1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Dimmer – Springbok Nude Girls

By 2004, the Springbok Nude Girls had been going nearly 10 years with their light shining brightly. But in 2004, things got ‘Dimmer’ as this previously unreleased track appeared on their best of compilation ‘The Fat Lady Sings’. And there were possibly some fans of the band who thought, when hearing this that the light that shone so bright, might have starter to dim as its not as noisy or dense as some of their earlier stuff.

There is none of the raw freneticness of ‘Bubblegum On My Boots’ or the scuzzy sound of ‘Spaceman’ or the grittiness of ‘I Love You’. Neither does it have the quieter relectiveness of ‘Blue Eyes’. Rather it is more (dare I say it) a pop rock track with an orchestral sound swirling around a catchy refrain of ‘dimmer, dimmer, dimmer’. But there is sufficient of the old SNG’s sound to keep us interested and it would also make a gentler introduction to the band for those who had not yet heard ‘Blue Eyes’ and were not quite ready to dive into the full on sounds of some of their earlier material. It also showed the versatility of the band, revealing a more tune driven side to their repertoire.

And for those hardcore fans there are still parts of the song that recall that sound they loved with Arno Carstens’ soaring and growling vocals along with the warm trumpet of Adriaan Brand still popping into the track every now and then.

‘Dimmer’ may not be every Springbok Nude Girls fans’ cup of witblitz, but it is a great rock tune which is certainly worth a listen. And for those hardcore fans who were worried this this track was a sign of out with  the old, in with the Nude, they only had to wait a couple of years for the opening track to their 2006 offering, ‘Peace Breaker’ (a song called ‘Gang Gang’) to be reassured as they return to their roots with an almost metal guitar intro.

Where to find it:
The Fat Lady Sings – Springbok Nude Girls (2001), Epic, CDEPC8190

Video:

Sudan – Jenny & Rosanna Delenta

Delenta – Jenny Delenta

Just in case you didn’t know, Sudan is a large country in north east Africa, bordering Egypt and Libya (to name just 2 of the countries it borders with) and therefore has Arabic influences. The pictures one sees of the country on the internet (the ones not of crowded cities and people), show a hot and dusty land that has its own special kind of beauty. And it is a vast country (the 3rd biggest in Africa – it used to be the biggest until South Sudan split off).

The Arabic influence and the vastness of the country comes through in the Delenta sisters’ song ‘Sudan’, but it is the gentle side of things that come across in the song, not the harshness of a desert, but the beauty of it. The song has a simple drum beat, a haunting cello (played by Kendall Reid) and the beautiful voices of Jenny and Rosanna Delenta which weave a magic spell on the track with Jenny’s pure silk voice singing the English lyrics while Rosanna brings a Mediterranean Arabic feel to the Greek lyrics starting in a similar smooth tone as Jenny but then soaring with a slightly harder edged sound.

But why would a couple of South African women be singing about a seemingly unrelated country? Well the clue lies in their heritage. Jenny and Rosanna were born in Sudan to a Greek father and Greek Cypriot mother. They were very young when their father died and at that point they moved to South Africa to be with their mother’s family, but Sudan and the memory of their father travelled with them in their hearts.

You can feel the ache in the opening line ‘Mother talks so sweetly/to shake the ties that keep me’ and that is followed soon after by ‘In her heart she’s in Sudan’. It is clear from the track that their mother loved their father deeply and passed that love onto her daughters like a precious family heirloom. The Greek lyrics, written by Rosanna while getting ready to go to the studio, tell of her loss, both of her father and of the country of her birth, but also how she retains memories of all that was good deep within her heart.

It is a reverential song sung with great love and respect. It is hard not to be moved by it. Generally, the news that comes from Sudan is of political turmoil and war, but the Delenta sisters open one’s eyes to another side of the country, one of great beauty and gentleness, filled with otherworldly wonder and mystique. Give the track a spin and lose yourself for a few minutes in the magical image that the Delentas weave around a place called Sudan and perhaps spend a moment recalling a loved one with as much love, aching and comfort as the song brings.

Where to find it:
Delenta – Jenny Delenta (2000), BMG, CDRENT(LF)100

Video:

Scooby Dooby Dum Dum Day – The Attraction

Scooby Dooby Dum Dum Day – The Attraction

Hands up who remembers scooby wire? For those either too old or not old enough, scooby wire was thin coloured wire that one knotted and platted and wound around other wires to create bracelets and such like. Well that was a craze around the time that The Attraction’s ‘Scooby Dooby Dum Dum Day’ was a hit (1971). I can’t say for sure if Robert Schroder who wrote the song, had this in mind when he was composing, or if he had been watching the Scooby Doo cartoons or if he just thought that ‘Scooby Dooby Dum Dum Day’ would make a good title for a bubblegum hit.

The song had the honour of being one of those to appear on the very first Springbok Hit Parade albums (which were compiliations of contemporary hits covered by session musicians). The series of those albums went on to become somewhat iconic, with most of the youngsters of the time (myself included) not realising that these were covers of the big hits of the day.

‘Scooby Dobby Dum Dum Day’ is a pleasant slice of bubblegum pop with a similar beat to The Archies’ ‘Sugar Sugar’ (possibly the mosy successful bubblegum hit of all time). It features the gentle, bordering on falsetto vocals of Neil Herbert who had a Springbok Top 20 number 1 hit with ‘She’s A Woman’ in 1974. It also featured Robert Schroder on keyboard. Schroder would see 6 hits where he had writing credits make the Springbok Radio charts although, sadly, ‘Scooby Dooby Dum Dum Day’ would not be one of them.

Despite its lack of chart success, it obviously had enough popular appeal for it to appear on the Springbok Hit Parade collection and I am sure it is one that for a number of people it will be a song that brings back memories (probably accompanied by a smile) and have us all thinking, ‘why don’t they ever play that one on the radio anymore?’

Where to find it:
Singles bins if you’re lucky

Video:

Pull Up Your Socks – The Dynamics

The Chick Charmers Combo

The Dynamics

If I were to put together a list of my top 10 favourite local instrumental tracks, there would be a fight between Lloyd Ross’ ‘Vyfster’ and The Dynamics’ ‘Pull Up Your Socks’ for the top spot. While the former is moody and somewhat sombre, it has a mysterious allure to it that you can lose yourself in. But where ‘Vyfster’ is introspective and atmospheric, ‘Pull Up Your Socks’ is a 5 and a half minute joy-fest.

It has a cheeky ska beat which always puts one in a good mood and, with its warm brassy intro, you know you’re in for a treat. Underpinning it we hear an organ sound which comes to the fore later in the tune to have its own moment in the spotlight. But before that the trumpet has a run out as does a township-tinged guitar, each bringing a new flavour to the sound.

This song is the soundtrack to a jaunty stroll down Rocky Street (for those of you who have memories of that part of the world). You’re kitted out in the coolest clothes, your friends hanging with you are members of the elite in-crowd, there’s a skip in your step and everything in the world just seems right. It’s confident without being arrogant or brash.

The only thing I can’t figure out is where the title came from. ‘Pull Up Your Socks’ would be something a headmaster would tell a school kid to do and usually it is a barked command rather than a polite request. There is nothing authoritarian, barked or school kid-ish about the track. ‘Pull Up your Socks’ can also be used as a phrase to tell someone to improve what they are doing. Used this way it is also a command, but again, this song has no feel of being a call to improvement, nor can the song itself get any better. It’s perfect as it is. My only guess is that it may be a tongue in cheek response to the command ‘Pull Up Your Socks’. Perhaps the full title should be ‘(Life’s Too Short To) Pull Up Your Socks’ as it is about the joys of living. The only downside of not pulling up your socks is that you have to find somewhere else to store your comb.

Where to find it:
The Dynamics – The Dynmaics (2001) Retrofresh, freshcd 111

Hear here:
https://soundcloud.com/thedynamicsofficial/pull-up-your-socks

The Chicken Rock – Chick Charmers Combo

The Chick Charmers Combo

The Chick Charmers Combo

Some time after the chicken dance was invented (apparently it started in the 50’s), but before Rufus Thomas had a hit with ‘Do The Funky Chicken’ and well before Kobus!’s ‘Hoenderman’, a group called the Chick Charmers Combo came out with ‘The Chicken Rock’. This was a hit in 1961 and got to number 5 on the LM Radio charts.

There was no one in the band called Chick Chamers, but rather it was a bunch of blokes out to charm the chicks. Not very politically correct, I know, but they did make a rather cool rock ‘n’ roll song that has a clucking saxophone pecking away throughout the track alongside a rock ‘n’ roll beat and piano which comes straight out of the Jerry Lee Lewis school of how to make a song.

Like most of the tunes of that time, it is a short lively piece that bounces along for just over two minutes (hardly enough time to impress a woman with your dance moves I should say), before the band bow out. But it’s catchy and toe tapping and just a fun piece of music from its particular era. It gave you a brief moment to strut around like a daft bird and somehow still be cool.

Nowadays we have Nandos and KFC to give us our dose of chicken (or McNuggets if you are desperate), but back in the day you had to stick on a record and listen to a saxophone impersonate a farmyard animal. Clucking brilliant.

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

Video:

3 Force Blues – The Lurchers

Sunny Skies – The Lurchers

Sometimes the clue to what a song will sound like is in the title and with the word ‘blues’ sitting at the end of the title of ‘3 Force Blues’ you have a pretty good idea of what sort of song you’re dealing with. The Lurchers, fronted by that giant of SA music, James Phillips, brought a fuller and more polished sound to Phillips’ songs on their album ‘Sunny Skies’. His earlier stuff with Corporal Punishment, Illegal Gathering and The Cherry Faced Lurchers has a rough, unpolished sound that suited the rough unpolished times we were living in back then, but in 1994 when Phillips put together The Lurchers, which featured Willem Möller on guitar, Lee Edwards on bass, Lloyd Martino on drums and Paul Hamner on piano, the sound seemed to get that little bit more sophisticated.

There is no more of the wild youth inexperience and learning going into the music, here is a man and a band who had matured and knew what they were doing. And ‘3 Force Blues’ would, I am sure, have had some influence on the bright eyed youngsters who were about to launch the blues explosion that happened in Stellenbosh in the late 90’s early 00’s.

Edwards’ bass and Möller’s guitar prowl around the song together, as if eyeing out this gravelling voiced singer, stalking him, watching his every move so that they can adapt and change as they need to  and they do this expertly. While Phillips is aware of those around him, but one can almost see the twinkle in his eye as he tries to weave and bob, challenging them to keep up. It’s a kind of sparring match, tight and tense to those watching closely, but on the face of it, relaxed and confident.

As we moved on from apartheid, Phillips looks forward to the Sunny Skies that he hoped for, but there was still a lot going on to be concerned and angry about. Sadly, about a year after its release, James would die in that carsh crash so he never really got to experience the new South Africa. But his music lives on and will continue to stand as a reminder of where we came from. Based on the Beaufort Scale, a Force 3 wind is a gentle breeze and often after a Force 11 (violent storm) the wind then subsides to Force 3 as nature gets back to normal. ‘3 Force Blues’ is a bit like the Force 3 breeze after the storm. It’s not becalming, there is still movement and disruption which one can enjoy. You can also check out the Robin Auld acoustic cover which, with his gravelly vocals, is just as compelling as the original.

Where to find it:
The Lurchers – Sunny Skies (1994), Shifty Records

Video:

Robin Auld:

Buy here:

https://jamesphillips.bandcamp.com/track/3-force-blues

Ntyilo Ntyilo – Alan Silinga

Essential South African Jazz

According to some sources, Alan Silinga wrote ‘Ntyilo Ntyilo’ but most of the time it is credited to Miriam Makeba. It is probably because Makeba’s version is the one people normally look to when looking up this song. And it is quite possible that Makeba gets a writing credit for the lyrics and it was Silinga that wrote the music. The one source that credits the song to Silinga was the notice of his death on 7 September 2007 published by the Minister of Arts & Culture, Dr Pallo Jordan (https://www.gov.za/p-jordan-african-composer-alan-silingas-death) which notes that Silinga wrote the song for Makeba.

And what a gift he gave us in this hauntingly beautiful melody. It was a bit of a struggle to find a version credited to Silinga as the artist, but the one on ‘Essential South African Jazz – The Jo’burg Sessions’ has him as the artist on that track. And this is a beautiful instrumental version of the song. It is laid back jazz with a peaceful violin (a la Soweto String Quartet) that soothes the soul and eases any aches and pains one may have. There is a kind of sadness to the sound, but it is more a melancholy inducing sadness than a depressive one.

A number of other artists have recorded versions which are worth checking out. There is the famous Maria Makeba version already mentioned, Hugh Masekela did a flute led jazzy version, Johnny Dyani did an acoustic guitar one, Thandiswa Mazwai performs an upbeat take on it and 60’s garage band, The Shangaans, mix the Zulu lyrics with some English ones in a 60’s ballad style. So there are many different ones to chose from and you are almost guaranteed to be moved by whichever one you choose as the power of the music will transport you to a place where you feel safe and warm and wrapped in satin. I kept coming back to the one on the ‘Essential Jazz’ collection. But that’s just me. You may chose a different take on the song as your personal favourite, but its undeniably a moving track.

Where to find it:
Various artists, Essential South African Jazz – The Jo’Burg Session (2008), African Cream, ACM-CD0048

Video:
Alan Silinga:

Miriam Makeba:

The Shangaans:

I’ll Walk With You – Sean Rennie

Sean Rennie had 2 hits make the Springbok top 20. The first of these was ‘I’ll Walk With You’ which spent 5 weeks on the charts and peaked at 13. Rennie hailed from Ireland, but made South Africa his home where initially he was part of a band called Purple Haze, but then moved on to having a successful solo career.

And listening to ‘I’ll Walk With You’ it’s not too surprising that he had the success he did as he has a velvety crooner type voice that sits comfortably against the pop sensibility of the song. Although the song was a hit in 1970, there is a slight 50’s love song feel to it. It has a harpsichord sounding intro (which may well have been an actual harpsichord), gently strummed guitars and an ever present tambourine to accompany the singing.

The song lasts just 2 minutes and 48 seconds which adds to its 50s feel and as the it draws to a conclusion, Rennie slips into a bit of an Elvis impersonation. Rennies are a well know remedy for heartburn and this Rennie certainly soothes any aches of the heart one may have. It’s a gentle, pop song which may have dated somewhat, but it is a good reminder of a more innocent time. Well executed and a deserved hit.

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

Video:


Home Wrecker – The Dirty Skirts

I imagine a punch bag must feel a little bit like one does after listening to The Dirty Skirts’ ‘Homewrecker’. The song has such a punchy beat that hardly lets up throughout the song while the band bounce through the lyrics as if they are bashing you on the head as they go. You are left feeling a little battered and bruised by the experience but know you’re like one of those characters in a movie who gets their kicks getting into scraps. You smile through swollen lips and black eyes and say, ‘you should see the other guy’ even though everyone knows there is probably not a scratch on them.

Led by Jeremy de Tolly, The Dirty Skirts hailed from Cape Town and deliver an energetic punk rock sound similar to Green Day and the Strokes. It borders on frenetic and sounds like fizzy teenage hormones in a shook-up bottle. There is a a scuzzy guitar intro that tumbles into the song which has a blast of guitars before de Tolly’s urgent punky vocals bash their way through and you’re washed away on the beat.

In his song ‘Cooler As Ekke’, Jack Parow comments, ‘Shame you listen to The Dirty Skirts’ and a few lines later has the put-down ‘Jy lyks soos Jeremy de Tolly’ (you look like Jeremy de Tolly). Maybe its professional jealousy or maybe its just that it’s part of a rappers cool image to dis anything that’s not rap, but The Dirty Skirts did enough to get up the nose of one of the country’s top rappers and I can see that a song like ‘Homewrecker’ which is all punk and no rap would not be liked by pure rap lovers.

And maybe The Skirts kind of punk is not your cup of tea, but they certainly knew how to make a song in ‘their’ style. Punchy, punky, energetic and never at the cost of a tune. ‘Homewrecker’ is a good example of the genre. As de Tolly sings, ‘Let’s punch a hole in this Saturday night’. And they certainly punched a Dirty Skirts sized hole into the SA music scene.

Where to find it:
On A Stellar Bender – The Dirty Skirts (2007), Seed Music, SEED123

Video:

Going Straight – Flash Harry

Going Straight – Flash Harry

Going Straight – Flash Harry

When someone sings to you that they are going straight, you would not really think that they would tell you this in a ska-punky kind of way because people who sing that kind of music are a bit dodgy, aren’t they. Well, I’m sure the Mother Grundys of the day would have told you that as they tried to prevent you from listening to anything except pan pipes and Sonja Herholt. But when Flash Harry tell us that they are going straight they do so in that jerky punky way that has a ska-ish feel.

And perhaps that is the point as listening to the lyrics, they are seeming to have a dig at those who ‘go straight’. ‘I’m just a straight man/I depend on the news’ sings Keith Berel then continues ‘My wife makes me breakfast/and my boy shines my shoes’. He is singing about a typical white South African growing up in the early 80’s, a man who is comfortable with the chauvinism and racial dominance of the day without being out there on the far right in either area. He just wants to live his life. ‘Don’t ask me questions/I got nothing to say’.

There is definitely a tongue firmly in a cheek in this song. Flash Harry were, in a subtle way, asking how can you be comfortable with what is going on around you? How can you just bury your head in the sand while these injustices continue? Perhaps there is a clue in the rattlesnake sounding tambourine that opens the track. There is a venom hidden behind the perky upbeat song. Not all is as it seems in this cheeky sounding track.

Flash Harry were a short lived band with only 2 albums to their name. Keith Berel moved on to the even shorter lived, but equally brilliant Carte Blanche (only 1 album there) after Flash Harry called it a day and again came up with some tuneful yet subtle political songs in his new group. Even the title of ‘Going Straight’ is a bit tongue in cheek as, in order to be heard in South Africa in those days, you could not be straight talking with your message, you had to wrap it up in something that the censors wouldn’t take offence to and Berel and Flash Harry were good at doing that.

Where to find it:
Vinyl album: Take What You Can – Flash Harry (1982), A.D. Records (DTC 1000)

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