1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Beach Girl – Natalia



There is something Joni Mitchell-ish about this song from young (she claims to be sixteen in the song) Capetownian singer Natalia. This is a slightly strange comparison to make especially if you remember Natalia from her short-lived punk band Janie Jones. But on this solo effort, it’s just Natalia, her voice and her guitar, something that Mitchell would have done. And the best thing is that on ‘Beach Girl’ Natalia’s voice is not nearly as irritating as Mitchell’s. Having now probably blasphemed in the eyes of ardent Mitchell fans, I will say that Mitchell does have a great voice, but I can only handle it in small doses. On ‘Beach Girl’, Natalia employs a sweet, innocent girl voice to coincide with the lyric ‘Because he’s 25 and I ain’t even 16 yet.’ (I wonder what her father thought of this one?) and it works well.

The song is about a young beach girl falling for an older waiter and contains all the dreaminess that one associated with a young girl in love. However, despite this seemingly twee subject matter, Natalia injects a maturity into her pure vocals and the plucked guitar can surely not come from one so young. This prevents ‘Beach Girl’ from becoming seaside candyfloss and makes it sound more like a good chardonnay sipped on Clifton Beach on a Sunday arvie.

Where to find it:
Long Street Lullabies – Natalia (2007), Indie Release

Apie – Chris Chameleon

Screenshot from the video for Apie

Screenshot from the video for Apie

A chameleon goes ape. Well, it’s not quite as bad as all that, but if you weren’t familiar with Chris Chamelon and his amazing voice, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was a chameleon on helium as he employes the upper part of his range for this fun filled frolic that is as cheeky and cute as a monkey. However, those in the know will know that Chris Chamelon has such an amazing vocal range that he was able to execute this song without the aid of studio wizardry or extra tight trousers (and that includes the cartoon like aping of the ape of which he sings).
Aside from the vocal talents on display in this song, we can also hear the influence of Europe (Belgium and Holland in particular) where he has had some success, initially as a member of Boo! but also as a solo artist. This shows through in the street-busker accordion that pervades the song.
After the break up of Boo!, Chameleon seemed to be heading in a more serious musical direction as his solo material had less of the light-hearted feel of that he created in the group, but there were still the occasional smile-inducing tracks around and none more so than ‘Apie’. Others in a similar vein include ‘Soen’, ‘Kersfees In Afrika’ and ‘Klein Klein Jakkalsies’, and when one contrasts these to some of the more serious material (which in itself is very good and I’m by no means dismissing it here), you realise just how versatile this Chameleon is and no matter what your mood, you can find a song of his to suit it. ‘Apie’ is for your more playful moments.
Where to find it:
Kyk Hou Lyk Ons Nou – Chris Chameleon (2009, Rhythm Records


Feeling The Spaces – Asylum Kids

Fight It With Your Mind - Asylum Kids

Fight It With Your Mind – Asylum Kids

It was UK punk band Sham ’69 who sang, ‘If the kids are united, then we’ll never be divided’. Well back in the 80s in South Africa the kids known as Robbi Robb, Steve Howells and Dino Archon were united for a little while under the banner of the Asylum Kids and produced a couple of great punk albums, but then they divided and went on to Tribe After Tribe and The Dynamics, but while they were united, there was little division among punk fans that they were the best band in the country (fans of Sonja Herholdt and the like would probably have disagreed).

‘Feeling The Spaces’ appeared on their debut album ‘Fight It With Your Mind’ and does not have spaces, but definitely has feeling. The song is a controlled barrage of thrashy punk. I say controlled as there is a tune in there – it’s not just a noise – which doesn’t relent as it rattles through the 3 minutes 43 seconds at pace with angry drums clashing with heated guitars and underpinned by a pulsing bass.

The feeling comes to the fore in Robbi’s voice as he injects venom into lyrics like ‘and everyone seems to doubt the leaders’ and ‘coldness is spreading/out here it’s lonely’. This is South African punk at its best, and it sounds as fresh and invigorating now as it did back then.

Where to find it:
Fight it with Your Mind/Solid (Aka The Complete Asylum Kids) – Asylum Kids (2005) Fresh Music, FRESHCD 147


Summer Sun – Zen Arcade

Release - Zen Arcade

Release – Zen Arcade

After the success of their debut album ‘Snowflake’, Zen Arcade were faced with the difficult second album which they called ‘Release’ just to make sure you knew what it was. On the album is a jaunty tune called ‘Summer Sun’ which lives up to its title. It’s a bright affair and lacks the edginess that earlier songs like ‘Crazy Over You’ had. There are hints of Just Jinger and UK band Dodgy (remember them?) in the song.

I imagine that this song was possibly written in the UK where, if you’ve ever spent a winter in that part of the world will know the light bouncy feeling you get the first time the gloomy grey lifts and the biting cold eases itself into the first warm sunny day. And the song is just like that, it’s like a gloom has been lifted from your life. It’s not sugar sweet poppy nonsense, the band have maintained their rock sensibilities with this direction, so those who like their Zen Arcade to have a harder edge should not be too disappointed with this.

If you could imagine the Velvet Underground making cheerful music (yes, I know that’s quite hard to do), you might get an idea of what this song sounds like. File alongside Just Jinger’s ‘Paradise In Summertime’ and listen to when its cold and miserable. It will perk you up.

Where to find it:
Release – Zen Arcade (2003), Risa Kell

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


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