1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Candlelight – Richard Jon Smith

Candlelight – Richard Jon Smith

Candlelight – Richard Jon Smith

When one sees the title ‘Candlelight’ one would expect a mellow schmoozy song about romantic scenes taking place in the soft light a candle creates, perhaps an intimate dinner or a relaxing bath. Well Richard Jon Smith seemed to have other ideas when he recorded this song which appears to have originally been the b-side of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, a single by a band called Fingernail.

Not too dissimilar to the original, Richard Jon Smith’s version immediately dispels any romantic images associated with candlelight and kicks off with a glam rock stomping beat and a joyful guitar. It’s not too long before Smith bursts into the song, taking over from the guitar with a howling cry of ‘Candlelight/shines so bright/every one is happy because you’re by my side’. And this growly vocal continues throughout the song as it wends its merry way along with platform boots abounding while shades of Slade and glimmers of Glitter flicker around this Clive Calder produced track.

The South African public took to this bright candlelight giving Smith his first of 9 Springbok chart hits. It spent 9 weeks on the chart in 1973 and peaked at 11, a deserved success as it was a polished 70’s rock hit which brought one of the most successful local artists of the 70’s to the fore. ‘Candlelight’ is a track to have ready to play next time there is loadshedding, it may help brighten your life. Alternatively you could put on the Springbok Nude Girls’ ‘Dimmer’ if you’re a glass half empty kind of person.

Where to find it:
Yesterday’s Best Vol 1, 1995, Teal, MORCD502

Video:

Mbube – Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds

Mbube - Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds

Mbube – Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds

‘Yo-la-la-li-li’ So begins one of the most intriguing stories about a song in history. Working as a record packer for Gallo records, Solomon Linda and his Evening Bird’s were discovered and sent in to the studio in 1939. Back then Ladysmith Black Mambazo were a long way off being invented so Linda improvised the song ‘Mbube’ in the studio using mostly the rich voices of the group and produced a song about a lion (“mbube”) which single handedly invented the mbube style of isicathamiya singing that the aforementioned Ladysmith Black Mambazo have made so popular globally in more recent times.

‘Mbube’, which had sold over 100,000 copies in South Africa by 1949, was picked up by an American musicologist, Alan Lomax, who played it to folk singer Pete Seeger who recorded it as ‘Wimoweh’ a mishearing of ‘uyembube’. The Weavers picked up on this and had some success with it. Then The Tokens added some slumbering Panthera Leos (to give them their scientific name) and hit the top of the US charts with it. There have subsequently been many covers of the song, included the UK number 1 by Tight Fit in 1982 which featured our very own Richard Jon Smith on backing vocals. It was included in the soundtrack to the successful Disney film (and subsequent stage musical) ‘The Lion King’ and was subject to a lawsuit where Linda’s descendents were eventually granted a settlement for royalties due.

All this tends to distract from listening to the original song and it is sometimes good to go back to the roots of the track, ignore the westerner’s idea of what an African track should sound like and indulge in the pure beauty of the real African voices that sparked off this phenomenon. There are harmonies in there and a simple joy at doing what you love best in the voices that few modern songs (or versions of ‘Mbube’) could ever hope to achieve.

Where to find it:
The Story Of Solomon Linda – Various Artists, Gallo Records (2001), CDGSP9
From Marabi To Disco – Various Artists, Gallo Records (1994), CDZAC61

Video:

Michael Row The Boat Ashore – Richard Jon Smith

Michael Row The Boat Ashore – Richard Jon Smith

Richard Jon Smith

Richard Jon Smith

The folk movement of the early sixties took this old spiritual to its heart and acts like Peter, Paul & Mary and Pete Seeger recorded versions of it. However, it was The Highwaymen that took it to the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Unlike The Highwaymen of the 60’s, Richard Jon Smith gave the song a disco twist and took it to the top of the South African charts in 1979.

Smith, who went on to have some minor success in the UK (his greatest achievement was his backing vocals on Tight Fit’s UK Chart topping single ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’), was born in Cape Town in 1950 and was discovered by Clive Calder (who went on to form the internationally successful record Jive label). His dynamic performances earned him the nickname Mr Knockout.

Starting off with a loud cry of ‘Hallelujah!’ and a chorus responding with a repeated ‘Hallelujah!’ Smith’s version soon has you tapping your toes along with the Boney M-esque beats. In fact later in the song there are some backing vocals that must have been influenced by Bobby Farrell (the guy in Boney M) which adds to this feel to the song. This interesting interpretation of the old classic is a good example of how South Africa embraced the disco craze of the late 70’s.

Where to find it:
Yesterday’s Best Vol 2, 1995, Teal, MORCD536

Video:

Info and lyrics at Wikipedia

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