1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Sarajevo – Jack Hammer

Death of A Gypsy - Jack Hammer

Death of A Gypsy – Jack Hammer

The name Sarajevo always conjures up the words war and genocide after the Bosnian war of 1992 to 1996. There were some horrific stories that came out of Bosnia and it’s capital Sarajevo. Jack Hammer, led by Piet Botha, seemed to capture some of that horror and violence in this hard-hitting song from their 1996 album, ‘Death Of A Gypsy’.

From the very first second of the song we are assailed by screaming guitars and pounding drums, which one could easily equate to the pounding of bombs and screams of those on whom the bombs and missiles were falling. But inbetween these barrages of sound, there is an ominous lull where the guitars become the background noise while Piet’s gruff voice half sings, half shouts the lyrics that tell some of the history. The delivery is somewhat akin to a prophet calling judgement upon the people, a voice in the wilderness. The chorus (sung by another member of the band, possibly Stean van der Walt) is the voice of a parent urging the children to ‘Go now go now child/Go with the night and go to the mountain’ to run away from the war.

The memories and news of Sarajevo and the atrocities that happened there were very fresh when Jack Hammer recorded this blistering political song. While this song is particularly about Sarajevo and the Bosnian war, it could easily apply to any situation in the world where such atrocities have happened (and we know that there are many of them). Perhaps what one can take from this, apart from a pounding of your aural senses, is the last line of the second verse, ‘Mother you must take your children/Away from the frontline’.

Where to find it:
Death Of A Gypsy – Jack Hammer (1996), Wildebeest, WILD001

Maid In Africa – Electric Petals

Polynation - Electric Petals

Polynation – Electric Petals

This is the second song from the solitary Electric Petals album, ‘Polynation’, to appear on this list. The punny title is a trademark of Danny de Wet, who was in early eVoid and went on to be one of the driving forces behind Wonderboom, and he also supplies the bittersweet lyrics.

The song is essentially a conversation between a white western tourist and a black South African ‘maid’. The tourist arrives in the country and buys up all the souvenirs on offer, even wanting to have the beautiful sky. But the ‘maid’ answers that, even if you were born and bred here, the sky is not ours to give. The the plight of the black people is raised and the tourist asks what can she do? But again the answer is that she can’t know that, even if she had been born and bred in Africa. The song then goes on to say that despite being down trodden, they still ‘shine through the ugliness’.

This bittersweet contrast between the ugliness of apartheid and the way that people can still ‘shine through’ brings a poingnancy to this song which subtly weaves a thin thread of township guitar into the predominantly western sounding song. This effect is further enhanced when the song moves into the ‘shines through’ section and a then, not very well known, Vusi Mahlasela delivers what the sleeve notes to the CD describe as a ‘one in a million vocal’ which underscores the ability to shine.

The album and the song were largely ignored by the general public at the time and that probably had more to do with the uncomfortable politics in the lyrics than the music itself as it is packed with great tunes with ‘Maid In africa’ being one of the standout ones.

Where to find it:
Polynation – The Electric Petals (1995), Teal Records, MMTCD-1906

Going Away – David Kramer

David Kramer

David Kramer

‘Baboondogs’ is one of Kramer’s less popular albums but is one of his more critically acclaimed. Apart from containing his marvellous ‘Dry Wine’, there is also this little gem called ‘Going Away’ which ironically is more about staying than leaving.

Written at a time of huge upheaval in the country with the State of Emergency in place, the violence that beset the country and the very uncertain future for white South Africans, many people contemplated leaving the country in what was known then as ‘the chicken run’. There is no judgement from Kramer of those who chose to leave. He understands why people wanted to leave, but he knows what he will do, the words ‘As for me, I don’t think that I’ll be leaving/I belong here, I’ll be staying where I was born/These people are my people/These places are my places’ he sings, making it clear.

Most of ‘Baboondogs’ shows the serious side of Kramer. His hits were the ones that were carefree and about more trivial issues. Songs such as ‘Hak Hom Blokkies’, ‘Meissie Sonder Sokkies’ and ‘Die Royal Hotel’ while often having a line or two in the lyrics for those looking for deeper meaning, ‘Going Away’ and the rest of the ‘Baboondogs’ songs don’t have any of the frivolity that those hits had. ‘Going Away’ also features that rare thing, a saxophone on a David Kramer song. It is understandable why ‘Baboondogs’ was not as commercially successful as some of his other albums, but it is also completely understandable why it is one of his most critically acclaimed albums with tracks like this and ‘Dry Wine’ it finds the red veldtskoened one at his lyrical best.

Where to find it:
Vinyl – Baboondogs – David Kramer (1986), EMI, EMCJ(V)4051001

Video:

Gypsy Girl – David Scobie

 

Gypsy Girl – David Scobie

Gypsy Girl – David Scobie

Okay, so this is a little bit of a cheat as Scobie was actually a Rhodie (person from what was then Rhodesia for those who don’t know what I’m talking about). But ‘Gypsy Girl’ was such a big hit for him in South Africa and it was included in The Best of SA Pop compilation, so I’m not the first to take this liberty.

With his scarily Neil Diamond-esque vocals, Scobie crafted this catchy tune about a girl who loves and leaves guys with apparent ease. The song with its distinctive bass intro, has all the makings of a Neil Diamond hit because apart from the similarlities of the vocals, there is the catchy tune, guitar and orchestration and build up to the chorus.

‘Gypsy Girl’ spent 19 weeks on the Springbok Top 20 back in 1981 and this was more than any other song managed that year, beating Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap Your Face’ which managed second with 17 weeks. ‘Gypsy Girl’ peaked at number 5. Check out the Youtube video as it is one of the few original music video’s of ‘SA’ hits from that era that one can find on the web and you will see a very fresh-faced Scobie looking nothing like his voice sound and doing that a good few years before Rick Astley came along and did the same thing.

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

Video:

Jantjie – Sonja Herholdt

Sonja

Sonja

‘Jantjie’ is one of Sonja’s well-known hits and Sonja herself is one of Afrikaan’s music’s well-known personalities. With her super-innocent image and voice, she takes this Anton Goosen penned tune and makes it a heartbreaking song of a woman missing her man. Quite where Jantjie has disappeared off to is not clear in the lyrics. It could be that he’s a restless spirit and is off who knows where again. It could be he’s a child who has run away from home and the Katryntjie waiting for him is a small sister. Perhaps (given the time when the song was released) it is a youngster who has been called up and Katryntjie is a girlfriend.

Somehow Sonja manages not to give anything away as she sings and this leaves the listener to make up their own minds about the back story of Jantjie and Katryntjie. She could be singing as a little girl missing her brother, or a girlfriend missing a boyfriend who is doing his army stint, or a woman deserted by her husband. She is all these in one.

Often the subject of jokes and a symbol of all that was perceived to be wrong with Afrikaans music pre-Voelvry, one has to take ones hat off though to Sonja for her perseverance and longevity. (There is an interesting connection between Jantjie and the Voelvry movement as the b-side of Sonja Herholdt’s single was ‘Al Le Die Berge Nog So Blou’ which Johannes Kerkorrel recorded for his ‘Ge-Trans-For-Meer’ album). Love her or hate her, she is an icon of South African music and ‘Jantjie’ is one of those songs that made her the Queen of Afrikaans music.

Where to find it:
Sonja Herholdt – Gunsteling treffers (1992), CDOA115

Video:

382. Verslaaf – Koos Kombuis

Blameer Dit Op Apartheid - Koos Kombuis

Blameer Dit Op Apartheid – Koos Kombuis

Way back in the early eighties the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra came out with a popular medley of classical tunes that they put to a dance beat and they called it ‘Hooked On Classics’. Well, almost 2 decades later, Koos Kombuis said sod the classics, he’s hooked on Rock ‘n’ Roll and just about everything else. In fact this may well be the only song ever recorded that mentioned Worcester Sauce because it’s included in Koos’ list on things that he’s ‘verslaaf aan’.

The song vacillates betweens a quieter almost reggae beat in which Koos lists a wide variety of things that he’s hooked on and the rowdy, guitar and drum-fest chorus when he declares that the best of the lot is the rock  ‘n’ roll. It is quite interesting as Koos is not really known as a big time rocker. Yes, he did make noisier songs like this and ‘Who Killed Kurt Cobain’, but he is better known for a much quieter, almost folky style songs like ‘Liza se Klavier’ and ‘Atlantis In Jou Lyf’. But having said that, when he does let loose with the noiser guitars on his songs, he does it well.

While there is humour in the song and Koos sounds like he’s taking the piss a little bit as he runs through his list of vices, one can’t help feeling that there is something deeper lurking in this little ditty. It is almost a cry for help, seeming to make light of some more serious addictions (‘ek is verslaaf op drank, ek is verslaaf op zol’), saying that they aren’t that much of a problem because of sex and drugs and rock n roll, it’s the last of the three where his real addiction lies, so no need to worry. But I’m not so sure.

While Kombuis certainly went through some rough times with real addictions, he seems to have cleaned up his act as he grew older and when this song was made, I think that he was looking back at a time when he was verslaaf op a lot of the things he mentions in the song but was in denial. Or it’s just a song about really really really liking rock n roll.

Where to find it:
Blameer Dit Op Apartheid – Koos Kombuis (1997), Wilderbeest Records, WILDE 001

Video:

Weekend Special – Brenda & The Big Dudes

Weekend Special – Brenda & The Big Dudes

Weekend Special – Brenda & The Big Dudes

When the 80’s were still relatively young, South African music had taken the synth driven Funk and New Romantic music and blended it with our own ‘township’ sound. Acts like Hotline, eVoid, Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse and Steve Kekana were getting plenty of airplay. Although they didn’t get as much airplay as the aforementioned (as far as I can recall), Brenda & The Big Dudes’ ‘Weekend Special’ went on to become a landmark song. Probably more from the fact that it brough to light the talent of Brenda Fassie (the Brenda in the band’s name in case you were wondering).

‘Weekend Special’ has less of the ‘township’ sound to it than some of the acts mentioned above. It has more a straightforward 80’s R&B sound that was similar to what we were hearing from American acts such as DeBarge, Stephanie Mills and Ashford & Simpson. It got people on the dancefloor with a funky groove and a bright vocal from Brenda.

Listening to it now, it does feel a little dated and is probably not the best of its genre, but it is an important part of South African music history as it was the springboard from which Brenda Fassie launched her illustrious career. Brenda was voted the 17th Greatest South African in the SABC programme ‘Great South Africans’ back in 2004 so its always worth digging into history to find out how the greats started out.

Where to find it:
Greatest Hits – Brenda Fassie (2001), CCP Records, CDBREN (WLM) 009

Video:

My Back Feels Light/What Can You Say – Abstract Truth

Abstract Truth

Abstract Truth

Jazzy, funky, strutty and that’s the Abstract Truth. Or rather one should say, that’s ‘My Back Feels Light/What Can I Say’ by the Abstract Truth’. This slightly obscure track appeared on the super difficult to get hold of album ‘Cool Sounds For Heads’, however we are fortunate enough to be able to catch this one on the brilliant ‘Astral Daze’ compilation from Retro Fresh.

‘My Back Feels Light/What Can I Say’ by the Abstract Truth’ moves between the laid back intro (think Jack Johnson for a modern equivalent), but then throws in some brassy sounds before going into a jazzy Hammond organ interlude. It then moves into the second part of the song, ‘What Can You Say’ which is introduced with a quacking saxophone and the organ moves from jazzy to a more frenzied 60’s psychedelic sound.

This is a song full of changing moods and sounds and it keeps the listener engagae from start to finish. If we didn’t know better, one could be forgiven for thinking this came from the ‘Woodstock’ soundtrack as it has a similar feel. Ken E. Henson, who is credited with guitars and vocals on the album, has been around the SA music scene for a long time and this little lost (and refound on ‘Astral Daze’) masterpiece is a great example of his contribution. What (more) can you say?

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

Sister Stallion – Outsiders

Butta Grunge – Outsiders

Butta Grunge – Outsiders

Before the Springbok Nude Girls and Saron Gas (later to become Seether) took on the grunge sound in South Africa, there was a little-known band called The Outsiders who rocked in that dirty Nirvana-eqsue kinda way. Having said that, I would say, listening to ‘Sister Stallion’, that they were probably more akin to The Cult and bands of that ilk in that they rocked in a scuzzy-fuzzy way.

Opening their ‘Butta Grunge’ Album, ‘Sister Stallion’ is a full frontal assault from the first moment with a rasping guitar and pounding bass. Yowling vocals soon join the party in the moshpit and the song rocks along at pace.

There is not a lot of information around about the band, but what I have managed to find out was that they were formed in Port Elizabeth and consisted of Dolf, Johan and Andre Saaiman (brothers perhaps) along with Johnn van Staaden on drums. South Africa didn’t seem to be quite ready for this back 1994 as the band never took off, but it wasn’t long after that that bands like the Springbok Nude Girls and Just Jinjer were the biggest in the land. Maybe if The Outsiders had been a little slower on the uptake they may well have gone further.

Where to find it:
Butta Grunge – The Outsiders (1993), Gresham Records, CDDGR 1241

Video:

Darling It’s Wonderful – Virginia Lee

Darling It’s Wonderful – Virginia Lee

Darling It’s Wonderful – Virginia Lee

Way back in 1927 a girl called Virginia de Jager was born in Port Elizabeth. 39 years later in 1966, she recorded a song called ‘Darling It’s Wonderful’ which took her to her highest ever placing in the Springbok Top 20 as the song made it to number 3 and spent 9 weeks in the charts.

A country-tinged ballad, Lee had the perfect voice for such a song with enough of a twang to capture the country sound, but not too much of a twang to be irritating. Her voice is underpinned by a gently rocking guitar and beat. It has all the ingredients of those late 50’s early 60’s rock n’ roll ballads and when you realise that ‘Darling It’s Wonderful’ was originally recorded in 1957 by The Lovers, a duo consisting of Allen Bunn, the song’s writer, and his wife Anna Sanford. That version would make it to number 48 on the Billboard charts in the US. But most South Africans who know the song would probably look to Virginia’s version when wanting to stroll hand in hand with their gal/guy down memory lane.

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

Video:

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: