1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “Johnny Clegg”

Kilimanjaro – Juluka

The International Tracks - Juluka

The International Tracks – Juluka

Whenever you talk to someone who has climbed or attemted to climb the highest mountain in Africa, all you hear is how terrible they felt due to the altitude sickness. And then, when you point this out to them, they go on to talk about a sense of achievement etc etc. Having spent a lot of time on the lower slopes of Kimlmanjaro, but never having climbed the mountain, I think I will avoid altitude sickness and a sense of achievement by doing 2 things. Firstly I will enjoy looking at this magnificent land form whenever she shows herself (she can be quite shy, hiding under clouds a lot) and secondly I will listen to Juluka’s song ‘Kilimanjaro’. Of course, some will say, that this is not as good as actually climbing the mountain, but hey, I’m a lazy git and besides which, the Juluka song is so cheereful and bouncy that frankly, I don’t give a damn.

The song comes from one of the final Juluka albums of Johnny Clegg & Sipho Mchunu’s first collaboration and it was entitled ‘The International Tracks’ which was a collection of singles that had been released internationally, but not in South Africa. Perhaps the line in ‘Kilimanjaro’ that went ‘what a strange strange freedom/only free to choose my chains’ had something to do with the lack of an initial release in South Africa.

The song also showed a leaning towards more of a ‘western’ sound and a keyboard (a popular instrument in the 80s) features quite prominently with a sound somewhat more akin to that being heard in the new romantic moment in the UK than in the townships in SA, but having said that, the song still has much of the South African sound that had endeared Juluka to us. There is a jangling township guitar, a penny whistle and a few ‘um-um-oh-um’s that remind us where the song comes from, even if the subject of the title is from somewhere a bit further north.

So sit back, relax, you don’t have to get hiking boots, big jackets and back packs to climb this ‘Kilimanjaro’. And like the majestic mountain in Tanzania, Juluka’s song will take you to new heights.

Where to find it:
The International Tracks – Juluka (1990), MINC, CDM 4064772

Video:

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Who’s That Girl – Danny K

J23 - Danny K

J23 – Danny K

There was an entertainer way back in the 40’s and 50’s called Danny Kaye (some of the older readers of this blog may remember him. He played the original Walter Mitty which was recently remade with Ben Stiller in the title role). Well, other than sharing a phonetic name with Daniel Koppel (aka Danny K), and the fact that they were entertainers, there is little else to compare the two.

One thing that Kaye could not do that K was able to, was to call on Johnny Clegg to feature on a hit of his, and this is what K did with ‘Who’s That Girl’. The song has a bit of a feel of one of those collaborations between one of those fresh faced youngsters with whiny voices (like Justin Bieber) and a rapper (like Will.I.Am), but more from the point of view of a style-clash coming up with a catchy pop song. Danny K’s vocals are made for silky R&B singing while Johnny Clegg is, well Johnny Clegg. On ‘Who’s That Girl’ these diverse talents actually work together with the song swinging between sounding like a Savuka song and something by Usher.

This is an usual coupling and one that produced a classic R&B track that one would have to search long and hard to find something similar to it. It is something uniquely South Africa, yet sounds like an international hit.

Where to find it:
J23, (2003), RPM Dance, CDRPM 1821
Great South African Performers (2011), Gallo, CDPS 029

Video:

Fever – Juluka

Fever - Juluka

Fever – Juluka

Could one ever get sick of listening to Juluka? Well the answer to that is probably ‘no’, but you could well get a bit of a fever, especially listening to this little gem from their ‘The International Tracks’ album. The song finds Johnny Clegg ‘walking through the night street’ and if you have ever walked down a night street in Africa you may well understand what he in on about when after singing about ‘walking through the night street’ the chant goes up ‘Fever! Fever!’ There is something feverish about the scene. The air is warm and, depending on exactly where you are, there could be mosquitoes buzzing about with their malarial threat, and, most importantly there is a sense of life happening, the streets are alive and active.

This is Juluka at their best as they mash together the beats and exotic sounds of Africa with western synths and dance sounds. The result is a thumping great song that has you wondering around Clegg’s ‘night street’ having the time of your life and feeling somewhat intoxicated with it all. And as you wonder along, you spot a previous England Cricket captain and Clegg sings out ‘Ian Botham-ham-ham’ (okay it’s actually yum-bo-hum or something like that). Still, it would make for a good evening out, feverishly drinking in the sighs and sounds of a vibrant African night street and spotting a celeb!

Where to find it:
The International Tracks – Juluka (1984), MINC, CDM 4064772

Video:

Asimbonanga – Johnny Clegg

Asimbonanga - Johnny Clegg

Asimbonanga – Johnny Clegg

The phrase ‘stirring anthem’ is sometimes used by music critcs to describe songs that reach into our minds and finds exactly the right buttons to press to envoke a emotion so strong it sends shivers down our spines, tears down our cheeks or what ever physical reaction you experience when you are completely moved by a song. And ‘Asimbonanga’ is one of those great stirring anthems. Even the rather tame version that Joan Baez recorded (tame in comparison to Clegg’s that is) still does something to one.

‘Asimbonanga’, the plaintive cry that kicks off the song, means ‘we have not seen him’ and the song then goes on to name who we have not seen – Mandela. Back in 1987 when the song appeared on the international version of ‘Third World Child’ (we locals had a different track listing), sightings of Mandela were limited pretty much to those on Robben Island. The strange thing about this song is that if you take out the Ladysmith Black Mambazo-esque harmonies, this does not show too much of an African influence. It is practically pure western rock and yet you know it was made in Africa just from its feel.

However, if you are still not convinced by Johnny Clegg’s version, listen to the Soweto Gospel Choir’s version they recorded as a flashbmob at Woolworths 2 days after Mandela died (see Youtube link below), and feel the power of this masterpiece. It worked as a protest song back in 1987 and it worked just as well (if not better) as a suitable farewell to a man whose life was a stirring anthem.

Where to find it:
The Very Best Of Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Johnny Clegg & Savuka (2002), EMI, I-8575762
The Great South African Trip – Various Artists (2007), African Cream

Videos:

Johnny Clegg:

Soweto Gospel Choir flash mob:

Joan Baez version:

December African Rain – Juluka

December African Rain - Juluka

December African Rain – Juluka

One of the set works I had in English at school (a long time ago) was a book called ‘I Heard The Owl Call My Name’. So when Johnny Clegg and Sihpo Mchunu came along singing about December African Rain and ‘I heard the owls calling my name’, I had some idea of what the song was about. The book was set in British Columbia where the native Kwakwaka’wakw people believed that if you heard the owl call your name then death was imminent.

But Juluka were not about to die. This was 1983 and they still had a few more years in them yet. However, the song is about a person facing their demise, but it is not a morbid farewell he is saying to the world. He is accepting of his fate as a natural progression. Yes, there are some regrets – “where did the time go?” and taking leave is not easy – “It’s so hard to say goodbye to eyes as old as yours my friend”, but we are told to “wipe away those tears and remember the good times”. This is a much more upbeat song for a funeral than the dirges we usually have. It celebrates life rather than mourning the loss of it.

‘December African Rain’ was one of those rare things, a Juluka chart hit. It got to number 7 on Capital Radio 604’ chart and 15 on Radio 702. In amongst all the imagery and ‘Yum-um-um-um-bo’s’ there is one line that stands out for it pure beauty and imagery and that is, ‘The firelight has danced its last across your face my friend’. That may well have been the case for the friend, but for the song, I am sure it will be a long time before it dances it’s last across your sound system.

Where to find it:
Original vinyl: Work For All – Juluka (1983), Minc, MINC(L)1070 (also available to download from iTunes)

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

Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World – Johnny Clegg & Savuka

Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World – Johnny Clegg & Savuka (Song Son Blue (skies))

Cruel Crazy Beautiful World - Savuka (1989)

Cruel Crazy Beautiful World - Savuka (1989)

When Steve Irwin dangled his young child in front of a crocodile there was a huge outcry. When Johnny Clegg sang to his son Jesse that he has to ‘wash with the crocodiles in the river’ no one seemed to care. Well, they did care about the songs, but no one took the lyrics literally.

Despite the lack of protest, this song to his son made a few international charts, peaking at number 86 in the UK, number 25 in Sweden and number 5 in Switzerland. It also helped to propel the album of which it was the title track to number 123 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart in the US.

The song is pumped full of feel good vibes which reflects the message that despite the cruelty and craziness of the world we live in, there is still beauty. Maybe Johnny was overdosing on the joy of fatherhood when he wrote this, but his joy is infectious.

Where to find it:

Cruel Crazy Beautiful World – Savuka (1989), EMI, CDP 7934462

Lyrics:

You have to wash with the crocodile in the river
You have to swim with the sharks in the sea
You have to live with the crooked politician
Trust those things that you can never see
Ayeye ayeye jesse mfana (jesse boy) ayeye ayeye

Chorus:
It’s a cruel crazy beautiful world
Every time you wake up I hope it’s under a blue sky
It’s a cruel crazy beautiful world
One day when you wake up I will have to say goodbye
Goodbye — it’s your world so live in it!

Beyond the door, strange cruel beautiful years lie waiting for you
It kills me to know you won’t escape loneliness,
Maybe you lose hope too

Ayeye ayeye jesse mfana ayeye ayeye

Chorus

When I feel your small body close to mine
I feel weak and strong at the same time
So few years to give you wings to fly
Show you the stars to guide your ship by

Chorus

It’s your world so live in it

Video:

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