1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “arno carstens”

Dimmer – Springbok Nude Girls

The Fat Lady Sings - Springbok Nude Girls

The Fat Lady Sings – Springbok Nude Girls

By 2004, the Springbok Nude Girls had been going nearly 10 years with their light shining brightly. But in 2004, things got ‘Dimmer’ as this previously unreleased track appeared on their best of compilation ‘The Fat Lady Sings’. And there were possibly some fans of the band who thought, when hearing this that the light that shone so bright, might have starter to dim as its not as noisy or dense as some of their earlier stuff.

There is none of the raw freneticness of ‘Bubblegum On My Boots’ or the scuzzy sound of ‘Spaceman’ or the grittiness of ‘I Love You’. Neither does it have the quieter relectiveness of ‘Blue Eyes’. Rather it is more (dare I say it) a pop rock track with an orchestral sound swirling around a catchy refrain of ‘dimmer, dimmer, dimmer’. But there is sufficient of the old SNG’s sound to keep us interested and it would also make a gentler introduction to the band for those who had not yet heard ‘Blue Eyes’ and were not quite ready to dive into the full on sounds of some of their earlier material. It also showed the versatility of the band, revealing a more tune driven side to their repertoire.

And for those hardcore fans there are still parts of the song that recall that sound they loved with Arno Carstens’ soaring and growling vocals along with the warm trumpet of Adriaan Brand still popping into the track every now and then.

‘Dimmer’ may not be every Springbok Nude Girls fans’ cup of witblitz, but it is a great rock tune which is certainly worth a listen. And for those hardcore fans who were worried this this track was a sign of out with  the old, in with the Nude, they only had to wait a couple of years for the opening track to their 2006 offering, ‘Peace Breaker’ (a song called ‘Gang Gang’) to be reassured as they return to their roots with an almost metal guitar intro.

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

Video:

The Crossing – Johnny Clegg

The Crossing – Johnny Clegg

The Crossing – Johnny Clegg

Written for Dudu Ndlovu, one of Clegg’s dancers who was killed during the violence of the early 90’s, ‘The Crossing’ is a moving song and one of the standout tracks on ‘Heat, Dust & Dreams’ his album from 1993. On the face of it the song could be about crossing over from the land of the living to be with the ancestors, but, given the time this song was released, it was also a metaphor for the crossing the country was making from apartheid to democracy.

This is argueably one of Clegg’s most polished songs and possibly one of his best vocal tracks. That’s not to diss the rough folkiness of his other stuff, that’s what gave it it’s charm. But the sombre subject of this song demanded this be a polished affair. The more subdued verses talk of loss and violence but they are offset with the rousing chorus of ‘O Siyeza, o siyeza, sizofika webaba noma’ (We are coming, we are coming, we will arrive soon). The heartfelt delivery is the kind of stuff that can bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye.

Roll on 15 years after Johnny recorded the song and in 2018, about a year before his death, a group of leading South African musicians recorded a moving version of the song in honour of Johnny. This conglomeration included among others Johnny’s son Jesse, Karen Zoid, Vusi Mahlasela, David Kramer, Kahn Morbee from the Parlotones, Patricia Lewis, Zolani Mahola from Freshlyground, Arno Carstens and a special guest appearance of Peter Gabriel. It is not only the power of the song that reflects Clegg’s genius, but the mix of people from all colours of the South African rainbow working together that makes this a fitting tribute to him. It honours his music and his values.

But perhaps it is the line ‘Oh, it’s funny how those once so close and now gone can still so affect our lives’ that really gets one when listening to this. Johnny has now made his crossing, but his music and legacy lives on in his music. We will be listening to ‘Scatterlings’, ‘Impi’, ‘Asimbonanga’ and many others for a long time to come. I think that ‘The Crossing’ will also be one that people turn to when remembering Johnny and as one comment on the page for the Friends of Johnny Clegg version says ‘If you watched this and didn’t get tearful are you even South African?’

Where to find it:
Heat, Dust & Dreams – Johnny Clegg (1993), EMI,  CDEMCJ(WF)5499

Video:
Johnny Clegg:

Friends of Johnny Clegg version:

Another Universe – Arno Carstens

Another Universe - Arno Carstens

Another Universe – Arno Carstens

So, what do you do when you’ve been the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the country and you decide to break up the band (again). Do you twiddle your thumbs and live off the royalties of past glories, or do you go and make another album, the title track of which is as brilliant and memorable as anything you did in a group?

Few lead singers of major bands have really gone on to forge a successful solo career – Sting and to a lesser degree Freddie Mercury come to mind – but to that list we can add Arno Carstens who, after one of the many final Springbok Nude Girl final gigs ever, decided to make the rather magnificent ‘Another Universe’ album with its rather magnificent title track.

Starting off with a delicate guitar intro during which Arno comes in with his ‘made to rock’ vocals, the song builds to a soaring chorus which is perfectly suited to Arno’s voice. Maybe not quite as noisy as some of the Nude Girls stuff – this one sits closer to their ‘Blue Eyes’ than perhaps their ‘Smiley Skull Of Faith’ – it could easily have ended up on a Nude Girl’s album except that it lacks that warm trumpet sound that Adriaan Brand brought to their sound.

‘Another Universe’ is a laid back rock track that is certainly not from another universe, it is firmly grounded in the solid rock traditions of Earth, and that’s what one wants from your music don’t you?

Where to find it:
Another Universe – Arno Carstens, 2003, Epic, CDEPC8256

Video:

Bubblegum On My Boots – Springbok Nude Girls

Neanderthal 1 - Springbok Nude Girls

Neanderthal 1 – Springbok Nude Girls

If, way back in 1995, you had heard about The Springbok Nude Girls, but had never heard their music and, feeling lucky, you went out and bought their debut album, ‘Neanderthal 1’, then ‘Bubblegum On My Boots’ would have been the first SNG song that you heard as it opens the album. And it’s not a bad introduction to the band, although you may have been a little fooled at first by the rather melodic and mellow intro with its coolly plucked guitar while somewhere in the distance a muted trumpet calls out to you.

Then along comes Arno Carstens vocals and you begin to wonder. There is something a little sinister about them, something a little otherworldy. But before you have had much chance to get unsettled, the Neanderthal is let loose, introduced by a ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’-ish guitar snippet before the primal thumping beat assaults you and Arno whoops and shrieks like and man out with his club, trying to bash himself some dinner.

There is something chaotic and yet controlled about this song as it swings between the quieter, warm moments and the grungy thrash out. Having heard this, you were either seduced by these Nude Girls or you hated them. Or it even may have left you feeling a bit confused. However, those who were seduced were numerous and this track kick started one of the biggest stories in South African music in the nineties. When it came to making interesting and invigorating rock, Arno and the boys certainly knew what they were doing and with ‘Bubblegum On My Boots’ they really gave it some stick.

Where to find it:
Neaderthal 1 – Springbok Nude Girls, Bluegum Records (1995), CDSNG1

Video:

Shot – Springbok Nude Girls

Springbok Nude Girls

Springbok Nude Girls

The Springbok Nude Girls’ ‘Shot’ had the honour of being one of the 20 songs to feature on the very first South African Rock Digest charts which first appeared on 30 July 2000. It sat at 11 that week and then dropped off the chart the following week, so its run on that particular chart was short lived. However, as we all know, chart performance does not necessarily reflect how good a song is. Some great songs never made the Springbok top 20 (Bright Blue’s ‘Weeping’ for example), while some dreadful songs spent weeks at number 1 (The Klaxon’s ‘Clap Clap Sound).

‘Shot’ is a fast-paced rocker with Arno Carstens’ voice soaring over racing drums and rushing guitars in a song that threatens to lose control, but just manages to hold it together in an edgy James Bond-eqsue helter skelter chase down winding mountain roads. But like the James Bond car chase, there is never a loss of the suave swagger.

‘Shot’ appeared on the Nude Girls’ 2000 album ‘Surpass The Powers’ and it just about does what the album title says it should. It’s a powerful tack but does it surpass the power of some of their previous offerings? Well, I’ll leave that for you to debate amongst yourselves, but it is certainly up there in terms of power-rock offerings from a band that certainly surpassed most other SA bands not only of that era, but perhaps of all time.

Where to find it:
The Fat Lady Sings – Springbok Nude Girls (2001), Epic, CDEPC8190
Surpass The Powers – Springbok Nude Girls (2000), Epic, CDEPC8105

Video:

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

Video:

Toe Vind Ek Jou – Francois van Coke & Karen Zoid

Francois van Coke & Karen Zoid

Francois van Coke & Karen Zoid

This is what it has all been about. Anton Goosen’s ‘Bloemetjie Gedenk Aan Jou’, Bernoldus Niemand, Koos Kombuis, Johannes Kerkorrel and the whole Voelvry movement, the blues guys like Valiant Swart, Piet Botha and Die Blues Broers, Arno Carstens and the Springbok Nude Girls, Afrikaans punk from Fokofpolsiekar. All of these guys were building up to this one perfect Afrikaans song.

‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ is undoubtedly the best Afrikaans song I have heard. It has everything, atmosphere, emotion, a great tune, brilliant vocals and harmonising. It is no wonder that at the time of writing this, the Youtube video had already had over 4.6 million views and spawned numerous cover versions (the Varsity Sing version is one of the better ones). In comparison Bok van Blerk’s ‘De La Rey’ which was also hugely popular and which has been around a lot longer only has 1.6 million views. I had sort of got to thinking that there were no surprises left in the Afrikaans music world but ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ proved me wrong I’m pleased to say.

This song with its almost understated soft drumming highlights the talents of 2 leading lights of South African music. Francois van Coke found his way to this song via the noise of Fokofpolisiekar and the heavy rock of van Coke Kartel while Karen Zoid has been ploughing her own furrow as our foremost ‘rock chick’ for a good while now. And while ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ is essentially a ballad, there is a feeling of a tension underlying the vocals and the lyrics hint that this relationship was not always a bed of roses. The first line ‘Ek lê my wapens neer’ (‘I lay down my arms’) introduces the surrender of the couple to their love which has survived a stormy relationship and as they have matured the anger of youth has dwindled and they are left clinging to each other. Possibly the best moment in the song is when Francois and Karen sing the lines ‘Ek het genoeg gegee, Ek het genoeg geskree, Ek het lankal terug geleer’ the second time around when Karen’s higher pitched voice goes head to head with Francois’ gravelly one and the result is something quite beautiful.

There are no pretensions in this song but plenty of control. Zoid and van Coke could have been tempted to make this just another Afrikaans rock song, but somehow they turned it into something special.

I have gone back to wondering if there will now be no further surprises coming from the Afrikaans music scene in South Africa, but I’m a little less certain of myself this time round.

Where to find it:
Francois van Coke – Francis van Coke (2015)

Video:

Varsity sing version:

Super Girl – Springbok Nude Girls

Surpass The Powers - Springbok Nude Girls

Surpass The Powers -Springbok Nude Girls

By the time 2000’s ‘Surpass The Powers’ came out, South Africa was well acquainted with the Springbok Nude Girls and their particular brand of rock. ‘Super Girl’ which was taken from that album was another example of just how good they were as a band.

Listening to the opening edgy guitar and ominous drumming, I can’t help thinking that Arno Carstens and the boys had been sitting listening to their Asylum Kids & Tribe After Tribe albums as, before the vocals kick in, one could easily believe that you were listening ot a track from the aftermentioned bands.

However, Arno’s roaring, soaring vocals quickly dispel those thoughts as his disctinct voice grabs hold of the song at times throttling it at other times seducing the ‘Super Girl’ of which he sings with his angelic falsetto.

This is a pounding piece of music that is tight, highly strung, yet has a vulnerable side to it that makes it compelling listening. But then again, would we have expected anything less from the Super (Springbok Nude) Girl(s)?

Where to find it:
Surpass The Powers – Springbok Nude Girls (2000), Epic, CDEPC8105

Video:

Smiley Skull Of Faith – Springbok Nude Girls

Smiley Skull Of Faith – Springbok Nude Girls (Stripped down head music)

Relaxzor – Springbok Nude Girls

Relaxzor – Springbok Nude Girls

The year was 2000 and there were rumours in the air that the Nude Girls were going to call it a day. Then came ‘Smiley Skull of Faith’, a hard hitting song showing the Nude Girls at their confident best. At the time, it was hard to believe that this would be the last we would hear from them.

As history shows, they went on to call it a day a few more times, so we needn’t have worried. But had ‘Smiley Skull of Faith’ been their last offering, we could have sat around reminiscing and saying, ‘what a way to go’. Starting with a eerie keyboard and edgy guitar, the song thunders from the atmospheric to a barrage of drums at around the 1 minute mark. It then settles into tuneful rock with Arno Carstens trademark desperate howl which is tempered by his pensive low growl.

The band did not sound like one about to break up. They were tight and producing some of their best material and few of their songs were better at that time than ‘Smiley Skull of Faith’. The song made it to number 23 on the South African Rock Digests’ top 50 songs of 2000.

Where to find it:
Relaxzor – Springbok Nude Girls (2001), Epic, CDEPC8148

Video:

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