1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the category “1001 Songs”

Moonlighter – Colin Shamley

Colin Shamley (Image from 3rd Ear Music)

Colin Shamley (Image from 3rd Ear Music)

It is rather strange that Shamley has only recorded 1 album (‘Born Guilty’ as far as I can tell) as he certainly is a talented dude. There are similarities to John Oakley-Smith (who also released a single album) in that both artists sing about every day life in South Africa and do so in an understated yet quite magical way. The difference between Shamley and Oakley-Smith is that the latter used a lot of piano on his material where Shamley chooses a guitar to underpin his songs.

‘Moonlighting’ is one of the ‘Other Stories’ on the 3rd Ear re-release of the magnificent ‘Born Guilty’ which was released with a load of extra tracks and entitled ‘Born Guily & Other Stories’. It’s a bluesy number that consists of one voice (Shamley’s), one guitar (Shamley’s) and a dimly lit alley atmosphere where the sound echoes, a solitary streetlamp struggles to illuminate the scene full of night characters. Shamley is an observer, watching ‘cops and pimps and queens and whores’ as ‘they hang round the all night arcade’. He takes the lives of these people and squashes them into descriptive lyrics to create the paint of the song which he splashes onto a staccato canvas that his guitar provides.

This is songwriting at its very best. Shamley’s sharp observationsof nightlife are perfectly encapsulated in this song and the sparse soundtrack he sets it to is so good its almost criminal, perhaps that’s why Shamley thought he was born guilty.

Where to find it:
Born Guilty & Other Stories – Colin Shamley (2003) 3rd Ear Music, 3eM Cd 7005

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Candy – Geoff St John

Candy - Geoff St John

Candy – Geoff St John

‘Candy’ was Geoff St. John’s second Springbok Top 20 hit and followed the success of his 1975 hit ‘Kiss Me Kiss You Baby’. ‘Candy’ made it to number 9 in the charts in 1976 and enjoyed 10 weeks in the top 20 and its not too hard to see why the nation took to the song. Dare I say it’s a sweet song, with an uplifting pop tune and bubblegum lyrics.

The tune was written by Ken Levine who drafted in song writing partner Ernie Schroeder to provide the lyrics. According to Ken they had very little to do in promoting the song as Geoff St John was very popular at the time and the chart success mentioned above backs this claim up.

Listening to this song years after it was a hit one may be inclined to dismiss it as it is very much of its era, slotting in alongside other light hearted love songs like Brotherhood Of Man’s ‘Save All Your Kisses For Me’ with enough of a beat to be danceable to and a catchy chorus, and perhaps, yes, it has not aged as well as other songs, but there is a certain charm about it that makes me think it deserves another listen.

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

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Afrikaan Beat – Shangaans

Jungle Drums - Shangaans

Jungle Drums – Shangaans

Now here’s a strange one. This is a band named after an African tribe, but made up of white guys. And on top of this they are perfoming a cover of a song written by a German guy who was trying to make music that sounded African.

The Shangaans were a 5 piece South African band whose line up included Grahame Beggs (who had great success with his band Charisma), Alain D. Woolf and a guy called Glen Muller (one wonders if they were ever tempted to call themselves the Glen Muller Orchestra). ‘Afrikaan Beat’ was a cover of a track by Bert Kaempfert who had had some internation success with his ‘African’ styled music. The local lad’s version of it appeared on their album ‘Jungle Drums’ which garnered some international interest and was released in The UK, Germany, Australia, France and Spain and probably a few more countries.

The Shangaans substituted the trumpet that Kaepfert used to carry the tune with a penny whistle type keyboard sound and while it lacked the warmth of the brassy version Kaempfert produced, this gave the song a more home grown feel as it trips along merrily, dragging tapping feet in its wake. There is an innocence to the song which gives it a 50s feel despite it being released in 1965. But it is this bright and breezy pop feel that gives the tune its appeal.

Where to find it:
Jungle Drums (Vinyl) – The Shangaans (1965)

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Taking A Break – Hinds Brothers

Oceans Of Milk - Hinds Brothers

Oceans Of Milk – Hinds Brothers

A certain brand of foodstuff has the well known slogan of ‘57 Varieties Of Heinz’, and while there may not be quite as many varieties of Hinds on the South African music scene, there are certainly plenty of them about. The Hinds musical dynasty stems from 70s singer/songwriter Kevin Hinds who was in groups like Jade and Leatherbone as well as having a successful solo career. Then came a certain Craig Hinds, Kevin’s son and frontman of the hugely successful Watershed. To this growing list we can now add Aden and Wren, Craig’s younger brothers who joined forces to create The Hinds Brothers.

Their debut album ‘Oceans Of Milk’ has garnered them some excellent reviews, including a 5 star review from none other than Richard Haslop (he who used to write music reviews for Scope Magazine). And rightly so, it is a brilliant album worth checking out in its entirety. However, this is the 1,001 South African songs list, not albums list, so one has to chose a track from the magnificent 10 that make up the album and ‘Taking A Break’, was the one that stood out just that little bit more from the others. It’s as catchy as it is laid back. Undoubtedly influenced by the Americana gene of modern country/folk music that acts like Sufjan Stevens and Devendra Banhart are part of, the song strolls along, taking in the fresh air of life and just feeling good.

The beautiful vocals waft on the breeze of music as chorus tells us that ‘God’s taking a break/she’s taking the world off her shoulders’. Now one may want to get into a theological debate about the gender of the deity, however that would be to miss the point. If the supreme being can take some time out and relax, then so can we and if She or He really wants to put Her/His feet up, there are few songs out there that would be better to do so than with this little gem.

Where to find it:
Ocean Of Milk – Hinds Brothers

Hear here:
http://www.hindsbros.com/album.html

Umqombothi – Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Umqombothi - Yvonne Chaka Chaka

Umqombothi – Yvonne Chaka Chaka

When white South African manne went around singing ‘When we drink Castle/We’re filled with admiration/for Charles’ Brew/And how it grew/a mile high reputation’, they were not the only locals singing about beer. In the townships a certain Yvonne Chaka Chaka was singing a catchy tune called ‘Umqombothi’ which translates quite simply as ‘beer’. In this case (excuse the pun), there was no mythical Charles Glass figure involved in the creation of the brew as Yvonne sings ‘Everybody come and drink my magic beer’ and the video for the song shows Yvonne outside a hut brewing up her local drink.

Yvonne’s joyful vocals float as light as the froth on top of a sorghum beer over a beat laden township synthesizer sound that’ll have you doing your Madiba dance around the house while quenching your thirst on this delightful slice of Friday night, sitting around enjoying a social drink with your mates. This is good times music, not let’s get drunk music.

The song’s popularity throughout Africa led to it being used in the opening scene of the Oscar nominated film ‘Hotel Rwanda’. The film starts with the sound of someone searching through some radio stations, stopping for a while as a message of hate against the Tutsi is broadcast by a Hutu DJ before finding this song. It is quite a strange feeling listening to this uplifting song straight after the message, but it worked in the film.

It is worthwhile putting down that Castle every now and then and enjoying this Homebrewed hit.

Where to find it:
South African Souvenirs – Various (1993), Teal, TELCD 2346

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Super Girl – Springbok Nude Girls

Surpass The Powers - Springbok Nude Girls

Surpass The Powers -Springbok Nude Girls

By the time 2000’s ‘Surpass The Powers’ came out, South Africa was well acquainted with the Springbok Nude Girls and their particular brand of rock. ‘Super Girl’ which was taken from that album was another example of just how good they were as a band.

Listening to the opening edgy guitar and ominous drumming, I can’t help thinking that Arno Carstens and the boys had been sitting listening to their Asylum Kids & Tribe After Tribe albums as, before the vocals kick in, one could easily believe that you were listening ot a track from the aftermentioned bands.

However, Arno’s roaring, soaring vocals quickly dispel those thoughts as his disctinct voice grabs hold of the song at times throttling it at other times seducing the ‘Super Girl’ of which he sings with his angelic falsetto.

This is a pounding piece of music that is tight, highly strung, yet has a vulnerable side to it that makes it compelling listening. But then again, would we have expected anything less from the Super (Springbok Nude) Girl(s)?

Where to find it:
Surpass The Powers – Springbok Nude Girls (2000), Epic, CDEPC8105

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I’m Tempted To Stay – Karma

One Day Soon - Karma

One Day Soon – Karma

Inbetween Henry Ate’s first 2 albums, 1996’s ‘Slap In The Face’ and 2000’s ‘Torn And Tattered’, they sort of released another one. Going under the name of Karma, Karma-Ann Swanepoel and Julian Sun released ‘One Day Soon’ in 1998. ‘I’m Tempted To Stay’ was one of the songs that appeared on that album.

If you didn’t know that Karma was really Henry Ate, you would soon know once this song starts as Karma-Ann’s distinct voice climbs over the horizon of an edgily strummed guitar and starts walking towards you, building and being briefly joined by Julian Sun’s gentle voice before it launches into the wilder, almost angry voice that sometimes finds it way onto songs featuring Karma-Ann.

It is not a comfortable song to listen to. There is angst and an eeriness to the song, but it is a rewarding experience to see it through to the end. You feel like you have been on a journey with Karma, visiting some pretty dark parts of your mind, where you may be tempted to stay, but you end up coming out the other side wiser and feeling able to handle whatever the world throws at you.

Where to find it:
One Day Soon – Karma (1998) Primedia Record Company, CDPRC0014

Hear here:

A Long Way Home – No Friends Of Harry

One Came Running - No Friends Of Harry

One Came Running – No Friends Of Harry

If, like me, you spent your teenage years listening to Barney Simon’s Powerhaus on a Saturday afternoon/evening, you were probably doing a double take when Barney introduced us to a local band called No Friends Of Harry and the song ‘Long way back Home’. It was not that were not used to Gothic music as Barney had already educated us in that, playing the likes of Sisters Of Mercy, Fields Of The Nephelim and such like.

But this? This was a local band. British Goth bands were acceptable, but wasn’t there too much sunlight in South Africa for Goths to exists here? Well exist they did and they were doing a darn good job of being Goths. No Friends of Harry were the stand out band for the genre in SA. There were some others that had potential like The Gathering, but NFOH were the ones with the staying power.

‘A Long Way Home’ has a menacing bassline that starts the song off and doesn’t relent until the last black drop of the songs has been squeezed through your speakers. It is kept company along the way by some rusty edged guitars. And no Goth song would be complete without some dark and brooding vocals which Rob McLennan supplies with aplomb.

No Friends Of Harry paved the way for the likes of Ashton Nyte and his band The Awakening, but they were the originals, the Gothfathers of the genre in South Africa and ‘A Long Way Back Home’ will always be amongst the songs one reaches for if you are looking to go over to the dark side in sunny South Africa.

Where to find it:
The Present Has Passed: The Best Of No Friends Of Harry (2003), Fresh Music FRESHCD129

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In Solitary Confinement – Vusi Mahlasela

When You Come Back – Vusi Mahlasela

When You Come Back – Vusi Mahlasela

For all it being called ‘In Solitary Confinement’, this is a surprisingly upbeat song which starts with some spritely guitar playing and uplifting penny whistle before Vusi’s beautiful vocals kick in. This juxtaposition of the serious nature of the lyrics and a happy tune is not uncommon in music with The Smiths’ ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ being one that I always cite (and did so in the review of Henry Ate’s ‘Hey Mister’).

In ‘In Solitary Confinement’ Vusi was singing from personal experience having been incarcerated and put in solitary himself. If my memory serves me correctly from when I was lucky enough to see Vusi perfom live, this song was written on toilet paper while he was in prison. It is a joyous romp of a song with the pennywhistle flitting around Vusi’s tight guitar work while his voice does its magic with the lyrics, caressing the pain of the words with its beauty until the desired effect of those wanting to inflict the pain is beaten into submission.

South Africa must be one of the few places in the world where the protest songs could sound joyful and beautiful but at the same time have biting, critical words and ‘In Solitary Confinement’ is a shining example of this. So lock youself up in your room and let Vusi’s magic set you free.

Where to find it:
When You Come Back – Vusi Mahlasela (1998) Shifty/BMG,CDSHIFT50

Video:

Killing The Light – Squeal

Squeal

Squeal

The name Squeal for this band does not describe their music or their singing as they certainly do not sound like children expressing delight or pigs expressing distress. Formed by Dave Birch and Brett Barnes, this band make some rough edged rock that is edgy and gritty.

Opening their ‘Long Pig’ album, ‘Killing The Light’ circulates uneasily in your mind with a looping, somewhat menacing, guitar which is quickly accompanied by some straight up rock beats and grungy guitar. Then Birch’s vocals, enticing at first, move up a notch and drag you kicking and screaming into the song. The whole time this looping guitar riff moves round and round in your brain, hypnotic yet somehow also driving you insane.

In his review of the ‘Long Pig’ album SA Rockdigest writer, Kurt Shoemaker, describes it as ‘sinewy, athletic rock stripped down to fighting weight, it’s as pure as rock gets’ which applies as much to ‘Killing the Light’ as to the rest of the album. You need to go a few rounds with the song, if you can last the distance.

Where to find it:
Long Pig – Squeal, One World Entertainment (1995), WOND133

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