Suburban Hum – Jennifer Ferguson
Before her debut album, ‘Hand Around The Heart’, came out, Jennifer appeared on the End Conscription Campaign album, ‘Forces Favourites’ with this bohemian song exploring the suburban psyche of while apartheid South Africa. The song was stylistically somewhat at odds with the other songs chosen for the compilation as it did not have the punky, dancey style of its fellow tracks, however, it was lyrically as hard hitting as any of the others.
Jennifer has a voice that could have given her loads of fame singing saccharine Afrikaans songs al la Sonja Herholdt and Carike Keuzenkamp. She could equally have gone down the Via Afrika/Ella Mental route, putting out fine rock tracks calling on the haunting sounds that she can extract from her vocal cords not too dissimilar to Rene Veldsman or Heather Mac. But she chose to plough her own furrow, especially on ‘Suburban Hum’ which is somewhat ethereal, somewhat jazzy, somewhat smokey, somewhat sharp as knives.
Her voice stretches itself in a kind of yoga like way over the lyrics, there is incredible effort and passion going into the words, yet it still seems to come out graceful and peaceful. But the lyrics tell a different story. It compares the easy life lazying in the sun in the backyard of a white household to a scared and confused life of a young girl in the township trying to find her brothers to get them to safety before the police wade in with batons and guns. The song comes and goes in waves of peaceful jazzy interludes that suddenly burst into swirling madness, with a dischordant saxophone confusing the senses and putting one on edge.
This was a strange song in a strange time, yet it seemed to fit so well into the the way a lot of people felt at the time. ‘Boetie on the border’ gets a look in to this track which hints at the PTSD that many suffered from the army stint and that is perhaps what helped get this song onto the ‘Forces Favourites’ compilation. Some may argue that her ‘Letters To Dickie’ which is purely about the effects national service had on some, would have been a better track to include, and I would agree, although I am not sure if that track had been recorded by the time ‘Forces Favourites’ came out. However, ‘Suburban Hum’ is a complex song that cut to the core of what was going on at the time and deserves its place in this list.
Where to find it:
Hand Around The Heart – Jennifer Ferguson (1985) Shifty Records