1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the category “1001 Songs”

Tsotsi Yase Zola – Mandoza

Champion - Mandoza

Champion – Mandoza

Mandoza (real name: Mduduzi Edmund Tshabalala) was born in Zola, a part of Soweto so presumably ‘Tsotsi Yase Zola’ is about being a gangster from that part of the township. After a stint in prison for stealing a car as a youngster, he formed the group Chiskop who were soon discovered by Arthur Mofakate, who is credited with recording the first kwaito hit in the form of ‘Kaffir’ (featured on this list a good while back). Mandoza would go on to become one of the leading acts of the kwaito scene.

‘Tsotsi Yase Zola’ is a dedcidedly dance-able to track, featuring the pounding kwaito beat. Some almost jazzy keyboard sticks its head into the track every now and then while Mandoza’s gruff, gangster voice shout-raps the lyrics. It would certainly have had the people dancing in the shebeens and clubs in the late part of the first decade of the new millennium.

Kwaito is a bit of an acquired taste, I think. The dance beat can be a bit repetitive if you are just listening to it while sitting at home. But this is music for dancing to, it is not for sitting around listening to and appreciating its finer qualities. Based on this assessment, ‘Tsotsi Yase Zola’ is a fine kwaito track. It has all the ingredients to make you dance like a gangster.

Where to find it:
Champion – Mandoza (2007), CCP Records, CDCCP2 (WB) 089

Video:

Potential Mutiny – Stan James

Forces Favourites

Forces Favourites

‘Potential Mutiny’ was one of the tracks on the ‘Forces Favourites’ protest album. The album was supported by the End Conscription Campaign and included songs by The Kalahari Surfers, The Aeroplanes and Jennifer Ferguson. Stan James was one of a number of acts on the album about whom little was known at the time, and generally still is.

Stan was the brother of Davy James who released the marvellous ‘Ballad Of A Working Man’. Aside from ‘Potential Mutiny’ Stan also contributed to the other great Shifty Records compilation, ‘A Naartjie In Our Sosatie’. This appears to be the sum total of his musical output back in the 80’s. More recently he has released a new track on bandcamp.com called ‘Our God’.

There is a dark and brooding jazzy sound to ‘Potential Mutiny’ as James explores the unsettling and violent tactics of the apartheid government’s henchmen, arresting and interrogating people suspected of being anti-government. ‘Before dawn has broken/there’s a knock you can’t ignore/you’re taken until they have/all they need to know’ spells out the fear and intimidation people had to live with. The music to accompany these hard hitting lyrics is subdued and thoughtful while James’ voice mixes pain and sadness at these injustices.

The song does not make comfortable listening as there is unease in voice and music. But that was the point of the song and the whole of the ‘Forces Favourites’ album, we were not supposed to feel at ease with what was happening around us and of all the tracks on the album, ‘Potential Mutiny’ perhaps captures this unease best. It drags you into that dark cell with a threat of violence looming over you. It was a track designed to open our eyes.

Where to find it:
Forces Favourites – Various Artists (1986), Shifty Records, SHIFT10

Hear and buy here:

https://shiftyrecords.bandcamp.com/track/potential-mutiny

When You’re Young – Visiting Cousins

When You’re Young – Visiting Cousins

When You’re Young – Visiting Cousins

If you were at school during the very early eighties, then the hip kids back then were listening to Depeche Mode. I’m talking about a time long before they became a global phenomenon. ‘Speak And Spell’, their first album, was initially only available on imported vinyl in South Africa and difficult to get, but we loved the synth driven sound that they produced.

My guess is that the 2 guys who made up Visiting Cousins were amongst the hip guys at whatever school they were at because the year after ‘Speak And Spell’ was released, they came out with a single called ‘When You’re Young’. It has the same feel as those early Depeche Mode songs, probably most closely aligned to the Mode’s ‘Dreaming Of Me’ which was released as a single and not included on the album. There is the coldness of the early synththesizer sound, coupled with serious voice which is not in the X-Factor, note perfect realm. But this is what made that music interesting. While the instrumentation seems cold and impersonal, the realness of the vocals gave it its charm. And, like Depeche Mode, they had a catchy tune.

Very little information is available about the group. They appear to have released only 2 singles (‘When You’re Young’ and ‘Looking Down’ in 1983) and all their songs were written by people called Vallero and Land. The picture sleeves of the singles depict 2 dudes with New Romantic hairstyles and dress sense looking moodily at the camera. While a number of local bands (although not many) had success with synth driven music (think Petit Cheval and The Helicopters), they tended to take it in a more commercial direction, imitating the likes of Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran. The Visiting Cousins were one of the few that I have come across who were making songs like the early Indie synth bands such as Depeche Mode (before they made it big) and Fad Gadget. ‘When You’re Young’ is a bit of a lost classic from a bit of a lost genre, and sadly, very hard to find online.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – Sharp Cuts Vol 1

Ek Ko Huis Toe – David Kramer

Huistoe – David Kramer

Huistoe – David Kramer

Towards the end of the previous millennium (can you remember that far back?) David Kramer was asked by Jan Horn to be the presenter in a documentary he was doing called ‘Langpad’. The aim was to find, interview and record a variety of local guitar players. This led them to discover some of the lost guitar players of the Karoo and ultimately a showcase concert at the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunsfees in 2001. They followed this up with the show ‘Karoo Kitaar Blues’ at The Baxter Theatre in Cape Town.

One of the discoveries during this process was a guy called Hannes Coetzee whose guitar playing style included holding a teaspoon in his mouth and sliding it across the guitar strings on the neck while plucking the instrument. This unusual player would collaborate with Kramer in writing the song ‘Ek Ko Huistoe’ which would be show’s closing hit. This song does not showcase the ‘teaspoon’ antics of Coetzee (some examples of this can be found on Youtube or in the DVD documentary of ‘Karoo Kitaar Blues’) but it is a lively, life affirming track.

There is a kind of Kaapse Klopse ‘ay-chika-lay’ beat to the track with Kramer in ‘cheeky grin’ voice, singing about the joys of coming home to a loved one. There is a delightful line to the chorus ‘Ek wil kaalgat-lepel langs jou lê’ (I want to lie naked like spoons next to you’) which sums up the joy and simplicty of the song which cannot help but make one smile.

There is a slower, more serious version which Kramer recorded for his 2004 album ‘Huistoe’. This has a gospel kind of sound to it, with a ‘choir’ joining with the somewhat melancholic, music. Kramer uses his ‘nostalgic’ voice for this one. It is interesting to compare the 2 versions with the faster ‘Karoo Kitaar Blues’ version bringing up images of Kramer in his rooi velskoene and on his trademark bicycle, his braces caught in the door of the Hiace as he speeds home with a big grin on his face. The ‘Huisetoe’ version, is closer to picture on the cover of the album where a solitary figure trudges down a long dirt road in the Karoo. It is a weary soul taking the langpad, driven on only by the thought that he will eventually ‘kaalgat-lepel langs haar lê’.

So, if you are in a joyous mood, the stick on the ‘Karoo Kitaar Blues’ version, or better still click on the link to the live version from the Baxter Theatre show and dance round your living room with the same abandonment that Kramer and the Beaufort-Worchester Social Club show in the clip. Alternatively, if you’re feeling in a more introspective mood, put on the ‘Huistoe’ version and sit and stare at the album cover and lose yourself in the awesome beauty of this version and that of the Karoo pad.

Where to find it:
Karoo Kitaar Blue – David Kramer (2002), Blik Musiek, BLIK07
Huistoe – David Kramer (2004) Blik Musiek

Video:

Live version:

The direct link to the Youtube video has been disabled, but you should be able to link to it by clicking here.

Mission To Cairo – The Softies

Mission To Cairo – The Softies

Mission To Cairo – The Softies

The Softies were a band fronted by Mark Bennett from Corporal Punishment. It also featured Hannepoort van Tonder who had been in the Gerformeerde Blues Band and would work with The Radio Rats. With these two included in the line up one would expect a far more punky sound akin to their other bands than what ‘Mission To Cairo’ actually brings us.

And looking at the track’s title, one might perhaps expect something with a more Arabic sound. But what you get is something akin to The Dynamics with much more of a ska sound than punk. But is is also not pure ska because the beat is not quite right for it to be, rather it is the brass sounds that warms the track that give it this sort of feel. So, what are we left with?

Well its kind of poppy, slightly ska-ish, a little bit punky, somewhat afro-pop and totally enjoyable. If you want to classify it by its sound, perhaps best to sit it next to your Aeroplanes tracks as it is catchy, but not mainstream. In a piece I found on the band, they talk about trying to make clever pop. They were influenced by the smarter UK pop bands of the 80’s such as ABC, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Haircut 100 and these influences show through, but don’t dominate as Bennett drags some of his Corporals’ experience with him into the track.

‘Mission To Cairo’ was a single the band released in 1984 and they followed it up with the album ‘An Evening With The Softies’ and that was it for this polished and thoughtful pop band, which was a pity as they should have (and could have) done so much more.

Where to find it:
https://shiftyrecords.bandcamp.com/album/an-evening-with-the-softies

Video:

Tchip Tchip – Dan Hill

Tchip Tchip – Dan Hill

Tchip Tchip – Dan Hill

Yes, I know ‘Tchip Tchip’ was just a version of ‘The Birdie Song’ and yes, I know it’s an irritating song that makes you cringe at parties when you are forced onto the dance floor by people who have drunk too much to do the stupid dance that goes with it. But it is part of our history and (dare I say) western culture. And Dan Hill’s version is the one that charted in South Africa, hence its appearance on the list.

The song started life as ‘Der Entendanz’ which translates as ‘The Duck Dance’ and it was composed by a Swiss guy called Werner Thomas some time in the 50’s. With it’s oom-pah sound it quickly became popular at Oktoberfests in Germany and then it began to infest the world like a virus, being recorded in The Netherlands (as ‘De Vogeltjesdans’ – ‘Dance Of The Little Birds’), in England as ‘The Birdie Song’ and in Canada (by a band called The Emeralds) and even Weird Al Yankovic has used part of it in one of his Polka medleys.

It is unsurprising that it would see a South African recording of it as there was a section of the population who loved the oom-pah sound (remember ‘The Clap Clap Sound’ by The Klaxons, another oom-pah hit, well that was the most successful instrumental to make the Springbok Charts). And it was also not too surprising that it was Dan Hill who recorded it as the song is essentially designed for a keyboard and he was the king of instrumental electronic music in SA. ‘Tchip Tchip’ would peak at number 4 on the Springbok Charts on 2 August 1974 and would be Hill’s biggest hit.

So, when everyone else is out of the house you can put the track on and do the silly dance if you want to, but be warned, too much exposure to it will severely damage your mental health. It is far better to listen to it in small doses and in between this, go outside and listen to real bird song.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 1 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40485

Video:

Onder In My Whiskeyglas – Koos Kombuis

Niemandsland - Koos Kombuis

Niemandsland – Koos Kombuis

Is it just me, or is it rather strange that a song called ‘Onder In My Whiskeyglas’ (At the bottom of my whiskey glass) appears on an album called ‘Die Mooiste Love Songs’ (the most beautiful love songs)? The question one has to ask is whether it is a the love affair with the whiskey, or is it with the person the singer is seemingly trying to forget by drinking?

The answer seems to be a bit of both. Undoubtedly, the lyrics tell of a lost love and how the image of the lost love cannot be shaken. Her face appears in his whiskey as he drinks. Yet the sadness and hint of slurring in Koos’ voice point towards a soul turing to the amber liquid for comfort and love. This tale is told to the backdrop of a sombrely pucked guitar, adding to the despair the singer feels. There is a bittersweet image in the line ‘Drie skepe moes my wegvoer/ Na lande vêr van hier’ (Three ships had to take me away/to lands far from here) with the ‘Drie Skepe’ being a reference to Three Ships whiskey.

Koos Kombuis is a master at painting a picture in his songs. One can just picture the scene in songs like ‘Lisa Se Klavier’ where Koos sings about the boemelaars standing outside the window listening to Lisa play piano. Similarly, ‘Onder In My Whiskeyglas’ counjures up an image of a dishevelled and broken man sitting on a barstool in a dingy pub staring into an empty whiskeyglas, perhaps a tear running down a cheek. This is aural painting at its best.

Where to find it:
Die Mooiste Love Songs (1999) Wildebeest Records, WILD014

Video:

Dark Lord – Christine Weir

Dark Lord – Christine Weir

Dark Lord – Christine Weir

In recent years, Not The Midnight Mass-er, Christine Weir has been exploring her Celtic roots. In 2020 she underwent treatment for breast cancer and during this time she had a dark recurring dream which inspired her write ‘Dark Lord’, a conversation between her and Donn, the Celtic Dark Lord of Death.

Unsurprisingly, the song is dark and broody. It features a slightly mournful pennywhistle which weaves its way around an ominous beat of a bodhran and into this dark sound comes Christine’s captivating voice with its haunting beauty. She seems to caress the words she sings with a black velvet glove as she battles with Donn, asking for a chance to ‘fly free, dress up in vibrant hues’ and to take a ‘rain check’ on her going. The good news is that Donn agrees to the request and Christine’s voice soars as she sings this.

We all go through dark times in our lives, and all look for different things to help get us through. Christine turned to her music to express some of the things that she went through and the result is an uplifting song that has a hauting and dark side to it, but also a feeling of hope. ‘Dark Lord’ is a song to immerse yourself in, to feel what it like to be mortal and to be thankful for the life we have.

Hear here:
https://soundcloud.com/christine-weir-139789211/dark-lord-1

Video:

A Prayer For Our Time – Vusi Mahlasela

Miyela Afrika

Miyela Afrika

People talk about the power of prayer. Singers sing about prayer. Madonna has been like one, Bon Jovi have been living on one, Duran Duran saved one and Aretha Franklin said a little one. Prayer can be to ask for something or to be thankful. Sometimes we prayer for others and their wellbeing. Usually it is a reflective time when one looks at one’s life, one’s hopes and needs and one’s blessings.

In Vusi Mahlasela’s hands, prayer becomes a beautiful thing as he celebrates the ‘new dawning’ of South Africa post apartheid. A time where ‘we will drink with joy/with no fear of evil amongst us’. There is an uplifting feel to this. But he doesn’t just leave it there. There is a challenge in his prayer as the words go on ‘And we will lead our children into the path of positive direction/where we will clothe them with respect, love, freedom and strength/where life can be blessed accordingly and be trustworthy.

‘A Prayer For Our Time’ mixes beautiful words with Vusi’s amazingly beautiful voice alongside some gentle guitars that give one a real sense of being at one with God (if that is your belief) or just a sense of communion with the world. Yes, this fits perfectly with that ‘golden time’ when apartheid was falling and we were emerging into the New South Africa, the rainbow nation. But these words are timeless. We are always in need of a better world, always in need of a time when people live with respect, love and freedom.

So, you can be like one, live on one, save one, say a little one, but you can also just sit back, put on Vusi’s song and listen to one and maybe life won’t be quite so bad for a short while.

I should probably follow this up with Peanut Butter Conspiracy’s ‘Amen’, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Where to find it:
Miyela Afrika – Vusi Mahlasela (2000), Colossal, CDCLL7040

Video:

Bossies – Wilderbeest

Bushrock 1 - Wildebeest

Bushrock 1 – Wildebeest

For those of you who don’t know, ‘bossies’ is an expression which originated in the army where young South African men had to do compulsory service. It means to lose the plot and go crazy. It would have referred to a state of mind many experienced spending time in the bush (‘bos’ in Afrikaans) where things were a long way removed from one’s usual comfortable white suburban life.

It is therefore no surprise that the song ‘Bossies’ starts off with an army corporal shouting at the manne (men) and the song sings about it being another day in the army with a chanted chorus of ‘ons is almal bossies’ (we are all crazy). It is a fast-paced track that doesn’t sound a million miles from some of the early Dog Detachment songs. One could argue that this was the first Afrikaans punk song as it came out in the early 80’s long before Fokofpolsiekar and the like.

While this is ostensibly just a descriptive song about the state of mind many young men had when doing their army service, there is an undercurrent of venom in the delivery which makes it feel like a protest song and it would have sat well on the End Conscription Campaign’s ‘Forces Favourites’ album. The track motors along in a slightly crazed way, imitating the emotions many would have felt in the army.

Wildebeest featured Jack Hammer’s Piet Botha and Freedom Children’s Colin Pratley along with Boet Farber, Karlien van Niekerk and Dave Tarr. Together the band created a rough and ready masterpiece in the album ‘Bushrock 1 (‘Tribal Fence’ and ‘Russian And Chips’ from the album have already featured on this list). ‘Bossies’ is another great rrack from a great album. Check it out and go crazy to the tune.

Where to find it:
Bushrock 1 – Wildebeest (1981 – reissued in 2010), Fresh Music, freshcd171

Video:

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