1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “Sipho Mchunu”

Kilimanjaro – Juluka

The International Tracks - Juluka

The International Tracks – Juluka

Whenever you talk to someone who has climbed or attemted to climb the highest mountain in Africa, all you hear is how terrible they felt due to the altitude sickness. And then, when you point this out to them, they go on to talk about a sense of achievement etc etc. Having spent a lot of time on the lower slopes of Kimlmanjaro, but never having climbed the mountain, I think I will avoid altitude sickness and a sense of achievement by doing 2 things. Firstly I will enjoy looking at this magnificent land form whenever she shows herself (she can be quite shy, hiding under clouds a lot) and secondly I will listen to Juluka’s song ‘Kilimanjaro’. Of course, some will say, that this is not as good as actually climbing the mountain, but hey, I’m a lazy git and besides which, the Juluka song is so cheereful and bouncy that frankly, I don’t give a damn.

The song comes from one of the final Juluka albums of Johnny Clegg & Sipho Mchunu’s first collaboration and it was entitled ‘The International Tracks’ which was a collection of singles that had been released internationally, but not in South Africa. Perhaps the line in ‘Kilimanjaro’ that went ‘what a strange strange freedom/only free to choose my chains’ had something to do with the lack of an initial release in South Africa.

The song also showed a leaning towards more of a ‘western’ sound and a keyboard (a popular instrument in the 80s) features quite prominently with a sound somewhat more akin to that being heard in the new romantic moment in the UK than in the townships in SA, but having said that, the song still has much of the South African sound that had endeared Juluka to us. There is a jangling township guitar, a penny whistle and a few ‘um-um-oh-um’s that remind us where the song comes from, even if the subject of the title is from somewhere a bit further north.

So sit back, relax, you don’t have to get hiking boots, big jackets and back packs to climb this ‘Kilimanjaro’. And like the majestic mountain in Tanzania, Juluka’s song will take you to new heights.

Where to find it:
The International Tracks – Juluka (1990), MINC, CDM 4064772

Video:

December African Rain – Juluka

December African Rain - Juluka

December African Rain – Juluka

One of the set works I had in English at school (a long time ago) was a book called ‘I Heard The Owl Call My Name’. So when Johnny Clegg and Sihpo Mchunu came along singing about December African Rain and ‘I heard the owls calling my name’, I had some idea of what the song was about. The book was set in British Columbia where the native Kwakwaka’wakw people believed that if you heard the owl call your name then death was imminent.

But Juluka were not about to die. This was 1983 and they still had a few more years in them yet. However, the song is about a person facing their demise, but it is not a morbid farewell he is saying to the world. He is accepting of his fate as a natural progression. Yes, there are some regrets – “where did the time go?” and taking leave is not easy – “It’s so hard to say goodbye to eyes as old as yours my friend”, but we are told to “wipe away those tears and remember the good times”. This is a much more upbeat song for a funeral than the dirges we usually have. It celebrates life rather than mourning the loss of it.

‘December African Rain’ was one of those rare things, a Juluka chart hit. It got to number 7 on Capital Radio 604’ chart and 15 on Radio 702. In amongst all the imagery and ‘Yum-um-um-um-bo’s’ there is one line that stands out for it pure beauty and imagery and that is, ‘The firelight has danced its last across your face my friend’. That may well have been the case for the friend, but for the song, I am sure it will be a long time before it dances it’s last across your sound system.

Where to find it:
Original vinyl: Work For All – Juluka (1983), Minc, MINC(L)1070 (also available to download from iTunes)

Video:

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