1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Set Of Wheels (Karoo Anthem) – Karen Zoid

Karen Zoid

Karen Zoid

In 2001 there was a rumbling in South African music, a rumbling like a juggernaut storming through the Karoo, a large plume of dust trying to catch up with it as the engine roared like a mighty lion. And slowly the truck smashes its way throught the heat haze, taking shape and form till it eventually hurtled out of the desert and…

…well it wasn’t a large mean mothertrucker after all. It was a small silver disc entitled ‘Poles Apart’ and it landed in our midst. The scientists amongt us reached for their technical equipment which they called a ‘CD Player’ and, with trembling hands, delicately placed the silver disc into the belly of the machine and punched a button…

…and the disc began to roar. All jumped back in amazement and awe at the sound. And then came a voice, a sort of sweet sound, but it was not all sweet. There was an edge to it as it told a tale of a road that traversed large distances and the wheels that pound that road…

…and that, dear friends, is how the legend of Karen Zoid began.

Where to find it:
Poles Apart – Karen Zoid (June 2001), EMI, CDEMCD5938

Cry For You – Nibs van der Spuy

A Bird In The Hand - Nibs van der Spuy

A Bird In The Hand – Nibs van der Spuy

Don’t know how many of you out there know about Martin Stephenson. Well he made an album in 1986 called ‘Boat To Bolivia’ and its really worthwhile checking out. It combines great acoustic guitar playing with beautiful lyrics and the reggae tinged title track is laid back heaven.

But why am I telling you all this. Well because when I listened to Nibs van der Spuy’s album ‘A Bird In The Hard’ I immediately thought of Martin Stephenson and in particular his ‘Boat To Bolivia’ album as, not only does Nibs sound quite a lot like Martin vocally speaking, he also seems to have captured that gentle beauty of lilting guitar set against poingnant lyrics delivered in a laid back style.

I chose ‘Cry To You’ from the album for this list although there could be a number of other contenders, but the thing that attracted me to ‘Cry For You’ is the slight reggae beat to the song which, while completely different to Stephenson’s ‘Boat To Bolivia’ seems to capture that same feel that makes a great feel good track.

Nibs is an expert acoustic guitar player and that is evident throughout the album particularly on the instrumental piece, ‘Tibouchina’. On ‘Cry To Me’ this is complimented with some organ and mouth organ to flesh out the simplicity of a man and his guitar. This is laid-back at its best.

Where to find it:
Nibs van der Spuy – A Bird In The Hand (2008), Sheer Sound, SSCD522


Here We Are – Face To Face

Here We Are – Face To Face

Here We Are – Face To Face

Face To Face were the pretty boys of the mid 80’s South African music scene. They had the Duran Duran type looks and could craft a good pop tune. At the time some touted them as the new Rabbitt. But their longevity matched neither Duran Duran nor Rabbitt as they lasted just 18 months, but in that time they garned a good following in the country, mostly based on the strength of ‘Here We Are’, their first single.

This plaintive love song managed to get to number 22 on the SA Top 30, spending 9 weeks in the charts. It would also top the Capital Radio and Radio 702 charts as well as getting to 13 on the Radio 5 charts. And it’s not too hard to see why it was the success it was. This was a pre-cursor to the boy band sound that would find greater success in the 90s and beyond, but unlike the boy bands to come, these guys could also play instruments. They could do the harmonies as well as the guitars so guys and girls took to them.

‘Here We Are’ is a cross between a boy band song and a rock ballad with soulful vocals, orchestral sounding music and a bit of a workout for the guitar in the middle. Their second single, ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ would show their rockier side, but ‘Here We Are’ was not a bad start to their career. Unfortunately for them, this career never really took off so we all we have is a couple of singles and an album to remember them by. I guess we now have to say ‘There They Were’, but when they were here, they certainly made their mark with one of the local hits of the 80s.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 2 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40486 (CD)


R.I.P. Piet Botha 1955 – 2019

It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of one of South Africa’s greats. Piet Botha was a stalwart of the local music scene with a career spanning nearly 40 years from his early days in Wildebeest and moving on to Jack Hammer, working with The Lyzyrd Kings and also having a solo career. The man was a true great and will be sorely missed. He brought us many classic songs and here are the ones that have appeared on this list so far:


Jack Hammer

Piet Botha:



Omunye – Distruction Boyz ft Benny Maverick & Dladla Mshunqisi

Gqom Is The Future - Distruction Boyz

Gqom Is The Future – Distruction Boyz

Ever heard of gqom? Well if it’s any consolation, neither had I until I came across an article on the BBC’s website entitled ‘The South African sound taking over Europe’. The short article and accompanying video was mainly about Durban’s ‘Distruction Boys’ and how their style of music called gqom was garnering a following in Europe to the extent that they had been nominated for the Best African Act at the MTV Europe music awards (they didn’t win unfortunately).

So what exactly is gqom? Well, judging from the various tracks I’ve heard, its kind of like a clash between kwaito, 1990’s electronic dance music and hip hop (although I’ve probably left off some other influences). The Distruction Boyz, namely Que and Goldmax from the home of gqom, KwaMashu in KwaZulu Natal, are at the forefront of this movement and ‘Omunye’ is one of their most popular tracks.

It has a kwaito beat but overlaid with that sort of vast electronic sound that acts like Leftfield, The Orb and The Chemical Brothers used. On the lyrical front there is not a lot to talk about with the song’s title ‘Omunye’ which means ‘one’ according to Google’s translate function. But, like most dance music, its about the beats, not the words, and this ‘one’ you can surely dance to. Not the bouncing round your bedroom practising your John Travolta moves mind you, this is the jumping around a club with loads of flashing lights kind of dancing we’re talking about.

The Boyz have also been influenced by the American Hip Hop scene and you only need to watch the video for the song with the party at the mansion and loads of scantily clad woman all around the place posing and twerking to see this. While ‘Omunye’ draws on a variety of styles for its influence, there is a sort of freshness to the sound and one that you would struggle to imagine coming from anywhere else but South Africa.

Where to find it:
Gqom Is The Future – Distruction Boyz (2017)


Shot – Springbok Nude Girls

Springbok Nude Girls

Springbok Nude Girls

The Springbok Nude Girls’ ‘Shot’ had the honour of being one of the 20 songs to feature on the very first South African Rock Digest charts which first appeared on 30 July 2000. It sat at 11 that week and then dropped off the chart the following week, so its run on that particular chart was short lived. However, as we all know, chart performance does not necessarily reflect how good a song is. Some great songs never made the Springbok top 20 (Bright Blue’s ‘Weeping’ for example), while some dreadful songs spent weeks at number 1 (The Klaxon’s ‘Clap Clap Sound).

‘Shot’ is a fast-paced rocker with Arno Carstens’ voice soaring over racing drums and rushing guitars in a song that threatens to lose control, but just manages to hold it together in an edgy James Bond-eqsue helter skelter chase down winding mountain roads. But like the James Bond car chase, there is never a loss of the suave swagger.

‘Shot’ appeared on the Nude Girls’ 2000 album ‘Surpass The Powers’ and it just about does what the album title says it should. It’s a powerful tack but does it surpass the power of some of their previous offerings? Well, I’ll leave that for you to debate amongst yourselves, but it is certainly up there in terms of power-rock offerings from a band that certainly surpassed most other SA bands not only of that era, but perhaps of all time.

Where to find it:
The Fat Lady Sings – Springbok Nude Girls (2001), Epic, CDEPC8190
Surpass The Powers – Springbok Nude Girls (2000), Epic, CDEPC8105


Unfinished Story – Stimela

Unfinished Story – Stimela

Unfinished Story – Stimela

In case you din’t know it, Stimela means train as is steam train or high speed train or Thomas the Tank Engine train. However the Stimela that made the ‘Unfinished Story’ song were neither steam nor high-speed and none of them were called Thomas. One of them was called Ray and his surname was Phiri and he became a stalwart of the SA music scene and was one of those who was invited by Paul Simon to play on the ‘Graceland’ album.

Listening to ‘Unfinished Story’ one can’t easily make the leap to ‘Graceland’, well not from a musical sound point of view, but from a polished and accomplished musical point of view it would make sense. ‘Unfinished Story’ does not have a particularly ‘black South African’ sound to it as it could easily have rubbed shoulders with the jazzy Americans of the late 70’s early 80s such as Weather Report and Herbie Hancock and what the soulful funky chaps like Marvin Gaye and Rick James were doing around that time. The song mixes this jazzy-funk-soul into a polished six and a half minutes of laid back pleasure that would have found a good home being played in a smoke filled undergound club somewhere is the seedier areas of Joburg.

Stimela had been going since the late 70’s but this song which was the title track of their 1987 album of the same name, showed that they had become comfortable with their trade and were capable of fine nuggets like this. They continued to record and release albums up to 2011, so yes, the title of this track was true. Phiri sadly died in 2017.

Where to find it:
The Unfinished Story / Fire,Passion,Ecstasy – Stimela (1994), Gallo, CDGMP 40490 H


Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie – Koos Kombuis

Elke Boemelaar Se Droom - Koos Kombuis

Elke Boemelaar Se Droom – Koos Kombuis

I know I’ve already featured this song on this list, but that first entry was the superb cover by Frank Opperman. This time round we’re looking at the Koos Kombuis original. Except which version of the original to listen to. There’s the original original on the 1994 ‘Elke Boemelaar Se Drooom’, there’s a live version on the 2000 live album ‘Blou Kombuis’ and there is a re-working of it on 2008’s ‘Bloedrivier.

Well, I guess, the starting point has to be the original original. This is actually a pretty ordinary version which is sort of soft rock with some pleasant guitar licks. The live version is a bit grittier, mainly because of the rawness of Koos’ vocals. The ‘Bloedrivier’ version is somewhat different as there is a subdued intro which hinted at Koos retiring from the music scene with its lines ‘Jy’t gesê jy wil ‘n break vat’ (‘You said you wanted to take a break’) and ‘dit is tyd vir sabbatical’ (‘it’s time for a sabbatical’). But in the end he didn’t. However, this almost whispered first section of the song, doesn’t last too long before a harder edged rock version assails your speaker. The song is still the same old Johnny, but on this outing he rocks a lot more.

But like artists such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, its not so much the delivery that’s important, it’s the words that are where we should be focusing. This story of Johnny, presumably a drug addict of sorts, struck a chord with a lot of people as most know someone with a drug problem. Like the Johnny who called the Chemist a decade before him, this Johnny will also remain an important figure in the history of South African rock music.

Where to find it:
Elke Boemelaar se Droom – Koos Kombuis (1994) GMP, CDGMP40452
Blou Kombuis (Live) – Koos Kombuis (2000), Trapsuutjies Uitgewers, KK01
Bloedrivier – Koos Kombuis (2008)


Trein Na Matjiesfontein – Sonja Herholdt

Trein Na Matjiesfontein – Sonja Herholdt

Trein Na Matjiesfontein – Sonja Herholdt

No list of South African songs you have to hear would be complete if it didn’t include Sonja Herholdt’s ‘Trein Na Maatjiesfontein’. This was another of the Anton Goosen composed tracks that Sonja had a hit with (another one being ‘Waterblommetjies’) and you can hear Goosen itching to rock out a bit more as this features a fast beat, some guitars that are trying hard to be sugar sweet but are just wanting to let rip. And in fact, listening to the opening of this song, you hear shades of Heart’s ‘Barracuda’ there. Now that’s a comparison one probably wouldn’t expect.

Once we get over the ‘Barracuda’ intro, we settle into the clickety-clack rhythm of a train on the tracks that underpins Sonja sweet vocals. Anyone who has every been to Maatjiesfontein would agree that it’s worth visiting this pristine little dorp in the middle of nowhere in the Karoo with its white gabled colonial hotel and old-fashioned petrol pumps, but Sonja’s not heading there for the scenery, ‘iemand wag al daar’ for her, apparently. However, when I visited there was practically no one about, and the town just needed a tumbleweed rolling past to be one of those deserted towns one sees in old Western movies. So I hope that Sonja wasn’t stood up as she sound very excited about the whole adventure on this train (that goes by the name of Milly).

This is an SA classic and is worth digging out and listening to again, even if just for the guitar intro.

Where to find it:
Pêrels – Sonja Herholdt (2010), Select Musiek


Tinkerbell – Dorp

Danger Gevaar Ingozi - Dorp

Danger Gevaar Ingozi – Dorp

Dorp were a band that shone briefly in the late nineties and early naughties. They were somewhat quirky, somewhat serious, somewhat dancey, somewhat rocky in essence somewhat diverse-ey. And perhaps that was where they did not quite get it right. Perhaps their different sounds and personas made it difficult for anyone with narrow music tastes to really get into them.

My favourite Dorp track is the dance oriented ‘Madcow’ and for me they were at their best doing dance oriented songs. However they finally managed to get a record deal in the UK with a heavy rock sound.

‘Tinkerbell’, which appeared on the 1998 album ‘Danger Gevaar Ngozi’ shows another side of them as it is a jazzy-blues number which laid back with some sassy sax weaving its soulful sound around a mesmerising guitar riff and soft drums. Occassionally a bit of brass is thrown in for good measure.

The dreamy sound is compliemented by the lyrics which mention ‘You’re in the hands of Peter Pan/Tinkerbell let’s have a ball’ referring to the children’s story that is all about dreams. In the vast quantity of songs that were released on 1998, ‘Tinkerbell’ is just a dorp in the ocean, but it’s one worth seeking out for its magical qualities.

Where to find it:
Danger, Gevaar, Ngozi – Dorp, (1998), Wildebeest Records, WILDE 017

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