1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “Mango Groove”

Ace Blues – Spokes Mashiyane

Ace Blues – Spokes Mashiyane

Ace Blues – Spokes Mashiyane

Born Johannes Mashiyane in Mamelodi, Spokes became a name synonymous with the pennywhistle kwela sound that emanated from the townships of South Africa in the 50s, 60s and even into the 70s. His life had simple beginnings, but he went on to be a special star in our culture and he did so by taking the simple pennywhistle and doing something special with it.

‘Ace Blues’ is just one example that showcases his prowess with the tool of his trade. A bouncing somewhat tinny guitar underpins the weaving magic of the pennywhistle with its bright and breezy sound. It takes one on a journey, skipping through the rural beauty of the land. And perhaps this was what gave the music its appeal as it took people out of the daily hardships of township lives and, just for a few brief moments, let them run free.

When it came to the pennywhistle, Mr Mashiyane was the ‘spokes’person (sorry) for the instrument and he let the instrument do the talking. It is small wonder the Mango Groove, years after Spokes’ death in 1972 included the song ‘Special Star’, a dedication to Spokes, on their debut album. Spokes and his pennywhistle is an integral part of South African music history and it there was a South African Hall of Fame, he would undoubtedly have been inducted into it.

Where to find it:
King Kwela – Spokes Mashiyane (1991), Gallo records, CDZAC50

Video:

Move Up – Mango Groove

Move Up - Mango Groove

Move Up – Mango Groove

Way back in 1987 a group called Mango Groove decided to move up the Radio 5 and Capital 604 charts. They peaked at 6 on the former and topped the latter with a catchy tune called, erm, ‘Move Up’.  Not quite as fast paced as some of their other tracks but no less danceable to. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that you could sway rhythmically to the tune on the dance floor than actually show off your more frenetic moves as the song has a gentle lilt to it which takes pleasant to new heights.

And for those of you who have spent time studying the dance moves in the TV and film productions of Jane Austin novels, there is a neat little string quartet interlude to bow and curtsy to your partner to. But on the whole it’s a lekker piece of finger-clicking, foot tapping, laid-back, groovy music. Muted brass gives a warm bed for Claire Johnson to roll her vocals around on and a pennywhistle reminds us where the band is from. There is, also a slightly calypso sound to the song (a little like some of the Goombay Dance Band stuff, but less cheesy).

The video for the song firstly placed the band in a trendy bar with classily dressed Claire Johnson drinking cocktails, then moves on to Zoo Lake in Johanesburg where they go out on a rowing boat, dressed to the nines. Personally, I would have stuck Claire in a grass skirt and had her doing a hula dance under the palm trees on a beach down the South Coast of Natal as the song seems to fit that image. But then that may have been too raunchy for us way back in the 80’s.

Where to find it:
Mango Groove – The Essential Mango Groove (2008), Gallo, CDREDD 694 (AN)

Video:

Is It Any Wonder – Claire Johnston

 Is It Any Wonder – Claire Johnston

Fearless - Claire Johnson

Fearless – Claire Johnson


What do you do if you have built up a reputation as the lead singer of one of the most successful bands in the country that gained popularity playing afropop music and you want to do something a little different? Well firstly, to get away from the afropop sound, you need to get away from Africa and this is what the lead singer of Mango Groove, Claire Johnston, did to produce a solo album called ‘Fearless’. She relocated to London, roped in Vic Coppersmith-Heaven (who had worked with The Jam, Cat Stevens and Joe Cocker to name a few) to produce and got some of Peter Gabriel’s musicians to play on the record.

Is it any wonder then that ‘Is It Any Wonder’ is quite a step away from the African sounds of Mango Groove? Hardcore Groovies would probably have baulked at the seriousness of the song compared to the carefree pop she made with Mango Groove. It has a hard edge, a little akin to the sounds that Peter Gabriel makes. But vocally, Johnston is in good voice, at times sounding like another South African great – Lesley Rae Dowling.

There is a darker brooding feel to ‘Is It Any Wonder’ which highlights the versatility of Johnston. The lush production helps make this a strong song that would have won her new fans while perhaps losing her a few old ones.

Where to find it
Fearless – Claire Johnston, Sting Music (2001),  STIFCD021
SA Top 40 Hits of All Time Volume 6 – Various Artists (2001), Sting Music, STIDFCD037

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