1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “Graceland”

Unfinished Story – Stimela

Unfinished Story – Stimela

Unfinished Story – Stimela

In case you din’t know it, Stimela means train as is steam train or high speed train or Thomas the Tank Engine train. However the Stimela that made the ‘Unfinished Story’ song were neither steam nor high-speed and none of them were called Thomas. One of them was called Ray and his surname was Phiri and he became a stalwart of the SA music scene and was one of those who was invited by Paul Simon to play on the ‘Graceland’ album.

Listening to ‘Unfinished Story’ one can’t easily make the leap to ‘Graceland’, well not from a musical sound point of view, but from a polished and accomplished musical point of view it would make sense. ‘Unfinished Story’ does not have a particularly ‘black South African’ sound to it as it could easily have rubbed shoulders with the jazzy Americans of the late 70’s early 80s such as Weather Report and Herbie Hancock and what the soulful funky chaps like Marvin Gaye and Rick James were doing around that time. The song mixes this jazzy-funk-soul into a polished six and a half minutes of laid back pleasure that would have found a good home being played in a smoke filled undergound club somewhere is the seedier areas of Joburg.

Stimela had been going since the late 70’s but this song which was the title track of their 1987 album of the same name, showed that they had become comfortable with their trade and were capable of fine nuggets like this. They continued to record and release albums up to 2011, so yes, the title of this track was true. Phiri sadly died in 2017.

Where to find it:
The Unfinished Story / Fire,Passion,Ecstasy – Stimela (1994), Gallo, CDGMP 40490 H


Homeless – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Homeless - Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Homeless – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Yes, yes, you all know this one from Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ album, but there are versions of the song floating around that don’t feature the “outside” American vocals on the track. However, listening to the two versions, there is very little to choose between the two as the whole driving force of the song (which was mostly written by Simon) are the whoops, the “he-ee ihe-ee ihe-ee”’s and the beautiful harmonies of the kings of isicathamiya.

It is debatable whether the world would have ever got to hear this style of singing had it not been for Paul Simon’s boycott busting trip to SA. And one could go further and ask how many white South Africans would have got to love songs like these had the one half of Simon & Garfunkel not visited our fair shores, but without going into the politics of it all, one can say without too many arguments that the world would have been a poorer place musically speaking, had ‘Graceland’ not happened.

‘Homeless’ is full of African imagery and the clicks and sounds of the continent. It evokes images of beauty and vast countrysides unpoilt by man. The Mambazo’s harmonies are immediately recognizable these days especially Joseph Shabalala’s unique voice and many will point to ‘Homeless’ when asked where they first heard this voice. In some ways it is sad that it took a white American to bring this music to the world (and white South Africa’s) attention, it should have been able to get there on its own steam, but we’ll be dragged into the ugly world of politics if we persue that line of thinking and ‘Homeless’ is too pure, too innocent and just downright beautiful to be tainted by those sort of discusions.

So grab your copy of ‘Graceland’ (surely you must have one), or better still seek out the Simonless version and enjoy music that revels in naked talent without intruments getting in the way. This is the real deal. So, all together now: “Homeless, homeless, moonlight sleeping on the midnight lake.”

Where to find it:
The Great South African Trip – Various Artists (2007), African Cream


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