Blasphemy!

This mixtape focuses on songs banned by the apartheid government’s central censorship board because they were deemed blasphemous.

The apartheid government propagated a form of Calvinism so conservative and tainted that it justified apartheid, restricted nudity and sex to the procreative bedroom and exalted a bigoted and prudish god, whose sabbath was kept boringly sacred. It comes as no surprise therefore, that the central apartheid censors took a dim view on any song that undermined their narrow view of god, ridiculed Christians and, even worse, promoted Satan.

John Lennon’s “God” was banned simply because John Lennon stated that God is a concept and that he didn’t believe in the bible and Jesus.  Meanwhile Chris De Burgh’s song “Spanish Train” was viewed as blasphemous because in the song God and the devil play chess and poker over the souls of the dead, and the devil cheats and wins more souls, without God realising.

Both Peter Sarstedt’s “Take Off Your Clothes” and Glenda Kemp’s “Strip Tea” raised the ire of the censors because they brought into disrepute men of the cloth, especially in a sexual context. In the former, because the protagonist’s “daddy is the pope you know, and I just want to grope you know” while in the latter, Glenda Kemp’s vicar comes to visit for a pastoral cup of tea but ends up partaking in an unexpected “Strip Tea”.

Don McLean’s “American Pie” offended the censors because of lines like: “No angel born in hell could break that Satan’s spell; And as the flames climbed high into the night; To light the sacrificial rite, I saw Satan laughing with delight” and “The father, son and holy ghost, they caught the last train for the coast.”

Two musicals based on the life of Jesus – Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell – were controversially received by some Christians far and wide. The South African censors were no exception. They objected to the way Mary Magdalene tried to seduce Jesus on both soundtracks: Yvonne Elliman’s sensual “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar and Sonia Manzano’s burlesque-style “Turn Back, O Man” from Godspell, with the provocative line “C’mere Jesus, I’ve got something to show ya!” The theme song, “Superstar” from the former show, sung by Murray Head and the Trinidad Singers, was viewed as blasphemous for calling Jesus a superstar, banned by way of being a song on the album but also as a single.

The censors thought that Des & Dawn’s humorous treatment of ‘Dese Bones Gonna Rose Again” was unacceptable, and that the Kalahari Surfers’ protest about the SADF Maseru cross-border raid, through adapting the words to the Christian “Lord’s Prayer”, was equally unacceptable. Similarly, “Prayer” by Spooky Tooth and Pierre Henry was deemed undesirable by the censors, because of its use of the same prayer in a progressive rock context.

The censors strongly objected to Christ The Album by Crass; believing the album title was blasphemous, as were lyrics to the song “I Know There Is Love” which was critical of the role of Christianity in propagating war: “You’ve … thrust in my hands your gun and your bible, you told me to kill for the lord up above.”

“Ishmael” by Abdullah Ibrahim was the only song banned by the Directorate of Publications for reasons of blasphemy according to a religion other than Christianity. In this instance, the Muslim Judicial Council objected to Abdullah Ibrahim putting words from the Koran to a musical backing, an act which they deemed blasphemous, and which was upheld by the state censors.

The censors also objected to the name of a group called Satan and banned their album Court In The Act because of songs like “Hunt You Down”, which they argued promoted the power of Satan. Likewise, Mercyful Faith’s “The Oath” and “Mark Of The Beast” by The Sinyx (off the Crass Records Bullshit Detector compilation) were regarded as anti-Christian by means of promoting Satan. Finally, Diamanda Gala’s “The Litanies Of Satan”, affronted the censors, who objected to what she looked like on the cover, what she sounded like on the record and the fact that she prayed to Satan. The song and album were promptly banned.

Bad Language

Amongst other forms of government-defined obscenity (such as sex and drugs), the South African state censors did not like bad language. They viewed it as ‘undesirable’ and hoped to wish it away with their censorial judgment. When an album or song was submitted to the censorship board, the censors would scrutinise the lyrics included with the album or alternatively, if lyrics were not included, one of the censors would transcribe them, often mishearing lyrics along the way.

Mild swear words were generally acceptable, unless they dominated the song, but if an especially naughty word appeared, even if uttered just once, the song or album in question was almost inevitably banned. The censors wanted to believe that they were acting on behalf of the general population when in fact it seemed they were acting upon their own uneasiness or offence. They seemed oblivious of the fact that the sort of language they were censoring was common lingo in the grounds and corridors of most high schools around the country, as well as in many workplaces and in the military. Soldiers did indeed swear like troopers.

This mixtape provides a cross-section of examples of the sorts of words the censors did not like. Interestingly, John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”, which includes the word “fucking”, was banned twice – once as performed by Lennon on the Plastic Ono Band album, and then again when covered by Marianne Faithfull on her Broken English album. Faithfull’s English was not so much broken as very expressive on the song “Why’d Ya do It”, which, along with her cover of “Working Class Hero” led to her album being banned.

Nina Hagen was a casualty of misheard lyrics by a Directorate of Publications censor, who thought she sang “Let’s go fuck” when in fact she sang “Let’s go Zack”. “Your Daughter Is One” by Robin Johnson & Trini Alvarado, from the Times Square soundtrack was one of the reasons that album was banned, because the censors took umbrage to phrases like “You fuckin’ Nazi”, “That shit eating smile of yours” and “You cold fart holy man”.

Oom Hansie was the only South African group to have a song banned because of swearing: “Kaapse Dans” was banned for including the words ‘kak’ and ‘fokol’. “Dirty Words” by the Cast of Let My People Come includes a series of verses, each of which provides a humorous take on a ‘dirty’ sexual word. Ian Dury and the Blockheads didn’t stand much chance with a song called “Fucking Ada”. The censor who wrote the report on the song even went to the trouble of counting how many times ‘fucking’ was uttered during the song: more than 60 times (in case you are interested).

Several punk songs and albums were banned because of swearing: songs by Crass, The Sceptics (on the Crass label Bullshit Detector compilation album), Discharge, Disorder and Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers fell foul of the censors, although the censors were more upset about the name of Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers than by the words of their songs, which they noted were mostly inaudible.

Explicit language was liberally sprinkled across several Blowfly albums, a few of which were banned. “To Fuck The Boss” is a good example of the sort of Blowfly song which raised the hackles of the South African censors.

Finally, Frank Zappa closes the mixtape with “Titties and Beer”, one of the songs which led to the banning of the Zappa in New York album. Certainly, within the narrow-minded and censorious context of the apartheid republic, the licentiousness of New York seemed a voluptuous time warp away.

As for swearing, well you could stumble across that almost anywhere regular South Africans hung out.

Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll!

In 1963 the South African apartheid government passed the Publications and Entertainments Act of 1963 which led to the establishment of South Africa’s first central government censorship board. Although its name and various regulations changed over the years, the censorship board went on to ban well over one hundred music albums and singles over the next three decades. One of the categories of censorship was obscenity, which included sex, drugs and bad language.

This mixtape focuses on examples of songs banned for the first two of these criteria: they promoted sex or they promoted drug use.

Several vaudeville-type songs were banned in the 1960s and early 1970s because they promoted sex. These included entire albums by Oscar Brand (Bawdy Western Songs), the Jock Strappe Ensemble (Why Was He Born So Beautiful And Other Traditional Rugby Songs), Glenda Kemp (Both Sides of Glenda Kemp) and Ivor Biggun (More Filth! Dirt Cheap …). For this mixtape Oscar Brand’s “Charlotte the Harlot”, The Jock Strappe Ensemble’s “The Mayor of Bayswater”, Ivor Biggun’s “Wanking Your Blues Away” (printed on record sleeves as “Winking Your Blues Away”) and Glenda Kemp’s “Strike Buster” have been chosen as good examples of the sorts of things which got the censors hot under the collar.

Other albums from the same era which were banned included Chuck Berry’s London Sessions, the original cast recordings of the musicals, Let My People Come and Hair from which “My Ding A Ling”, “Choir Practice” and “Sodomy” have been selected respectively.

During the late 1960s and into the 1970s a trend set in whereby recorded popular featured the sound of orgasm(s), mostly to titillate the listener but sometimes to provide additional sensual vocals to otherwise potentially monotonous long disco tracks. The apartheid censors regularly censored such music, including the following songs included on this mixtape: “Love To Love You Baby” by Donna Summer, “Slow Blow” by Hot R.S., “Je T’aime .. .. .. Moi Non Plus” by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, “Airport Love Theme” by Super Erotica and “Cruisin’ The Streets” by Boys Town Gang. Whereas it was typical for women to be making the sensual sounds in such songs, “Slow Blow” and “Cruisin’ The Streets” feature males making orgasmic sounds; the latter song was even more controversial for apartheid-era censors because the men in question were pleasuring each other.

Some songs were banned because they were deemed to promote sex in a particularly (for the censors) lewd fashion, such as Blowfly’s “The Girl Wants To Fuck”, Celi Bee and the Buzzy Bunch’s “Superman”, Frank Zappa and the Mothers’ “Dinah-Moe-Hum”, George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” and “Hlope Jive” by the Naledi Boys. The last of these was banned because of a spoken dialogue at the outset, supposedly between a brother and sister who discuss an unpleasant oral sexual exchange they have shared.

The censors also thought that Des & Dawn’s spoken word humorous piece about “The Pill” was too immoral for 1960s South Africa. And Blue Mink’s “Melting Pot” was far too scandalous in apartheid South Africa, suggesting that people of different races get together to produce “coffee-coloured people by the score”. On a bizarre note, Patti Smith’s “Pissing In A River” off the Times Square film soundtrack was banned for promoting sex because the censor transcribed “Come for me” as “Come fuck me”.

Several albums were banned because they featured images of marijuana on the front cover, including Culture’s International Herb and U-Roy’s Dread In Babylon. Songs which were banned for the same reason included “Legalize It” by Peter Tosh (including the album because of the cover) and “Show Me The Way To Get Stoned” by David Peel & the Lower East Side, whose entire Have A Marijuana album was banned.

When Capital Radio Defied The Apartheid Censors

In the 1980s there were several songs which Capital Radio playlisted or at least played which were banned by the Directorate of Publications or ‘avoided’ by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). This week’s playlist includes 21 songs which capture a cross-section of issues the government did not want South Africans to hear, as it tried to foster a racially separated, religiously and morally conservative  apartheid society.

For less than two decades, from late 1979 until 1996, independent radio station Capital Radio was to be heard over the South African airwaves. During the apartheid era it intentionally set out to be an alternative to apartheid government controlled SABC radio stations. The station broadcast from the Transkei Wild Coast, using the supposed independence of Transkei as a loophole to circumnavigate the Nationalist government’s tight control of South Africa’s airwaves. While Capital Radio was always foremost a commercial venture, it nevertheless forged a far more liberal path than the censorial and conservative apartheid SABC alternatives. This was especially seen in its liberal news reporting and its more liberal approach to the music it played and playlisted.

In South Africa official censorship took two forms: First, the Directorate of Publications was the official state censorship institution, banning thousands of publications every year: from books, magazines and pamphlets to objects, cassettes and vinyl records. Most of its attention focused on printed material but it nevertheless banned approximately 150 singles and albums between 1963 and 1992. Not all music was vetted, only music which was submitted in the form of a formal complaint. Second, the government broadcaster, the SABC practiced widespread censorship, vetting all music prior to possible airplay through its formal censorship committees. The SABC was far more severe than the Directorate of Publications, censoring thousands of songs if there was any suggestion that they might be controversial.

Both the Directorate of Publications and the SABC censored music for political, moral and religious reasons. This included songs that were directly anti-apartheid, which were rebellious, encouraged insurrection and protest in general or were anti-government in general as well as anything which was regarded as blasphemous, pro-Satanism, sexual, contained swearing and which promoted drug use. The SABC further censored songs if they mixed languages, which was against the apartheid state’s apartheid policy of separating the cultures of the country’s different ethnic groups.

Four of the songs on this mixtape were banned by the Directorate of Publications but played by Capital Radio: 

On its very first day of broadcast Capital played Don McLean’s “American Pie” as its number 16 best song of all time: the Directorate of Publications banned the song because it viewed the song as blasphemous with lines like: “No angel born in hell could break that Satan’s spell; And as the flames climbed high into the night; To light the sacrificial rite, I saw Satan laughing with delight” and “The father, son and holy ghost, they caught the last train for the coast.”

Right from the start, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” featured on the Capital Radio weekly Top 40 Countdown, including three weeks at number one in January-February 1980. It was indeed a huge hit in South Africa, also reaching the top of the charts on SABC’s Radio 5 and Springbok Radio. However, when the song had already sold 90 000 copies and dropped off all the charts it was banned by the Directorate of Publications, initially because of a complaint about the song encouraging communist-type rebellion among South African youth, but also because it had become a chant among township school children opposing inferior apartheid education for black (including coloured) South Africans. On the 3rd May 1980 the Rand Daily Mail reported that both Pink Floyd’s The Wall album and “Another Brick In The Wall” single had been banned in South Africa. However, a Capital Radio spokesperson noted that “Because Transkei had not banned the LP or the single South Africans will still hear them on Capital Radio.” Indeed, when all the SABC radio stations stopped playing the song, Capital continued to give it airtime, especially when listeners started to vote for it on the daily Capital Hitline, where it featured immediately after the ban.

In late 1981 Jimmy Cliff’s “Give The People What They Want” entered the Capital Radio charts and went on to spend two weeks at number one at the beginning of 1982. The SABC steered clear of the politically-charged song but this had not deterred Capital. The entire album went on to be banned by the Directorate of Publications in February 1982, while the title track was still being played on Capital.

On the 5th September 1987 George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” went to number 1 on the Capital Countdown. It had already been ‘avoided’ by the SABC because it was regarded as promoting sexual promiscuity and was blasphemous  (“I don’t need no bible”). The Directorate of Publications soon banned the song (in October 1987). The Publications Appeal Board decided to ban the song because it was seen to be “harmful to public morals in that it is likely to make a substantial number of teenagers between 14-16 more inclined to have sex or at least confuse them in deciding what is right and wrong. There is little doubt that the South African community is strongly against sex between school children and the Board believes that this recording, which clearly includes them as likely listeners, would be harmful to them in their moral development.”

Apart from Capital Radio playing songs that had been or went on to be banned by the Directorate of Publications the station regularly played songs which listeners would not be able to hear on rival Radio 5, Springbok Radio and regional SABC radio stations, even though the songs in question were legally available in record shops. The rest of the songs featured on this mixtape were not banned by the Directorate of Publications but were banned from airplay (‘avoided’) by the SABC:

The SABC banned all Beatles music from airplay after John Lennon’s March 1966 statement that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus Christ”. Capital regularly played a variety of Beatles songs, including “Hey Jude” which featured high up on the Capital all time greats Hall of Fame charts, for example in 1984 it was number 2.

Another song that regularly featured on Capital’s all time Hall of Fame charts was Scott MacKenzie’s “San Francisco” which was avoided on SABC when it first came out. In 1960s South Africa, hippie lyrics such as “There’s a whole new generation with a new explanation”  and “Summertime will be a love-in there” were far too shocking for conservative censors.

Whereas Capital DJs like Phil Wright occasionally played Ian Dury and the Blockhead’s “Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll”, SABC DJs were not allowed that agency. The title alone was far too contentious, never mind lyrics such as “Sex and drugs and rock and roll is all my brain and body needs”.

The first South African song to become a number one hit on Capital Radio, Juluka’s “Africa”, was not played on Radio 5 because it mixed languages, which went against the SABC’s apartheid language purity policy. In addition, the lyrics referred to a song that could “heal these broken men.” And went on to say “Let us sing and we’ll walk through the dark, hand in hand, hand in hand”. It sounded all too suspicious to the SABC censors.

During 1980 and 1981 there were several South African songs that were playlisted on Capital which had been ‘avoided’ by the SABC: 

“Just Another Ruler” by Roger Lucey was not played on the SABC (in fact none of his music was played on SABC) as part of the South African Police Security Branch’s attempt to silence Roger Lucey. For the SABC this song included political contentious lines such as “And just like June ’76 when you were so surprised, surprise again will grip you.”

“Schoolboy” by the Asylum Kids was viewed as too rebellious by the SABC censors who banned it from airplay because of lyrics such as “Rules and regulations only suffocate” and “Would you like to be a schoolboy again? No! No!”

Flash Harry’s satirical reggae protest song “No Football”, about not being able to play football on a Sunday, was avoided because it was viewed as blasphemous with lyrics like “More people watch me than go to church.” That line particularly met with the disapproval of the censors.

Falling Mirror’s “Crippled Messiah” wasn’t played by the SABC because it was also regarded as blasphemous.

On the 12th March 1982 “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye peaked at number 3 on the Capital Countdown but was avoided by the SABC censors, afraid of the effect of lyrics such as “When I get this felling I need sexual healing” and “Don’t procrastinate, it’s not good to masturbate”.

“Hey Boy” by Via Afrika peaked at number 11 on the Capital Countdown on 11 June 1983, and stayed there for two weeks. The SABC avoided it because of its mildly critical view of someone in authority: “You blow your whistle … All they get from you is fares and stares … Hey listen boy, don’t waste my time”.

Donna Summer’s “Unconditional Love” peaked on the Capital Countdown at number 22 on the 10th and 17th December 1983. SABC avoided playing the song because it promoted Jah, including reference to a Rastafarian utopia: “We know a place where Jah’s people can run free; A new kind of love and we call it agape”.

In March 1985 the SABC banned all of Stevie Wonder’s music after he dedicated his Oscar Award to Nelson Mandela. However, according to a Rand Daily Mail article on 27 March 1985, Head of Music at Capital, Anthony Duke, said that the station would not adopt the same policy as the SABC because Capital did not have a political policy regarding music. Indeed Stevie Wonder’s “Lovelight In Flight” which had charted on the Capital Countdown in February and March continued to be playlisted. The SABC ended their ban on Stevie Wonder on the 19th September 1985 but during that time Capital continued to play his music.

“Private revolution” by World Party peaked on the Capital Countdown at number 21 on the 14th and 21st February 1987. This is a good example of the SABC’s paranoia about controversial words, in this case ‘revolution’. If the SABC censors had looked carefully at the words they would have seen that the song was about people saving the planet from ecological ruin by taking on a private revolution. In fact the lyrics even state, “You don’t have to do all those burning books, just revolutionize at home.”

A few months later in 1987, “Infected” by The The  peaked at number 14 on the Capital Countdown, where it spent two weeks (on the 6th and 13th June). It was ‘avoided’ by the SABC presumably because they objected to the lines, “Will lies become truths in this face of fading youth from my scrotum to your womb, your cradle to my tomb’.

“(Something inside) – So strong” by Labi Siffre was an anti-apartheid song which peaked at number 18 on the Capital Countdown on the 11th July 1987. It included protest lyrics such as “The higher you build your barriers the taller I become; The further you take my rights away, the faster I will run.” It was viewed as threatening to the security of the apartheid state and avoided on SABC.

“Missing” by Johnny Clegg’s band Savuka reached number 8 on the Capital Countdown on the 31st October 1987. It was about apartheid government repression in South Africa and how someone the singer cares about has gone missing. It was regarded as a threat to the state by the SABC, and banned from airplay.

Roger Water’s “The Tide Is Turning” was a song critical about war for entertainment purposes but conversely in favour of positive potential of popular music and musicians, specifically written in relation to the Live Aid concert which took place in July 1985. It was playlisted on Capital Radio in late 1987. The SABC misunderstood what the turning tide referred to and decided not to play the song.

“After The War” by Gary Moore reached number 8 for two weeks on the Capital Countdown on the 15th and 22nd April 1989. The SABC decided to ban it from airplay because of its anti-conscription and anti-war tone, at a time when conscription was a legal requirement in South Africa. At the time the End Conscription Campaign was gaining popularity among white youth who questioned the apartheid government’s war against their fellow South Africans. Lyrics included the lines: “A letter from the draft board put pain to your all your dreams; You’re just another number in military schemes; They marched you in a uniform you wore against your will; With lies of hope and glory they taught you how to kill.”