1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Amadlozi – Bongo Maffin

The Concerto - Bongo Maffin

The Concerto – Bongo Maffin

Bongo Maffin were one of the front runners in the Kwaito world. They were formed when Oscar Appleseed (DJ Appleseed) moved from Zim down to SA and hooked up with Stoan (Seate) and Thandi (Mazwai) to form the band. They threw dance, house, kwaito, techno, rap and reggae into a big township melting pot and ‘Amadlozi’ was one of the tracks that appeared on their 1998 debut album, ‘The Concerto’.

It’s a funky piece of dance music, with a steady beat underpinning some somewhat ethereal keyboard noodling that becomes almost hypnotic. Thandi’s vocals are light and, although not whispered, it feels like she is telling you a secret. This sounds like a natural progression from the Township jive sounds of the 1980s. You could lose yourself on the dancefloor with this without the aid of drugs.

‘The Concerto’ would win the band the 1999 Best African Pop Album at the South African Music Awards and in 2001 Bongo Maffin would be voted the Best African Group at the Kora Africa Music Awards. With tracks like ‘Amadlozi’ it is not too surprising that they did this. Kwaito was just beginning to mature when Bongo Maffin released ‘Amadlozi’ and this would go on to be one of the tracks of the genre.

Where to find it:
The Concerto – Bongo Maffin (1998), Columbia, CDCOL8080
Kwaito – South African Hip Hop – Various (2000), Earthworks, STEW42CD


A Man Like Me – James Stewart

A Man Like Me - James Stewart

A Man Like Me – James Stewart

One time member of The Usual, James Stewart makes beautifully crafted pop songs. And ‘A Man Like You’ is no exception. On this sentimental song, his emotional-without-being-X-Factor-warblingly-irritating voice floats over the gentle instrumentation. The song seems to glide along on a shiny surface of polished production and plush sounds.

The words tell the familiar tale of a man feeling lucky with the woman who has fallen in love with them. Men are often criticised for not showing their true feelings, but when James sings here about ‘feeling like a stranger in this world’ and how he does not really feel deserving of love, then he will ‘thank my lucky stars each night Because they’re the only reason I can see Why a beautiful woman like you could ever love a man like me’.

‘A Man Like Me’ topped the SA Rockdigest charts back in 2002 and spent 2 weeks there and it was no surpise. The album that produced this chart topper along with 2 other songs that topped those charts (‘Shine’ and ‘Gravity’) has a list of personnel involved that is packed with names from the who’s who of SA music. Bright Blue’s ‘Dan Heymann and Tom Fox help out in the instrumentation department along with Paul Tizzard, Yoyo Buys and Voelvry-er Jannie van Tonder. On the production side, it’s only McCully Workshop’s Richard Black behind the desk with James Stewart and Joe Arthur pops in to help master the final affair. With talent like Stewart’s and friends like his, it’s not surprising we got a song as good as this from a man like him.

Where to find it:
A Man Like Me – James Stewart (2004), Street Level, CDSLS(CLF)135

Hear here:


Sunglasses – Hilary

Sunglasses - Hilary

Sunglasses – Hilary

Sunglasses have been the subject of a few songs over the years. Corey Hart sang about ‘Sunglasses At Night’, Timbuk 3 throught ‘The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades’ and goth band The Cramps have recorded a song called ‘Sunglasses After Dark’. But long before these guys were trying to look cool, Hilary (Archibald) was donning some dark glasses. But she was not needing to protect her eyes from the effects of the sun, but rather she was hiding her tears as she had spotted her guy making out with another while on the beach.

While this little pop gem from 1968 may sound a little cheesy nowadays, there is still a certain poignancy to the heartbreak that hides behind the sweet girlie voice. The song was first recorded by Sandy Posey who had a big hit in South Africa with ‘Single Girl’. That version is all orchestral and melancholic while Tracey Ullman’s 1984 cover is melodramatic ‘Cyndi Lauper’ quirky and while some may prefer those versions, there is something about Hilary’s candy-coated sadness that makes this version worth a listen.

‘Suglasses’ was the second song by a local woman to go to number 1 on the Springbok Radio charts (the first being Carike Keuzenkamp with ‘Timothy’) where it stayed for 7 weeks, an all time record for a local lass. Hilary re-recorded the ‘Sunglasses’ part of the Let’s Play SA medley in 1983, sadly in 1989 she passed away from cancer in her early 40s.

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


Reënvoëls – Mel Botes

Oomblik Van Waansin - Mel Botes

Oomblik Van Waansin – Mel Botes

Mel Botes’ first impact on the local music scene was in the early 90s with a rock opera called ‘David’s Confessions’. A good few years later (in 2001 in fact) he released the critically acclaimed ‘Oomblik Van Waansin’ which contained the beautiful ‘Reënvoëls’.

Comparisons to Pink Floyd, Dire Straits and Piet Botha seen in some reviews are rightly justified as there is that Mark Knopfler-y guitar floating around a big and slightly esoteric Floyd sound while Botes gruff delivery of the Afrikaans lyrics are not that far from Botha’s (although I would add that there are shades of Akkedis’ Dennis Brothers in the vocals).

‘Reënvoëls’ (no relation to Tom Waits ‘Rainbirds’ which appeared on his ‘Swordfishtrombones’ album) soars and flies across vast landscapes of sound and I can’t help feeling that, despite the rain that these voëls are meant to herald, this a a dry desert land. Perhaps it is the growl in Botes voice that suggest a dry throat, or desolation sound that the guitars bring to the track.

The song came a little while after the Voëlvry movement, but undoubtly owes something to that movement. Voëlvry set the voëls free to fly and soar and Mel Botes latched onto that freedom perfectly to create this great piece of Afrikaans rock. The song was voted the 40th best of 2001 by The South African Rockdigest.

Where to find it:
Oomblik van Waarsin – Mel Botes, July 2001, Janus, SELBCD 387

Hear here:

Mbube – Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds

Mbube - Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds

Mbube – Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds

‘Yo-la-la-li-li’ So begins one of the most intriguing stories about a song in history. Working as a record packer for Gallo records, Solomon Linda and his Evening Bird’s were discovered and sent in to the studio in 1939. Back then Ladysmith Black Mambazo were a long way off being invented so Linda improvised the song ‘Mbube’ in the studio using mostly the rich voices of the group and produced a song about a lion (“mbube”) which single handedly invented the mbube style of isicathamiya singing that the aforementioned Ladysmith Black Mambazo have made so popular globally in more recent times.

‘Mbube’, which had sold over 100,000 copies in South Africa by 1949, was picked up by an American musicologist, Alan Lomax, who played it to folk singer Pete Seeger who recorded it as ‘Wimoweh’ a mishearing of ‘uyembube’. The Weavers picked up on this and had some success with it. Then The Tokens added some slumbering Panthera Leos (to give them their scientific name) and hit the top of the US charts with it. There have subsequently been many covers of the song, included the UK number 1 by Tight Fit in 1982 which featured our very own Richard Jon Smith on backing vocals. It was included in the soundtrack to the successful Disney film (and subsequent stage musical) ‘The Lion King’ and was subject to a lawsuit where Linda’s descendents were eventually granted a settlement for royalties due.

All this tends to distract from listening to the original song and it is sometimes good to go back to the roots of the track, ignore the westerner’s idea of what an African track should sound like and indulge in the pure beauty of the real African voices that sparked off this phenomenon. There are harmonies in there and a simple joy at doing what you love best in the voices that few modern songs (or versions of ‘Mbube’) could ever hope to achieve.

Where to find it:
The Story Of Solomon Linda – Various Artists, Gallo Records (2001), CDGSP9
From Marabi To Disco – Various Artists, Gallo Records (1994), CDZAC61


How Do You Do – Rising Sons

How Do You Do - Rising Sons

How Do You Do – Rising Sons

South African’s seemed to like the songs that Mouth & MacNeal, a Dutch duo, performed as we sent Sharon Tandy and Billy Forrest’s cover of their ‘Hello-A’ to number 5 in our charts in the same year that The Rising Sons’ cover of their ‘How Do You Do’ went to number 4. While we liked the songs of Mouth & MacNeal, we didn’t take to their perfomances as they never charted themselves.

The Rising Sons, who haled from Pietermaritzburg, took the Mouth & MacNeal stomp-a-long version and turned it into a lighter-footed version with the quieter female vocal section being more breathy and accompanied by a light touch organ where M&M used a plain pop vocal over a string section. There is also a slighty countrified sound to the Rising Sons version.

But whether you prefer the Mouth & MacNeal version or the Rising Sons one, there is no denying that this is a catchy song that has you tapping your foot (or stomping it in the case of the original) along to.

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


Last Night A DJ Saved My Life – Margino

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life - Margino

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life – Margino

During the 60s and 70s, a lot (but not all) of the local music that made the Springbok Top 20 was cover versions of well known, or quite often obscure, international songs. This started to change as the 80s came along with bands like éVoid, Ballyhoo and Hotline scoring hits with their own compositions. However, when it came to dancefloor stuff, there still seemed to be a number of covers floating around. Café Society had a hit with the obscure Video Kids’ hit ‘Woodppecker From Space’ and Margino (aka Kim Kallie) decided to try her hand with a cover of the funky Indeep hit called ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’.

The song fared well for Indeep going to number 2 on the US Dance charts and on the Belgium and Netherlands main charts. It also made number 13 in the UK. Locally it made number 7 on the South African Top 30, and while it peaked higher than Margino’s version (hers only going to 16), Indeep only appeared on our charts over a month after the Margino version debuted.

Margino does a very good cover version of it. There is the funky-strut guitar dancing around a thumping bass and Margino brings in a vocal that is a little more sexy and seductive than the original, almost as if she is looking for a new love where the vocal on the original seems to be more about just being upset. When Margino gets hold of the song, there is a sense of a woman on the prowl, looking for someone to fill the void that her man is leaving in her life.

The Radio 5 DJs enjoyed Margino’s version of the song, propelling it to number 7 on their charts where Indeep didn’t even get a look in. Strangely, this popular version of the tune does not seem to have made it onto CD that I am aware of however, perhaps because its about DJ’s that it seems appropriate that it remain available only on vinyl.

Where to find it:
Second hand vinyl shops


A Rose Has To Die – Dennis East

A Rose Has To Die - Dennis East

A Rose Has To Die – Dennis East

East was not the first to commit planticide with this song. It was a cover of one by a group called Jigsaw from Australia (not to be confused with the British act Jigsaw who would have a hit with ‘Sky High’ in 1976 on the Springbok Radio top 20). But it was East’s 1974 version of ‘A Rose Has To Die’ that we took to, sending the song to number 6 on our charts.
The song is a pleasant pop track which revolves around lost love and infidelity. ‘A rose has to die/every time you tell a lie’ East tells us in this tale of a summer love that turns sour as the leaves of autumn arrive. There is a jaunty strings track accompanying East’s pleasant vocals and this make the song more poppy than the Jigsaw version which sounds more Country & Western.
In 1978 Irish group The Dooleys took a version to number 11 in the UK and the song seems to have gained some cult status as there is even a line dance video to a version of the track to be found on Youtube. But while some may line dance to the song, we can sit back and enjoy our very own Dennis East version.
East has taken a number of different musical directions during his career, but with this one, he had one of his biggest hits.

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


Jigsaw version:

Dooleys’ version:

Line dance:


The Rock Machine – The Bats

The Rock Machine - The Bats

The Rock Machine – The Bats

In the days before disco we had rock and that is why The Bats could only recored a song called ‘The Rock Machine’ and only later Trevor Rabin and his friends came along with a band called Disco Rock Machine. The Bats, however, did a really good job of producing some fine rock with this little ditty.
It starts is a slightly, erm, batty manner with a very posh couple listening to and opining about some lounge style piano with the posh man eventually saying ‘By jove, do you think it’ll last?’ to which the posh woman replies, ‘Oh definitely it’s really quite super’. However they were wrong as the piano is sudden thrown out of the song and The Bats come in with a chant of ‘Way Hey The Rock Machine’.
We are not privy to the reaction this couple may have had to the intrusion of a rock machine into their peaceful piano music, but we don’t really care as we are caught up in a catchy Beatles-esque pop song which brings in folky and psychedelic elements into this melting pot, including a classical guitar interlude where one almost expects the return of the posh couple, but they don’t have time to get a word in because the songs descends into a swirling psychedelic spiral.
It’s not the easiest song to listen to with its shifting twists and turns. It’s a little experimental, but there is something catchy about it and sits on the poppier side of the pysch-rock that bands such as Freedom’s Children were making at a similar time. It is the folkier, hippy-happier side of the genre and there is not a disco beat in sight.

Where to find it:
The Best Of The Bats – The Bats (1996) Polygram, MORCD 612
Astral Daze 2 – Various Artists, RetroFresh, (2009), FRESHCD162


The End Is Near – Malopoets

The End Is Near - Malopoets

The End Is Near – Malopoets

The Malopoets formed way back in 1978 and, although not as successful as contempories such as Juluka and Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, they were no less important. Bringing us some of the rootsy-er sound from the township, the ploughed their own furrow.

‘The End Is Near’ is not an end of the world song that the title would suggest to some. It is a message about the impending end of apartheid. Released on their 1988 album, ‘Life Is For Living’, the song contrasts gentle and quite beautiful music with a harsh message. The message comes in the form of an impassioned speech from Rev Allan Boesak. So while the band sing a melodic refrain of ‘Nkosi Sikilele’ (that phrase, not the anthem and not to the same tune of the anthem) surrounded by bubbling marimba sounds, Boesak interjects with a hard-edged voice, telling of the atrocities of apartheid.

‘This is no joke/this thing that we are engaged in’ are the words that Boesak opens the song with. The Malopoets were serious musicians making serious music. This is not one to dance around to in an abandonded manner. You need to listen to it. It was protest music at its most beautiful. Sadly, the title of the song was all too true about the band and they split up, but they left a great legacy with this song and Malopoet, Patrick Sefolosha left a legacy to NBA basketball as his son Thabo played for the Oklahoma City Thunder team. So while the end came for the Malopoets, their name lives on in memorable tracks like this one.

Where to find it:
Life Is For Living  – Malopoets (1988), Vinyl release


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