1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “Piet Botha”

Trek Oop Jou Gordyne – Bacchus Nel

In Die Arms Van Die Nag - Bacchus Nel

In Die Arms Van Die Nag – Bacchus Nel

Bacchus, a Standerton man, was born Stephen Nel, and was born with the gift of sight. However, when he was just 21 and working as an insurance salesman, his Volkswagen Beetle collided with a truck. The accident would leave Stephen blind. Out of this tragedy grew something quite amazing, an ability to play, sing and compose music.

He was spotted by Piet Botha who helped him record his debut album, ‘In Die Arms Van Die Nag’. The songs are full of images and feelings with generally a sort of sweet and sad feel to them. They have a kind of late Sunday afternoon feel to them where you are relaxed from the weekend but the spectre of Monday’s work is just making its presence felt.

‘Trek Oop Jou Gordyne’ (open your curtains) is, for me, the stand out track on the album. It is one of the more upbeat ones which tells you to ‘trek oop jou gordyne/dat die Here’s lig op jou kan inskyn’ (open your curtains so that God’s light can shine on you’). It is an invitation to look around and count your blessings. The lyrics go on to talk about valuing family and cheekily quotes Johannes Kerkorrel’s ‘Sit Die Af’ but instead of sitting dit af to get away from the apartheid propaganda of the day, Bacchus says ‘sit dit af’ to spend time in the kitchen with the family.

The song bounces along on some neat bongo slapping with Bacchus’ guitar seeming to come in halfway between Duane Eddy and Sipho Gumede, drawing both on western rock and African sounds. And cutting a path through the music is Bacchus’ voice which is both sharp and mellow. So, open your curtains and play Bacchus Nel out loud so that not only you, but the world outside can hear this special talent.

Where to find it:
In Die Arms Van Die Nag – Bacchus Nel (2005)

Video:

Bossies – Wilderbeest

Bushrock 1 - Wildebeest

Bushrock 1 – Wildebeest

For those of you who don’t know, ‘bossies’ is an expression which originated in the army where young South African men had to do compulsory service. It means to lose the plot and go crazy. It would have referred to a state of mind many experienced spending time in the bush (‘bos’ in Afrikaans) where things were a long way removed from one’s usual comfortable white suburban life.

It is therefore no surprise that the song ‘Bossies’ starts off with an army corporal shouting at the manne (men) and the song sings about it being another day in the army with a chanted chorus of ‘ons is almal bossies’ (we are all crazy). It is a fast-paced track that doesn’t sound a million miles from some of the early Dog Detachment songs. One could argue that this was the first Afrikaans punk song as it came out in the early 80’s long before Fokofpolsiekar and the like.

While this is ostensibly just a descriptive song about the state of mind many young men had when doing their army service, there is an undercurrent of venom in the delivery which makes it feel like a protest song and it would have sat well on the End Conscription Campaign’s ‘Forces Favourites’ album. The track motors along in a slightly crazed way, imitating the emotions many would have felt in the army.

Wildebeest featured Jack Hammer’s Piet Botha and Freedom Children’s Colin Pratley along with Boet Farber, Karlien van Niekerk and Dave Tarr. Together the band created a rough and ready masterpiece in the album ‘Bushrock 1 (‘Tribal Fence’ and ‘Russian And Chips’ from the album have already featured on this list). ‘Bossies’ is another great rrack from a great album. Check it out and go crazy to the tune.

Where to find it:
Bushrock 1 – Wildebeest (1981 – reissued in 2010), Fresh Music, freshcd171

Video:

Sien Jou Weer – Piet Botha & Jack Hammer

Piet Botha

Piet Botha

It seems appropriate that a song called ‘Sien Jou Weer’ (‘See You Again’ if you are not au fait with Afrikaans) begins with that sort of country-ish on the road again sound that you get in the movies as the hero/heroine sets off on a trip. You never quite know if you will see them again.

The music here has a rhythm of a train, a smoothness of the countless whiskeys consumed on the way, the desolation of the open road and a voice as gravelly as the tar on which you ride. You can smell the memories and sadness that gather in the slipstream of the departing sound, but the singer has to go. As Piet sings, ‘kyk nou die langpad/roep my al weer/daar is nou genade en liefe/en nog baie meer’ (‘look, the highway/calls me again/there is mercy and love/and so much more). The call of the open road is strong with this one.

This is Piet Botha and Jack Hammer at their smooth best. They can sometimes rock hard, but when they turn their collective hands (and voices) to those blues, they know exactly what to do and in ‘Sien Jou’ Weer’, they created something of beauty. It’s a song that once you’ve listened to it, you have no objections to seeing it again on your playlist.

Where to find it:
n Suitcase Vol Winter – Piet Botha (1997) Wildebeest Records, WILD005

Video:

Live video:

Fort Lauderdale – Jack Hammer

Anthology - Piet Botha & Jack Hammer

Anthology – Piet Botha & Jack Hammer

The subtitle of this Jack Hammer classic is ‘Ballad Of Andre Stander’. For those who may not know it, Andre Stander was a South African policeman who was also one of the countries most notorious bank robbers. He would sometimes go out during his lunch break while working as a policeman, and rob a bank, later returning to the scene as the investigating officer. His life is captured in the 2003 film ‘Stander’.

But what has Fort Lauderdale got to do with all this, you may well ask (unless of course you know the story). Well the law eventually caught up with Stander in South Africa, but he managed to escape to the US. He was eventually found out and ended up being killed by a policeman in Fort Lauderdale.

That is probably why Piet Botha and his Jack Hammerers sing ‘don’t go to Fort Lauderdale’ in this song which tells the story of Stander in 3 minutes and 40 second, while the film takes nearly 2 hours. There is something about Stander, the barefaced cheek of what he did, that seems to appeal in the same way that Bonnie & Clyde and Ma Baker have intrigued people for years. And Jack Hammer tell the tale in their typical raw-edged guitar and growling vocals way. Although it has a similar subject matter, one can’t compare ‘Fort Lauderdale’ to Georgie Fame’s honky tonk ‘The Ballad Of Bonnie & Clyde’ or Boney M’s disco ‘Ma Baker’. This is a completely different genre. I wonder what it would sound like if The Police did it.

Where to find it:
Anthology – Jack Hammer (January 2000), Wildebeest Records, WILD020

Video:

Tribal Fence – Wildebeest

Bushrock 1 - Wildebeest

Bushrock 1 – Wildebeest

Whatever happened to Bushrock 2. Wildebeest migrated into our world in 1981 and made an album called ‘Bushrock 1’ and then the herd scattered before they could do ‘Bushrock 2’. Presumably when they put the ‘1’ behind the name of the album, there were plans for a follow up. However, we have to live with the fact there was only 1 Bushrock by this group of musicians although the alert among you may point to Anton Goosen’s 1996 album which also went under the title ‘Bushrock’ as perhaps a son of Bushrock 1.

Recorded live, the album opens with this cover of the Freedom Children’s classic, ‘Tribal Fence’ and given that former child of Freedom, Colin Pratley was on the drums, it’s not too surprising. However, instead of the growling vocals of Brian Davidson that the Freedom’s version had, we are treated to some swirling Kate Bush-esque vocals from Karlien van Niekerk, giving the previously testosterone fuelled song, a femine touch. But its not a pot-pourri, floral dress feminine touch, this is a haunting, witchy feminine.

And while the ‘Beests keep true to the heavy rock of the original, there is a more contemplative feel to this version. They have not made the sound as dense as what Freedom’s Children made it, which frees the song up a little to make it more accessable to those who were not keen on total onslaught rock. This version is clearly moulded on the original, but with the female vocals and the slightly reduced sound, it makes for an intruiging and highly listenable-to cover which, in case you didn’t know, features Piet Botha on bass.

Where to find it:
Bushrock 1 – Wildebeest (1981 – reissued in 2010), Fresh Music, freshcd171

Video:

Sarajevo – Jack Hammer

Death of A Gypsy - Jack Hammer

Death of A Gypsy – Jack Hammer

The name Sarajevo always conjures up the words war and genocide after the Bosnian war of 1992 to 1996. There were some horrific stories that came out of Bosnia and it’s capital Sarajevo. Jack Hammer, led by Piet Botha, seemed to capture some of that horror and violence in this hard-hitting song from their 1996 album, ‘Death Of A Gypsy’.

From the very first second of the song we are assailed by screaming guitars and pounding drums, which one could easily equate to the pounding of bombs and screams of those on whom the bombs and missiles were falling. But inbetween these barrages of sound, there is an ominous lull where the guitars become the background noise while Piet’s gruff voice half sings, half shouts the lyrics that tell some of the history. The delivery is somewhat akin to a prophet calling judgement upon the people, a voice in the wilderness. The chorus (sung by another member of the band, possibly Stean van der Walt) is the voice of a parent urging the children to ‘Go now go now child/Go with the night and go to the mountain’ to run away from the war.

The memories and news of Sarajevo and the atrocities that happened there were very fresh when Jack Hammer recorded this blistering political song. While this song is particularly about Sarajevo and the Bosnian war, it could easily apply to any situation in the world where such atrocities have happened (and we know that there are many of them). Perhaps what one can take from this, apart from a pounding of your aural senses, is the last line of the second verse, ‘Mother you must take your children/Away from the frontline’.

Where to find it:
Death Of A Gypsy – Jack Hammer (1996), Wildebeest, WILD001

Video:

Toe Vind Ek Jou – Francois van Coke & Karen Zoid

Francois van Coke & Karen Zoid

Francois van Coke & Karen Zoid

This is what it has all been about. Anton Goosen’s ‘Bloemetjie Gedenk Aan Jou’, Bernoldus Niemand, Koos Kombuis, Johannes Kerkorrel and the whole Voelvry movement, the blues guys like Valiant Swart, Piet Botha and Die Blues Broers, Arno Carstens and the Springbok Nude Girls, Afrikaans punk from Fokofpolsiekar. All of these guys were building up to this one perfect Afrikaans song.

‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ is undoubtedly the best Afrikaans song I have heard. It has everything, atmosphere, emotion, a great tune, brilliant vocals and harmonising. It is no wonder that at the time of writing this, the Youtube video had already had over 4.6 million views and spawned numerous cover versions (the Varsity Sing version is one of the better ones). In comparison Bok van Blerk’s ‘De La Rey’ which was also hugely popular and which has been around a lot longer only has 1.6 million views. I had sort of got to thinking that there were no surprises left in the Afrikaans music world but ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ proved me wrong I’m pleased to say.

This song with its almost understated soft drumming highlights the talents of 2 leading lights of South African music. Francois van Coke found his way to this song via the noise of Fokofpolisiekar and the heavy rock of van Coke Kartel while Karen Zoid has been ploughing her own furrow as our foremost ‘rock chick’ for a good while now. And while ‘Toe Vind Ek Jou’ is essentially a ballad, there is a feeling of a tension underlying the vocals and the lyrics hint that this relationship was not always a bed of roses. The first line ‘Ek lê my wapens neer’ (‘I lay down my arms’) introduces the surrender of the couple to their love which has survived a stormy relationship and as they have matured the anger of youth has dwindled and they are left clinging to each other. Possibly the best moment in the song is when Francois and Karen sing the lines ‘Ek het genoeg gegee, Ek het genoeg geskree, Ek het lankal terug geleer’ the second time around when Karen’s higher pitched voice goes head to head with Francois’ gravelly one and the result is something quite beautiful.

There are no pretensions in this song but plenty of control. Zoid and van Coke could have been tempted to make this just another Afrikaans rock song, but somehow they turned it into something special.

I have gone back to wondering if there will now be no further surprises coming from the Afrikaans music scene in South Africa, but I’m a little less certain of myself this time round.

Where to find it:
Francois van Coke – Francis van Coke (2015)

Video:

Varsity sing version:

Reënvoëls – Mel Botes

Oomblik Van Waansin - Mel Botes

Oomblik Van Waansin – Mel Botes

Mel Botes’ first impact on the local music scene was in the early 90s with a rock opera called ‘David’s Confessions’. A good few years later (in 2001 in fact) he released the critically acclaimed ‘Oomblik Van Waansin’ which contained the beautiful ‘Reënvoëls’.

Comparisons to Pink Floyd, Dire Straits and Piet Botha seen in some reviews are rightly justified as there is that Mark Knopfler-y guitar floating around a big and slightly esoteric Floyd sound while Botes gruff delivery of the Afrikaans lyrics are not that far from Botha’s (although I would add that there are shades of Akkedis’ Dennis Brothers in the vocals).

‘Reënvoëls’ (no relation to Tom Waits ‘Rainbirds’ which appeared on his ‘Swordfishtrombones’ album) soars and flies across vast landscapes of sound and I can’t help feeling that, despite the rain that these voëls are meant to herald, this a a dry desert land. Perhaps it is the growl in Botes voice that suggest a dry throat, or desolation sound that the guitars bring to the track.

The song came a little while after the Voëlvry movement, but undoubtly owes something to that movement. Voëlvry set the voëls free to fly and soar and Mel Botes latched onto that freedom perfectly to create this great piece of Afrikaans rock. The song was voted the 40th best of 2001 by The South African Rockdigest.

Where to find it:
Oomblik van Waarsin – Mel Botes, July 2001, Janus, SELBCD 387

Hear here:

Video:

Die Son Kom Weer – Piet Botha

Piet Botha - Live & Rare

Piet Botha – Live & Rare

If you weary and feeling small, don’t worry, be happy because ‘Die Son Kom Weer’. Well that’s according to Piet Botha anyway in a song that was recorded for possible inclusion on ‘Die Hits’ album, but, for reasons known only to the Botha powers that be, was not released then. It has since surfaced on a compilation called ‘The Demos 2001-2002’ which, from what I can tell is only available as a download.

For a song with an upbeat title, it is surprisingly melancholic and downbeat, which makes one investigate it a little deeper. And it’s not really saying that there are better days before us (and a burning bridge over troubled water behind us) where everything will be absolutely lovely, but rather it is just a gentle encouragement to continue battling on as if Piet is gently pushing you forward, through the difficult times.

Although, the song was recorded as a demo and it is a little raw round the edges, it is still a quality recording with Piet’s deep and laid back tones rubbing shoulders with some gentle blues guitar which plays an almost hypnotic riff while a steady rhythm comes from the drums with splashing cymbals that are almost like a steady, soaking rainfall on the song as we await the return of the sun.

Where to find it:
The Demos 2001-2002 (Not an official release, but available on iTunes, Amazon and as an MP3 at: http://www.jackhammer.co.za/mp3.html)

Hear it on Spotify:

 

For Annette – Jack Hammer

Anthology - Jack Hammer

Anthology – Jack Hammer

‘For Annette’ finds Piet Botha and his band in a quieter, more reflective mood. There is a sadness running through the song which seems to be about a woman who has turned to the bottle: “I know the way the she drank her wine/Red yellow all the time just to get away”. It is sung from a stand point of a friend of this ‘Annette’ watching and understanding but not liking. The reasons for the “Too many living sharpened tears” is what “Some call [it] love in a place that died”.

To match the subject of the song, there is that distinctive Jack Hammer rough edged guitar sound and a grungy emotional vocal, but it’s not as in your face as some other material in the band’s portfolio. It’s serious subject and the music matches it.

It’s not all doom and gloom thought, there is the bittersweet line “And I can see you smiling” which suggest that there is some positive left in ‘Annette’s’ life. This is a song to sit in solitude and listen to, while reflecting on life and friendship. It’s a song for watching the sun go down on a particularly emotional day. It has a certain soothing quality to it that won’t wash the blues of the day away, but will slowly dissolve them, leaving you better off for the experience.

Where to find it:
Anthology – Jack Hammer (January 2000), Wildebeest Records, WILD020

Video:

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