1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Escape – Kongos

Escape - Kongos

Escape – Kongos

It is not often that we see offspring who follow in the footsteps of a famous musician parent doing as well as the parent, but in Kongos’ case, we see four sons of Johnny making a name for themselves internationally. Johnny (who later became John) had 2 number 4 hits in the UK and 1 number 70 hit in the US. His sons, who make up the band Kongos, haven’t yet captured the UK market in the same way, but did manage to get to 31 in the US with ‘Come With me Now’.

Listening to ‘Escape’, or any of the other songs on Kongos’ brilliant album ‘Lunatic’, you find that all those pounding drums that John put into ‘Tokoloshe Man’ and ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ (his UK hits), have beaten a trail through the genes and landed up with the sons. ‘Escape’ takes a little while to remember to use the drums, starting slowly with plaintive vocals over a somewhat hauting keyboard and low-key guitar, then some bass comes in and eventually the drums come a-banging on your speakers.

Despite the international success of the band, this track has a particularly local appeal as the lyrics talk about things getting to pretty much an end of the world scenario leaving the singer wanting to ‘Escape’ to ‘that Good Hope town where the weather’s fair’, and we all know where that is. Anyone who has ever been to Cape Town would be able to relate to this being a haven to head for when things turn bad. There is a certain inner calm to the place and, despite the big drums on the song, it also seems to have a relaxing effect on one.

The visuals in the official video for the track (see below) is a perfect companion to the sound, following a young couple’s desperate flight, following some worldy disaster, to get to Cape Town and just as the music begins to fade out, we find them on top of Table Mountain looking out over the view. And that’s where you feel you are when the song fades – standing on top of the world.

Where to find it:
Lunatic – Kongos, Tokoloshe Records (2012)



Free State Rain – Radio Rats

Radio Rats

Radio Rats

Most people will kown the Radio Rats as those ous who brought us the brilliant ‘ZX Dan’ and yes, they gave us that classic, but not many would realise that the band has been particularly prolific and still seem to be churning out new material years after that 1979 classic.

One of the songs they have recorded more recently (1995) was a little ditty called ‘Free State Rain’ which appeared on their album ‘Third Street’. Although ‘ZX Dan’ dealt with aliens and was somewhat akin to Bowie’s ‘Starman’, The Rats have always had a streak of the local in their song writing. Apart from ‘Free State Rain’ other song titles such as ‘East Rand Town Called Springs’, ‘Obz Café Blues’ and ‘Valkenburg Shuffle’ are examples of this.

‘Free State Rain’ is sometimes a term used to describe a dust storm and that seems to be what Johnathan Handley and the boys seem to be getting at on this laid back gem. This song is a relaxed affair. Dave Davies slightly creepy, yet somehow enchanting vocals are something like the Addams Family, weird and macarbe yet somehow you can’t help loving them. The music is desert music, you know the type that seems to encapture wide open spaces. ‘Free State Rain’ does this in a gently lilting manner that wraps itself around you and worms its way into your soul, warming you up. It engulfs you like a dust storm, but does not irritate, rather it soothes.

Where to find it:
Third Street – Radio Rats, Radium Wreckords (1995)

She’s A Woman – Neil Herbert

She’s A Woman - Neil Herbert

She’s A Woman – Neil Herbert

It would be worrying if this song was entitled ‘He’s A Woman’, as that would have meant that Boy George would have recorded it and we would not be able to lay claim to this love song, which gently swings back and forth, a bit like lying in a hammock, enjoying a beautiful sunset and sipping on a cocktail.

The song was written by Eddie Storbeck and would spent 22 weeks in the Springbok top 20, spending 31 January 1975 at number 1. Neil Herbert had been in the band The Attraction (remember ‘Scooby Dooby Dum Dum Day’) and he brings a sort of Elvis-y croon to the verses, then soaring into a smooth Engelbert Humperdinck-ness on the choruses. Sadly, Neil is no longer with us, but there seem to be 2 versions of how he died. The Chilvers/Jaisukowicz book, ‘History Of Contemporary Music Of South Africa’ says he died in a plane crash in 1979 while someone on the Youtube video of the song says he was a family friend and took his own life because he could not cope with his arthritis.

‘She’s My Woman’ should not be confused with Alan Garrity’s ‘She’s My Woman’ which appeared on the scene in the August of 1975. It is possible that Garrity (who penned his own hit) enjoyed Herbert’s song so much that he wanted to lay claim to this woman that Herbert sang of with so much passion. Whether this is the case or not, you should take Herbert’s woman to heart and enjoy the song.

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


Jannie Cocaine – Akkedis

Voortvlugtend - Akkedis

Voortvlugtend –

It’s trippy, it swirls and disorientates…that is until about 20 seconds in when the drums start a-pounding and the guitar start a-blaring and whichever of the Dennis brothers it is that takes lead vocals on this, start a-growling. But then instead of deteriorating into a barrage of noise, it reaches a plateau and sort of relaxes on an uneasy rock bed. From then on, the melodic verses fight with the tumbling chorus.

Akkedis first came to our attention as The Dennis Brothers on the Wingerd Rock CD’s which highlighted the burgeoning talent in Stellenbosch. Dropping the ‘brothers’ thing, they morphed into Akkedis and brought us first ‘Husse Met Lang Ore’ and the brilliant follow up ‘Voortvlugtend’ on which ‘Jannie Cocaine’ closes proceedings and leaves you feeling slightly ill at ease. Like Neil Young’s ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ where the focus is on the effect of drugs on a friend rather than being an out and aout anti drug song per se.

The guitars, at times abrasive, are somewhat at odds with the vocals that, apart from singing the song title, seem laidback and a bit spaced. But don’t be deceived, there is a menace underlying the voice, a disturbing edge that is in itself almost addictive. The song comes full circle where, after the rock/melody of chorus/verse, it retuns to the intro sounds where it disorientastes, it swirls and it’s trippy.

Where to find it:
Voortvlugtend – Akkedis (2001), SSS Records, SSS001


The End – Dickie Loader & Freedom’s Children

Dickie Loader - A Breath Of Fresh Air

Dickie Loader – A Breath Of Fresh Air

People sometimes use the word ‘searing’ to describe a guitar lick. The definition of searing is ‘extremely hot or intense’ which I guess is quite an apt way to try and explain the guitar sound that seems to tear through your speakers as soon as ‘The End’ starts. It is an extrememly intense moment that kick starts this collaboration between Dickie Loader and Freedom’s Children.

Loader had been around on the local scene for a while as Dickie Loader & The Blue Jeans, but one day he dropped his Blue Jeans and, avoiding any public indecency charges, forged a solo career. However, with this offering from 1970, he teamed up with those Astral rockers, Freedom’s Children, for a couple of tracks on his album ‘A Breath Of Fresh Air’. The result if the familiar dense wall of rock that the Chidren were capable of producing, over which Loader seems to manange to mix Robert Plant’s voice with that of Elvis to get a rock ‘n roll ‘n metal effect. The result is 2 and a half minutes of, well, there isn’t really any other words for it, but ‘searing rock’.

Most of Loader’s material has been confined to vinyl history, however, this is one of the few gems from him that have managed to make it into the digital era thanks to Benjy Mudie at Retrofresh records who dug this one out of the vault to include in the second in the series of Astral Daze albums, a series which captures the best of an era when guitars were fuzzy and loud and vocals were overdosing on testosterone. The inclusion of ‘The End’ on ‘Astral Daze 2’ is testament to the song being one of the standout tracks of its era.

Where to find it
Astral Daze 2 – Various Artists, RetroFresh, (2009), FRESHCD162


I Am The Eagle You’re The Wind – Bles Bridges

Net Vir Jou - Bles Bridges

Net Vir Jou – Bles Bridges

Love him or hate him, this list would not be complete without a Bles Bridges song. He was a huge star amonst the Afrikaans portion of the South African population and well known amongst the English speakers as well. His success was perhaps due in part to him singing in both languages.

Born in Viljoensdrift in the Free State, (with the name Lawrence John Gabriel Bridges), he began his professional career in the early 80s and by the time he died in 2000 (in a motor accident) he had shifted 2.5 million records and had outsold Frank Sinatra at Sun City.

‘I Am The Eagle You’re The Wind’ was one of his biggest hits. The song has soaring orchestration over which Bles, strong (almost operatic) voice floats in this uplifting pop song. It is the style of song that had a lot of popularity in the country and echoes of this can be heard in later Afrikaans songs by artists such as Juanita du Plessis, Kurt Darren and Die Campbells.

There used to be a joke that if you played Bles Bridges records backwards you got poitjiekos recipes, but Bles knew the recipe for success. You can’t really argue that an artist that shifted as many records as he did does not deserve to be on this list.

Where to find it:
Bles Bridges Se Grootste Treffers – Net Vir Jou (1994) Vat 5 Musiek, CDVAT6260


Hammerhead Hotel – Falling Mirror

Hammerhead Hotel - Falling Mirror

Hammerhead Hotel – Falling Mirror

Falling Mirror’s commercial success seemed to end once their classic hit, ‘Johnny Calls The Chemist’ had scaled the charts on a number of the local radio stations. In 1986 they went on to record the quirkly single ‘Let’s Paint The House Pink’ which was meant to be a track on their fifth album, but that album never materialised and all went quiet on the Mirror front.

Then, a decade later in 1996, they were back in Tully McCully’s Spaced Out Studios and this time they were serious about putting out an album, recording sufficient material for one including the title track, ‘Hammerhead Hotel’. This is a funky bluesey number that reflects (pun intended) a bit of the psychotic side of the band with references to pyscho’s and schizos floating around the lyrics. Neilen Marais’ vocals are somewhat yowly (with hints of Elvis in there), giving the song an added edge while Allan Faull’s guitars burn a path of blue flame through the heart of this worthy come-back song for the band. The song stomps along at a cool movie hero walking down the street pace. It’s slick and grimy, scary and seductive, out of control and perfectly in control. It seems to find synergies in opposites.

Despite this strong track, the hoped for revival did not arrive at that time as the album only got a download release on the now sadly defunct Rhythm Records download site and only a few tracks from that album can be found on the band’s website (see ‘Hear here’ below for link). But this was not the end of the strangely enduring story of Falling Mirror as in 2010 they brought us their final album (as Faull and Marias), ‘Special Agent Duck’. Sadly in the October of 2013, Allan Faull died of a heart attack while working on a new album.

Where to find it:
Currently unavailable

Hear here:

Letters For Dicky – Jennifer Ferguson

Hand Around The Heart - Jennifer Ferguson

Hand Around The Heart – Jennifer Ferguson

David Kramer’s song ‘On The Border’ tells the story of a guy recalling a friend who ended up commiting suicide while doing his army stint. In that song it was time spent in DB that put the guy in question over the edge. Jennifer Ferguson’s ‘Letters For Dickey’ covers similar material except that the narrative is in the form of letters from a girl to her boyfriend on the border.

The song is sung in a strong South African accent and one can imagine it being a rather simple and frightened girl who at first cannot believe that there would be anyone else but Dickie for her, but while her man is away she is tempted and falls pregnant to another guy. Despite the ‘Dear John’ letter she ends up writing, she still loves her Dickie. The song takes a sharp turn from this dreamy lovestruck, confused and rather naïve girl when the news come through that Dickie had taken his life. Ferguson’s voice reflects the growing maturity in the girl as the song builds to its climax and perfectly captures the shock and emptiness as she sings the line ‘the bullet that you put into your head was meant for me not you’.

Like ‘On The Border’, ‘Letters To Dickey’ is a very emotional song and deals with a subject that we all knew, but never spoke about openly. It perfectly captures the strain that conscription put on the country, not only for those fighting, but also for those back home waiting for the return of loved ones. While those days are gone, this song and those like it, still speak to us of the impact war has on people. There have been many anti-war songs written, but few cut as close to the bone as this one. The song appeared on Ferguson’s album ‘Hand Around The Heart’ and everytime you hear ‘Letters To Dickie’ that hand is not a kind one, it is squeezing your heart till it hurts. Powerful stuff.

Where to find it:
Hand Around The Heart – Jennifer Ferguson (1985) Shifty Records

Hear here:

Josie Josie – Anton Goosen

Riviersonderend - Anton Goosen

Riviersonderend – Anton Goosen

‘Josie Josie’ finds Anton Goosen in a more sombre mood. The song starts out with a slightly menacingly strum guitar, but the sting of this is quickly flattened by a melancholy flute playing over the top of it, and then Anton’s vocals come in.

The song then builds with a chorus joining Anton on the vocals and the flute weaves itself around this chant like sound. There is a stuttering, stumbling feel to the song, like it is lurching forward into uncertain territory, trying to be brave by stomping along, yet one can sense the lack of confidence in it. So one turns to the lyrics for clues to what is going on. ‘Josie Joise don’t let it rain on your dream tonight/Josie Josie we’ve seen it through now our days are bright’ is the repeated refrain that Goosen and the chorus sing and then you realise, Josie is perhaps not a woman, but could be Johannesburg (‘Jozi’). The song then makes sense in that it is almost a prayer for the new South Africa as it stumbles from Apartheid into democracy.

There has been lot sung about the country and in particular its transformation from the bad old days, but few have done this with such beauty. It’s not a ‘New York New York’ for Johannesburg, it is a heartfelt request.

Where to find it:
Riviersonderend – 21 Greatest Hits – Anton Goosen (1994), Gallo Records (CDGMP 40402)



Kilimanjaro – Juluka

The International Tracks - Juluka

The International Tracks – Juluka

Whenever you talk to someone who has climbed or attemted to climb the highest mountain in Africa, all you hear is how terrible they felt due to the altitude sickness. And then, when you point this out to them, they go on to talk about a sense of achievement etc etc. Having spent a lot of time on the lower slopes of Kimlmanjaro, but never having climbed the mountain, I think I will avoid altitude sickness and a sense of achievement by doing 2 things. Firstly I will enjoy looking at this magnificent land form whenever she shows herself (she can be quite shy, hiding under clouds a lot) and secondly I will listen to Juluka’s song ‘Kilimanjaro’. Of course, some will say, that this is not as good as actually climbing the mountain, but hey, I’m a lazy git and besides which, the Juluka song is so cheereful and bouncy that frankly, I don’t give a damn.

The song comes from one of the final Juluka albums of Johnny Clegg & Sipho Mchunu’s first collaboration and it was entitled ‘The International Tracks’ which was a collection of singles that had been released internationally, but not in South Africa. Perhaps the line in ‘Kilimanjaro’ that went ‘what a strange strange freedom/only free to choose my chains’ had something to do with the lack of an initial release in South Africa.

The song also showed a leaning towards more of a ‘western’ sound and a keyboard (a popular instrument in the 80s) features quite prominently with a sound somewhat more akin to that being heard in the new romantic moment in the UK than in the townships in SA, but having said that, the song still has much of the South African sound that had endeared Juluka to us. There is a jangling township guitar, a penny whistle and a few ‘um-um-oh-um’s that remind us where the song comes from, even if the subject of the title is from somewhere a bit further north.

So sit back, relax, you don’t have to get hiking boots, big jackets and back packs to climb this ‘Kilimanjaro’. And like the majestic mountain in Tanzania, Juluka’s song will take you to new heights.

Where to find it:
The International Tracks – Juluka (1990), MINC, CDM 4064772


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