1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

Just another music list

Life – Semisane

Life – Semisane

Life – Semisane

Ok, without using Google (or any other seach engine other than your grey matter), how many of you can remember who won the very first Big Brother South Africa show? Not having ever watched any of the shows, I felt I was allowed to look it up. Apparently it was Ferdi. Ah yes, I remember now, I hear you say. Now, can you remember who did the theme music? I can give you a clue, it was the track that is this week’s entry on the 1,001 SA Songs List.

Yes, it was Semisane’s ‘Life’ that had the honour of entertaining you as you sat down to your daily dose of voyeurism back in 2001. From my understanding of what went on in the BB house, I do find the first line of the theme tune rather odd – ‘Everybody’s looking for some tenderness’. I would hardly think that the BB house would be the place to find that.

In fact the whole song initially, to me, seemed a little at odds with the whole concept of ‘Big Brother’. It is quite a relaxed tune but with Tikara’s somewhat girlie vocals sidling up to a somewhat haunting tune, there is something uncomfortable about this and I can’t quite put my finger on why this is. Perhaps that’s why the song was right for the show as it got under the skin in a weird sort of way.

‘Life’ spent 3 weeks at the top of the SA Rock Digest charts and was rated the 8th best song of the year by that esteemed publication.

Where to find it:
A Life Less Strange (2nd edition bonus track) – Semisane (2001), BMG, CDCLL(CLF)7047


Jafta Rebel (X) – Wonderboom

Isit? - Wonderboom

Isit? – Wonderboom

I had to do a Google search on what a Jafta was and one option was that it was anacronym for Johannesburg Association for the Aged. Listening to this early Wonderboom track, its hard to imagine that this is what they are singing about as the song mixes a sort of ska sound with a kind of speed metal. But then again, they were singing about a Jafta Rebel, so maybe it was someone who was rebelling about getting old.

However, listening to the lyrics it appears that Jafta is the name of a guy and, if my interpretation of the words is correct, he is a dope dealer to the ladies, but I might be wrong. There are also a load of references to sex, which, along with the racing guitars, makes it a song that would not sit comfortably with a Sonja Herholdt fan for example.

Wonderboom became a very successful local band, most of their success was a result of their later work, but this track, which appeared on their 1997 EP Isit?, was a sign of what was to come from the them. This is tight yet manic rock that the ‘Booms handle with cocky confidence. It was clear way back then that this band was destined for big things.

Where to find it:
Isit? (6 track EP) – Wonderboom, (1997), Wildebeest, WILDE007

EP Version:

Santana Sessions:

I Love You – Springbok Nude Girls

The Fat Lady Sings - Springbok Nude Girls

The Fat Lady Sings – Springbok Nude Girls

Many of us, I suspect, spent a lot of teenage hours wondering what someone whom we fancied would say if you told them that you loved them. Would they reject you or would they admit to having similar feelings about you? This is one of the great angsts of growing up that almost all of us suffer through.

I once met someone who went to school with Arno Carstens, the lead singer of the Springbok Nude Girls and from what they said, its not too surprising that Carstens has no problems asking the question in the Nude Girls’ ‘I Love You’. He has that confidence and swagger that most of us envy. And this shows through in the cocksure way he sings ‘What would you say if I said I love you’ in his inimatable way.

And the rest of the Nude Girls gather around to support him with their trade mark warm brassy sounds and this song also includes a slightly trippy organ interlude. This is a rather strange song in that it doesn’t rely totally on the drums and guitars to create that dirty grungy sound. There are some gravelly guitars but it is the trumpet, voice and organ that star on this epic track. Like the hoped for response to our admission of amor, we responded to the Springbok Nude Girls’ question by say, yes, we love you too, especially this track.

Where to find it:
The Fat Lady Sings – Springbok Nude Girls (2001), Epic, CDEPC8190


Sien Jou Weer – Piet Botha & Jack Hammer

Piet Botha

Piet Botha

It seems appropriate that a song called ‘Sien Jou Weer’ (‘See You Again’ if you are not au fait with Afrikaans) begins with that sort of country-ish on the road again sound that you get in the movies as the hero/heroine sets off on a trip. You never quite know if you will see them again.

The music here has a rhythm of a train, a smoothness of the countless whiskeys consumed on the way, the desolation of the open road and a voice as gravelly as the tar on which you ride. You can smell the memories and sadness that gather in the slipstream of the departing sound, but the singer has to go. As Piet sings, ‘kyk nou die langpad/roep my al weer/daar is nou genade en liefe/en nog baie meer’ (‘look, the highway/calls me again/there is mercy and love/and so much more). The call of the open road is strong with this one.

This is Piet Botha and Jack Hammer at their smooth best. They can sometimes rock hard, but when they turn their collective hands (and voices) to those blues, they know exactly what to do and in ‘Sien Jou’ Weer’, they created something of beauty. It’s a song that once you’ve listened to it, you have no objections to seeing it again on your playlist.

Where to find it:
n Suitcase Vol Winter – Piet Botha (1997) Wildebeest Records, WILD005


Arapaho – Wild Warrior

The Wicked Seduction - Arapaho

The Wicked Seduction – Arapaho

If you didn’t know, Arapaho is the name of a Native American tribe and the South African band who named themselves after this tribe are not the only ones to mention them. In the fantastic British Number 1 hit, ‘The Chicken Song’ by Spitting Image, there is the line ‘learn to speak Arapaho’ and in Adam & The Ants ‘The Human Beings’ (Last track on their ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontiers’ album), they sing ‘Blackfoot, Pawnee, Crow, Apache, Arapaho’. So this particular tribe are no strangers to the world of popular music.

Local band, Arapaho, do not, however, have any of the irritating ‘Agadoo’ pop that ‘The Chicken Song’ was mocking, nor the tribal stomping of Adam & The Ants. They were a straightforward rock band and ‘Wild Warrior’ is a straightforward rock song. There is no pretence or attempt to be anything but that. There are shades of The Cult in this track that blisters along a on a barrage of drums and guitars while the vocals soar.

‘Wild’ implies lack of control, but there is certainly none of that here. It is a well-crafted rock track where tune is not sacrificed to noise. ‘Warrior’ implies a fighter and you do feel a little like you’ve been a few rounds with a fighter. And for those who are not too keen on the modern style of songs, there’s not arapinsight on this Arapaho track.

Where to find it:
Wild Warriors – The Complete Arapaho (2007), Fresh, FRESHCD151


Lifeline – Rabbitt

The Hits - Rabbitt

The Hits – Rabbitt

Rabbitt slowed things down a notch when they recorded this one. Their bigger hits such as ‘Charlie’ and ‘Locomotive Breath’, although not frenetic or particularly noisy, were certainly rockier affairs. But here we are in slow rock ballad mode. There are some aaahh’s underpinning the verses which are not that far away from the similar part on 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’, but where 10cc keep it cool, Rabbitt do throw in some electric guitars every now and then to remind one that they knew how to handle an axe.

‘Lifeline’ really shows off the craftsmanship of Trevor Rabin and the boys when it came to putting a song together. The production is also slick, giving this love song a velvety feel as it seems to glide along on a cushion of air.

While their rockier numbers like ‘Charlie’, ‘Morning Light’ and ‘Locomotive Breath’ had chart success, ‘Lifeline’ prefers to hang around in the background, taking a slow seductive approach compared to the more ‘in your face’ sound of the hits. It showed another side of Rabbitt that I’m sure the girls loved just as much as their bouncier side.

Where to find it:
Boys Will Be Boys – Rabbitt (September 2006) RetroFresh, freshcd 153 (CD)
The Hits – Rabbitt (1996) Gallo, CDRED 602


Katrina’s Theme – Jill Kirkland

Katrina’s Theme – Jill Kirkland

Katrina’s Theme – Jill Kirkland

The Katrina in the title of this song was a character in a 1969 film of the same name which was directed by Jan Rautenbach and starred Jill Kirkland in the title role. It was a stark look at the effect apartheid had on people whose families were split as some were classified white while others classified coloured. Katrina is ostensibly white and trying to live a ‘white’ life of privilege but cannot escape her ‘coloured’ roots. The film is at times quite brutal as it explores its themes and was quite out of kilter with the mainstream thinking of the day.

The theme tune which Katrina performs in the film, captures the mood. It is a sad piece, with a strong vocal trying to to disguise the fragileness of Katrina. There is a melancholic orchestra backing creating a haunting tune that teases with some warm, comforting sounds trying to break free from the sadness of the the song. Perhaps the line that sums up the character Katrina as well as the sound that Kirkland creates is the line ‘lost is the girl/lost is the girl’. This theme is the perfect compliment to the film. It is not a happy tune, it is poignant, sad and profoundly moving.

Despite the film’s dig at the apartheid system, it obviously hit a note with the South African record buying public of the time as ‘Katrina’s Theme’ spent 6 weeks on the Springbok Top 20 and peaked at number 11.

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


Wuthering Heights – Not The Midnight Mass

Mass Hysteria - Not The Midnight Mass

Mass Hysteria – Not The Midnight Mass

Generally if you are going to do a cover version of a song, it is advisable not to pick something that is going to be pretty difficult, especially if you want to create a similar sounding vocal. Not The Midnight Mass decided to ignore this advice when they took on Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’. But then Jenny Delenta does do an exceptional job of recreating Kate’s unique voice.

Backed by the capable vocal gymnastics of bother and sister, Graham and Christine Weir along with Tereence Reis and Bruce Alex on the studio version on the CD ‘Mass Hysteria’ or Alan Glass instead of Bruce Alex if you are lucky enough to have the super-rare cassette of them live, this acapella group took the Bush classic and, while I would be overexaggerating to say they made it theirs, they certainly made it part of their repartee while Delenta was part of the group. It has all the whoops and swoops of the original as well as the ‘foggy moor’ mystic.

This version would not work half as well if it wasn’t for Delenta’s magical vocals on this. She really steals the show here. The Mass certainly had the talent to continue making good music once Delenta moved on and have continued to have success in a post Delenta world, so they cannot be written off as mere backing vocalists should you only ever hear this track of theirs, but this one certainly belongs to Jenny.

Where to find it:
Mass Hysteria – Not The Midnight Mass (1996), BMG Records, CDBSP(WL)7010

Fanagalo – Petersen Brothers

Fanagalo - Petersen Brothers

Fanagalo – Petersen Brothers

It would be easy to look back at this song and write it off as a racist piece, taking the mickey out of the mish-mash language that was used, and is still used as far as I know, to help communication between the whites and black, most prominently in the mining industry where migrant workers from other African countries were prevalent making the exclusive use of one of the local languages such Zulu of Xhosa difficult.

The Petersen Brothers (Mervyn, Basil and Andy) took this language as the subject for their song way back in 1955 when Fanagalo was in its infancy and was probably something novel at the time. It was also the norm back then for black ‘boys’ (the derogatory term used for any black male) to be servants working in the gardens of white people. Interestingly this song also has Jim, the servant in the song, not only working in the garden but also doing the cooking in the kitchen. It is further interesting to note that Fanagalo was one of the few linga franca’s in the world that took on more of the local language rather than pervert the English of the settlers from Europe.

There is an innocence to this bright and breezy pop tune, which is driven along by the boere musiek sound of the Nico Carstens Orchestra, that belies the offensiveness that it would carry today, to the extent that one is hard pressed to believe that the Petersen Brothers were being deliberately racist. Rather they seem to be seeing something humourous in a time of weirdness and in things that we today would see as politically incorrect, but back then would have been perfectly normal.

This track is included on this list as one that is part of South Africa’s chequered past. It has historical significance in reflecting the attitudes of the day, attitudes that are no longer regarded as acceptable.

Where to find it:
10” Vinyl: On Safari – Three Petersen Brothers, (1955) Columbia, 33JS 11011


Fiasco – TKZee

Guz Hits - TKZee

Guz Hits – TKZee

Tokollo, Kabelo and Zwai took their initials and made a band out of it. They also took the kwaito sound of the mid to late 90’s and made a Ricky Martin out of it when they made the song ‘Fiasco’. The song features the dance syncopation of the kwaito style but has a latin beat and rhythm going on. It’s as if TKZee had taken a holiday on the Copacobana and then returned to a recording studio in Soweto dragging all the influces of those 2 places with them.

Into this blend they also throw some rapped vocals which recall the old skool style of early rap and just when you think they can’t pack another style into the song, you get a short burst of soulful vocals. And its not only the various types of music that are mixed together. There are also a number of languages to contend with as there is English, the odd Afrikaans phrase and some Spanish alongside what I think is a mixture of some the Black South African languages, but unfortunaly my knowledge of these languages is not good enough to tell the difference. All this fusion of sounds and words creates a highly danceable track that is full of the joys of life. It is a warm, brassy and toe-tappingly party of a song. The video features the band dancing around on what looks like a beach in the Carribean which adds to the sunshine of the track.

TKZee were one of the few local acts who perfomed live at the opening of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and, although it was not this song that they played, it is easy to see why they were given the honour of playing at that huge gig as they did local with an international appeal.

Where to find it:
Guz Hits – TKZee (2005), BMG Africa, CDHOLA2004

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