1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “Asylum Kids”

Bullets For Bafazane – Juluka

Work For All - Juluka

Work For All – Juluka

One website I came across describes Juluka’s ‘Bullets For Bafazane’ as a ‘happy song’. Granted, the website was one which concentrates on the songs beats per minute and, if one ignores the lyrics of ‘Bullets For Bafazane’, then yes, one may regard it as a ‘happy song’ as it has an uptempo beat with a jaunty sax dancing round the track like someone let loose on a Friday night dance floor.

But surely the clue is in the title, and if you missed that, the first line of the lyrics goes ‘Shadow men from the outlands come to town/Looking for Bafazane, they want to gun him down’. Still feeling happy? While the music is uptempo with a feel good jive to it, the song is certainly not about a happy subject. So many South African’s during the 80’s lived in fear of ‘shadow men’ coming to gun them down. But like a lot of our music, particularly during the darkest years of aparartheid, it juxtaposes a cheerful ‘happy’ sound with serious lyrics, keeping spirits up with the beat, while remembering the darkness in the lyrics.

Listening to the opening flatly plucked guitar, one is reminded of the Asylum Kids’ ‘Fight It With Your Mind’. There is a certain ominous feel to the sound which warns one that this is not a ‘happy song’. However, while the Asylum Kids’ track stays in that vein and continues to explores the darkness in both word and sound, Johnny and Sipho keep us dancing through the darkness.

We don’t know if Bafazane survives the ordeal as the song ends with him still waiting for the ‘shadow men’ to come with their bullets. But along the way we are reminded that, while he is still alive, he celebrates this fact. ‘It’s the sky up above that he loves/’Cause he’s still alive and for him that’s enough’. So, no this is not a ‘happy song’, but it is a song about courage and finding strength in a time of adversity.

Where to find it:
Work For All – Juluka (1983), Rhythm Safari, RSMCD 1032 134

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Fight It With Your Mind – Asylum Kids

Fight It With Your Mind – Asylum Kids width=

Fight It With Your Mind – Asylum Kids

The cover of the Asylum Kids’ album ‘Fight It With Your Mind’ has a picture of an x-ray of a skull from the side with soundwaves, looking like they were made out of blood, moving through the mind of the owner of the skull. There is something a little disturbing with this image and it is therefore not too surprising when you plonk the record on to your turntable to find that the music is also unsettling.

As the title track opens the album, there is an immediate sense of edginess with a swirling and ominous bass guitar that sucks you over to the dark side. And this feeling stays with you throughout the song, even when the music swells to the angry chorus where we are told over and over again to ‘fight it fight it fight it with your mind’. Dino Archon’s bass prowls around the song like some sort of fictional devilish animal while Robbi Robb jumps around like a cage fighter, punching viciously at an unseen opponent.

The Asylum Kids were possibly the best punk band to come out of South Africa. They were smart, angry and dark. They lived on the fringes of society, tapping into the minds of the disaffected and disowned. They walked like the rough hero strides through an apocalyptic city that is in perpetual darkness. And where that movie hero would have a shotgun slung over their shoulder, the Kids have guitars. The music lures you into the darkness, but the message is to fight this darkness. They were the right band at the right time, questioning our society and its views.

Where to find it:
Black Poem Jugglers – Asylum Kids (1994), Tusk Music, WOND 123

Video:

School Kids – The Gents

School Kids – The Gents

School Kids – The Gents

Around 1980 punk arrived in South Africa with bands such as Asylum Kids, Dog Detachment and Peach leading the way. One of the lesser known bands to take to the genre was Durban band The Gents. Consisting of Kevin Flame, Tim Rocker and Sydne B Good (not been able to find out their real names), they produced, as far as I have been able to find out, a single single and a single album.
The album was called ‘The Gents’ and featured Jo Day on backing vocals, but oddly did not feature ‘School Kids’, their only single. Nor did the b-side of the single, ‘1917’, make the album. The latter is a darker, more sinister track and is a pretty decent song in its own right, but it would have had a less wider appeal than ‘School Kids’. Faster, lighter and poppier, ‘School Kids’ motors along on a sea of mixed up hormones as it tries to make its way in life. It features a rough and tumble guitar that has all the energy and innocence of a playground barney between friends while Flame’s vocals mix the coolness of a schoolboy that tries to hide a slightly romantic side.
It’s a catchy tune but with a bit of punk venom thrown in for good measure. It captures those angst filled high school days when one is caught in the no-man’s land between boyhood and manhood. Cocksure and vulnerable at the same time but played with a maturity and skill that belies the line ‘we’re just school kids, holding on’. Sadly, the band disappeared after their brief career and they weren’t noticed by many. Fortunately though there is a Youtube video of ‘School Kids’ so you can hear it for yourself.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: The Gents – The Gents (1982), Rap Records, SRLP C5

Video:

Feeling The Spaces – Asylum Kids

Fight It With Your Mind - Asylum Kids

Fight It With Your Mind – Asylum Kids

It was UK punk band Sham ’69 who sang, ‘If the kids are united, then we’ll never be divided’. Well back in the 80s in South Africa the kids known as Robbi Robb, Steve Howells and Dino Archon were united for a little while under the banner of the Asylum Kids and produced a couple of great punk albums, but then they divided and went on to Tribe After Tribe and The Dynamics, but while they were united, there was little division among punk fans that they were the best band in the country (fans of Sonja Herholdt and the like would probably have disagreed).

‘Feeling The Spaces’ appeared on their debut album ‘Fight It With Your Mind’ and does not have spaces, but definitely has feeling. The song is a controlled barrage of thrashy punk. I say controlled as there is a tune in there – it’s not just a noise – which doesn’t relent as it rattles through the 3 minutes 43 seconds at pace with angry drums clashing with heated guitars and underpinned by a pulsing bass.

The feeling comes to the fore in Robbi’s voice as he injects venom into lyrics like ‘and everyone seems to doubt the leaders’ and ‘coldness is spreading/out here it’s lonely’. This is South African punk at its best, and it sounds as fresh and invigorating now as it did back then.

Where to find it:
Fight it with Your Mind/Solid (Aka The Complete Asylum Kids) – Asylum Kids (2005) Fresh Music, FRESHCD 147

Video:

The Watch – Tribe After Tribe

Power - Tribe After Tribe

Power – Tribe After Tribe

When the Asylum Kids broke up in 1982, Robbi Robb went on to form Tribe After Tribe. Their first album made a statement purely with its title – ‘Power’. And that’s what they made – powerful music. ‘The Watch’ is one of those controlled anger songs. One can feel the venom in the song, but you can’t really put a finger on what the menace is. Is it the thump-thump thump of the bass, or the steady barrage of drums? It could be, but can you dance to anger? Perhaps it’s the guitars that snarl and growl around the beat. But it’s too tuneful to feel fully angry. There is an eerie synth that seems to want to escape from the song, heading off at landscape tangents and that just helps one to not identify the anger.

This leaves the lyrics and vocals. The former, if they contain the answer, are too cryptic for one to say with certainty. I mean what does ‘Sum up the fading decadent stallion/behind the door lost in snow’ signify? Or ‘cat’s on the rhine’ for that matter. The vocals are probably the closest one gets to seeing the anger without any disguise. Robb’s voice sounds angry. He could make ‘Unchained Melody’ sound like a hate song if he wanted, he has one of those voices. But even here, he’s not cranked that element up to full.

This leaves one with two options. Either ‘The Watch’ is not an angry song, it’s just a pleasant rock song by one of South Africa’s premier bands of the 80s. Or it is angry, but Robbi is just too good at disguising it. Either way, there is no denying that this is a powerful song as it thunders along. ‘The watch is in line’ Robbie tells us. In line with what? In line with all the other damn fine songs that Tribe To Tribe recorded.

Where to find it:
Power – Tribe After Tribe (2003), Fresh Musci, FRESHCD140

Listen on Spotify:

Schoolboy – Asylum Kids

Schoolboy – Asylum Kids (They were Robb’ed)

Schoolboy – Asylum Kids

Schoolboy – Asylum Kids

The Asylum Kids were one of the leading bands in the late 70’s early 80’s punk movement in South Africa. Led by the enigmatic Robbi Robb (later Tribe After Tribe) they soon captured the attention of Benjy Mudie but their outspoken lyrics and comments from the stage also got the security police interested in them, but not for their musical talents.

‘Schoolboy’ was their first single which was released in 1981. The picture sleeve depicted a bunch of disaffected schoolkids on the kerb, one has a guitar and leather jacket instead of a blazer, while another nonchalantly smokes a cigarette. The image itself would have been enough to raise the ire of the masses of mother grundies that infested the country.

Unlike some punk of the day, the Asylum Kids never took on the thrash, reckless sound. They were more Clash than Sex Pistols. To my mind, this less noisy approach was a sign of intellect in that the lyrics were too important to be lost in sneers and screams. ‘Schoolboy’ was probably the “poppiest” tune that the Kids recorded. It doesn’t have that dark edge that later songs like ‘No, No, No, No’ and ‘Fight It With Your Mind’, but it was an important part of the development of one of the country’s greatest punk bands and is still one of the stand out songs of that era.

Where to find it:

The Complete Asylum Kids – Asylum Kids (2005) Fresh Music, FRESHCD 147

Video:

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