1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “miriam makeba”

Ntyilo Ntyilo – Alan Silinga

Essential South African Jazz

According to some sources, Alan Silinga wrote ‘Ntyilo Ntyilo’ but most of the time it is credited to Miriam Makeba. It is probably because Makeba’s version is the one people normally look to when looking up this song. And it is quite possible that Makeba gets a writing credit for the lyrics and it was Silinga that wrote the music. The one source that credits the song to Silinga was the notice of his death on 7 September 2007 published by the Minister of Arts & Culture, Dr Pallo Jordan (https://www.gov.za/p-jordan-african-composer-alan-silingas-death) which notes that Silinga wrote the song for Makeba.

And what a gift he gave us in this hauntingly beautiful melody. It was a bit of a struggle to find a version credited to Silinga as the artist, but the one on ‘Essential South African Jazz – The Jo’burg Sessions’ has him as the artist on that track. And this is a beautiful instrumental version of the song. It is laid back jazz with a peaceful violin (a la Soweto String Quartet) that soothes the soul and eases any aches and pains one may have. There is a kind of sadness to the sound, but it is more a melancholy inducing sadness than a depressive one.

A number of other artists have recorded versions which are worth checking out. There is the famous Maria Makeba version already mentioned, Hugh Masekela did a flute led jazzy version, Johnny Dyani did an acoustic guitar one, Thandiswa Mazwai performs an upbeat take on it and 60’s garage band, The Shangaans, mix the Zulu lyrics with some English ones in a 60’s ballad style. So there are many different ones to chose from and you are almost guaranteed to be moved by whichever one you choose as the power of the music will transport you to a place where you feel safe and warm and wrapped in satin. I kept coming back to the one on the ‘Essential Jazz’ collection. But that’s just me. You may chose a different take on the song as your personal favourite, but its undeniably a moving track.

Where to find it:
Various artists, Essential South African Jazz – The Jo’Burg Session (2008), African Cream, ACM-CD0048

Alan Silinga:

Miriam Makeba:

The Shangaans:

Midnight Ska – Reggie Msomi’s Hollywood Jazz Band

Reggie Msomi

Reggie Msomi

The word jaunty seems to have invented just to describe this song for it is a simple, saxophone-driven jaunty track. It has images of a besuited man strutting down the street, looking fine in his sharp threads, his shoes trying to outshine his smile. There is a  black and white film feel to this scene too as the music has a beat that makes this man walk slightly faster than one would in normal life.

As the man walks along, he sees friends whom he greets by doffing his trilby hat to them before bouncing off on his way. The word ‘midnight’ seems out of place in the title as there is too much sun shining in the song, but the word ‘ska’ fits perfectly with the track as there is an old-school ska mixed with jazz sound as Reggie’s sax squawks delightfully over a simple ska beat.

Reggie would write a good number of tracks for pennywhistle king, Spokes Mashiyane including ‘Phata Phata’ which Spokes recorded with Miriam Makeba. It is worth checking out other songs by Reggie (there are a good number to choose from on Youtube), but I keep coming back to this one. For me it’s the brightest, the bounciest and the one that puts the biggest smile on my face. It might also be because I love old-style ska.

Where to find it:
From Marabi To Disco – Various (1994), Gallo, CDZAC 61


Qongqothwane (The Click Song) – Miriam Makeba

The Click Song – Miriam Makeba

The Click Song – Miriam Makeba

Cher tried to cover this. You know Cher of Sonny & Cher fame. Four Jacks & A Jill also covered it and so did Coleske. Amampondo have bashed it out on the maribas. There are a variety of covers if you ever want to trawl through Youtube, including one by a couple of bratish American girls going under the name The Soap Girl and one by a Glaswegian dude called Tom Urie.

But one always comes back to the most famous version, that by Miriam Makeba. Yes, Makeba took this traditional Xhosa song that is usually sung at weddings and made it her own. She wowed US audiences with her pure singing voice that has a certain innocence to it, but not only could she sing, she could also click. The early recordings of her singing this have a certain raw-ness to it that gives it an authenticity. Although it became a song that is indelibly linked to Makeba, her 2 Hot 100 hits in the US did not include her rendition of The Click Song (her hits were ‘Pata Pata’ which got to number 12 and ‘Malayisha’ which made number 85).

The song sounds pretty cool played on the marimba’s a la Amampondo style, but it lacks the clicks. Cher couldn’t click. Four Jacks & A Jill and Coleske had the advantage over Cher of being South African, and they do a pretty decent job of the song. Even The Soap Girls and Tom Urie don’t do too badly in getting their tongues round the song (although skip past the rather long intro on The Soap Girls version). But none of them click (sorry) with the song in the same way Miraim did. So, all together now, ‘Igqira lendlela ngu qongqothwane…’

Where to find it:
Various – Sound Offerings (From South Africa) (1998), Gallo, CDREDD623


Emabhaceni – Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba

Fans of Miriam Makeba had to wait a long time between her 1979 album, ‘Comme Un Symphonie D’Amour’ and her 1988 offering ‘Sangoma’. However, the opening track to her long awiated offering would have had people agreeing that it was worth the wait as ‘Emabhaceni’ finds Miriam in strong voice and with Brenda Fassie and Hugh Masekela helping out with backing vocals who could complain?

Google translates the song’s title as ‘in the beds’ which doesn’t really make sense to me. However, the translated lyrics that accompany the Youtube video (link below) talk of the rain passing and it becoming a perfect day. It also talks of ‘hidden violets grow splashed with summer spray’ so perhaps the ‘beds’ that Google refs to are flower beds. However, even if you have no idea what Miriam is singing about, the pure joy of listening to the vocal harmonies which are accompanied by some sparse drumming makes the language somewhat beside the point.

Miriam was one of the greats of South African music and despite spending a large part of her life in exile during the apartheid years, she never forgot her roots as this song proved. It is drenched in South African sounds and, given that her comeback album was inspired by touring with Paul Simon who had released ‘Graceland’ a couple of years before, it is not surprising. ‘Emabhaceni’ awakens feelings that were ‘in the beds’ and brings a life assuring feel to the day.

Where to find it:
Miriam Makeba – Mama Afrika 1932 – 2008 (2008), Gallo


I Need Your Love – Letta Mbulu

I Need Your Love - Letta Mbulu

I Need Your Love – Letta Mbulu

Letta Mbulu rose to fame as part of  the cast of the musical ‘King Kong’ which toured the world. When she left South Africa in 1965 to go into exile in the US, she teamed up with others from that musical, Hugh Masakela, Miriam Makeba and Jonas Gwanga. She also met Caiphus Semenya whom she married.

Two of these contacts were involved in ‘I Need Your Love’. Semenya co-wrote it with someone called Drake (first name not known and almost certainly not the rapper who goes by that name) and Masakela directed (according to the label of the old 45 – perhaps that was the term for produced back then) along with Stewart Levine. The song showcases the wonderful voice Letta possessed. It is a sort of Diana Ross meets Margaret Singana in Dionne Warwick’s undertstated lounge. The music is somewhat akin to the “gospel” music of the 70’s that pop groups seemed to do and there is an added warmth from some brass (presumable Masakela). It’s a good sing-along song with a rousing chorus.

Despite being in exile, Letta managed to chart on the Springbok Top 20, something that not many black South African artists managed. ‘I Need Your Love’ entered the charts on 24 November 1972, spent 17 weeks on them and peaked at 3. Quite a remarkable feat for someone whom the local government would not have been on the best terms with. And what’s more, she charted again the following year with ‘I’ll Never be The Same Again’.

Where to find it:
Singles bins, or if you can find it her vinyl album entitled ‘Letta’


Mama Tembu’s Wedding – Ipi ‘N Tombia

Mama Tembu’s Wedding – Ipi ‘N Tombia

The Warrior - Ipi N' Tombia

The Warrior – Ipi N’ Tombia

Back in the early 1970’s Bertha Egnos and her daughter Gail Lakier wrote a musical called ‘The Warrior’ which drew heavily on the joyous township music of the time. Margaret Singana took on the lead female vocals and the production garnered worldwide acclaim. When the music was committed to vinyl, Billy Forrest and Lofty Shulz did the production.

Ipi ‘N Tombia translates as ‘where are the girls’. The answer is that they are centre stage as Margaret Singana belts out the joyous wedding celebration song ‘Mama Tembu’s Wedding’. Miriam Makeba had popularised the Xhosa click in her song ‘Qongqothwane (aka The Click Song), and Ipi ‘N Tombia took it a step further by making the clicks part of the rhythm section of the song.

The song peaked at number 6 on the Springbok Top 20 early in 1975 and spent a total of 17 weeks on the chart and is still popular today, being used in school plays well into the 2000’s. And the kids seem to love dancing to it as much these days as we did back in the 70’s.

Where to find it:
The Warrior – Ipi ‘N Tombia, Gallo, (2001), CDRED 676
Lady Africa – Margaret Singana, Gallo (1996), CDRED603


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