1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Kanimambo – Tananas



On a first listen to this piece by one of our favourite instrumental groups, I guessed that Gito Baloi had a lot of influence in the writing of it. Why, you may well ask? Well, it seems to have a bit of a Latin sound going on there and being from Mozambique, Baloi would have had more of a Latin connection than his fellow band members. So I hauled out my copy of ‘SA Top 40 Hits Of All Time Volume 6’ to check out who wrote it and, well, it is credit to all three band member (Baloi plus Ian Herman and Steve Newman).

However, no matter how much input each band member had into the song, it  turned out to be an earthy piece with a cyclic relaxed rhythm circling around some fancy, yet understated guitar work while a female voice repeats the title and a somewhat thoaty male vocal adds some ‘way-i-i-o-i-i-o-ah’ into the mix for good measure. Then about two thirds of the way through, a 60s psychedelic organ wonders into the studio to give it a bit of a psychedelic feel.

This is a beautiful piece of music that seems to encapure the warmth and relaxed mood of both Africa and Latin America. It will make you want to go out and buy a hammock, string it up between two palm trees on a white sandy beach and gently sway to its rhythms while pretending to be able to play a guitar half as well as Steve Newman does.

Where to find it:
SA Top 40 Hits of All Time Volume 6 – Various Artists (2001), Sting Music, STIDFCD037

Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie – Frank Opperman

Kombuis Musiek

Kombuis Musiek

Kovers of Koos Kombuis’ song abound. Some are great and some not. A lot are covers of ‘Lisa Se Klavier’, this one is not. This one opens the Kombuis tribute album ‘Kombuis Musiek’ and, in my humble opinion, is the best track on that album.

Opperman was probably better known as an actor than a singer, coming to South Africa’s attention as Neels, the car mechanic in the sitcom ‘Orkney Snork Nie’ and having a role in the film ‘Boetie Gaan Border Toe’. However, in 1999 he turned his hand (or should that be voice) to singing and produced a great album called ‘Serial Boyfriend’ with a band called Prime Time Addiction. It was probably on the strength of that album that he was asked to submit a cover version for the ‘Kombuis Musiek’ compilation.

‘Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie’ starts off with a contemplative piano (is that Lisa playing?) before a relaxed beat starts and then Frank’s gruff vocals come like rough sandpaper over the smooth music. And it is the juxtaposition of the relaxed, melancholic instrumentation against the dirty and almost disturbing vocals that make this cover work. It gives one a feeling of being safe while travelling through a land littered with outcasts and junkies, needles strewn around the place, people lying around looking dead, a sort of voyeuristic feeling.

Opperman seems to get to the core of the song, a sense of caring about ‘Johnny’, yet acknowledging that the world that he lives in is seedy and fraught. A classic cover of a classic song.

Where to find it:
Kombuis Musiek – Various Artist, Fresh music (2002),FESHCD125


Ain’t Gonna Stop Till I Get To The Top – Joy

Ain’t Gonna Stop Till I Get To The Top - Joy

Ain’t Gonna Stop Till I Get To The Top – Joy

‘Paradise Road’ became a South African classic that still reverberates around the local music world to this day. But before Joy brought us that chart topping hit, they had a lesser know song make number 11, about 6 months before ‘Paradise Road’ cracked the charts and that was ‘Ain’t Gonna Stop Till I Get To The Top’.

Like ‘Paradise Road’, ‘Ain’t Gonna Stop…’ was written by Fransua Roos and Patric van Blerk and both tracks appeared on the album called ‘Paradise Road’. However, unlike the soulful chart topper, ‘Ain’t Gonna Stop’ is a straight on disco floorfiller. From the moment the funky bass starts up (about 3 seconds into the song), you know that you are going to be dancing to this one and that is soon confirmed as that disco beat (you know the one I’m talking about) hits in. And while that is strutting around your turntable (remember those?), you are hit with a voice that is not too distant to that of one of the greats of the disco era, Donna Summer.

Interestingly, 2 years after ‘Ain’t Gonna Stop’ was released in 1980, Joy covered the Jon & Vangelis song ‘State Of Independence’ around the same time that Donna Summer released her own cover. Co-incidence? Well listen to ‘Ain’t gonna Stop’ and I think you’ll agree that Joy knew how to do disco the same way Donna Summer did.

Joy actually did not stop once they managed to get to the top because apart from the cover of ‘State Of Independence’ mentioned above they had one more song make the Springbok charts, but that’s for another entry on this blog.

Where to find it:
Singles Bins


Sleep Tight Margaret – Vusi Mahlasela

Silang Mabele - Visu Mahlasela

Silang Mabele – Visu Mahlasela

Vusi Mahlasela has a beautiful voice. Well, that’s a bit like saying water is wet because, just as anyone who has felt water would tell you that it is wet, anyone who has heard Vusi would tell you he has a beautiful voice. So what happens when a beautiful voice collides with a beautiful song? To start with the word ‘collides’ takes on a velvet smooth kind of merger or combining rather than its usual harsh clashing together of objects. And with ‘Sleep Tight Margaret’ we have this coming together of the voice and the song.

‘Sleep Well Margaret’ is a lullaby that sits like a comfort blanket on your soundsystem with gently plucked guitars, hushed drumming and a muted bass which slide by you in a dreamy state, Vusi’s tender vocals caressing your ears, taking you on a aural trip into dreamland.

But, as with a lot of Vusi’s material, there is more to the song than beautiful voice meeting beautiful song. The lyrics reveal a pain in the Margaret that Vusi is singing to as he sings, ‘Carry you to a new day/New day, new life/Releasing the misfortunes/That carried us through yesterday’. There is a deep care for this ‘Magaret’ and Vusi is trying to help her through this pain, singing her to sleep, and bringing her peace so that she can face the ‘new day’ with optimism. I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that the Margaret in question was Margaret Singana, but I can’t say this with certainty.

A song is often the best envelope in which to deliver a message of hope and no more so in this bittersweet, soul-filled offering from Vusi.

Where to find it:
Silang Mabele – Vusi Mahlasela (1997)

Chapel Of Love – June Muscat

Chapel Of Love - June Muscat

Chapel Of Love – June Muscat

The Chapel of Love is one of those Las Vegas places when you can rock up and get married on the spur of the moment. Apparently this one also offers (or used to offer) a drive thru service. It is therefore quite fitting that when Dan Hill was fretting about the fact that the vocalist who was meant to sing on the version of ‘Chapel Of Love’ they were recording hadn’t turned up (was she in a drive-thru somewhere?). June Muscat was working as a secretary at G.R.C. (aka Gallo Record Company) and happened to walk into the studio at that time. Dan Hill immediately married her to the song and it became a huge hit for her in 1964.

The song was a cover of the well know tune which was first made famous by The Dixie Cups and also recorded by Darlene Love as well as The Ronettes. Listening to these versions by those luminaries of US soul and then comparing it to June’s version, the one thing that struck me was how much to the fore June’s vocals were pushed. While there is nothing wrong with the other versions, its worth checking out June’s one purely for the strength of her voice which rings out like a chapel bell over a warm, brassy and funky sound.

It is always difficult to compare different versions of the same song, especially when people have a favourite version, or stick to the one they first heard, but for many South Africans this may well be their version and it is easy to see why they would stick to this one as it is a strong cover of the song which was probably played at many a wedding in the country during 1964 and, I’m sure, for a good many years thereafter.

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


Lucky – Boo!

Shooting Star - Boo!

Shooting Star – Boo!

Those Boo! Boys (yes, despite the dress sense of their lead singer and names like Princess Leonie they were boys) were pretty lax in the spelling department as this song has appeared as ‘Lucky’ and ‘Lucki’ on various of their releases. However, this is not the list of ‘1001 songs you have to see mis-spelt before you go blind’ so we can give them the benefit of the doubt and put this down to typos and then get on with listening to the song.

A popular live tune at their gigs, this songs fairly bounces along on a funky bass line with Ampie Omo’s trumpet blasting hot air into the song that give it a slightly Latin-American sheen, while at the same time maintaining the ska-punk feel that pervaded Boo!’s music. Chameleon’s vocals are, as always on his Boo! material, gloriously quirky with a few primeval yelps thown in for good measure.

Boo! were one of the best fun bands around on the local scene in the late 90’s early 00’s and a tune like ‘Lucky’ is a prime example of how the music and their comedic repertoire blended together in what at times seemed to be a shambolicly lucky way, however, don’t be fooled, the band were not lucky, they got to where they did by having a serious amount of talent going on which carefully orchestrated the chaos. This song was just another example of how good they were at that. You say lucky, I say lucki, you say quirky I say quirki let’s call the whole thing pretty darn excellent.

Where to find it:
Shooting Star – Boo! (2002),Sheer Sound


Ten Tons Of Loving – Johnny Collini

Ten Tons Of Loving - Johnny Collini

Ten Tons Of Loving – Johnny Collini

Ten tons is pretty heavy, but this song was not. Released in 1969, Johnny Collini makes light work of this John Edmond composition. With the composer also taking on the production ‘Ten Tons Of Loving’ is one of those pop songs that Cliff Richard or Herman’s Hermits perhaps would have taken into the charts in the middle to late 1960’s. It’s a lighthearted song about the huge amount of love the singer has.

Collini, who was born in Heidleberg and sang in The Zombies (no not the UK band featuring Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, but the South African one that morphed into Four Jacks & A Jill), brings a strong vocal to the song and with his voice being brought right to the fore, the instrumentation seems almost muted against his big voice.

‘Ten Tons Of Loving’ did not make the Springbok charts (only his hit ‘That’s Why God Made The World’ managed that), but was a popular tune in its day. Collini went on recorded a number of singles, but as far as we know he never released an album. With its title being what it was, one could regard the song as being about a Whole Lotta Love. Hopefully that last comment doesn’t go down like a lead balloon.

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

Feel So Strong – Steve Kekana & Hotline

Feel So Strong - Steve Kekana & Hotline

Feel So Strong – Steve Kekana & Hotline

Sometimes when big named stars get together to record a duet the results are not that great and do not add up to the sum of the parts. Perhaps it is competing egos that result in the disappointing output, who knows. However when the local talents of PJ Powers and Hotline got together with our own Stevie Wonder, Steve Kekana, the result was not disappointing.

Written by PJ, ‘Feel So Strong’ is a song that jammed rock and township with a bit of gospel organ thrown in for good measure into 7 inches of vinyl brilliance and this is all coated in a thick layer of pop sensibility. The result is a catchy tune that rocks and you can dance to.

Despite the obvious contravention of Apartheid laws (a white woman and black man singing a song where the lyrics hint at a relationship across the colour bar – ‘I’ve never felt like this before/but being alone isn’t scary anymore’) the song got heavy rotation on the radio stations and climbed to number 6 on the Springbok Radio top 20. It was perhaps the use of phrases such as ‘I never thought I’d find a friend quite like you’ that made the censors think they were just friends.

Given Kekana’s European successes (he charted in Finland, Sweden and Switzerland) it is not too surprising that he and Hotline performed the song on the German Television music show Musikladen (see the Youtube video link below). Together they were beautiful and made beautiful music that rocked our world. Powers to the people who ‘Feel So Strong’.

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


Lungile Tabalaza – Roger Lucey

Roger Lucey

Roger Lucey

Lungile Tabalaza was a man arrested during the apartheid years and died while in police custody, ostensible committing suicide by jumping out of a fifth floor window. One man who was angry about this was Roger Lucey and when you hear his song about the incident, you can feel the emotion in his voice. There is an abrasive bass, an edgy beat and a wailing woman’s voice that mixes grief with pain.

Despite not actually accusing the police of killing Tabalza, the lyrics between the sung lines are fairly obvious what Lucey thinks happened. He sings “Well whatever happened in that office only God and the cops will only know” and “well some say it was murder and some say suicide, but this is not the first time that men have gone in there and died” which nakedly reveal what Lucey’s views on the event were.

Included on his ‘The Road Is Much Longer’ album, it was just one of 11 reasons why the album was banned (the other 10 reasons being the 10 other tracks). In a post apartheid 2000, the song resurfaced on ’21 Years Down The Road’ and it serves as one of many politically charged songs from the era when they were usually banned. It is a bit of a history lesson, giving us an insight into things that often didn’t make our television news broadcasts.

Where to find it:
21 Years Down The Road – Roger Lucey (2000), 3rd Ear Music


Lungile Tabalaza

I Still Hear You Breathe – John Ireland

John Ireland

John Ireland

This song was definitely a single released by John Ireland. I remember because, as an awkward teenager I bought a copy of it for a girl I was mad about and she happened to mention that she liked it. Well, if my experience is anything to go by, I wouldn’t recommend you run out an buy this (if you can find it) as an attempt to get a date as the girl in question moved to the States a little while later. I still blame John Ireland for this.

However, as a much more mature person, I can now listen to the song and appreciate, despite lines like ‘you’ve been gone for almost 3 years’ (more like 30+ in my case) and ‘remember running through the park, remember holding hands in the dark’ (nope, never happened), that this was a good solid unrequited love song. It has a melodic piano line which overlays some rather dramatic strings and builds to a solid crescendo. The song got stuck in the shadow of Ireland’s massive hit ‘I Like…’ as it was the second single off the eponymous album that featured the latter hit. It did get a little bit of airplay (how else could the girl of my dreams back then have heard it?) but didn’t make any inroads into any of the local charts.

So, Jenny if you’re out there, you may remember that boy who used to give you strange gifts like obscure 7” singles. He was head over heels in love with you, but too shy to say so. This was ‘our song’ although you probably never knew it.

P.S. in case you’re worried, I am happily married now, but as they say, you never forget your first love.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: John Ireland – John Ireland (1982), Transistor Records, CBK(L)


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