1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “John Kongos”

Hey I Don’t Know – Kongos

Hey I Don’t Know – Kongos

Hey I Don’t Know – Kongos

Okay, I know this is the 4th song from Kongos’ album ‘Lunatic’ to make this list, but it is just such a great album that virtually every tack could be on here. We have had ‘Escape’, ‘I’m Only Joking’ and ‘Come With me Now’, now its time for ‘Hey I Don’t Know’, another thunderstomp of a song.

A single drum beat introduces the song which then immediately jumps into a funky strut beat that is simultaneously heavy and bouncy. It is reminiscent of some of the 70’s heavy rock of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple where those bands put a bit of funk into their sound. Deep Purple’s ‘Sail Away’ (off the album ‘Burn’) is one that immediately comes to mind. What Kongos don’t do is the higher pitched wail that those bands sometimes injected into their vocals. Rather the Kongos brothers keep it steady at a controlled growl level.

Like ‘Come With Me Now’ and ‘ I’m Only Joking’, there is something primal in the beat of ‘Hey I Don’t Know’. It bashes it’s way into your senses, searching out the animal in you and pokes it a nudge, waking up parts of your psyche that you keep under control when sitting in the office or shopping in the mall, but this song sets that part of you free when you are at home and no one is around, you can crank up the volume, dance like a banshee and feel free.

The apple did not fall far from the tree in the Kongos family as the sons of Johnny made an album full of excellent pounding rock that their dad must be proud of. I am not planning to feature any more songs from the album on this list but do recommend you check out the others. It’s a stonkingly good album. I say I’m not planning to feature more, but things change and maybe I will, maybe I won’t, but hey, I don’t know for sure.

Where to find it:
Lunatic – Kongos (2014), Epic

Video:

He’s Gonna Step On You Again – John Kongos

He’s Gonna Step On You Again – John Kongos

He’s Gonna Step On You Again – John Kongos

After his success in South Africa as part of Johnny & The G-Men, Johnny lost the ‘ny’ at the end of his first name and headed off to the UK where he recorded with Gus Dudgeon (who had been working with Elton John) and ended up with 2 UK hits with ‘Tokoloshe Man’ peaking at 4 after ‘He’s Going To Step On You’ had also managed to peak at 4 about 6 months earlier. The latter would also make the US charts, peaking at 70 there.

With its pounding drums and roaring guitar, there is something primal about the track which stomped along with the best glam of the era which bands like The Sweet, Slade and T Rex were churning out at the time. But Kongos took something of Africa with him as there are shades of Hawk (or Joburg Hawk to some) and Freedom’s Children in this classic.

And such was the impact of the song that it spawned a 1987 cover by Aussie band The Party Boys (which topped the charts in Australia where Kongos’ version only made it to 2) and another (also in 1987) by The Chantoozies (also an Aussie band). That one made it to 36 in Australia. And then in 1990 The Happy Mondays released a version which made it to 5 in the UK (but only 157 (apparently) in Australia). In terms of these covers, I would go for The Party Boys version if you are looking for one closest to the original, The Chantoozies if you want a lighter version to dance to in a late 80’s kind of way and The Mondays version if you want to get spaced out on ecstasy and muddle through it. But for me, the original is by far the best version. It rocks.

Kongos set the standard for pounding pop rock for South African artists (as opposed to pounding straightforward rock which Freedom’s and Hawk offered) and years later his sons would pick up on this as, recording under the name Kongos, they brought that sound up to date with their classics such as ‘Come With me Now’ and ‘I’m Only Joking’. But if you want to get back to basics, put on the original John Kongos one, stomp those platform boots and lose yourself in a core of primal rock.

Where to find it:
Tokoloshe Man Plus – John Kongos (1988), See For Miles, SEECD221

Video:

Come With Me Now – Kongos

Come With Me Now – Kongos

Come With Me Now – Kongos

‘It’s boere musiek, I’m not interested,’ is something one might say if you listened to the first few seconds of ‘Come With Me Now’ by Kongos as it is just an accordion playing, although, one may also think that it is something out of the township, or the start of a Johnny Clegg track as it has that feel to it too.

But after those few second introduction you realise that this is neither, it’s a thumpingly thuddingling stompingly stonkingly great tune from the sons of Johnny. The Kongos Kids know how to make big songs and ‘Come With Me Now’ is them at their best. It’s catchy, you can dance to it, you could head bang to it (if that’s your thing). And it became an international hit as it went to number 7 in Canada, number 31 in the US, 94 in Australia, 65 in Austria, 36 in New Zealand and 47 in Spain. In the UK is made it to 125, but was far more popular in Scotland than the rest of great Britain as it went to 58 on the Scottish charts.

And its international success is no surprise as their dad, John Kongos had seen international hits with ‘Tokoloshe Man’ and ‘Step On’ so they were just following in his footsteps. If you took a rumble of thunder and beat it with a hammer on an anvil till it took the shape of a tune, you would get ‘Come With Me Now’. This is a juggernaut of a track that deserved all the success it got.

Where to find it:
Lunatic – Kongos, Tokoloshe Records (2012)

Video:

Skokiaan – Johnny & G-Men

The G-Men (LP)

The G-Men (LP)

‘Skokiaan’ the song has been around since about 1947 and has been widely covered by a load of artists. It began life in the brain of one August Musarurwa, a Rhodesian (as it was back then). It was recorded by the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythm Band and this scratchy version with its quacking, sqeaking brass over what sounds like a banjo, is a delightful African jazzy number from the era.

In 1954 Ralph Marterie gave the song a western orchestral sound and the song made the US charts and soon artists like Louis Armstong and Bill Haley & The Comets were recording their own versions.

Then in 1971 along came Johnny and his G-Men with their own take. Johnny (in case you didn’t know) was none other than John ‘Tokoloshe Man’ Kongos and he and his G-Men ditched the brass when recording their version, rather favouring the echo-ey guitar sound that the likes of The Shadows and The Ventures had a lot of success with. The G-Men made a good job of translating the song from a 50’s jazz piece into a 60’s Rock ‘n’ Roll instrumental, and they managed to do this in the 70’s.

Skokiaan is apparently an illegally brewed drink which from it’s description sounds a bit like the sorghum beer or homebrew that we have in South Africa, and is probably the biggest legal export of something illegal from what was then Rhodesia.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: The G-Men – Johnny & The G-Men (1971), RCA, 31.547

Video:
Johnny & The G-Men

Bulawayo Sweet Rhythm Band

I’m Only Joking – Kongos

I’m Only Joking - Kongos

I’m Only Joking – Kongos

If there was such a phrase as ‘a pound-a-thon’, it would be perfect to use to describe this track from the pound-tastic ‘Lunatic’ album that the kings of pounding, Johnny Kongos’ sons brought us. ‘I’m Only Joking’ does raise the question whether any drums were harmed in the making thereof because it is non-stop stomping from the moment it starts right through to the final, near chaotic drumming at the end.

There is a primal feel to this juggernaut of a track which starts with the line ‘There is a song/you’re trembling to its tune’. And tremble you might, for it sounds like a herd of elephants have gathered for a school disco. But there is an edge to what’s going on here. The chorus goes, ‘I’m only joking/I’m only f**king with your head’ and as you listen, there is a sort of mismatching in the beats of the drum which gives it an unhinged feel.

Kongos had a hit in the US and Canada with ‘Come With Me Now’, which was also from the ‘Lunatic’ album and while that song also feautres the Kongos family’s trademark pounding, it doesn’t have the slightly derailed feel that ‘I’m Only Joking’ has.

Where to find it:
Lunatic – Kongos (2014), Epic

Video:

Escape – Kongos

Escape - Kongos

Escape – Kongos

It is not often that we see offspring who follow in the footsteps of a famous musician parent doing as well as the parent, but in Kongos’ case, we see four sons of Johnny making a name for themselves internationally. Johnny (who later became John) had 2 number 4 hits in the UK and 1 number 70 hit in the US. His sons, who make up the band Kongos, haven’t yet captured the UK market in the same way, but did manage to get to 31 in the US with ‘Come With me Now’.

Listening to ‘Escape’, or any of the other songs on Kongos’ brilliant album ‘Lunatic’, you find that all those pounding drums that John put into ‘Tokoloshe Man’ and ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ (his UK hits), have beaten a trail through the genes and landed up with the sons. ‘Escape’ takes a little while to remember to use the drums, starting slowly with plaintive vocals over a somewhat hauting keyboard and low-key guitar, then some bass comes in and eventually the drums come a-banging on your speakers.

Despite the international success of the band, this track has a particularly local appeal as the lyrics talk about things getting to pretty much an end of the world scenario leaving the singer wanting to ‘Escape’ to ‘that Good Hope town where the weather’s fair’, and we all know where that is. Anyone who has ever been to Cape Town would be able to relate to this being a haven to head for when things turn bad. There is a certain inner calm to the place and, despite the big drums on the song, it also seems to have a relaxing effect on one.

The visuals in the official video for the track (see below) is a perfect companion to the sound, following a young couple’s desperate flight, following some worldy disaster, to get to Cape Town and just as the music begins to fade out, we find them on top of Table Mountain looking out over the view. And that’s where you feel you are when the song fades – standing on top of the world.

Where to find it:
Lunatic – Kongos, Tokoloshe Records (2012)

Video:

Johnny & The Mermaid – Johnny Kongos & the G-Men

Johnny & The Mermaid - Johnny Kongos & the G-Men

Johnny & The Mermaid – Johnny Kongos & the G-Men

Before the thundering power-pop of ‘Tokoloshe Man’ and ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ John Kongos went by the name of Johnny Kongos and he had G-Men. He also made rock ‘n’ roll records and ‘Johnny & The Mermaid’ was one of his early offerings that goes way back to 1963. The song shot up the LM Radio charts and peaked at number 6. There’s nothing fishy about this tail (apologies) of a man who is off fishing to try catch himself a mermaid. It is a classic rock-a-billy song with Elvis-y vocals, Hank Marvin-y twangy guitars and has an added girlie chorus in a question and response set of lyrics. It’s toe-tapping, ducktailing, boogie that announced to all and sundry that Rock ‘n’ Roll had arrived in South Africa.

It is quite hard to connect the dots between this and his later offerings when he went to the UK and began to rock, or even to the full-on hectic stuff he’s produced with his sons of late. Although the Mother Grundies of the day would disagree, the song takes one back to an age when music seemed innocent. Those opposed would be be moaning about what this young upstart had in mind, once he found himself that mermaid and would ensure that any memaids that were found had the appropriate stars across offending parts of their anatomy. But stick on a Seether track afterward and show them the uncensored video of ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke and you may find them saying that, yes, things were innocent back then. And we should not forget this era of music. It is always refreshing to pop back to it now and again and pretend that all is right with the world.

Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 3 (1994) GSP, CDREDD 610

Video:

Sun – Impi

Sun – Impi (You’d be bats not to like it)

IMPI

IMPI

Impi, (not to be confused with John Kongos’ briefly lived band or Johnny Clegg’ seminal anthem) were mostly The Bats under a different name. To their ranks they added Sounds of Brass’ Peter Hubner, The Square Set’s Neville Whitmill and Hubner’s girlfriend Deni Loren. The group released one eponymously titled album which featured the track ‘Sun.’

Listening to it, one can see why The Bats chose not to release it under their usual name. It was far more prog rock influenced than most of their previous pop work and, perhaps they felt their fan base would not really like it. Starting out with a heavy beating drum (African rhythm), then weaving in a haunting pennywhistle before building up to the catchy chorus with a rich brass ensemble.

Unfortunately for The Bats, their alter ego did not really capture the hearts and minds of their pop fans, nor those of the progressive bands like Hawk, Abstract Truth and Freedom’s Children as the album did not do too well and faded into obscurity. Fortunately Benjy Mudie, the keeper of the South Africa rock flame, has just released the album on his Retrofresh label, so we are able to listen to ‘Sun’ and all the other tracks, and wonder why we didn’t go for it big time at the time.

Where to find it:
Impi – Impi (2012), Retrofresh, FRESHCD 183

Tokoloshe Man – John Kongos

Tokoloshe Man – John Kongos (Did the Happy Mondays have any idea what a Tokoloshe was?)

Tokoloshe Man Plus – John Kongos

Tokoloshe Man Plus – John Kongos

After much success in South Africa with his G-Men, John Kongos decided to move to the UK and try his luck there. He eventually teamed up with Gus Dudgeon, who was busy producing Elton John’s material, and using a few of Elton John’s band members, recorded some tracks, including ‘Tokoloshe Man’.

Despite its subject matter being somewhat obscure for a non-South African audience, the song climbed to number 4 in the British Charts and was to be covered in the 90’s by the Happy Mondays.

The song features thundering tribal African beats and a fuzzy guitar with Kongos’ almost growled vocals. This was a far cry from the sweet vocals South Africans had been used to on his early beat songs such as Johnny and The Mermaid. Strangely, despite the line in the songs, ‘it makes no difference if you’re black or you’re white, Tokoloshe says tonight is the night is the night,’ the song charted in the Springbok Top 20 peaking at number 13. Not a bad achievement for a guy from Brakpan.

Where to find it:

Tokoloshe Man Plus – John Kongos (1988), See For Miles, SEECD221
Lyrics:

Make your bed up high
pray into the sky
close the window close the door
makes no difference if you’re rich or poor.

Get on your knees scream please
that man just love to tease.
Try to run
get a gun
he just laugh it makes it more fun.

Hard like rock ain’t got no soul
he can make the sun feel cold.
Put an eclipse on the moon
make a little cloud forty day monsoon.

Don’t recognize no hawk
don’t recognize no dove
Bad tokoloshe man
he don’t even recognize love

And it makes no difference
if you’re yellow or you’re red
when that bad man say
tonight is the night you are dead.
And it makes no difference
If you’re black or you’re white
Tokoloshe says tonight is the night is the night

Only thing I can say to you is
you gotta be good an’you gotta be true
think about Jesus Christ.
And it makes…

Video:

John Kongos:


Happy Mondays:

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