1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Please Stay – Jonathan Butler

Jonathan Butler with Little Ronnie Joyce

Jonathan Butler with Little Ronnie Joyce

Butler was a mere 13 years old (nearly 14) when his song ‘Please Stay’ entered the Springbok Top 20 and as you listen to it, you can hear that he is a youngster, but at the same time, there is a real maturity in his voice. He knew how to inject the right emotions into the song. Backed by a band that sounds a bit like it could have been the Invaders (and maybe was, I haven’t been able to find out who the muscians were) and having Clive Calder and Peter Vee producing, ‘Please Stay’ is a powerful soul ballad.

The song was written by Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard and was a number 14 hit in the US for The Drifters in 1961. That version is a bit of a doo-wop affair and one does get the impression listening to it that The Drifters are not as concerned if their woman went than Jonathan was. Their version feels a little glib about the issue when listened to next to Butler’s. With Butler, you get the impression that it will be the end of the world if she goes. Maybe it is because the Drifters were older when they sang the song and therefore further away from the angst of teenage love with all its ups and downs.

In the late 60’s and early 70’s South African soul music of this ilk was doing well with the likes of Una Valli, Peanut Butter Conspiracy and The Invaders and, although this song came towards the end of this era, it is a prime example of how good the local musicians could be at the style. ‘Please Stay’ deservedly made it to number 2 on the Springbok Charts and stayed in the top 20 for 13 weeks, during which run, Butler would celebrate his 14th birthday. Not bad for a lightie from Athlone in the Cape.

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


Eloise – Tribe After Tribe

Eloise - Tribe After Tribe

Eloise – Tribe After Tribe

‘Eloise’? That was that song by Barry Ryan wasn’t it? And wasn’t there a South African disco cover of it? (Yes, Rouge turned it into a concerto). And The Damned did a cover too didn’t they? So, Tribe After Tribe went a did a cover as well?

No. This is a completely different girl. Barry Ryan’s girl was a little posh but with a slightly naughty side, a bit like Princess Diana. The Damned, just dressed her up as a Goth while Rouge’s ‘Eloise’ was Karen Lynn Gorney (she in the red dress, dancing opposite Travolta in ‘Saturday Night Fever’). All lovely girls that you could take home to meet yer mum.

But the Tribe’s girl is a bit scary. She “can walk on fire” and “goes outside in halloween clothes”. She is also shrouded in a dense, swirling mass of guitars and menacing drums. She is not sung about in the bright-eyed, clean-cut voice that Ryan has. This Eloise is snarled about. She is a child of Twilight, dressed in black and sexy as hell. She is a woman that can make Robbie Robb sound like he’s howling at the moon.

Venture, if you dare, into the world of this Eloise. You will have your senses battered, your mind twisted and your ears blasted. And remember, you do so at your own risk.

Where to find it:
Enchanted Entrance – Tribe After Tribe (2009), Noize Factor, NF01.02CD


I Need Your Love – Letta Mbulu

I Need Your Love - Letta Mbulu

I Need Your Love – Letta Mbulu

Letta Mbulu rose to fame as part of  the cast of the musical ‘King Kong’ which toured the world. When she left South Africa in 1965 to go into exile in the US, she teamed up with others from that musical, Hugh Masakela, Miriam Makeba and Jonas Gwanga. She also met Caiphus Semenya whom she married.

Two of these contacts were involved in ‘I Need Your Love’. Semenya co-wrote it with someone called Drake (first name not known) and Masakela directed (according to the label of the old 45 – perhaps that was the term for produced back then) along with Stewart Levine. The song showcases the wonderful voice Letta possessed. It is a sort of Diana Ross meets Margaret Singana in Dionne Warwick’s undertstated lounge. The music is somewhat akin to the “gospel” music of the 70’s that pop groups seemed to do and there is an added warmth from some brass (presumable Masakela). It’s a good sing-along song with a rousing chorus.

Despite being in exile, Letta managed to chart on the Springbok Top 20, something that not many black South African artists managed. ‘I Need Your Love’ entered the charts on 24 November 1972, spent 17 weeks on them and peaked at 3. Quite a remarkable feat for someone whom the local government would not have been on the best terms with. And what’s more, she charted again the following year with ‘I’ll Never be The Same Again’.

Where to find it:
Singles bins, or if you can find it her vinyl album entitled ‘Letta’


Vas Trap – Tidal Waves

Tidal Waves - Manifesto

Tidal Waves – Manifesto

For a split second as ‘Vas Trap’ by the Tidals Waves (not to be confused with 70’s band the singular Tidal Wave) starts its journey through your speakers, you may be forgiven for  thinking that you had accidently put Susan Fassbender’s ‘Twilight Café’ on by mistake, but that very quickly disappears as it is only the first few notes that sound similar. And about 16 seconds in, when someone starts going “Hey boeta!” you have forgotten about Susan (that is if you remembered her song at all) and you are careering down a deserted Northern Cape road, enjoying the fuel-injected donkey cart ride of your life.

There’s that township-tummy-grumbling bass going on, a falsetto guitar trying to be a banjo and a boere accordion thrown in for good measure. The lyrics are, as the title suggest, in Afrikaans, but sung with a Cape Coloured accent. It’s goema with voema. All this from a black reggae band. Tidal Waves are Keogile Charlie Mathopa, Jaco Mr Mans, Tebogo Drumbo Shoai and Zoyisile Zakes Wulana, the latter two hailing from Klersdorp.

In this little gem, they detour slightly from their usual reggae and have taken the Rainbow Nation’s music from all creeds and colours, put it into a blender and flicked the switch. The result is a smoothie full of all the goodness you need to put a smile on your dial.

Where to find it:
Maifesto – Tidal Waves (2011), Southern Pulse, 13632

The Gypsy Rover – Mel, Mel & Julian

Mel, Mel & Julian

Mel, Mel & Julian (Image courtesy of Mel Green http://www.melmelandjulian.com/)

We sometimes forget what a great folk scene we had in South Africa and also forget that there was more to SA folk than Des & Dawn. One of the groups from back in the day (when folk wasn’t just George W. Bush’s name for people) was Mel, Mel & Julian. The group comprised 2 guys called Mel and one called Julian which should be obvious from their name. And just who were these Mel’s and a Julian? Well. One Mel was Green and the other a Miller. Mel Miller? I hear you ask (if you aren’t old enough to know the group), wasn’t he that ou from ‘Biltong And Potroast’? (And if you’re younger than those not old enough to know the group, you’re asking ‘What’s ‘Biltong And Potroast’? – a very early TV comedy show if you must know). And Julian, well, if you’re not old enough, you may want to sit down here…was Julian Laxton. Yes, him of Freedom’s Children and The Julian Laxton band (to name a few).

Anyways, the three of them got together and made some beautiful folk music. The two Mel’s were mainly responsible for the honey coated vocals and marvellous harmonies, while Julian was the guitar man. On ‘The Gypsey Rover’ (a song written in 1950 by an Irishman called Leo Maguire and sometimes called ‘The Whistling Gyspsy’ which was recorded by number folk luminaries like The Kingston Trio and The Clancy Borthers), the guitar playing is plucking brilliant, the whistling is crisp and clear and the vocals are like silk. And then there’s the ‘hardy-doo-hardy-doo-da-day’ bit where the harmonies are quite angelic. You put all those bits together and you have a folking good song.

Where to find it:
Ethnic Shmethnic – Mel, Mel & Julian (2002), Mlg Limited

Soen – Chris Chameleon

Ek Vir Jou - Chris Chameleon

Ek Vir Jou – Chris Chameleon

Soen. The Afrikaans word for kiss. Prince did a song called Kiss and, well, this is not the same song, however, one could draw some parallels here. For starters, Prince’s ditty was sung in a strange falsetto voice and Chameleon’s voice on this one (for as well know he has a remarkable vocal range) is in one of his higher registers and, where Prince sounded a bit weird, Chris doesn’t.

The next thing one notices is the stripped down arrangements of the two songs. Prince was a master of creating complex songs with simple arrangements and while not quite in the same league, Chris has created a rather joyous, finger-poppin’, foot-tapping piece of pop with a simple strummed guitar, some nifty drumming (with a few bongos thrown in for good measure) and the best use of handclaps in a South African song ever (possibly).

Prince was also known for his sexy content and ‘Kiss’ is a very sexy song and tends to be a bit more adult than Chris’ ‘Soen’ which is more about a first love and those awkward first encounters with the opposite sex. Compare Prince’s “I Just need your body baby from dusk to dawn” with Chris’ “En ek stotter as ek met jou praat en my stem breek”.

Chris’ version may not ever be covered by Tom Jones and The Art of Noise, but is one of the most life affirming Afrikaans songs since David Kramer’s ‘Mesise Sonder Sokkies’. Maybe one day we’ll see Piet Botha team up with Bengula for a cover version.

Where to find it:
Ek Vir Jou – Chris Chameleon (2007), Rhythm Records


(Belville) Rock City – New World Inside

Dream Hope Fear - New World Inside

Dream Hope Fear – New World Inside

New World Inside. Sounds quite philosophical and inward looking. Also it doesn’t really give a clue to the type of music you may hear coming from a band with that name (unlike someone like, say, Metallica). However, it was far more radio friendly than the name of the band most of the member of NWI went on to form – Fokofpolisiekar.

Knowing the Fokof… connection, you may now have a better idea of what sort of music is in store for you when you put ‘(Belville) Rock City’ on. And it doesn’t disappoint. From the moment the frenetic drums thrash around in your speakers and the growling guitar kick in, you are in Belville Punk City. It’s fast and frenetic, and, despite the lyrics being in English, shock horror, these were nice young Afrikaans lads making that noise. Okay it doesn’t seem so shocking nowadays, we’ve become used to geraas vannie plaas as Fokofpolisiekar, aKing and Van Coke Kartel have become well known (household?) names. But back then it was pretty radical.

As this song speeds through your (sound) system, and thunders along the highways of your mind, you are sucked into its slipstream. You may think there is no philosophical inward looking here, especially when at one point the singer barks out at you “WE DON’T CARE!” But then comes the question: “Are we doomed to become our parents/Oh please God no”. And luckily for us, these guys didn’t. Afrikaaners didn’t do punk until these lads came along and when they did, they did so in fine style.

Where to find it:
Belville Rock City – Various (2008), Rhythm Records, RR095

Hear here:

Homeless – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Homeless - Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Homeless – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Yes, yes, you all know this one from Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ album, but there are versions of the song floating around that don’t feature the “outside” American vocals on the track. However, listening to the two versions, there is very little to choose between the two as the whole driving force of the song (which was mostly written by Simon) are the whoops, the “he-ee ihe-ee ihe-ee”’s and the beautiful harmonies of the kings of isicathamiya.

It is debatable whether the world would have ever got to hear this style of singing had it not been for Paul Simon’s boycott busting trip to SA. And one could go further and ask how many white South Africans would have got to love songs like these had the one half of Simon & Garfunkel not visited our fair shores, but without going into the politics of it all, one can say without too many arguments that the world would have been a poorer place musically speaking, had ‘Graceland’ not happened.

‘Homeless’ is full of African imagery and the clicks and sounds of the continent. It evokes images of beauty and vast countrysides unpoilt by man. The Mambazo’s harmonies are immediately recognizable these days especially Joseph Shabalala’s unique voice many will point to ‘Homeless’ when asked where they first heard this voice. In some ways it is sad that it took a white American to bring this music to the world (and white South Africa’s) attention, it should have been able to get there on its own steam, but we’ll be dragged into the ugly world of politics if we persue that line of thinking and ‘Homeless’ is too pure, too innocent and just downright beautiful to be tainted by those sort of discusions.

So grab your copy of ‘Graceland’ (surely you must have one), or better still seek out the Simonless version and enjoy music that revels in naked talent without intruments getting in the way. This is the real deal. So, all together now: “Homeless, homeless, moonlight sleeping on the midnight lake.”

Where to find it:
The Great South African Trip – Various Artists (2007), African Cream


Night Of The Long Knives – Face To Face

Night Of The Long Knives - Face To Face

Night Of The Long Knives – Face To Face

While Face To Face’s ‘Here We Are’ made the Radio 5, 702 and Capital 604 charts in 1984, ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ the follow up single did not manage to emulate that success. And it is a little surprising as this song was as strong as its predecessor. Yes, ‘Here We Are’ was a slower ballad and ‘Night…’ is more upbeat, but it was still as fine a piece of New Romantic music to be made in South Africa as anything else from that time.

With their NewRo hairstyles and airbrushed album covers, Face To Face were set to be our own Duran Duran, but they disappeared after only the one album. They had the looks, and with ‘Night…’ they had the sound. Pulsing electric drums, rocking synths, the odd bit of guitar thrown in for good measure and a strong vocal. They also threw in a few French lyrics (which may possibly be the only ones to appear on an original South African song – but don’t quote me on that).

It was perhaps the fact that ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ was the name given to a Nazi purge operation in 1934 that prevented the song from gaining too much airplay. Interestingly though, while ‘Here We Are’ was their big hit, it was ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ from their set at the 1985 Concert In The Park in aid of Operation Hunger that made it onto the album from the event.

Where to find it:
Face To Face – Face To Face (2010), Fresh Music, FRESHCD180

Die Son Kom Weer – Piet Botha

Piet Botha - Live & Rare

Piet Botha – Live & Rare

If you weary and feeling small, don’t worry, be happy because ‘Die Son Kom Weer’. Well that’s according to Piet Botha anyway in a song that was recorded for possible inclusion on ‘Die Hits’ album, but, for reasons known only to the Botha powers that be, was not released then. It has since surfaced on a compilation called ‘The Demos 2001-2002’ which, from what I can tell is only available as a download.

For a song with an upbeat title, it is surprisingly melancholic and downbeat, which makes one investigate it a little deeper. And it’s not really saying that there are better days before us (and a burning bridge over troubled water behind us) where everything will be absolutely lovely, but rather it is just a gentle encouragement to continue battling on as if Piet is gently pushing you forward, through the difficult times.

Although, the song was recorded as a demo and it is a little raw round the edges, it is still a quality recording with Piet’s deep and laid back tones rubbing shoulders with some gentle blues guitar which plays an almost hypnotic riff while a steady rhythm comes from the drums with splashing cymbals that are almost like a steady, soaking rainfall on the song as we await the return of the sun.

Where to find it:
The Demos 2001-2002 (Not an official release, but available on iTunes, Amazon and as an MP3 at: http://www.jackhammer.co.za/mp3.html


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