1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the category “1001 Songs”

Song For Johnny Dyani – Sipho Gumede

Downtown Freedom Avenue – Sipho Gumede

Downtown Freedom Avenue – Sipho Gumede

When looking at this song, the obvious question for those (like me) who are not all that clued up on South African jazz, is ‘Who is Johnny Dyani’. Well the answer is that Johnny was a respected jazz double bassist hailing from Duncan Village just outside East London. He was one of the founding members of The Blue Notes, which was the first jazz band in SA to feature both black and white musicians. Over time his reputation grew and he went on to play with international jazz musicians such as Don Cherry, Steve Lacy and Dave Murray. Johnny died suddenly in October 1986 at the young age of 40

Sipho Gumede was another of our talented jazz musicians and was obviously influenced by, and probably friends with, Johnny. ‘Song For Johnny Dyani’ is a beautiful tribute to the man who died so young. It is laid back jazz that is perfect for just sitting and listening to with only your memories for company. The sound is warm enough to ensure that the memories don’t become morbid, but rather they tease the good times out of you mind so you are left with a warm, slightly melancholic feeling.

Sipho died in the July of 2004 at age 66 and I am sure that those who knew him well would be able to put on ‘Song For Johnny Dyani’ and quite easily imagine it being re-titled ‘Song For Sipho Gumede’ as it would bring to mind his relaxed jazz guitar playing and his gentle soul. RIP Johnny, RIP Sipho, you are both remembered through the music you gave us.

Where to find it:
Sipho Gumede – Down Freedom Avenue (1994), M.E.L.T. 2000, BWSA051

Video:

Dragonflies And Astronauts – The Parlotones

Dragonflies And Astronauts – The Parlotones

Dragonflies And Astronauts – The Parlotones

I suppose that dragonflies and astronauts do have something in common – they both fly. Apart from that, I’m not sure. The Parlotones, I presume, know what the connection is and reading the lyrics of their song that goes by that name, it seems to be all about having dreams and in dreams there is nothing wrong with dragonflies and astronauts hanging out together.

The Parlotones dreamed big, they dreamed of things of beauty and things out of this world and they brought them together. They would have dreamed of fame and being a big band and they became that (that’s out of this world, man). And they would have also dreamed of beautiful things like this song for example. It is a slightly laid-back rock affair with Morbee Kahn’s voice soaring over a tuneful, guitar-led floatfest.

The track became the title of a theatre piece that The Parlotones put together around their songs and, in what was apparently a world first, was streamed in 3D to cinemas around the globe. The production didn’t seem to garner much critical acclaim, but the song does have a sense of theatre to it. Its colourful lyrics conjure up images of dreams and out of this world things.

Where to find it:
Radiocontrolledrobot – The Parlotones (2005), Sovereign Entertainment, SOVCD 025

Video:

The Wonder Of Your Love – Jody Wayne

The Wonder Of Your Love – Jody Wayne

The Wonder Of Your Love – Jody Wayne

Jody Wayne topped the Sprinbok Top 20 with ‘The Wedding’ in 1970. After that his fortunes took a turn for the worse in terms of chart success as his next 3 hits, ‘A Time For Us’, ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ and ‘Louanne’ peaked at 12, 20 and 19 respectively. However, with ‘The Wonder Of You’ he once more climbed into the top 5 on our charts as the song peaked at number 4. It was his 8th song to make the charts and at that point he was tied second with Four Jacks & A Jill for number of hits on the chart by a local act, only being beaten by Billy Forrest’s 9.

Listening to ‘The Wonder Of You’ one can see why he regained the lost ground. It is a fine example of a 70’s country-pop ballad. It’s emotional, has a strong country guitar, a laid back rhythm and Jody’s sweet vocals which are interchanged with emotionally charged spoken bits. The slow beat of the song was perfect for any slow dance in its day and I’m sure many a couple have fond memories of this hit.

Yes, like a number of songs on this list, ‘The Wonder Of Love’ was of its time and does sound a little dated now, but it was a big hit in its time. It would be Wayne’s last top 5 hit, although ‘A Picture Of Patches’ and his duet with Four Jacks & A Jill’s Glenys Lynne, ‘Cookie’, would manage to get to 6 and 7 respectively. Jody was one of the top local acts of the 70’s scoring 7 hits during that decade. So, listen to one of his bigger hits of that time and enjoy the wonder of Jody.

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

Video:

Vice In Bombay – Via Afrika

Vice In Bombay – Via Afrika

Vice In Bombay – Via Afrika

Via Afrika’s big hit was ‘Hey Boy’ but there was another track which came from their second album ‘Scent Of A Scandal’ which, although not as well remembered, was just as good. Like ‘Hey Boy’, ‘Vice In Bombay’ had an earthy Africa feel without being overtly African and it is as easy to dance to as its predecessor.

There is Rene Veldsman’s alluring vocals which are infected with the sleaziness of the subject matter of the song as the ‘s’ sound is hissed out while a witchy vocal seems to weave itself in and out of the song. Occasionally a woman ululates and it conjures up images of women dancing round a fire (or it might be because the video for the song has women dancing round a fire?).

There is also the punky aspect to the song that bands like Via Afrika and éVoid brought to their music and at times there are hints of Siouxsie & The Banshees in this track. It’s a seductive dance track, exotic and dusty.

Where to find it:
Via Afrika – Via Afrika (2000), Retro Fresh, freshcd 107

Video:

Geek – Jakkie Louw

Jakkie Louw

Jakkie Louw

Jakkie Louw is fairly well-known Afrikaans singer and was one of the names that came out of the burgeoning rock music scene in Stellenbosch towards the end of the previous millennium and into the early naughties. And while he never quite made it as big as the likes of Valiant Swart and Akkedis, he was certainly one worth watching.

Most of his stuff is in Afrikaans, but one of his very early releases (and now quite hard to find) was an English song called ‘Geek’. I can’t help thinking of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ when I hear this song. Not because the 2 sound similar, but there is the same sort of self deprecating sentiment where Radiohead sing ‘Cause I’m a creep’ and Jakkie sings ‘I guess that I am a Geek’ and in both songs there is a slight pause before the one word of the song title is sung. Other than that, Jakkie’s song is far more upbeat than the Radiohead one. It is a good solid pop-rock track with some polished guitar and strong just slightly gruff vocals.

This early recording of his signalled that here was another fine offering from the Stellenbosch stable and it was recognised by the SA Rockdigest as the song climbed to number 2 on their charts in 2003. Geek is the word.

Where to find it:
Jakkie Louw – Klein Karoo Cowboy, AFRIMUSIK27

Emabhaceni – Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba

Fans of Miriam Makeba had to wait a long time between her 1979 album, ‘Comme Un Symphonie D’Amour’ and her 1988 offering ‘Sangoma’. However, the opening track to her long awiated offering would have had people agreeing that it was worth the wait as ‘Emabhaceni’ finds Miriam in strong voice and with Brenda Fassie and Hugh Masekela helping out with backing vocals who could complain?

Google translates the song’s title as ‘in the beds’ which doesn’t really make sense to me. However, the translated lyrics that accompany the Youtube video (link below) talk of the rain passing and it becoming a perfect day. It also talks of ‘hidden violets grow splashed with summer spray’ so perhaps the ‘beds’ that Google refs to are flower beds. However, even if you have no idea what Miriam is singing about, the pure joy of listening to the vocal harmonies which are accompanied by some sparse drumming makes the language somewhat beside the point.

Miriam was one of the greats of South African music and despite spending a large part of her life in exile during the apartheid years, she never forgot her roots as this song proved. It is drenched in South African sounds and, given that her comeback album was inspired by touring with Paul Simon who had released ‘Graceland’ a couple of years before, it is not surprising. ‘Emabhaceni’ awakens feelings that were ‘in the beds’ and brings a life assuring feel to the day.

Where to find it:
Miriam Makeba – Mama Afrika 1932 – 2008 (2008), Gallo

Video:

Santa Maria – Alan Garrity

Santa Maria – Alan Garrity

Santa Maria – Alan Garrity

After his 1975 hit with ‘She’s My Woman’ Alan Garrity’s career waned somewhat as that would be his last hit in the 70s. He had been very successful up to then having had 6 Springbok top 20 hits, topping the charts with ‘Put Your Hand In The Hand’ and holding the record for number of weeks in the chart by a song with ‘I Need Someone’ spending 33 weeks in the top 20 and this went on to become the all time record for a song spending time in the top 20 (Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton’s ‘Islands In the Stream’ managed 36 weeks in the charts , but that included time in positions 21 to 30 once the charts were extended).

After ‘She’s My Woman’, we didn’t see Garrity on the charts again until 1981 where he returned with ‘Santa Maria’, a cover of a song which had been a hit for Italian chaps Guido & Maurizio De Angelis who went under the name Oliver Onions. Their version topped the German charts for 6 weeks and was immediately followed by a German version by Roland Kaiser which was at number 1 there for 5 weeks.

Listening to the Oliver Onions version may come as a bit of a shock to those who have only heard the Alan Garrity version as the lyrics (in Italian) are sung in a high pitched falsetto voice, but those looking for a more familiar sound in their cover versions would find the Roland Kaiser one closer to the Garrity version.

‘Santa Maria’ is a pleasant song telling the story of a sailor returning home to his wife and child after a long absence which was rather fitting as it returned Garrity to the charts after a lengthy time away. It climbed to number 4 and spent 11 weeks in the top 20.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – Yesterday’s Best Vol 3, 1995, Teal, MORCD563

Video:
Alan Garrity:

Oliver Onions:

Roland Kaiser:

Swart September -Koos Kombuis

Niemandsland - Koos Kombuis

Niemandsland – Koos Kombuis

In South Africa September is usually a pretty good month weatherwise. Things are beginning to cheer up again after the winter. It may still be a little too cold to jump in the pool on the 1st of the month, but certainly by the time October comes you welcome the cool water. So why does Koos sing of a black Sepember?

Well its about a particular Sepember, September 1984, a time a huge upheaval in the country with bombs going off and riots in the Vaal Triangle during which some people believed to be police spies are burnt alive. It is also the month when the position of Prime Minister was abolished and P.W. Botha was inaugurated as the first State President. So, yes, it was a black time in the nation’s history.

And when Koos was singing about it on his 1989 album, Niemandsland’, things hadn’t got much better. It was this sot of awareness of what was happening in the country and the way that he could translate it into biting lyrics and dramatic songs that really put Koos on the map. ‘Swart September is a dramatic piano driven piece that underpins the lyrics that talk of the troubles in the townships, pass laws, necklacing, and police actions. It gets to the heart of what was happening then – ‘Groot masjiene oor die land, September ’84 wat oorkook in ‘n noodtoestand ‘n lente bleek en dor’.

Yes we’ve moved on since then and ‘Swart September’ is still difficult listening, but it is part of our history, it is part of what made South Africa and still stands as great document of what we went through.

Where to find it:
Niemandsland – Koos Kombuis (1990), Shifty Records
Shot Down (Resistance Music from Apartheid South Africa) – Various Artists (2006),Shifty Records

Video:

I Am A Rock – John E Sharpe & The Squires

I Am A Rock – John E Sharpe & The Squires

I Am A Rock – John E Sharpe & The Squires

About a year after Paul Simon told the world that he was a rock (he recorded a solo version of the song before doing one with Art Garfunkel) John E Sharpe & The Squires decided that being a rock was a good thing so they also recorded the song. And they do a pretty good job of it. While the Simon & Garfunkel version is in their early folky style, Sharpe & his Squires take a slightly heavier (but not heavy) approach, turning it into a great garage/beat rock song with an organ underpinning the guitars and drums and a twiddly piano doing the twiddly guitar sounds that are on the Simon & Garfunkel version.

I’m not sure if Simon & Garfunkel were pleased with the results of John E Sharpe’s cover or not, but they decided to enter the Springbok top 20 with ‘Homeward Bound’ the week after John E Sharpe & The Squires’ version of ‘I Am A Rock’ did. The Simon & Garfunkel hit ‘The Sounds Of Silence’ was already in the top 20 at that point so we were overdosing on Paul Simon compositions. 10 weeks later both ‘I Am A Rock’ and ‘Homeward Bound’ left the charts after the former had peaked at 5.

Interestingly, the single of John E Sharpe & The Squires’ version of it list the songs as ‘I’m A Rock’ while they clearly sing ‘I Am A Rock’. Maybe the shortened title was because their version is approximately 22 seconds shorter than the Simon & Garfunkel version (although I suspect it was just a typo). No matter though how they spelt it, it was a great cover of a classic tune.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 2 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40486 (CD)

Video:

Colour Me In – Sunways

The Moon Is A Spoon - Sunways

The Moon Is A Spoon – Sunways

Is this a race? It certainly feels like it. From the moment you hit play on Sunways’ ‘Colour Me In’ it is hurtling to its end and the end is not far off as the song clocks in at just on 1 minute and 50 seconds, but they are 1 minute and 50 seconds well spent as it’s a wonderful rush of raucous rock with a catchy refrain of ‘bang bang bang let me colour me in’.
The band, consisting of Robbie Boake, Sarah Hills, Jason Horseman and Sherene Hustler, formed on a sugar farm called Sunways just near Richard’s Bay and given this little nugget from them, its no wonder their first signing was to Tic Tic Bang records as it does feel like Robbie on vocals is heading to explode and he almost does as, after the fuse of the song burns quickly, he ends with a final cry off ‘I should have let you gooooooo!’. A perfect end to this piece of rock that follows Neil Young’s advice that its better to burn out than to fade away.
‘Colour Me In’ would get to number 2 on the SA Rockdigest charts and ended up being number 30 on the list of the top 50 songs of 2001. It appeared on Sunways first album, ‘The Moon Is A Spoon’ which was awarded the SAMA Rock Album of the Year. Full of colour and blistering hot like the sun, ‘Colour Me In’ is 2 minutes of SA rock history that burned brightly at the time and is yet to fade away.
Where to find it:
The Moon Is A Spoon – Sunways (2002), Fresh Music, FRESHCD122
SA Rock Gold – Various Artist (2010), Universal, TUMGCD100

Video:

 

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