Gresham Records, CDDGR 1490 J

Video:

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