1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the category “1001 Songs”

Sha La La – Buttercup

Sha La La – Buttercup

Sha La La – Buttercup

We head back to the start of 1976 with this one and it would be the only new entry on the first Springbok top 20 of that year. Following up Buttercup’s success the previous year with ‘Baby Love Affair’ which went to number 7 on the charts, their second single off the album would not fare as well, only peaking at 15.

While their earlier hit is slightly faster paced and had an introduction not too dissimilar to the Rubettes’ 1974 hit ‘Sugar Baby Love’ with its high pitched vocal introduction, ‘Sha La La’ slowed things down a little with a spoken lyric between the laid back chorus. Song writer Ken Levine, who penned ‘Sha La La’ along with brothers Ernie and Robert Schroder, thinks that it was radio DJ John Novick who did the spoken part. Whoever it was, it has a similar feel to Peanut Butter Conspiracy’s ‘Understanding’ or The Flames ‘For Your Precious Love’, both of which are soulful songs with spoken parts.

However, while it has the familiar spoken bits, the music is more 70s pop than the soul of those earlier hits. It is a relaxed affair with a steady beat that would never set the world alight, but was a solid single of its time.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: Baby Love Affair – Buttercup (1975), EMI Bigadiers, EMCJ(C) 11509

Video:

He’s Gonna Step On You Again – John Kongos

He’s Gonna Step On You Again – John Kongos

He’s Gonna Step On You Again – John Kongos

After his success in South Africa as part of Johnny & The G-Men, Johnny lost the ‘ny’ at the end of his first name and headed off to the UK where he recorded with Gus Dudgeon (who had been working with Elton John) and ended up with 2 UK hits with ‘Tokoloshe Man’ peaking at 4 after ‘He’s Going To Step On You’ had also managed to peak at 4 about 6 months earlier. The latter would also make the US charts, peaking at 70 there.

With its pounding drums and roaring guitar, there is something primal about the track which stomped along with the best glam of the era which bands like The Sweet, Slade and T Rex were churning out at the time. But Kongos took something of Africa with him as there are shades of Hawk (or Joburg Hawk to some) and Freedom’s Children in this classic.

And such was the impact of the song that it spawned a 1987 cover by Aussie band The Party Boys (which topped the charts in Australia where Kongos’ version only made it to 2) and another (also in 1987) by The Chantoozies (also an Aussie band). That one made it to 36 in Australia. And then in 1990 The Happy Mondays released a version which made it to 5 in the UK (but only 157 (apparently) in Australia). In terms of these covers, I would go for The Party Boys version if you are looking for one closest to the original, The Chantoozies if you want a lighter version to dance to in a late 80’s kind of way and The Mondays version if you want to get spaced out on ecstasy and muddle through it. But for me, the original is by far the best version. It rocks.

Kongos set the standard for pounding pop rock for South African artists (as opposed to pounding straightforward rock which Freedom’s and Hawk offered) and years later his sons would pick up on this as, recording under the name Kongos, they brought that sound up to date with their classics such as ‘Come With me Now’ and ‘I’m Only Joking’. But if you want to get back to basics, put on the original John Kongos one, stomp those platform boots and lose yourself in a core of primal rock.

Where to find it:
Tokoloshe Man Plus – John Kongos (1988), See For Miles, SEECD221

Video:

Steady On – Moodphase 5ive

Steady On – Moodphase 5ive

Steady On – Moodphase 5ive

Back in 2001, record label African Dope were putting out some interesting music. Based in Observatory in Cape Town, they tapped into a chilled out hip hop groove that was happening in the Mother City. They brought us the likes of Felix LaBand and a rejuvenated Kalahari Surfers, but one of their early released garnered a lot of interest on the local music scene and that release was Moodphase 5ive’s album ‘Steady On’.

The album spent 5 weeks at the top of the SA Rockdigest charts and went on to spend 54 weeks in that publication’s top 20, the all time record for those charts. The title track also topped the singles charts, although it only spent 1 week at 1 and 4 weeks on the charts.

It’s a funky song, with a laid back rap and some soulful vocals courtesy of Ernestine (‘Ernie’)  Deane giving an overall feel not too dissimilar to The Fugees. It chugs along on a steady bassline with the rap being the driving pistons that keep the song moving while Ernestine supplies the scenery. And there’s something very Cape Town-y about it. Perhaps it’s the sunny but laid back feel to the song that captures the soul of the city and bottles it into just under 4 minutes of groove ‘n jazz funksoul.

The album spawned 5 SA Rockdigest hits, 3 of which topped the charts and it was clear then, that this was a special group. Sadly they only made one further album, but Ernie did go on to do some solo work and brought us the amazing ‘Praha Paradise’ as well as working with Mikanic. Listening to ‘Steady On’ may find you demanding more from this seminal band, but perhaps you need to obey the song title and just be grateful for what you’ve got.

Where to find it:
Steady On – Moodphase 5ive, (2000), African Dope, ADOPECD002

Video:

JoBangles – Baxtop

Work It Out - Baxtop

Work It Out – Baxtop

Super slick, super funky and, well, just plain super. Recorded back in 1979 for Baxtop’s solitary album ‘Work It Out’, ‘JoBangles’ features some superb guitar and vocals from Larry Amos and is perhaps one of the most accomplished songs ever made in South Africa. Still sounding as fresh and as exciting as it did way back then, it still amazes me that this song was not huge.

It rocks, you can dance to it, you can sing-a-long to it and you can play your air guitar along with it. What more could you ask for. There are shades of Jimi Hendrix in Amos, not only in the guitar playing, but also in the voice and with Tim Parr (later of Ella Mental) alongside Fuzzy Marcus and Bruce Williams (both of whom went on to be part of Tribe After Tribe) is it any surprise that a song of such quality was produced.

This song would certainly feature quite high on a list of the top 100 best SA songs of all times as it is that good. In the opening lines, Larry sings ‘There’s a mama, JoBangles/Got a voice so good you could cry’. Well, there is also a dude, Larry Amos, got a voice (and axe) so good you could cry.

Where to find it:
Work It Out – Baxtop (1993), Tusk, WOND117

Video:

Bobbejaanvlei Seties – Radio Kalahari Orkes

Radio Kalahari Orkes

Radio Kalahari Orkes

Every now and then I come across a music video on Youtube and I just can’t stop watching it over and over again. Usually it’s a combination of a great video and a brilliant song that makes me so addicted to it and ‘Bobbejaanvlei Seties’ by Radio Kalahari Orkes is my current addiction. And it’s certainly a mixture of sound and vision that keeps me coming back to this one, but the song itself is strong enough to stand on its own.

The video is a simple one, featuring the band against a white back drop, but they seem to be having so much fun. Despite the serious looks of the men in the band carry through the video, it’s the juxtaposition of Alicia van Dyk who bounces around the set with a cheeky grin against the ‘seriousness’ backdrop of the others that appeals.

The song itself is a catchy tune with a decidedly Irish folk sound to it, with pennywhistle and scratchy fiddle. It’s one that I think the Pogues would have been proud of. The lyrics are about a man wanting to ‘vry’ with Minnie at the seties in Bobbejaanvlei (a seties is a dance) and goes about it in a simple country way, buying her a dress and lining up to kiss her at the landbouskou. This is a carefree song which almost makes one want to give up the city life and hang out with the boere at their landbouskous and seties.

Hooray! Hooray! die dag in nou hier/my tande is geborsel and my baard is geskeer/Hooray! Hooray! Ek en Minnie gaan vry in die maanlig veldt langs die Bobbejaanvlei’ (Hooray! Hooray! The day has arrived, I’ve brushed my teeth and shaved my beard, Hooray! Hooray! Me and Minnie are going to make out in the moonlight veldt by the Bobbejaanvlei). These lines will stick in your brain once you’ve watched this video and then you’re hooked. Just be careful singing this around your wife (if you are a guy) as she may want to know who this Minnie is?

Where to find it:
Mamba – Radio Kalahari Orkes (2017)

Video:

Hie’ Kommie Bokke – Leon Schuster

Hie’ Kommie Bokke – Leon Schuster

Hie’ Kommie Bokke – Leon Schuster

Okay, so I’m about 5 months too late with this one, but hey we’re World Champs and it still feels good. I am sure that Leon Schuster’s ‘Hie’ Kommie Bokke’ was played more than a few times on 2 November 2019 when Siya Kolisi and the boys took to the field and blew the English Rugby team away. Some, like me, may even have been singing Johnny Clegg’s ‘Impi’ and changing the words to ‘Mapimpi’. But one thing is for sure, South Africans love rugby.

Leon was not the first to sing about rugby, there are many examples out there of rugby songs, The Bats’ ‘Groen en Goud’ and David Kramer’s ‘Hak Hom Blokkies’ immediately come to mind. But there are other rugby references in local song with Laurika Rauch’s ‘Stuur Groote Aan Mannetjies Roux’ and Roger Lucy’s band Tighthead Fourie & The Loose Forwards being 2 examples. And then their’s Gé Korsten’s ‘Liefling’ which is indelibly linked to the game.

Schuster first released this sing-a-long song back in 1995 when South Africa played in their first ever Rugby World Cup (and I don’t need to remind you that we won it!) and the song, like Kramer’s ‘Hak Hom Blokkies’, has entered the national psyche. It’s not his singing voice that makes the song, neither is it his pretty good rapping that does it. It’s the joy and catchiness of it that made it what it is. The chorus is easy to sing along to and the song is easy to dance to. I am sure that Schuster and his heirs will continue to enjoy royalties from this song for a long time to come as long as the Bokke continue to be a world force in the game.

Where to find it:
Hie’ Kommie Bokke – Leon Schuster (1995), RPM, CDRPM1436

Video:

Stimela (Coal Train) – Hugh Masekela

Stimela – Hugh Masekela

Stimela – Hugh Masekela

‘Stimela’ was a trademark song of Hugh Masekela. While he had success with songs like ‘Grazing In The Grass’ (which topped the US Singles charts), it is this one that seems to stick to Bra Hugh’s memory more than any other. And there’s a reason for that. This was a powerful song about the trains that were used to transport men from all over southern Africa to work in the mines in South Africa.

The translation of the lyrics reflect anger at the way these men were treated, having been ‘forcibly removed’ from where they last saw their loved ones and made to work ‘Sixteen hours or more a day for almost no pay/Deep, deep, deep down in the belly of the earth’. The men come to ‘curse, curse the coal train/The coal train that brought them to Johannesburg.

There are many versions of the song around. There is an early 1974 version which has no English introduction and starts off slowly and quietly but builds with the anger of the song, a heavy funk stew of growing discomfort between the instruments as the song builds and grows and which, surprisingly, doesn’t feature a trumpet for which Hugh was famous. Then there are numerous live versions, some of which have a greater jazz feel to them with Hugh’s trumpet featuring prominently. The song, it seems, has been on as much of a journey as the train of which it speaks, taking in all the twists and turns of the railways track, but it never loses its anger or meaning.

‘Stimela’ is an important historical document about a practice that continues even in these days after apartheid. It is a song that has endured and will endure for years to come.

Where to find it:
Liberation: The Best Of – Hugh Masekela (1988), Jive, HOP222 (UK release)

Video:

Nada – Tananas

Tananas - Tananas

Tananas – Tananas

Tananas harnessed the incredible guitar skills of Steve Newman to the thudding bass of Gito Baloi and had it underpinned by solid drumming from Ian Herman and occasionally, just occasionally, added some vocals from Gito Baloi. ‘Nada’ was one of those were Gito’s high pitched and somewhat ethereal vocals got a work out.

While Steve plays a happy-go-lucky melody which is drenched in Africa, Gito with his Mozambiquean roots brings a soulful and echo-ey otherworldyness to the song. It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon stoll along a street in downtown Johannesburg clashing with a wind that whistles as a eagle soars through the clear blue African sky over the Kruger National Park.

The title of the song, ‘Nada’ is a bit of a misnomer and this is certainly not nothing. This is something of beauty, a well constructed song that opened Tananas’ eponyolusly titled debut album. It essentially would have been the first track you heard if you had bought the album based on reviews rather than hearing the band. And you could hardly ask for a better introduction. Maybe the ‘Nada’ was saying ‘there is nothing better than this’, although there is a sense of nothingness in the floating vocals that accompany the musicians.

Tananas were a remarkable group and their music still sounds fresh and interesting all these years later. They went from Nada to something in 0 to 1 songs.

Where to find it:
Tananas – Tananas (1988), Shifty, CDSHIFT(WL)26

Video:

Pandora’s Child – Henry Ate

Henry Ate

Henry Ate

According to Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman ever created. She would be the equivalent of Eve in the Adam and Eve story. According to Wikipedia, Pandora had a child and that was Pyrrha. She had a daughter, Hellen who was the mother of a nation and from whom the word Hellenic comes.

Now whether Pyrrha is the one of whom Henry Ate are singing in this song, or the child of someone else also called Pandora, is not clear, although I would venture to say that Karma Swanepoel (the lead singer of Henry Ate) does not look old enough to have been kissing the child of the first ever woman (something she says she does in the lyrics).

However, that doesn’t really matter as this is a beautiful song that matches Karma’s distinctive vocals with gently strummed guitar and lyrics of love and hope. Yes, the first line of the song goes ‘A voice of darkness set your heart aside’ which is not particularly indicative of hope, but soon after this Karma sings ‘Out of this darkness comes light’. So, yes, it is a song of hope.

This was one of a number of excellent songs that Henry Ate produced during their relatively short time in the limelight and if someone had heard their other tracks but not this one, they would be ill advised to expect a Pandora’s box of sounds and exciting new things from Henry Ate as ‘Pandora’s Child’ does not deviate from their ability to make darn good songs that intrigue and provide aural pleasure. This one is Pyrrha-fect.

Where to find it:
Slap In The Face – Henry Ate, Tic Tic Bang, (1996), BANGCD024

Video:

Jerusalem – Gé Korsten

Jerusalem – Gé Korsten

Jerusalem – Gé Korsten

Way back in 1892, even before Gé Korsten was born (yes I know it’s hard to believe that time existed before Gé), a guy called Michael Maybrick going under the name Stephen Adams, wrote a piece of music to which another chap called Fredric Weatherly added some lyrics and the song, ‘The Holy City’ was born. And what, you may ask has a song called ‘The Holy City’ got to do with Gé’s song called ‘Jerusalem’. Well the answer is that they are one and same, the former being the proper name of the song, but when Gé recorded with Afrikaans lyrics, they chose to use the word in the rousing chorus as the title.

But I don’t want to get into a debate about the title of the song because whether you call it ‘The Holy City’ or ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘That one by Gé about Jerusalem’ it’s still a stonkingly good song if it is sung well and Gé does sing it well.

Many big names have tackled ‘The Holy City’. A quick trawl through Youtube gives one versions by Harry Secombe (The Goon Show guy), The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Jeannette MacDonald, Charlotte Church and Dame Vera Lynn to name just a few. But if anyone in South Africa was going to tackle it, it would have to have been Gé. He had the voice to soar with the chorus and bring out the goosebumps and, although this is a religious song, you don’t necessarily have to be religious to enjoy it, you can just sit back and enjoy the power of the tune and voices.

Gé also recorded a version with Rina Hugo which is also available on Youtube. Now I’ve got nothing against Rina, but I’ve never gone in much for soprano singing, when it comes to opera, I am much more of a tenor fan, but that’s just me. If you enjoy your sopranos (not the TV series, obviously), then check that version out too.

Where to find it
Gé Se 20 Treffers – Gé Korsten, Decibel Musiek (1993), CDDCD(WL)283

Video:
Gé Korsten version:

Gé & Rina Hugo:

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