1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Thank You – Lionel Bastos

Rising Above The Madness - Lionel Bastos

Rising Above The Madness – Lionel Bastos

Leonel Levy Lopes Bastos is another of those artists who weren’t born and bred in South Africa, but who we count as one of our own. I know it’s a bit of a cheat, but when you’ve got people from other countries who come to our fair shores and make great music, you can’t help but claim it as ours. Bastos was born in Maupto in Mozambique, but made his music in South Africa.

It is gentle, beautiful music that Bastos makes and ‘Thank You’ is a fine example of this. Describing ‘Rising Above The Madness’, the album this was taken from and Bastos’ 3rd, The SA Rockdigest called it “an assortment of stirring vocals, sweeping strings, and wide-screen, emotional arrangements” and goes on to talk about Bastos having “a fluid songwriting touch, an ear for the hooky lyric, and a warm, emotive voice”. I quote this review of the album here as it goes a long way to summing up ‘Thank You’. It has mellow vocals that stir the senses, althought the strings on this track are more classical plucked than sweeping, but there is a sense of wide screen-ness to the song as it seems to stretch out (as lazily as a Sunday arvie) across an aural landscape. The sweeping comes more from the backing vocals which are floating ‘aaahs’ that are the velvet cushion on which the honey edged vocals of Lionel are presented to you.

This is perfect relaxing music. Think James Blunt without the annoyingly smug attitude.

Where to find it:
Rising Above The Madness – Lionel Bastos (2000), SAFM, CDVM35

Hear here.

Spaces Tell Stories – Roger Lucey

21 Years Down The Road - Roger Lucey

21 Years Down The Road – Roger Lucey

Here’s a political one from Roger Lucey. That’s a bit like saying here’s a heavy one from Deep Purple. Lucey virtually exclusively did political songs, and he was one of our best at doing so. But back in the day, you weren’t allowed to hear political, so most of his stuff was only heard by a limited few (his seminal album ‘The Road Is Much Longer’ was banned outright).
‘Spaces Tell Stories’ is about the censorship of the press during the State of Emergency in the 80’s in South Africa. Newspapers like the Weekly Mail had large chunks of their stories blacked out, so we couldn’t be told what was happening in the country. But, as Roger observed, you didn’t need to read the stories to know what was going on. As the opening line of the song says, ‘Spaces tell stories/and details aren’t needed/you hear things you don’t want to know’.
‘Spaces Tell Stories’ could almost be classified as punk as it is a brief 2 minute 37 second angry rant at the establishment, but where it falls down on the punk front is that the instrumentation is far more refined and melodic than some of the thrashy sound your usual punks make. Instead, the anger manifests itself as it builds to a ragged military beat that goes to war against the subject matter, somewhat akin to John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ where the music spits out the message with as much venom as the words do.
South Africa is a lot further down the road from where it was when Lucey recorded this song, but it still stands as a milestone on that journey we took, a stark reminder of where we have been.

Where to find it:
21 Years Down The Road – Roger Lucey (2000), 3rd Ear Music


Hear here:


Gimme A Break – The Rockets

Gimme A Break - The Rockets

Gimme A Break – The Rockets

The Rockets were formed in Cape Town in 1968 (1 year before another famous Rocket went to the moon) and played funky soul music in the style of motown bands such as The Four Tops and the like. They grew in popularity, winning the Battle Of The Bands competition in 1969 and went on to perform on the BBC music show ‘Top Of The Pops’ with Tom Jones and Marmalade.
They went through a number of line-up changes and by 1985 had Ronnie Joyce (formerly known as Little Ronnie Joyce, but presumably he grew up) on vocals when they recorded ‘Gimme A Break’. I have come across 2 versions of the song, one where the funk-o-meter is turned up and they sound somewhat like a circa 1983/84 Kool & The Gang. On the other version there is a thumping bass dance beat that falls just short of becoming Hi-NRG. It doesn’t matter which version you manage to get your grubby little paws on, as both are sufficiently dance injected and funk-filled songs to have toe-tapping at a bare minimum, as you won’t be sitting down to do so, you’ll be out there on the dancefloor.
The lyrics are not deep or insightful, but when you are shakin’ your thang on the dancefloor, you don’t want ‘save the world’ stuff thrown at you, you want light-hearted words about love and dancing. So, ‘Gimme a break, gimme a chance, gotta get down, dance dance’ is perfectly suited lyrics for a song of such a genre. It’s about enjoying yourself.
The song made it onto the Radio 702 charts back Novemebr 1985 and reached number 3 there.

Where to find it: (Vinyl) Thank You Thank You (1986), Mike Fuller Music, FML1011


Which Way To Go – Robin Auld

Iron In The Sky - Robin Auld

Iron In The Sky – Robin Auld

If one were to talk of two guitars making beautiful music in a South African context the most obvious thought would be of Steve Newman and Tony Cox. But wait, here we have 2 guitars making beautiful music and there is singing on top of it! But hey, Cox & Newman can’t be expected to produce every single 2 guitared piece in South Africa.

So who are these guitar players and who is doing the singing. Well, as the title of this entry in the list will tell you, one is Robin Auld who one presumes is doing the acoustic strumming and the main vocals are immediately recognisable as his husky laid-back ones. But there is a decidedly South African electric guitar dancing around Auld’s acoustic and this is supplied by one Louis Mahlanga who is a well known name in South African music circles.

There is such a great synergy between the two guitars as they both trying to out joie de vivre each other, that they are sensibly given almost a minute and a half for an instrumental break. It’s infectious music that makes you glad to be alive. Poignantly, the song was co-written by Auld and James Phillips and the version on ‘Iron In The Sky’ was recorded live in Grahamstown. Phillips was killed in a car cash going to perform at the festival and this song is a hugely suitable tribute to him, not only because of its life-affirming beauty, but the synergy of the ‘white’ acoustic sound with the ‘black’ electric guitar to create a rainbow nation song would have pleased James.

Where to find it:
Iron In The Sky – Robin Auld, November 2000, (CDVM27)


God Keep The People (Who Stay Awake At Night) – John Oakley-Smith

Matinees On Saturdays - John Oakley-Smith

Matinees On Saturdays – John Oakley-Smith

There is an artist in the UK who in 2012 ‘did a Rodriguez’. That is, he recorded an album in 1967 and then another one in 1971 and then disappeared from sight only to have success come and find him decades later. This guy was Bill Fay who, following much touting in ‘Uncut’, a UK music magazine, eventually had an album in the UK charts.

And we all know the Rodriguez story of how he made 2 brilliant albums that did nothing then disappeared from sight, only to make a huge global comeback. John Oakley-Smith’s problem is that he only made 1 brilliant album that did nothing in 1976, but that shouldn’t preclude him from getting the recognition he deserves should it?

Just have a listen to the beautiful ‘God Keep The People (Who Stay Awake At Night)’ and then try and figure out why this man did not get more accolades. Like Rodriguez and Fay, Smith had an eye for human characters that he brings into his songs especially in this one where as he asks God to look after those nightowls whom most of us hardly notice. And, like Rodriguez and Fay, he brings them to our attention through great tunes. But where perhaps he outdoes Rodriguez and to a degree Fay, (and I may be going out on a limb here) is that he has a better voice. His is somewhat akin to Nick Drake and that is perfect for the music he plays.

So while you are listening to ‘God Keep The People’ maybe one of you out there may think about making a film called ‘Seaching For Matinee Man’.

turWhere to find it:
If you’re lucky you may find a vinyl copy of his brilliant LP ‘Matinees On Saturdays’ at a second hand shop. The song’s on that.


Pasadena – John Edmond

Pasadena - John Edmond

Pasadena – John Edmond

During the Second World War, it was Tipperary that was such a long way to. With inflation and all that followed, by the time we came to 1972 it was a long, long way (that’s double the amount of longs) that one had to travel and this time it was to Pasadena. For someone in South Africa (or Zimbabwe where John Edmond spent part of his life, or even Zambia where John was born), Pasadena was certainly further away than Tipperary (which is in Ireland in case you didn’t know).

However for John Paul Young (who sang the original of the song ‘Pasadena’) Tipperary would have been a long, long way from his native Australia while Pasadena (near the west coast of America) would only have been a long way.

Despite the distances one would have had to travel, John Edmond would make the trip easier with this little ditty. His version is a smooth, easy going one which has a slight country tinge to it, helping you to sit back and enjoy the ride. On the other hand John Paul Young’s version would give you a bumpy reggae beat tinged ride. Its up to you to chose which one to have on your playlist for the journey.

‘Pasadena was Edmond’s 4th SA top 20 hit which would make number 5 and spend 17 weeks on the chart, thus performing better in SA than John Paul Young would in his native Australia as he only managed to get to number 16 there with his version.

Where to find it:
Singles bins

John Edmonds:

John Paul Young:

Master Jack – David Marks

Hidden Years - David Marks

Hidden Years – David Marks

Sometimes it’s better to have someone else sing the songs you write and when you listen to David Marks working his way through this classic tune that he penned you can’t help yearing for the flowery pop of the Four Jacks and the beautiful voice of Jill (Glenys Lynne). However, there is something strange, strange and alluring about this version which can be found on David Marks’ album ‘The Hidden Year’.

He slows the song down, dismisses that lovely plucked guitar work and replaces it with a lush orchestration and electric guitar. It must also be said that Marks does not have the best singing voice (but better than some that have committed their voice to vinyl – Anneline Kriel springing immediately to mind) and he puts emphasis on words in what I would regard as strange, strange places.

Despite all this, Marks’ version is interesting as it gives one an insight into perhaps how the song originally sounded in his mind and its not often you get to hear this where the artist who had a hit with a song is not the one who wrote it. And here we get the idea that this song was about the beauty of the world around us, not only from the lyrics, but from the way Marks sings and arranges this version. There is a sense of a person in a beautiful landscape, with a wide sky full of stars above them, slowly swirling round to take it all in. There is a depth to this version that Four Jacks and A Jill’s one never had. Both are great tracks to listen to, Four Jacks for those frivolous moments when you don’t feel like deeper feelings, but just want to be happy, and Marks’ version for when you want to sit back and contemplate life, the universe and everything.

Where to find it:
David Marks – The Hidden Years – Songs from 1964 to 1994, 3rd Ear Music, 3eM CD 003

Waiting (For A Miracle) – Dog Detachment

Waiting (For A Miracle) - Dog Detachment

Waiting (For A Miracle) – Dog Detachment

After Dog Detchment announced themselves on 1983’s ‘The Last Laugh’ (having already released a few singles over the prior 3 years), we had to wait another 2 years for the glorious ‘Fathoms Of Fire’ to surface. While fans weren’t quite waiting for a miracle, they were possibly a little surprised at what did arrive. ‘Fathoms’ wasn’t quite as hectic and angry as its predecessor.

However, while they may have lost a few hardcore punk fans, they would have gained a whole lot of new fans who had not quite taken to the angry noise of punk. Songs like ‘Touch The Sky’ and ‘Cheri Amour’ started to get airplay along with the brilliant ‘Waiting (For A Miracle’.

Imagine, if you will, sitting outside on a warm summer night, the crickets reminding you that you are in Africa. From somewhere inside the house, someone plays a somewhat eerie melody on a piano. Then the guitars take over and the Armstong brothers (and Mike and Adam) suck you up into that great expanse of sky above the house with their vocals that sound close, yet somehow faraway. The guitars carry a floating melody, the bass booms an ominous beat and still that haunting piano keeps you attached to earth by the merest of threads. What bliss! This is otherworldy punk that you can travel on.

The song made number 15 on the 702 charts and was their only hit on any of the music radio stations in SA during the 80s. Perhaps the army is to blame, as the Armstrongs were called up just when they were really needed to promote the album. Perhaps the chorus of ‘Waiting for a change, waiting for a miracle to come’ scared a few at the SABC into not playing the song too much. Could that possible have been about looking for the end of apartheid?

Where to find it:
Best Kept Secrets – Dog Detachment (2001) Retrofresh, freshcd115


Bonely Bonela – Gries Heimer

David Gresham

David Gresham

For those in the know (and those of us who looked it up on Google) a guiro is a scraping instrument which produces a sound by scraping a stick over a notched piece of wood to create a fast clicking sound. And why, you may well ask, do we need to know this. Well because it is used in the chorus of ‘Bonely Bonela’ and I’m sure when you listened to it back in 1972, you sat there going, ‘what on earth is making that strange sound on this record? Is it scratched?’

And you probably would have been even more convinced of a pressing defect had you heard the original Italian version by Filipino singer Antonio Morales Barretto who went under the name of Junior as that version is guiroless (not a word you hear everyday, admit it). The instrument had its origins in South America and it’s not surprising that Gries decided to add it to his version of the song as it has a a flavour of songs from that part of the world. It’s a gently flowing pop tune with a quick rumba beat.

But who was this mysterious man called Gries Heimer. Well take away the “i” in his first name, join the 2 names, change the “ei” in the second name to an “a” and drop the “er” at the end… okay I’ll tell you, it’s easier that way. David Gresham. Yes this was Gruesome Gresh who scored a number 19 hit on the Springbok Radio charts (yes, the ones he used to present – no wonder he changed his name on the single) and spent a week there on 6 October 1972. So keep you feet on the ground, reach for the stars and enjoy this pleasant pop tune. As Frankie Valli put it, ‘Gries is the word.’

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


Here Comes The Sun – Hawk

African day - Hawk

African day – Hawk

Imagine, if you can, that John, Paul, George and Ringo had been born in Bloemfontein instead of Liverpool. And that they had been born about a decade later than they were. Apart from them not having scouse accents, and that they may have been called Jan Lennon, Paul Makhati, George Harrismith and Ringo Stêr they may have brought a different whole new sound to the world.

Have a listen to Hawk’s cover of the Fab Four’s ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and you’ll get an idea of what they may have sounded like. This cover version is a rare thing in that it has an Afrorock take on a Beatles Classic. Written by George Harrison, Dave Ornellas & Co take this pretty little tune, drag it through the African bush, let a few elephants trample on it, get a witchdoctor to chant some spells over it and then set it loose to roam the plains.

It’s a dusty take on the original that starts off calmly like and African sunrise, but as that great orange ball in the sky breaks loose of the horizon and the day begins to heat up, so does the song. Up till this point, it has kept closely to the original tune (tune, not style), but then it begins to speed up, Ornellas bursts out in a rant and the song become a herd of buffalo rampaging through the Kruger Park. It’s the aural equivalent of the great migration.

Where to find it:
African Day – Hawk (2001), Reftrofresh, freshcd 108


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