1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “John Kongos”

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:

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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

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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