1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Anthem (aka ‘Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika’) – Lungiswa

Lungiswa – Lungiswa

Lungiswa – Lungiswa

Most South Africans know the history of ‘Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika’. It was a prayer in the form of a hymn, composed by Enoch Sontonga and was asking God to bless Africa. During the height of the Apartheid years the song was used by the ANC and those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle as an anthem. It has been adopted by Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe as their national anthems and when apartheid fell, it was incorporated into the national anthem of the new South Africa.

Lungiswa is Lungiswa Plaatjies and is the niece of Dizu Plaatjies, a member of the percussion band Amampondo. As a youngster Lungiswa would be the vocalist for Amampondo. In 2000 she released her debut solo album simply entitled ‘Lungiswa’. The album opens with a beautiful rendition of Nksoi. The song draws strength from 3 areas. Firstly the simplicity of the instrumentation which is mostly percussive and harks back to Lungiswa’s musical roots with Amampondo. Secondly, she drafts in a rich bass male choir which vibrates throughout the song.

But the main beauty of this track comes from her pure and somewhat soulful voice. Lungiswa sings this slow and relaxed version of the hymn with great feeling and her voice is only just a notch louder than the bass singers and both are muted against the percussion. This makes for a reverential song that has a feeling of giving thanks and praise alongside the request for blessing of the lyrics.

There are many versions of ‘Nkosi Sikilele’ out there but this one and the magnificently powerful version from the film ‘Cry Freedom’ (entitled ‘The Funeral’ in the soundtrack and attributed to Thuli Dumakude) are the two I keep coming back to. The latter is for days when you want to experience the power of the song while Lungiswa’s version is for when you want to bathe in the beauty of it.

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

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Inner City Blues – Lungiswa

Lungiswa

Lungiswa

‘Inner City Blues’ is the closing track on Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece ‘What’s Goin’ On’. It’s a satin smooth song that has a street walking beat over which Gaye’s silky smooth vocals glide giving the impression of something chic and wealthy. But the lyrics tell a different story. There is a dirty underbelly to the song that tells you ‘Crime is increasing/Trigger happy policing’. Well, what do you expect from a song called ‘Inner City Blues’? A cover of a Rodriguez song? (No, Rodriguez recorded his in 1969, Gaye’s song was released in 1971).

Roll on 29 years and we meet a young lady who was not even born when Gaye was singing about the struggles in the American ghettos. Lungiswa Plaatjies (born in 1973) was the lead female vocalist for Amampondo for a while before making her eponymous solo album. On the album she put down two versions of Marvin’s ‘Inner City Blues’, one with the original English lyrics and one with a Xhosa lyric.

Lungiswa kept to the original version’s silky smooth instrumentation, not deviating too much from the sound but did made it slightly jazzier and little more funky than Gaye’s soulful version, but still retained that soul feel. So why bother listening to this version when you have one by the great Marvin Gaye? Well a few seconds into the vocal you’ll know why. Lungiswa is blessed with a beautiful voice. It sounds girlie and somehow mature at the same time and, dare I say it, seems to make the song more poingnant than Gaye did as it is almost as if the lyrics are coming from a child. It hits one harder when a young person recognises and articulates the horrors of the world around them and with her sweet innocent voice, Lungiswa drives the point home in a way that Marvin Gaye never could. And that’s saying something given that Gaye’s version had a huge impact in its own right.

Where to find it:
Lungiswa – Lungiswa (2000), Melt 2000, BWSA106

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