1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “Peter Gabriel”

The Funeral – Thuli Dumakude

The Funeral - Thuli Dumakude width=

The Funeral – Thuli Dumakude

Thuli Dumakude was born in Lamontville near Durban. In the early eighties she rose to fame playing Poppie in the stage production ‘Poppie Nongena’. The stage play toured the world and in 1984 she won the Laurence Olivier Award for ‘Actress of the Year in A New Play’. Apart from her acting career, she also was a recording artist and songwriter. One of her writing credits is found on the soundtrack to the film ‘Cry Freedom’, a film about Steve Biko and Donald Woods which starred Denzel Washington and Kevin Klein as the 2 main characters. It is from this soundtrack that ‘The Funeral’ comes.

However, despite having the title ‘The Funeral’, the ‘original’ part of the track lasts just 1 minute and features Thuli singing a plaintive ‘funeral’ song which is unaccompanied by instruments, but during which she is joined by a choir. The sound echoes like a cry across the beautiful hills of Kwa-Zulu Natal, heralding the loss of a significant person in the community. This rattles the heartstrings as the emotion in the singing expresses the pain of the people.

But after this short introduction, the song suddenly launches into the most rousing version of ‘Nkosi Sik’ilele’ iAfrica’. Starting with an unaccompanied choir of beautiful women voices and that lovely bass singing that white people just can’t do. After the first verse of just the choir singing, the hairs on your arms are already at attention and the goosebumps are preparing to launch. The second verse finds the choir joined by a full orchestra and the power of this just blows one away. And the song doesn’t stop growing as layer upon layer of orchestration is added to the voices which grown to a crashing crescendo which transport one to a higher plain. There is an absolute triumph in the rendition of ‘Nkosi’ which is completely at odds with the earlier ‘Funeral’ part of the song and one can only think of the line in Peter Gabriel’s song ‘Biko’ – ‘You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire’. The first part of the song laments the candle having been blown out, but the second part rages like a fire.

This arrangement of ‘Nkosi’, to me, is the most rousing I have ever heard and I would say that it could be regarded as the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ of Africa. One cannot fail to be moved by this.

Where to find it:
Vinyl: Cry Freedom – Soundtrack (1987), MCA Records, LMCA6224

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:

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

Video:

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