1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Inner City Blues – Lungiswa



‘Inner City Blues’ is the closing track on Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece ‘What’s Goin’ On’. It’s a satin smooth song that has a street walking beat over which Gaye’s silky smooth vocals glide giving the impression of something chic and wealthy. But the lyrics tell a different story. There is a dirty underbelly to the song that tells you ‘Crime is increasing/Trigger happy policing’. Well, what do you expect from a song called ‘Inner City Blues’? A cover of a Rodriguez song? (No, Rodriguez recorded his in 1969, Gaye’s song was released in 1971).

Roll on 29 years and we meet a young lady who was not even born when Gaye was singing about the struggles in the American ghettos. Lungiswa Plaatjies (born in 1973) was the lead female vocalist for Amampondo for a while before making her eponymous solo album. On the album she put down two versions of Marvin’s ‘Inner City Blues’, one with the original English lyrics and one with a Xhosa lyric.

Lungiswa kept to the original version’s silky smooth instrumentation, not deviating too much from the sound but did made it slightly jazzier and little more funky than Gaye’s soulful version, but still retained that soul feel. So why bother listening to this version when you have one by the great Marvin Gaye? Well a few seconds into the vocal you’ll know why. Lungiswa is blessed with a beautiful voice. It sounds girlie and somehow mature at the same time and, dare I say it, seems to make the song more poingnant than Gaye did as it is almost as if the lyrics are coming from a child. It hits one harder when a young person recognises and articulates the horrors of the world around them and with her sweet innocent voice, Lungiswa drives the point home in a way that Marvin Gaye never could. And that’s saying something given that Gaye’s version had a huge impact in its own right.

Where to find it:
Lungiswa – Lungiswa (2000), Melt 2000, BWSA106


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