1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “South Africa”

Johannesburg – Margaret Singana

Johannesburg - Margaret Singana

Johannesburg – Margaret Singana

Not too many South African cities have been the subject of songs. I can think of Ballyhoo’s ‘Take Me Down To Cape Town’, David Kramer’s ‘Bloemfontein Blues’, Valiant Swart’s ‘Bloemfontein’ and the somewhat obscure ‘Durban And Me’ by Babadoll (found on the C-Weed’ compilation album and will appear on this list at some point). There is also the traditional song ‘We Are Marching To Pretoria’. But our cities seem to lose out to the little dorps and suburbs of our country as we have hits mentioning Matjiesfontein (Sonja Herhold’s ‘Trein Na Matjiesfontein’), Weltevreede (The Bats ‘Weltevreede Stasie’), Montagu (David Kramer’s ‘Montagu’) and Durbanville (Valiant Swart’s ‘Die Son Sak In Durbanville’).

However, we do have a song about our biggest city. The song started life in 1977 when it appeared on The Julian Laxton Band’s ‘Celebration’ album and around the same time Laxton along with Patric van Blerk produced a version with Margaret Singana on lead vocals. There is very little to choose between the 2 versions, in fact it almost sounds like the same backing track is used and just different vocals overdubbed. So it will depend on whether you enjoy Eugene Havenga’s wailing, heavy rock vocals which are found on the Laxton Band version, or Margaret’s disco (a la Donna Summer) delivery. There is not much in it though and I could as easily have gone for the Laxton Band version, but felt that Margaret just edges it.

Either way, both version feature a pounding, almost primal, beat with grunted chants that brings to life the heartbeat of eGoli with its busy-ness, its vibrancy, the density of activity. It’s a fast moving in-your-face song to match the pace of life of the city. It would certainly have been heard at many a Joburg disco in the late 70’s. The song appears on Margaret’s ‘Tribal Fence’ album which also features her cover of the Freedom’s Children’s ‘Tribal Fence’ and Hawk’s ‘Orang Outang’ both of which, like ‘Johannesburg’, are powerful, dense sounding disco tracks that brought the power and energy of Joburg to the dancefloor.

Where to find it:
Great SA Performers – Margaret Singana (2011), Gallo CDPS085


Prisoner – Lucky Dube

Prisoner - Lucky Dube

Prisoner – Lucky Dube

This is the story of a little boy whose father told him that education is the key, yet he knew better and ended up in jail. And he calls himself Lucky? Well of course he can call himself Lucky as he became a massive reggae star, known and loved throughout the continent and beyond.

I don’t know how much of his musical skills he learned in school, but they certainly put in him good stead as he crafted songs like ‘Prisoner’ with challenging lyrics and a Jamaica meets the townships lilting tune that is simultaneously uplifting and yet somehow slightly sad. This was 1989, in the twilight hours of apartheid. Black people in South Africa were tasting freedom, yet Lucky Dube decided to sing about being a prisoner so its hard to imagine that this song was not a reference to the suffering under apartheid, yet it could quite easily have been. However, it could also have been a message for the future, saying to the generations to come, that education is the key, you get nowhere without it.

The song would reach number 7 of the Radio 702 charts and 12 on the Capital 604 ones which was quite unusual as Dube was largely ignored by the white radio stations back then. However, ‘Prisoner’ remains as relevant today as it was back then. Despite running out of luck when he was murdered in 2007, the messages of Lucky live on in in his songs.

Where to find it:
Great South African Performers – Lucky Dube (2011), Gallo, CDPS16


Lifeline – Rabbitt

The Hits - Rabbitt

The Hits – Rabbitt

Rabbitt slowed things down a notch when they recorded this one. Their bigger hits such as ‘Charlie’ and ‘Locomotive Breath’, although not frenetic or particularly noisy, were certainly rockier affairs. But here we are in slow rock ballad mode. There are some aaahh’s underpinning the verses which are not that far away from the similar part on 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’, but where 10cc keep it cool, Rabbitt do throw in some electric guitars every now and then to remind one that they knew how to handle an axe.

‘Lifeline’ really shows off the craftsmanship of Trevor Rabin and the boys when it came to putting a song together. The production is also slick, giving this love song a velvety feel as it seems to glide along on a cushion of air.

While their rockier numbers like ‘Charlie’, ‘Morning Light’ and ‘Locomotive Breath’ had chart success, ‘Lifeline’ prefers to hang around in the background, taking a slow seductive approach compared to the more ‘in your face’ sound of the hits. It showed another side of Rabbitt that I’m sure the girls loved just as much as their bouncier side.

Where to find it:
Boys Will Be Boys – Rabbitt (September 2006) RetroFresh, freshcd 153 (CD)
The Hits – Rabbitt (1996) Gallo, CDRED 602


Letters For Dicky – Jennifer Ferguson

Hand Around The Heart - Jennifer Ferguson

Hand Around The Heart – Jennifer Ferguson

David Kramer’s song ‘On The Border’ tells the story of a guy recalling a friend who ended up commiting suicide while doing his army stint. In that song it was time spent in DB that put the guy in question over the edge. Jennifer Ferguson’s ‘Letters For Dickey’ covers similar material except that the narrative is in the form of letters from a girl to her boyfriend on the border.

The song is sung in a strong South African accent and one can imagine it being a rather simple and frightened girl who at first cannot believe that there would be anyone else but Dickie for her, but while her man is away she is tempted and falls pregnant to another guy. Despite the ‘Dear John’ letter she ends up writing, she still loves her Dickie. The song takes a sharp turn from this dreamy lovestruck, confused and rather naïve girl when the news come through that Dickie had taken his life. Ferguson’s voice reflects the growing maturity in the girl as the song builds to its climax and perfectly captures the shock and emptiness as she sings the line ‘the bullet that you put into your head was meant for me not you’.

Like ‘On The Border’, ‘Letters To Dickey’ is a very emotional song and deals with a subject that we all knew, but never spoke about openly. It perfectly captures the strain that conscription put on the country, not only for those fighting, but also for those back home waiting for the return of loved ones. While those days are gone, this song and those like it, still speak to us of the impact war has on people. There have been many anti-war songs written, but few cut as close to the bone as this one. The song appeared on Ferguson’s album ‘Hand Around The Heart’ and everytime you hear ‘Letters To Dickie’ that hand is not a kind one, it is squeezing your heart till it hurts. Powerful stuff.

Where to find it:
Hand Around The Heart – Jennifer Ferguson (1985) Shifty Records

Hear here:



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:


My Kind Of Girl – Cinema

My Kind Of Girl - Cinema

My Kind Of Girl – Cinema

In 1987, Cinema were the band to watch. They were going places with bright and breezy pop full of saxophones and keyboards and they had a snappy dress sense and…mullets!!! Of course the mullet was poular back then, especially if you wanted to make it in the music world. Who knew that it would become a hairstyle of ridicule years later?
Despite the dodgy hair, ‘My Kind Of Girl’, which was most people’s introduction to this new band, was as poppy as you could want. There is a bouncy danceable rhythm and a strong vocal performance (unlike today’s boybands, back then, you didn’t have to sound like you were in huge amounts of pain and distress in order to attract the girl’s attention). Written by band members Chris Frank and Alan Lazar, lead singer Jarrod Aston, brings the song to life and it remains one of the standout pop tracks from the second half of the 80’s.
‘My Kind Of Girl’ charmed it’s way to number 6 on the Springbok Charts, pretty-boyed  to number 9 on the Radio 5 charts, sharp dressed itself to number 2 Capital 604’s charts, and mulletted a number 1 spot on the Radio 702 ones. Yes, there was a lot of image going on around the band, but as the styles back then are no longer popular, you have to look at the song itself without the posing and it stands up to the test of time.
Where to find it:
Various Artists – The Best of SA Pop Volume 2 (1994) GMP, CDGMPD 40486 (CD)


Oyebisi Nga – Egyptian Nursery

New Anthem - Egyptian Nursery

New Anthem – Egyptian Nursery

‘Oyebisi Nga’ finds Egyptian Nursery in a quiet mood, with an almost lullaby lilt to the song it floats gently along on a fluffy cloud as Mojama’s and Ariane’s sweet vocals make slow passionate love to each other, moving slowly on a bed of relaxed beats and scratches that Cragie Dodds provides. This is a sensual lights-down-low song. It lights a hundred candles to create a misty soft light.

The lyrics are sung in a mixture of English and Lingala (a language spoken in Mojama’s native Congo). The language should not sound too unfamiliar to the South African ear as it is part of the same “Bantu Languages” that Zulu comes from. While the shapes and sounds of the words are not completely foreign, the meaning may escape us. But, there is no misinterpreting the emotion in the voices.

This is chill-out at its best. In fact this song could be the one you finally drift off to after the hectic night of clubbing, followed by a time back home sitting around listening to quieter music to calm the pulse before eventually heading off to bed. It’s the chill-out track for chilling out to after listening to the rest of your chill-out music.

Where to find it:
God’s Window – Egyptian Nursery (2000), Fresh Music, FREDCD100


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