1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “Johnny Clegg”

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

Video:

The Crossing – Johnny Clegg

The Crossing – Johnny Clegg

The Crossing – Johnny Clegg

Written for Dudu Ndlovu, one of Clegg’s dancers who was killed during the violence of the early 90’s, ‘The Crossing’ is a moving song and one of the standout tracks on ‘Heat, Dust & Dreams’ his album from 1993. On the face of it the song could be about crossing over from the land of the living to be with the ancestors, but, given the time this song was released, it was also a metaphor for the crossing the country was making from apartheid to democracy.

This is argueably one of Clegg’s most polished songs and possibly one of his best vocal tracks. That’s not to diss the rough folkiness of his other stuff, that’s what gave it it’s charm. But the sombre subject of this song demanded this be a polished affair. The more subdued verses talk of loss and violence but they are offset with the rousing chorus of ‘O Siyeza, o siyeza, sizofika webaba noma’ (We are coming, we are coming, we will arrive soon). The heartfelt delivery is the kind of stuff that can bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye.

Roll on 15 years after Johnny recorded the song and in 2018, about a year before his death, a group of leading South African musicians recorded a moving version of the song in honour of Johnny. This conglomeration included among others Johnny’s son Jesse, Karen Zoid, Vusi Mahlasela, David Kramer, Kahn Morbee from the Parlotones, Patricia Lewis, Zolani Mahola from Freshlyground, Arno Carstens and a special guest appearance of Peter Gabriel. It is not only the power of the song that reflects Clegg’s genius, but the mix of people from all colours of the South African rainbow working together that makes this a fitting tribute to him. It honours his music and his values.

But perhaps it is the line ‘Oh, it’s funny how those once so close and now gone can still so affect our lives’ that really gets one when listening to this. Johnny has now made his crossing, but his music and legacy lives on in his music. We will be listening to ‘Scatterlings’, ‘Impi’, ‘Asimbonanga’ and many others for a long time to come. I think that ‘The Crossing’ will also be one that people turn to when remembering Johnny and as one comment on the page for the Friends of Johnny Clegg version says ‘If you watched this and didn’t get tearful are you even South African?’

Where to find it:
Heat, Dust & Dreams – Johnny Clegg (1993), EMI,  CDEMCJ(WF)5499

Video:
Johnny Clegg:

Friends of Johnny Clegg version:

African Trilogy – Samson

African Trilogy – Samson

African Trilogy – Samson

Cedric Samson (no relation) was a stalwart of the 80’s music scene in South Africa and even spent some time presenting the TV show ‘Pop Shop’ (which was the closest thing we had to a few minutes of MTV a week back then). He was a member of an early incarnation of Rabbitt and also featured in Morocko who brought us the awesome ‘Bow-Tie Boogaloo’.

However, one of his lesser known bands was one simply called Samson which produced, as far as I can tell, one solitary album called ‘African Trilogy And Other Curios’. The ‘African Trilogy’ in the title refers to an eight and a half minute epic track made up of ‘Sun Dance’, ‘Rain Dance’ and ‘Fire Dance’. Samson joined forces with Neville Paulson and a pre-Via Arika Renee Veldsman for the vocal force on the album and the track was written by Rodney Canes and Hilton Rosenthal. Rosenthal rose to fame producing most of Johnny Clegg’s work and this shows through in the African feel to the track. However, it’s not in the same vein as Juluka, but rather more akin to Hawk’s ‘African Day’ stuff. It is like an 80’s version of Hawk. It has the stomping African drums rhythms, but this is merged with a more synth sound.

This epic track could get one out there and dancing and singing along to it. It has a catchy tune and rhythm, and given the components of the song, you can dance to it in any weather – sun, rain or fire. If you enjoy the syncopated sound of Africa, then you would want to search out this not very well know track.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: African Trilogy And Other Curios – Samson (1980), WEA, WBC 9005

Woza Friday – Juluka

Woza Friday - Jonathan & Sipho

Woza Friday – Jonathan & Sipho

Way back in the day, before Juluka was invented, a guy called Jonathan and another called Sipho recorded a song called ‘Woza Friday’. Later on, when Juluka came into being, the band recorded a cover of that early Jonathan and Sipho track. Of course, you will all be telling me that Jonathan and Sipho were Juluka, so what the hang am I on about. Well, yes, the Jonathan and Sipho in question were Jonathan Clegg (Johnny to his fans) and Sipho Mchunu who were the mainstay of Juluka. However, in 1977, before they became famous, they released a single called ‘Woza Friday’ under the name Jonathan and Sipho. It was only the following year that they released the seminal album ‘Universal Men’ under the name Juluka and it took 5 years before ‘Woza Friday’ had an outing under the Juluka brand name when it appeared on their ‘Ubuhle Bemvelo’ album.
That early 1977 recording of the song was a beautiful rough diamond. It has that sort of urgency and racing quality of township jive with a natural rhythm allowing one to visualise Johnny doing that dance where he skitters to one side then the other. It also features a more prominent vocal from Sipho and was a joyful introduction (which most of us never heard) to what would become one of the most important bands the country has ever seen. The later version has 5 years of experience to draw on and is a more polished one, showing off Johnny’s western rock sensibilities.
However, both versions are life affirming affairs and how can they not be when they sing ‘Woza, Woza Friday, my darling’ (‘Come, come Friday, my darling’). The lyrics tell of the hardships of work, the yoke of poor wages, but the joy that arrives with Friday and the weekend. It’s time to party and enjoy life, freed from the shackles of work. How can a song about this subject not brighten anyone’s day?
The Easybeats sang about ‘Friday On My Mind’ (a cover by the band Chilly made the Springbok charts), the Cure said ‘Friday I’m In Love’, the Specials had a song called ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ and in 2011 Rebecca Black became a Youtube sensation with her song ‘Friday’. All of these look at the one workday a week when life doesn’t seem so bad.

Jonathan and Sipho tapped into that great ‘Friday Feeling’ and put it to music in a way that has you jiving round the office, or shop floor, or down in the mine or wherever it is that one may work. We all love Fridays, in fact we sometimes give thanks to God for the day like it is some sort of divine gift. A listen to ‘Woza Friday’ (either the 1977 or 1982 version) does feel like you are listening to something God given. Thank God for Fridays, without it we would never had had this song.

Where to find it:
Anthology – Johnny Clegg (1999), Rhythm Safari, VE150683

Video:

Africa – Juluka

Juluka

Juluka

Way back in the 80’s when Juluka were recording their early stuff, the internet had not yet spread to the common man, so recording a song called ‘Africa’ and then one called ‘Scatterlings Of Africa’ did not take into account the trouble one would end up having when Googling ‘Africa Juluka’ and then having to go through all the results for ‘Scatterlings Of Africa’ before finding a link to the one you are actually looking for (Oh and Johnny Clegg also went on to record ‘Africa (What Made You So Strong)’ with Savuka). But we can’t really blame Johnny and Sipho for that, now can we. Apart from the fact that not many could have foreseen the growth of the internet and search engines, Juluka would not have been the Juluka we came to love and know had they not sang about Africa.

The song simply entitled ‘Africa’ appeared on Juluka’s debut album ‘Universal Men’ in 1979, an album that was groundbreaking and probably could lay claim to being the springboard from which bands like éVoid, Hotline and Via Afrika took off from. Like many of the early Juluka songs, ‘Africa’, is a simple song which has Robbie Jansen’s flute fluttering gently around Johnny’s singing and Sipho’s guitar culminating in the catchy chorus of ‘Afrika kukhala abangcwele’ which Google translate tells me means ‘Africa Cries For Saints’.

‘Universal Men’ introduced us to a band and a talent in Johnny Clegg that would go on to become one of the biggest and most respected acts in the land. Their rootsy take on local sounds mixed with Western ones showed us what could happen if black and white worked together. ‘Africa’ is just one of many Juluka tracks that you should hear before you go deaf. It’s gentle, its powerful, its catchy, you can dance to it and it relates to the greatest continent on the planet. Sorry if you think otherwise, but you probably haven’t visited Africa (the continent or the song) if you disagree.

Where to find it:
The Best Of Juluka / Savuka Featuring Johnny Clegg – Juluka/Johnny Clegg & Savuka (1999), Primedia Record Company, CDVM(WL)22

Video:

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:

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 hear 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 604’s 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:

 

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