1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

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)


Baby Love Affair – Buttercup

Baby Love Affair - Buttercup

Baby Love Affair – Buttercup

There is no denying that the introduction to Buttercup’s ‘Baby Love Affair’ with Eugene Havenga’s high pitched wails is a little reminiscent of First Class’ ‘Beach Baby’, however the song does not continue to follow the one that it sounds a bit like other than that it, like ‘Beach Baby’, carries on to become a high quality pop song.

‘Baby Love Affair’ was the first hit that the songwriting team of Ken Levine and Ernest Schroder had in South Africa as it climbed to number 7 on the Springbok Top 20. It started life during a lunch break when Ken Levine was messing around with a piano at EMI’s offices. Ernest walked in and 30 minutes later that had a ‘teeny bopper’ hit on their hands, all they needed was someone to record it. Cue Ernest’s brother Robert who was a producer. He drafted in Havenga (who would later be heard on Julian Laxton Band’s hits like ‘Blue Water’) to do the falsetto wailings and a demo of the song.

However when it came to a final product, they kept the falsetto bits from Eugene and Robert drafted in a band from Pretoria that featured Lefty Daniels, Stephen Swann, Philip Colyn, John “Fluffy” de Kock and Boet Spies. At that stage Buttercup were not well known, so a marketing campaign featuring cardboard hearts that contained a lollipop and a message saying “Have you heard Buttercup sing Baby Love Affair” which was sent out to stores and DJs across the country. Peter Feldman of The Star newspaper plugged the song and the rest, as they say, is a lekker local song.

Where to find it:
Singles bins

Ken Levine website:

1999 – Kalahari Surfers

Russian Lyrics to '1999' - Kalahari Surfers

Russian Lyrics to ‘1999’ – Kalahari Surfers

In South Africa we had 1999 in 1971 and then again in 1986 and finally in 1999. How you may ask. Well, Freedom’s Children recorded a song called ‘1999’ which appeared on their 1971 album ‘Galactic Vibes’. This was the inspiration for the Kalahari Surfer’s 1986 release of their song called ‘1999’. And finally in 1999, we had the year 1999.

The Freedom’s Children song asked the question, ‘In 1999 will you still be mine?’ and did so in a dense, heavy rock fog. The Surfers were less concerned with matters of the heart as in their song they wanted to know, ‘In 1999 will we still around’ and they did this in a rather loose, somewhat punk-ish way. The vocals have a strange menacing feel to them while the music is somewhat avant garde with a down and dirty production that keeps the song raw and edgy. Lovers of guitar music will enjoy the instrumental break about three quarters of the way into the track where the guitar is set loose for a work out.

The album that ‘1999’ appeared on called ‘Living In The Heart Of The Beast’ manged to get noticed in the UK and was favourably reviewed in some of the music press there, however this did not translate into commercial success.

The year 1999 has come and gone and the Kalahari Surfers are still around, so we have the answer to the question they posed back in ’86, but that is no excuse to ignore the song. It is still as brilliant a rough gem now as it was back then.

Where to find it:
Living In The Heart Of The Beast -Kalahari Surfers (1986), Recommended Records


Buy it here:

Strate Van Pretoria – Beeskraal

Huis Toe - Beeskraal

Huis Toe – Beeskraal

I’m going to throw a rather strange concept at you here – boerepunk. About 30 years ago this would have been laughed at or even worse, regarded as some sort of heresy and worthy of banning. But Afrikaans music has come a long way in the last few decades and one of the stranger developments has been the fusion of punk/blues with the traditional accordion heavy boere musiek.

Early pioneers of this sound were Beeskraal (which is Afrikaans for ‘cattle enclosure’ for those not familiar with the language). Led by Charles Smidt, they opened their first EP (simply entitled ‘Beeskraal’) with this little gem, ‘Strate Van Pretoria’. From the word go you knew you are in for something new. The accordion kicks in within the first few bars, but there’s a punky guitar bashing out a reggae beat and the bass is not the usual dom-dom dom-dom langarm sound, instead it dares to have a little bit of a melody to it. And none of these sounds take centre stage. Even Smidt’s slightly off-key vocals don’t take command. And that’s fine as the song is more than the sum of its parts. The mish-mash of styles works because the ingredients compliment each other.

In an earlier entry on this blog, I likened The Genuines to The Pogues and Les Negresse Vertes in that they were bands who took their somewhat old fashioned traditional sounds and injected them with a punk attitude which made the old sounds cool again. To this collection of names we can add Beeskraal. They made boeremusiek kool.

Where to find it:
Huis Toe – Beeskraal, Woema Music (2001), WMCD2004

Hear here:

All The Time – Quinsey

All The Time - Quinsey

All The Time – Quinsey

If, like me, you grew up in the 80s, and someone started talking to me about Quinsey, I would immediately have thought of the medical examiner in TV show Quincy starring Jack Klugman. Those more mature than me may well shake their heads sadly and moan about the youth of today and such like as they had clearly said Quinsey, not Quincy.

And when you put on Quinsey’s ‘All The Time’ you no longer think of murder and solving crimes (without the help of DNA analysis, I might add), because what you get is a big voice embracing a smooth and gently flowing song. There is an element of Scott Walker in the voice and the song clearly moulds itself around the formula that Engelbert Humperdinck made popular, and it does so in a stylish manner.

Quinsey’s real name was Alan Elderkin and he hailed from what was then Rhodesia. He played with a band called the Etonians, before coming to the attention of producer Grahame Beggs. ‘All The Time’ was released in 1968 and made number 14 on the Springbok Top 20, spending 8 weeks on the chart. Despite several further releases, including the theme tune to a local film called ‘The Long Red Shadow’, ‘All The Time’ would be his only chart hit which I guess goes to show that you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the the people with your second single.

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


Fokofpolisiekar – Fokofpolisiekar



Sometimes one can take a joke too far and Fokofpolisiekar took the joke of forming a band with a deliberately offensive name to the heights of the SA music scene and went on to spawn bands like Van Coke Kartel, aKing and Die Heuwels Fantasties as well as inspiring acts such as Jack Parrow and Die Antwoord.

They first came to prominence through the song with the same name as the band which is a thrashy, adrenaline fuelled piece of punk. Full of energy, roaring guitars and maniacal drums, there is something more to it than just noise – there is a tune in there, and a soaring sing-a-long chorus, things which a lot of punk bands tend to ignore as they endeavour to make a noise. And it is this fine balance between noise and tune that makes this song work.

Aside from that, the thing which set this apart from just about every other punk band on the planet was that these guys sang in Afrikaans. We had had the revolution from innocent sweet music to Afrikaans rock through guys like Anton Goosen, Koos Kombuis et al, and there had been a Afrikaans blues movement with Valiant Swart, Piet Botha and that crowd, but I think even with this hardening of the Afrikaans music sound, few could ever imagine Afrikaans punk working. But it does and with this, one of the very first songs of the genre, it could not have got off to a better start. There is anger, nose, tune and controversy all rolled into just over two and a half minutes of brilliance. In the 70s we all loved Squad Cars (a Springbok radio programme for those too young to remember), but in in the early 2000s we moved on and told those polisiekars where to go.

Where to find it:
Fokofpolisiekar 10 Year Anniversary – Fokofpolisiekar (2012), Rhythm Records

Hear here:

Magic Dragon – The Idiots

The Idiots

The Idiots

Warning: this song is not ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’. However it is a trippy little ditty that is somewhat reminiscent of some of the Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd songs (‘The Gnome’ for example). It has a strange childish feel to it with the subject matter being the stuff of kid’s books, and there is an innocent piano riff which could almost be the soundtrack to a nursery rhyme.

Those of you who are familiar with The Idiots only SA Top 20 hit, ‘In The Park’ may find ‘Magic Dragon’ a little surprising as the former is a breezy poppy number, but it does have a hint of what the latter delivers in that there is a brief organ interlude that wonders to the border of the world of pop and gazes at the land of psychdelia. On ‘Magic Dragon’ the Idiots pack their bags and cross that line.

The singer invites you to ‘climb upon my magic dragon/trip along in space’ and the sounds are ethereal and otherworldly and promise a strange journey. But it’s a ride worth taking. Don’t worry it’s only a 2 minute 11 second trip so you won’t get too much motion sickness from the weirdness of the song, but you should have a little smile on your dial when it’s over. The song originally appeared on the b-side of their single ‘Toyland’.

Where to find it:
Astral Daze – Various Artists, RetroFresh, (2005), FRESHCD148

As I Went Out One Morning (aka ‘Damsel’) – Tribe After Tribe

As I Went Out One Morning (aka ‘Damsel’) - Tribe After Tribe

As I Went Out One Morning (aka ‘Damsel’) – Tribe After Tribe

Cover versions always bring out the debaters in us. Which is better, the original or the cover?  Should anyone even dare cover the song? How can anyone make it better than the original? These are the kind of comments and questions people ask and make when faced with a cover version. But, it would take a brave man to question Robbie Robb and his Tribe After Tribe for daring to cover a Bob Dylan track. Granted it was not one of Dylan’s better known songs, but hell, it was still Dylan for goodness sakes.

But like Abstract Truth’s cover of ‘Oxford Town’, Tribe After Tribe did a spectacular job of covering Dylan and I would venture that only the most hardened of hippies would begrudge them having done so. With Robbi’s edgy, menacing guitar and primal yowling (i-e-yeah) thrown against Bruce Williams rattling drums and Fuzzy Marcus’ dark and threatening bass and those tribal ‘oh-uh’s, this is a juggernaut of a cover version that rams itself through your senses, pummelling you on all sides.

My advice is that you don’t try listen to this alongside Dylan’s version (which appeared on his ‘John Wesley Harding’ album) as the two as so chalk and cheese, so north and south, so folky and rock that you have to be in two completely different moods to enjoy them both. When you smoke some weed and grow your hair, then Dylan’s your man, but if you, like Twisted Sister, wanna rock, then Tribe After Tribe’s the version to go for.

Many have covered Dylan, few have done so with as much anger, energy and sheer force as Tibe After Tribe do with ‘As I Went Out One Morning’. This ranks alongside Eddie Vedder’s ‘Masters Of War’ in the list of great Dylan covers.

Where to find it:
Rocking Against The System – Various Artists (2002), RetroFresh, FRESH CD119



Vicki – Lance James

Vicki - Lance James

Vicki – Lance James

Lance James is a name synonymous with South African country music, but with ‘Vicki’, we find him in more of a ballad mode than country ballad. The song was taken from the 1970 Afrikaans film called ‘Vicki’ which starred Sandra Britz, Johan Esterhuizen and Leonie Ross.

The song is full of harpsichords, gently flowing stings and women singing ‘aahh!’ over which James’ vocals vascillate between being a bit Jim Reeves-y and soaring as a Ge Korsten wannabe, but he does managed to get the mood of the piece very well, injecting emotion and desperation into his singing which would have fitted in well with the film which was about a guy who falls in love with a girl and the girl’s parents do everything in their power to keep them apart. It is a song of longing and of loving.

‘Vicki’ would be Lance James’ 2nd top 20 hit on the Springbok charts (after ‘Dankie’). It charted on 2 April 1971 and it made to to number 4 during a 14 week run on the charts.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 1 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD40485

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