SA Musicians Covering Overseas Songs

In our previous mixtape we featured South African musicians covering South African songs. This time we focus on South African musicians covering foreign songs. Anyone familiar with live performers in South African restaurants and pubs will be all too familiar with the countless musicians plying overseas covers for a trade. Many a South African songwriter shakes their head in desperation at the thought of all the cover artists, trying to mimic the singers of the songs they cover, and taking the performance spaces potentially available to more original musicians. However, covers are not always a bad thing. Several musicians who mostly perform their own compositions also include some covers in their live sets or even record them as singles and on their albums. Most often these are viewed as interpretations – where they change the emphasis of the song or switch the song from one genre to another. At times musicians simply cover a song which they think will be a big hit if they adapt it to what seems popular in the current climate, or among their specific fans.

There are examples here which fit into all those categories. Interpreting songs is a very personal thing, and so rather than explain every song’s inclusion here, and fitting it into a particular category of cover, we have just listed the songs here, for you to listen to, think about, and perhaps explore further. We have included the names of the original performers in parenthesis, so that (in case you are not aware of the original) you can go back and listen, and think about the way it has been covered here. In case this sounds like a Musicology 101 course, we won’t ask you to write an essay. But please do leave comments about anything that grabs your attention. In the meantime … enjoy!

  1. Down On The Corner – Miriam Makeba (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
  2. The Voice Of Rage And Ruin – Kalahari Surfers (Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Bad Moon Rising”)
  3. Build Me Up Buttercup – Mean Mr Mustard (The Foundations)
  4. Paint It Black – No Friends of Harry (The Rolling Stones)
  5. Into The Fire – Suck (Deep Purple)
  6. Fooled Around And Fell In Love – Julian Laxton Band (Elvin Bishop)
  7. Substitute – Clout (The Righteous Brothers)
  8. Why Did You Do It – Margaret Singana (Stretch)
  9. Living For The City – Disco Rock Machine (Stevie Wonder)
  10. Magic Carpet Ride – Buffalo (Steppenwolf)
  11. Take Me To The River – Mara Louw (Al Green)
  12. The Weight – Dan Patlansky (The Band)
  13. Fine Lines – Syd Kitchen (John Martyn)
  14. Somebody – Matthew van der Want (Depeche Mode)
  15. Walking In The Rain – Johannes Kerkorrel (Flash and the Pan)
  16. Wait – Chris Letcher (Lou Reed)
  17. Complicated Game – Peach (XTC)
  18. Beds Are Burning – TCIYF (Midnight Oil)
  19. When I Went Out One Morning – Tribe After Tribe (Bob Dylan)
  20. Ring Of Fire – Laurie Levine (Johnny Cash)
  21. Sugarman – Just Jinger (Rodriguez)
  22. Money Money Money – Karen Zoid (Abba)
  23. Sunday Morning Coming Down – Wonderboom (Kris Kristofferson)
  24. Control – Spoek Mathambo (Joy Division – “She’s Lost Control”)
  25. Heart Shaped Box – Goldfish & Julia Church (Nirvana)

South African Musicians Covering South African Songs

Covers are an integral part of popular music. Some bands make a living out of playing covers, some musicians even make a career imitating another musician or band, covering their repertoire or a specific period of their music. This can take place the form of reduplication covers, in which live performances are approximated as closely as possible. Most commonly, musicians simply cover one or more songs by other performers during their career.

We have decided to celebrate cover versions of songs which are in some way related to South Africa. In this – the first mixtape – we are focusing on South African songs covered by South African musicians. The second will focus on foreign songs covered by South African musicians, and the third will feature South African songs covered by foreign musicians.

There are many motivations for covering another’s song, one of which is simply to choose a song which can make money, but often it has to do with paying homage to the original song or performer, and many of the songs included here fit that description. These songs tend to show a great deal of respect to the original version, in terms of tempo, melody and lyrics. Here one can include songs like Arno Carstens’ cover of Ballyhoo’s “Man On The Moon”, Johannes Kerkorrel’s cover of Bernoldus Niemand’s “Snor City”, Zim  Ngqawana’s cover of Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Chisa”, Miriam Makeba’s version of Hugh Masekela’s “Soweto Blues”, QKumba Zoo’s cover of Bright Blue’s “Weeping”, Sharon Katz & the Peace Train and Dorothy Masuka’s version of “Meadowlands”, made famous by Nancy Jacobs and her Sisters, African Jazz Pioneers & Thembi Mtshali’s cover of Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata”, David Kramer’s version of Roger Lucey’s “Dry Wine” , Urban Creep’s interpretation of the Cherry Faced Lurchers’ “Shot Down”, Vusi Mahlasela’s cover of James Phillips’ “Africa Is Dying”, Jennifer Ferguson’s version of David Marks’ “Master Jack” (made famous in South Africa by Four Jacks And A Jill), Tony Cox’s cover of Edi Niederlander’s “Ancient Dust Of Africa”, Sonja Herholdt’s cover of David Kramer’s “Skipskop”, Matthew Van Der Want and Chris Letcher’s cover of the Springbok Nude Girls’ “Blue Eyes”, Laurika Rauch’s version of Koos Kombuis’ “Liza Se Klevier” and Tonia Selley’s interpretation of another Koos Kombuis song, this time “Onder In My Whiskeyglas”.

Several artist included here have paid homage to Johnny Clegg’s music (whether with Juluka or as a solo artist). None of the covers included here have tried to imitate the crossover (Zulu-Western folk-rock) style of Johnny Clegg’s music and so while these songs remain true to the sentiment of the originals, they take them in to a different stylistic terrain. These include the acapella version of “Impi” by Not The Midnight Mass, and the rockier versions of “Great Heart” by Hog Hoggidy Hog, “Africa” by Wonderboom and “December African Rain” by the Springbok Nude Girls.

Two songs on this mixtape are an interesting form of cover song in which the cover versions include musicians who were part of the original version. David Kramer joins Jack Parow in his cover of Kramer’s “Biscuit And Biltong” while several members of the Gereformeerde Blues Band join with Arno Carstens and others to cover “Liefde”, originally recorded by the Gereformeerde Blues Band.

There are also socially interesting covers included here. Bernoldus Niemand turns the Radio Rats’ fairly international-sounding “Welcome To My Car” into a truly South African song, especially through his use of South African accent in his vocals. By joining together to cover the Freedom Children’s “Tribal Fence”,  Margaret Singana and Rabbitt go some way towards crossing the tribal fence they sing about. Finally, by sampling Hotline’s “Jabulani”, Prophets Of Da City, a Western Cape coloured hip hop band playfully pay homage to a commercially successful  white western/black neotraditional crossover song. To what extent their sampling of “Jabulani” becomes a cover (or not) is something to ponder.

We have thoroughly enjoyed compiling this selection of covers in which South African musicians have celebrated great South African songwriting and performance. So many emotions and moods are captured through these interpretations. We hope it drives you to go in search of some of the originals you haven’t heard, or even to re-listen to the originals as a matter of comparison. Also let us know if we have left out any of your favourite SA covers of SA songs: there’s bound to be a part two to this particular theme.

  1. Man On The Moon – Arno Carstens
  2. Liefde – Die Lemme
  3. Welcome To My Car – Bernoldus Niemand
  4. Snor City – Johannes Kerkorrel
  5. Chisa – Zim  Ngqawana
  6. Soweto Blues – Miriam Makeba
  7. Weeping – Qkumba Zoo
  8. Meadowlands – Sharon Katz & The Peace Train And Dorothy Masuka
  9. Pata Pata – African Jazz Pioneers & Thembi Mtshali
  10. Impi – Not The Midnight Mass
  11. Jabulani – Prophets Of Da City
  12. Great Heart – Hog Hoggidy Hog
  13. Africa – Wonderboom
  14. December African Rain – Springbok Nude Girls
  15. Tribal Fence – Rabbitt & Margaret Singana
  16. Dry Wine – David Kramer
  17. Shot Down – Urban Creep
  18. Africa Is Dying – Vusi Mahlasela
  19. Master Jack – Jennifer Ferguson
  20. Ancient Dust Of Africa – Tony Cox
  21. Skipskop – Sonja Herholdt
  22. Biscuits & Biltong – Jack Parow
  23. Lisa Se Klavier – Laurika Rauch
  24. Onder In My Whiskeyglas – Tonia Selley
  25. Blue Eyes – Van Der Want/Letcher