1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Save Me – Clout

Save Me - Clout

Save Me – Clout

With all the excitement about Clout’s version of ‘Substitute’ getting to number 2 in the UK (and number 67 in the US), other hits of theirs get a bit relegated. One of their other great hits was ‘Save Me’, a cover of a song originally recorded by Irish singer Clodagh Rodgers. Like ‘Substitute’ (which was the b-side of a Righteous Brothers hit), the first recording of the song did nothing for the artist who first recorded it.

Clout, however, injected some vooma into the song and had it speeding up the local charts and some of the European ones. It peaked at number 8 in SA and made number 6 in Holland, number 4 in Switzerland, 14 in Austria, 4 in Germany and 5 in Belgium. Comparing it to the Clodagh Rodgers version, it’s not too surprising that Clout’s one was the hit. Clodagh does a pleasant enough job of it, but it seems a bit bland in comparison to the dose of ROCK! that Cindy Alter et al brought to the song. To put it in other terms it’s like comparing a Carpenters song to a Suzi Quatro one. You can listen to Clodagh, but you can dance to Clout.

Clout open their version with a strong harmonised voice of “Save Me/Take Me Away To The Moonlight/The people around me don’t feel right” before tumbling into a stomping beat that is reminiscent of Slade (sans the howling of Noddy Holder) with drums a-pounding, guitars a-roaring and Cindy giving a great vocal performance. Perhaps it is time to substitute your favourite Clout track with this for a little while.

Where to find it:
20 Greatest Hits – Clout (1992), Gallo Records, CDCLOUT 1



Clodagh Rodgers:

Gange Van Babylon – Valiant Swart

Deur Die Donker Vallei - Valiant Swart

Deur Die Donker Vallei – Valiant Swart

In 2002, after having given us 3 albums (‘Dorpstraat Revisited’, ‘Die Mystic Boer’ and ‘Kopskoot’) a live album (‘Voetstoets’) and an EP (‘Roekeloos’) all of high quality music, one could have been forgiven for thinking that perhaps Valiant Swart was due a dud one. But instead he gave us arguably his best album…ever in ‘Deur Die Donker Vallei’. It is an album chock full of great tunes and they don’t come much better than ‘Gange Van Bablylon’.  But what are the gange van Bablyon?

Perhaps a quick Biblical lesson is necessary here. In Old Testament times, the Jewish nation was forced into exile in Babylon, one of the major powers of the day. So the song is about being transported back in time to be exiled in an ancient city, right? Well no, not really. Babylon is said to be derived from the Hebrew word for ‘confusion’, so it may be about being a bit deurmekaar. Maybe. A closer look at the lyrics suggests that it could be about the upheaval and violence in the country post the collapse of apartheid.

Whatever the subject matter, it’s safe to say that the song is a smooth blues ride. There’s a steady rhythm courtesy of Vernon Swart on drums and Schalk Joubert on bass, which is supplemented by one of the finest blues guitarists south of the Limpopo – Albert Frost. Valiant himself, apart from singing, plays guitars and adds a harmonica to the bridges between verses. The whole package is firmed out by Simon ‘Agent’ Orange’s Hammond organ. This song is a bit like the ring in Lord of The Rings. It is like a strange, beautiful thing to keep you company through those confused times, something polished, beautiful and powerful to accompany one on your journey. And something that strangely gives you a reason to keep going. This song is precious.

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

Hear here:


Dis die winter van die jakkels
Die somer van die slang
Wat ‘n sluwe seisoen
Onder ‘n hartseer son
Die sout van die aarde
Dwarrel en draai
In die gange van Babylon
Brabbel almal in brabbel taal
En niemad wil luister nie
En niemand verstaan
Pandemonium in die gange van Babylon

Dit rammel in die vlei
Dit huil by die bobbejaankrans
Dit dreun met die laning langs
Oor die plein kom dit aangedans
En niemand skenk aandag daaraan
Want daar’s niemand wat verstaan
Wat gaan aan vanaand in die gange van Baylon

In die bosse van Babel
Rank die kinders van Kaan
Tussen die dorings
In die hangende tuin
En die water van verwarring
Syfer deur die mure
In die gange van Babylon
Slaan die laaste ure
En daar’s niemand wat verstaan
Hoekom alles vergaan
In die gange van Babylon

(Written by Valiant Swart)

A Proud People – Vusi Mahlasela

Miyela Afrika - Vusi Mahlsela

Miyela Afrika – Vusi Mahlsela

Vusi Mahlasela is known as The Voice, so it is a bit strange to hear an instrumental piece from him, but this is what we find in ‘A Proud People’ and it is a reminder that he is more than voice. Perhaps it is because his voice is so beautiful that we sometimes forget that there are instruments playing on his songs.

Like many black South Africans, Vusi started out playing on a guitar made from fishing line and an old oil can, but as he grew up, his voice took centre stage and his playing faded into the background. On ‘A Proud People’ we get a chance to focus on this other side of The Voice and we find that he has another ‘voice’ which is just as gentle and beautiful. This jazzy, laid back guitar piece is as good for the soul as listening to Vusi singing a capella. Okay maybe not quite as goosebump inducing, but certainly as relaxing.

Frontmen always take the limelight in any band, sometimes to the point of totally obscuring the engine room of sound makers behind them. Here we get a good opportunity to see the musician in Vusi step up and take front stage for a moment, while the voice takes a little break.

Where to find it:
Miyela Afrika – Vusi Mahlasela (2000), Colossal, CDCLL7040


Martyr – Awakening

The Fountain - Awakening

The Fountain – Awakening

The Awakening, fronted by the enigmatic Ashton Nyte, took the work that No Friends Of Harry had done in establishing a Gothic base in South Africa, and took it to new levels. Incorporating elements of industrial dance music (which No Friends Of Harry did not have at their disposal), and featuring an ever changing line up, The Awakening have blazed a fire of black flames across the country since 1995.

Taken from their 2001 offering ‘The Fountain’, ‘Martyr’ climbed to number 5 on the SA Rockdigest charts and led the way for 3 more top 20 hits in that chart. It seems a little redundant to call a Goth song dark, but this one is full to the brim of all the necessary components of a good Goth track. It has the arcing, portentous orchestral sounds, a steady rock beat and some screaming guitars thrown in now and again for good measure. But at its black heart it has the back of the throat growling vocals that force themselves out of dark lipsticked lips, like a mutant child not wanting to be born.

Ashton has perfected the Andrew Eldritch (the King of Goth who fronted the Sisters of Mercy), yowl. He can do that evil-voice, emotive gravelly growl, but can also soar to the peaks, creating sonic darklands for one to hurtle over in a fighter jet made from a long black coat. ‘Martyr’ is more than a song, it is a journey into the unsettling, it is a going over to the aural dark side.

Where to find it:
The Fountain – Awakening (2001), Intervention Arts, INT016


Safe As Houses – aKing

Dutch Courage - aKing

Dutch Courage – aKing

‘Safe As Houses’ starts off with a big Western Soundtrack sounding guitar, but, as the vocals kick in, becomes a dark and brooding rock song. Its sort of a cross between the goth rock of Fields of The Nephelim and the grunge of Nirvana except its not as noisy, it is more controlled. Laudo Libenberg’s vocals are deep and gloom laden but Inge Beckman who accompanies him brings a female component to proceedings and the synergies from this prevent the song from becoming too depressing.

The video for the song show a man wearing a toy crown building a cardboard castle on what looks like the bit of park by the Sea Point Promenade in Cape Town. The problem occurs when it starts raining and the cardboard castle begins to disintegrate and this is quite a good visual representation of the lyrics. ‘Safe As Houses’ is at odds with its title in that we are not quite as safe as we think we are. Our inner thoughts and dreams invariable leak out into the open and leave us vulnerable. “And vinyl floors can’t hide/Stained memories bleed and bloom/Our secrets like weeds”.

Its not a happy song, but it is one that makes you think.

Where to find it:
Dutch Courage – aKing (2008), Rhythm Records, RR087



Wishboan – Boo!

Seventies Eighties Nineties Naughties - Boo!

Seventies Eighties Nineties Naughties – Boo!

A bass guitar saunters out of your speakers as an anxious xylophone flaps around it. Then Chris Chameleon’s shifty-eyed vocals come sliding across this. A monkey (punk) impersonating a harmonica adds a ‘woe is me’ background and then the song swells with warm trumpets as Chris pleads “Oh my wishboan/oh my shooting star/walk with me”.

This is a less hectic Boo! track that threatens to bubble over, but only loses control of itself mometarily at two points in the song when Princess Leonie goes a little ape on his drums and Chris Chameleon’s attacks his bass with a little more vigour, but just as they try and lead the song down a heavier path, the Nordic Viking looking Ampie Omo calms them down with a soothing trumpet.

Boo! were better know for more punkish and faster songs, but occasionally they would calm things down and produce deliciously laid back songs like ‘Wishboan’.  Somewhat melancholic it has warm brassy moments and the occasional moments of letting off steam but overall it is a song that draws you in and makes you feel safe.

Where to find it:
Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, Naughties –Boo! (2000) Monki Punk Productions, BOOCD03


Charly – Sean Rennie

Charly - Sean Rennie

Charly – Sean Rennie

Sean Rennie was born in Ireland, auditioned for the Vienna Boys Choir, but didn’t make the grade. He moved to South Africa in 1964 and formed a band called Purple Haze. While still with the band he started making a name for himself as a solo arist. His first Springbok Top 20 hit was in 1970 called ‘I’ll Walk With You,’ which made it to number 13. A few years (and singles) later, he popped up with ‘Charly’ (2 years before Rabbitt’s ‘Charlie’ a completely different song). ‘Charly’ made number 4 on the SA Top 20 and had a 13 week run there.

Perhaps it’s just the fact that he was born in Ireland, but there is a Joe Dolan thing going on in this song. It’s a love ballad similar to those that Dolan was famous for and Rennie’s voice, while not quite as sharp, has a similar pleading quality to it. Where it does differ from Dolan is that the song hinges around a psychedelic riff that has been modified for a pop song. A Greek bazouki sound pops up during the chorus giving the song a Mediterranean flavour.

‘Charly’ tells the typical story of boy meets angel, boy marries angel, angel buggers off. The stuff of true romance. It was produced by David Gresham and Alan Goldswain and was a good example of what was popular pop back in the 70s. It was a local(ish) lad doing what the artists in the UK and US were doing, and doing it well.

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


Hoe Ry Die Trein – Silwer de Lange

Silwer de Lange

Silwer de Lange

Silwer de Lange was born Johannes Petrus de Lange in 1904. He apparently earned the nickname ‘Silwer’ from the pure sound he could coax out of a concertina. He was the leader of the Vyf Dagbrekers boereorkes and passed away on 18 December 1956. What this tells you is that this entry on this list is one of the oldies.

It is a simple concertina led ditty, that has Silwer twiddling away (or whatever the correct term is for pushing and squashing) over what sounds like a banjo and and guitar. The recording that appears on the ‘Huisgenoot 90 Jaar Van Afrikaanse Musiek’ does sound like it was recorded in black and white as it sounds old.

The song was also known as ‘So Ry Die Trien (Die Kimberly Se Trein)’ and was recorded by a number of artists including versions with lyrics. Any of these other versions can be listened to, but as Silwer de Lange was a much respected master of the concertina, perhaps his one is the one to get.

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

Dancing In The Moonlight – Wozani

Dancing In The Moonlight – Wozani

Dancing In The Moonlight - Wozani

Dancing In The Moonlight – Wozani

George van Dyk, the driving force behind Wozani was a one time bass player with Hotline who, strangely enough, produced an album called ‘Wozani’ in 1985. Other members of the band included ex-Zia (a band that Clout’s Cindy Alter fronted) personnel Graham Clifford, Abe Sibiya and Bheki Gumbi. Wozani’s only output was an album released in 1990 called ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ and the title track opens the album.

It is no small surprise that the song harks back to the sounds that Hotline and Zia made – danceable synthpop infused with township jive sensibilities and an obligatory blast on the sax (courtesy of Mike Faure). ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ does not have to be taken literally. You can dance to it at any time of day or night as that is what it was made for. It bounces along, toe a-tapping and bodies a-swaying, with a joie de vivre that has party written all over it. It is not too dissimilar to Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing On The Ceiling’ and ‘All Night Long’ except that it was plainly made in Africa and is less clinical and more earthy.

George van Dyk delivers a powerful vocal to this little known gem from a time when the country was changing and this kind of music was beginning to go out of fashion. Perhaps it was released a little too late to have made a major impact on the local charts, but anyone who enjoyed the ethnopop that was produced in South Africa in the mid-eighties should enjoy this laatlammetjie.

Where to find it:
Not available on CD, you need to look for the vinyl: Dancing In The Moonlight – Wozani (1990), RPM Records, RPM 7135 (cassette CCRPM 7135)

Saint Judas – Ramsay MacKay


Saint Judas - Ramsay MacKay

Saint Judas – Ramsay MacKay

Thunder rolls across a menacing sky, but the storm does not come. The clouds suddenly disappate and the sun begins to pulse over the land again. But it is a harsh sun that bakes the country in its unrelenting heat. That is how the start of ‘Saint Judas’ feels. There is a blast of guitar and keyboard at the start of the song that sound ominous. But this fades and a thumping beat begins with Ramsay’s growled Scottish vocals bellowing at you.

Then, into this harsh heat come a cool breeze in the form of a beautiful violin riff (are violins allowed riffs?) and some shady sax interludes which prevent the song from being just a howling growling stompathon. The heavy syncopation is offset perfectly by the tuneful sax and violins, creating a song dense in sound, yet strangely refreshing.

‘Saint Judas’ was actually the b-side of Ramsay’s single ‘Silent Water’ (which was also released in Spanish as ‘Agua Silenciosa’) and was the opening track on his album ‘The Suburbs Of Ur’. It features Rabbitt’s Ronnie Robot on bass and was produced by Julian Laxton and Patric van Blerk. With names like this helping out Ramsay (who was in Freedom’s Children remember) it is not surprising that this song could be included in this list.

Where to find it:
Astral Daze 3 – Various (2012), Fresh Music, FRESHCD185

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