1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the category “John Kongos”

Skokiaan – Johnny & G-Men

The G-Men (LP)

The G-Men (LP)

‘Skokiaan’ the song has been around since about 1947 and has been widely covered by a load of artists. It began life in the brain of one August Musarurwa, a Rhodesian (as it was back then). It was recorded by the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythm Band and this scratchy version with its quacking, sqeaking brass over what sounds like a banjo, is a delightful African jazzy number from the era.

In 1954 Ralph Marterie gave the song a western orchestral sound and the song made the US charts and soon artists like Louis Armstong and Bill Haley & The Comets were recording their own versions.

Then in 1971 along came Johnny and his G-Men with their own take. Johnny (in case you didn’t know) was none other than John ‘Tokoloshe Man’ Kongos and he and his G-Men ditched the brass when recording their version, rather favouring the echo-ey guitar sound that the likes of The Shadows and The Ventures had a lot of success with. The G-Men made a good job of translating the song from a 50’s jazz piece into a 60’s Rock ‘n’ Roll instrumental, and they managed to do this in the 70’s.

Skokiaan is apparently an illegally brewed drink which from it’s description sounds a bit like the sorghum beer or homebrew that we have in South Africa, and is probably the biggest legal export of something illegal from what was then Rhodesia.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: The G-Men – Johnny & The G-Men (1971), RCA, 31.547

Video:
Johnny & The G-Men

Bulawayo Sweet Rhythm Band

I’m Only Joking – Kongos

I’m Only Joking - Kongos

I’m Only Joking – Kongos

If there was such a phrase as ‘a pound-a-thon’, it would be perfect to use to describe this track from the pound-tastic ‘Lunatic’ album that the kings of pounding, Johnny Kongos’ sons brought us. ‘I’m Only Joking’ does raise the question whether any drums were harmed in the making thereof because it is non-stop stomping from the moment it starts right through to the final, near chaotic drumming at the end.

There is a primal feel to this juggernaut of a track which starts with the line ‘There is a song/you’re trembling to its tune’. And tremble you might, for it sounds like a herd of elephants have gathered for a school disco. But there is an edge to what’s going on here. The chorus goes, ‘I’m only joking/I’m only f**king with your head’ and as you listen, there is a sort of mismatching in the beats of the drum which gives it an unhinged feel.

Kongos had a hit in the US and Canada with ‘Come With Me Now’, which was also from the ‘Lunatic’ album and while that song also feautres the Kongos family’s trademark pounding, it doesn’t have the slightly derailed feel that ‘I’m Only Joking’ has.

Where to find it:
Lunatic – Kongos (2014), Epic

Video:

Tokoloshe Man – John Kongos

Tokoloshe Man – John Kongos (Did the Happy Mondays have any idea what a Tokoloshe was?)

Tokoloshe Man Plus – John Kongos

Tokoloshe Man Plus – John Kongos

After much success in South Africa with his G-Men, John Kongos decided to move to the UK and try his luck there. He eventually teamed up with Gus Dudgeon, who was busy producing Elton John’s material, and using a few of Elton John’s band members, recorded some tracks, including ‘Tokoloshe Man’.

Despite its subject matter being somewhat obscure for a non-South African audience, the song climbed to number 4 in the British Charts and was to be covered in the 90’s by the Happy Mondays.

The song features thundering tribal African beats and a fuzzy guitar with Kongos’ almost growled vocals. This was a far cry from the sweet vocals South Africans had been used to on his early beat songs such as Johnny and The Mermaid. Strangely, despite the line in the songs, ‘it makes no difference if you’re black or you’re white, Tokoloshe says tonight is the night is the night,’ the song charted in the Springbok Top 20 peaking at number 13. Not a bad achievement for a guy from Brakpan.

Where to find it:

Tokoloshe Man Plus – John Kongos (1988), See For Miles, SEECD221
Lyrics:

Make your bed up high
pray into the sky
close the window close the door
makes no difference if you’re rich or poor.

Get on your knees scream please
that man just love to tease.
Try to run
get a gun
he just laugh it makes it more fun.

Hard like rock ain’t got no soul
he can make the sun feel cold.
Put an eclipse on the moon
make a little cloud forty day monsoon.

Don’t recognize no hawk
don’t recognize no dove
Bad tokoloshe man
he don’t even recognize love

And it makes no difference
if you’re yellow or you’re red
when that bad man say
tonight is the night you are dead.
And it makes no difference
If you’re black or you’re white
Tokoloshe says tonight is the night is the night

Only thing I can say to you is
you gotta be good an’you gotta be true
think about Jesus Christ.
And it makes…

Video:

John Kongos:


Happy Mondays:

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