1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

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

It’s So Luvverly – Peach

It’s So Luvverly – Peach

On Loan For Evolution - Peach

On Loan For Evolution – Peach

Peach had 2 hits on the Springbok Top 20 in 1981. ‘It’s So Luvverly’ was not one of them. But it could well have been as it is as strong a track as ‘A Lot Of Things’ and ‘Nightmare’ which did make the charts. Coming from their only album ‘On Loan For Evolution’ this song is a bouncy ska-punk tune.

Unlike the two hits which are more punk rock and venomous, ‘It’s So Luvverly’ is up tempo and great for pogo-ing around the living room to (that’s if you still remember how to pogo and have enough energy to do so).

However, scratching below the surface of what seems like a positive song, things are not so luvverly. The title of the song is a sarcastic swipe at the establishment, talking about the problems in society in true punk fashion – “You want to hear a real good joke/They’re telling us there is no hope/They say the streets are full of tension/any town you want to mention” – which could have been as relevant to the UK as it was to South Africa at the time. That is probably why it never made the top 20.

Where to find it:
On Loan For Evolution – Peach (2002), RetroFresh, freshcd 123

Search – Egyptian Nursery

Search – Egyptian Nursery

God’s Window - Egyptian Nursery

God’s Window – Egyptian Nursery

A Pom, a Maurituian and a Congolese walk into a South African group and call it Egypitan Nursery. This may sound a bit like the start of a bad joke, but its not. Despite their different nationalities and naming their group after a 4th, Egyptian Nursey became one of the dance acts in the country during the late nineties and early naughties.

‘Search’ is funky, sexy, slick and earthy. Cragie Dodds (the Pom in the equation) creates the soundscape of chilled beats, funky guitar licks and keyboard beeps and noodlings. Ariane (the Mauritian) lays down a silky and sexy vocal about searching the whole world but never finding the rich man she’s after, then Mojama (the Congolese) comes in, firstly with a sung vocal that is not too dissimilar to those found on a Blk Sonshine record, except that here they are in French, adding to the sexiness of the song. He returns later for an English rap.

This laidback dance music opened the way for acts like Moodphase 5ive, Felix LaBand and others on the African Dope label to explore further. Dodds himself went on to work with Jenny Delenta and QZoo before returing to the UK to have some success with the Sugababes.

Where to find it:
God’s Window – Egyptian Nursery (2000), Fresh Music, FREDCD100

Venus – Stockley Sisters

Venus – Stockley Sisters

Venus - Stockley Sisters

Venus – Stockley Sisters

Miriam and Avril Stockley were the Stockley Sisters. In 1976 they took a cover version of the Shocking Blue classic song ‘Venus’ to number 5 on the Springbok top 20. Shocking Blue had topped the charts with the song in 1970 and Bananarama also took their 1986 cover to the top of the charts, making the song one of the most successful in SA chart history.

Comparisons between the versions are almost obligatory, so here goes. Shocking Blue were a little bit closer to the hippy age when they recorded theirs and it has a bit of a Doors-ey organ thing going on with folky tinged guitars. Bananarama’s one was straight out of the Stock, Aitken And Waterman hit factory of the 80’s making it sound like early Kylie.

Inbetween these other versions we get the polished pop of the Stockley Sisters. The Sisters brought a kind of girl-rock sound to the vocals, a sound we would see further developed in Clout a few years later. There is also a sort of disco sound going on as that genre was rising in popularity at the time. Overall, The Stockley Sisters can stand shoulder to shoulder with Shocking Blue and Bananarama when it comes to versions of the song. Each one brought something of its time to the interpretation.

Miriam Stockley went on to greater things, working with the likes of Queen, Mike Oldfield, Alphaville and Elaine Paige and performing backing vocals on music for The Lords Of The Rings movie trilogy.

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

Stockley Sisters:

Shocking Blue:


Johnny’s Conscience – Corporal Punishment

Johnny’s Conscience – Corporal Punishment

Corporal Punishment

Corporal Punishment

In the UK, Punk was born out of the disaffection with the dire economic situation there and a general boredom with prog rock. In South Africa, it tended to revolve more about the disaffection with the political set up of apartheid. But where the UK punks tended to be thrashy and noisy, spitting out their venom, their South African counterparts were more refined, but no less vociferous.

James Phillips was one of the people at the forefront of this movement and one of his early groups was Corporal Punishment which he and Carl Raubenheimer were members of. The band’s name could have two meanings – physical punishment (like getting cuts at school, for those of you old enough to remember, but would rather forget such things) or the punishment dished out by the Corporal in the army because you hadn’t rolled up your toothpaste tube neatly enough (once again one for those of you old enough to remember, but would rather forget).

‘Johnny Conscience’ is a dark and brooding affair. It slinks down an unlit back alley in a seedy city, furtive eyes looking left and right, hands pushed deep into pockets. It wearily climbs the stairs, the smell of piss and vomit all around, and finally gets to the dingy flat where it shoots up and fades into oblivion. It weaves its way round your mind, unsettling your nerves and leaving you drained. But there is something addictive about it that keeps luring you back into its foreboding lair. And what is music if it doesn’t make you feel?

Where to find it:
Corporal Punishment – Corporal Punishment (1986) Shifty Records

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