Conscription Deja Vu

“I am not going to be Putin’s cannon fodder, and neither should any Russian,“ said Zach the Russian, “I have never felt so free,“ he said as he burnt his military registration card. “There is no way back now,“ he added.

Zach is a well-known YouTuber, who started his channel talking about his daily life in Russia and travels abroad  18 months ago. Initially he covered the typical trivial YouTube fare, like showing his viewers around Russian supermarkets or Soviet-era housing projects and a visit to his grandmother’s dacha, but he has now pivoted to talking exclusively about the war in Ukraine as an exile in neighbouring Georgia.

Niki Proshin, another YouTuber started his channel about two and a half years ago and, like Zack, focussed on travel, local curiosities and – inevitably – his grandmother’s dacha – also now focuses exclusively on the war. He hasn’t left Russia yet (Update: he has now left), and thus manages to document anti-war protests, the effects of sanctions on living costs and the propaganda in the local media. Meanwhile the 1420 Channel conducts a lot of vox pops among other young Russians on the street about the war and conscription, with provocative questions like “Are you ready to die in Ukraine?”. The answers don’t always assume it is rhetorical.

Had our generation of white South African boys who opposed the country’s military in the 1980s had access –  in those pre-Internet days – to a global audience like YouTube, we imagine we’d have been producing very similar content. One cannot fail to have a strong sense of déjà vu listening to the concerns and issues Russian boys are having to face up to now that President Putin has announced a general mobilisation.

They discuss whether to stay or leave the country, whether to get involved in anti-conscription protests, they rage against their government’s policies. Some hope that their call-ups will be deferred because they’re at university. There is discussion about self-harm, and in one case that went viral, a young conscript had a friend break his leg so he couldn’t be called up.

Substitute Putin and co for PW Botha, Magnus Malan, etc, and to middle-aged South African ears, this is all very familiar. The experience was the source of a great deal of music both protesting an unjust war and chronicling the ordeals and testimonies of conscripts and conscientious objectors alike.

On the other hand, had our generation had access to The Internet and YouTube, perhaps we would not have had as much time to compose or consume so much great music. Music was, after all, one of the key cultural communication tools we had. We hope this selection inspires the boys in Russia resisting conscription into an unjust war by Vladimir Putin’s regime.

During the mid-late apartheid era white South African males were conscripted into the South African Defence Force to supposedly protect South Africa’s ‘border’ from anti-apartheid and other liberation forces fighting for the liberation of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. Throughout the 1980s the period of conscription was two years, followed by two years of call-ups to annual reservist-type camps. Many popular musicians wrote and performed songs against the war, conscription, and the unthinking militarised masculinity promoted by the SADF. This mixtape features a variety of those songs, and stands testament to the resistance to the SADF during that period.

There were some songs which questioned the purpose of the war. In the late ’70s National Wake (in “International News”) viewed the geographical border with Angola not as a place where the enemy was courageously fought, but where the troops and choppers were sent to commit atrocities which the population never heard about. Using suffocating imagery, they sang about how ‘they put a blanket over the border, they put a blanket into Angola … they put a blanket over the blanket, and then a blanket over that blanket’. Bright Blue (in “Who Is The Enemy”) meanwhile undermined patriotic notions of the border by describing it as a place in which to run around in the bush, playing silly games. They also questioned who the enemy was. The Asylum Kids asked a similar question in the song ‘Bloody Hands’, referring to war as a game that was played, but did it have to be played?  And In Simple English (In “Don’t Believe”) urged, ‘Please don’t tell me, we must fight to the end. There’s nothing left that I want to defend.’

These songs effectively questioned the purpose of the border war and the actions of the SADF in supposedly defending Christian values. Sometimes musicians sang songs from the perspective of soldiers. For example, Robin Auld “In “After The Fire”) dealt with the post-traumatic stress experienced by a soldier returning from the war, ‘whose life went up in smoke’. Roger Lucey (in “The Boys Are In Town”) sang of the boys returning from the border going out for a round for the fighters who died. Harold gets beaten because ‘he wondered aloud was it all worth it?’ And in “Caprivi Strip”, Via Afrika, use a play on words to suggest that SADF soldiers occupying Namibia involve themselves in sexual encounters with local women, probably forcibly: ‘Cross the border of anywhere, Touch my machine gun, If you dare, Do it Caprivi strip, Your camouflage, It slowly peels, Where you wound me, It doesn’t heal, Slowly girls, Bit by bit, Let’s do it Caprivi strip.’

Musicians also commented on the drudgery of daily life in the army, and in the process undermined border duty as a waste of time, of lives, and of intelligence. Supporters of wars are forever waxing lyrical about the honour and the glory, yet the reality is always more bleak. In contrast Illegal Gathering in their song “Willie Smit” sardonically suggested that all people did in the army was smoke up a smoker’s cough and ‘balles bak’ (sit around suntanning). Rather than turn to pray for support, Bernoldus Niemand (in “Hou My Vas Korporaal” – “Hold Me Tight Corporal”) ironically asked the corporal to hold him tight, to help him through his army experience while sitting around, playing war games with his best days, out of duty, not by choice. The Aeroplanes (in “National Madness”) described the civil war as a national madness tantamount to national suicide, ‘killing the brothers things left unsaid’.

Meanwhile, women were supposed to write letters of support, send parcels and wait faithfully for their men to return. The support and love of these loved ones was supposed to be sufficient to justify the danger risked by the military man.  Roger Lucey (in “The Boys Are In Town”) was one of the musicians who questioned this: ‘They say “think of your family, think of your friends,” But he knows that sentiment  won’t make it end.” Jennifer Ferguson in turn satirised the women-at-home-writing-letters-and-singing-a-song-of-longing in “Letters To Dickie”. The song (comprising snippets of letters) was for Dickie, ‘fighting for your country and me’. She promised to wait faithfully for him, she sent him a scarf knitted in khaki to match his uniform, but ultimately couldn’t resist the approaches of other men and fell pregnant. In response Dickie killed himself. Another story of an army suicide is related by David Kramer in “On The Border” – of a soldier who shot dead five other soldiers and then himself.

One of the gender themes which comes across in anti-war songs is a contrast between mindlessly obeying military orders and creative freedom of expression. Amongst South African musicians opposed to the South African border war there was antagonism towards the dehumanising and conformist path which entering the SADF involved. Militarised masculinity was a threat to thinking, caring, and independent South African men who did not believe that joining the military was necessary to be a strong and brave individual, standing up for his beliefs. On the contrary, it was felt that the military broke down these attributes, threatening creativity, compassion and intelligence. This is clearly expressed in the Cherry Faced Lurchers’ “Warsong”: ‘The old men in the top storeys, Organise another war, All this blood and guts and glory, Is this what life is for? How can they make me feel like somebody else when I’m already myself? How can they make me act like somebody else when I can act for myself?’

The Gereformeerde Blues Band (In “Energie”) also comment on the conformity of white masculinity, including in the SADF – ‘You must stand in your line, you must cut your hair short’. Likewise, the Kalahari Surfers provide a parody of conformity and blind obedience expected of soldiers in the South African Defence Force. In ‘Don’t Dance’ the singer calls on South Africans not to dance to the SADF’s tune:

Hey white boy get your feet off the floor
The Lord gave you legs to march to war
Your leaders want you in a sporting affair
So put on your boots and cut your hair
Don’t talk back or stop to think
Don’t dance

In the face of government indoctrination and military conscription ‘white boys’ were urged to get off their feet and move to a different beat. Musically this song is interesting. The catchy rhythm and beat makes people want to dance, but the audience is told not to dance. Similarly, the overwhelming message of the Nationalist government and the SADF was to serve in the defence force, to ‘dance’; yet the song urged conscripts not to go, not to dance. In “Window On The World” Bright Blue considered the confusion and resentment of conscripts who found themselves ‘marching everywhere, trying their best to escape … marching everywhere, not sure how to cope’.  Marching troops were thus portrayed in disarray, marching against their will. The song undermines the jingoism of the call to defend the country against the total onslaught. eVoid’s “Sgt. Major” evokes a similar sense of conscripts having to march left, right, according to the orders barked at them. The theme of resistance to conformist marching militarism is taken up by the Kalahari Surfers in “Song For Magnus,” a cover of “These Boots Are Made For Walking”, warning the Minster of Defence that one day those very boots would walk all over him.

In another evocation of gender binary thinking, conscientious objectors were ridiculed by the state as feminine and cowards, but Bright Blue retaliated by writing “The Rising Tide” about the brave decision made by David Bruce, who was sentenced to six years in prison for refusing to serve in the SADF. The song held Bruce up as a hero, someone to be admired, a role model. The song flew in the face of government propaganda about what form of masculinity constituted bravery:

But you know where you stand, you have raised your hand
You’re the first, you’re the first of a new generation…
And always, always remember your words have been heard,
We’re on your side…
Walking side by side
We’re the rising tide

However, while Bright Blue had praised Bruce’s stand against conscription, Tony Cox (in “Easy See”) simply sang of the urge to avoid fighting on the border by escaping: ‘You go away … you go away, Try to escape, Far from the frontlines, Go away … Don’t stay,

Just go away.” Yet Roger Lucey (in ‘The Boys Are In Town’) described the unsatisfying choice made by a homesick white exile who resented having had ‘to choose between leaving and losing your name’.

Listening to the songs on this mixtape reminds us of the confusion and turmoil of those days, of being forced to fight in an unwanted war, to go to prison, or leave the country. There are obvious parallels with other situations around the word since then and still ongoing. Fortunately there will always be resistant musicians, who capture such conflict through their songs.

  1. Window On The World – Bright Blue
  2. Warsong – James Phillips And The Lurchers
  3. Energie – Gereformeerde Blues Band
  4. International News – National Wake
  5. Don’t Dance – Kalahari Surfers
  6. Bloody Hands – Asylum Kids
  7. Sgt Major – eVoid
  8. Song For Magnus – Kalahari Surfers
  9. After The Fire – Robin Auld
  10. Don’t Believe – In Simple English
  11. Caprivi Strip – Via Afrika
  12. Who Is The Enemy – Bright Blue
  13. The Boys Are In Town – Roger Lucey
  14. Easy See – Tony Cox
  15. National Madness – The Aeroplanes
  16. The Rising Tide – Bright Blue
  17. Willie Smit – Illegal Gathering
  18. Hou My Vas Korporaal – Bernoldus Niemand
  19. Letters To Dickie – Jennifer Ferguson
  20. On The Border – David Kramer

67 Minutes For Mandela

The 18th of July is Mandela Day, the date on which we celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday. It is also the date of the “67 minutes for Mandela” campaign, when everyone is encouraged to volunteer 67 minutes of their time to do something for their community. The message of the Mandela Day campaign is that Nelson Mandela fought for social justice for 67 years and in return people are asked to reciprocate by contributing 67 minutes.

This mixtape celebrates the life and contribution of Nelson Mandela by featuring 67 minutes of music recorded in his honour.

There are many songs we have not featured here simply because there is an abundance of songs to choose from and therefore many songs simply could not be included. We decided to feature musicians from our own continent, and mostly from South Africa. Some of these songs were written while Mandela was still in prison and at the time they expressed a yearning that he would one day be free. This spirit of hope was particularly captured in Hugh Masekela´s “Mandela (Bring Him Back Home)”, Chicco’s “We Miss You Mandela”, and Savuka’s “Asimbonanga” – all of which became popular across South Africa in the late 1980s. Chicco’s song was released as “We Miss You Manelow” in a (successful) attempt to bypass censorship of a song overtly about Mandela. Youssou N’Dour’s “Nelson Mandela” celebrated Mandela’s life from Senegal, while Abdullah Ibrahim recorded “Mandela” from the distance of exile.

In the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, on the 11th February 1990, several musicians released songs commemorating his life to that point, and celebrating his new-found freedom. Brenda Fassie’s “Black President” was the most popular of these, especially on South African dance floors, while Bright Blue’s “Madiba” was a more circumspect tribute. Other tributes soon followed, including Prophet of Da City’s iconic “Neva Again” and the African Jazz Pioneer’s anthemic “Viva Madiba”. The mixtape closes with a sequence of lamentful songs in praise of Nelson Mandela: Vusi Mahlasela’s “Ntate Madiba”, Dorothy Masuka’s “Mandela”, Linda Kekana’s “A Song For Madiba”, Khadja Nin’s “Mzee Mandela”, and Simphiwe Dana’s “Madiba”.

Assembling the mix, it struck us that the passion, hopes, and dreams of many of the artists at the time have been betrayed by a social justice revolution corrupted by kleptocrats and grifters. One particular thought drives home the tragedy of lost promise and broken promises.

Bright Blue’s rousing chorus goes:

Is there a night without a day?
Can you imagine it’s all been for nothing?
Could it be any other way?
Oh no, never, no, no

One can’t help wondering if it was all for nothing. Perhaps if we’d imagined the conditions that might betray the hopes and dreams of a nation back in 1990, it might have been prevented. But we didn’t, and so today millions still live in abject poverty as social services, infrastructure, public utilities – everything – collapses. If ever there was an ironic metaphor for this decay, a Minister of Transport landed in hospital following an accident allegedly caused by potholes they’d failed to have repaired.

The only growth is crime, violence, and government corruption, and it will remain on-the-up while decent and hard-working South Africans have anything left to steal or the endurance to carry on sweating, bleeding and weeping.

Still, we can’t say it was all for nothing. It wasn’t. But at the same time, few of us are doing the same optimistic dance we were doing 30 years ago. It is hard to dance in the face of the biggest disappointment of the 20th Century.

But, the music was great, wasn’t it?

Thanks to these musicians, and many others, who dedicated their time to write and record songs in honour of Nelson Mandela, his legacy will certainly live on in song, a reminder to us and future generations of what he stood for, and a challenge to us to make our own contribution towards social justice. There is still a great deal of work to be done.

  1. Black President – Brenda Fassie
  2. Mandela (Bring Him Back Home) – Hugh Masekela
  3. We Miss You Mandela – Chicco
  4. Nelson Mandela – Youssou N’Dour
  5. Asimbonanga – Savuka
  6. Mandela – Abdullah Ibrahim
  7. Neva Again – Prophets Of Da City
  8. Viva Madiba – African Jazz Pioneers
  9. Madiba – Bright Blue
  10. Ntate Mandela – Vusi Mahlasela
  11. Mandela – Dorothy Masuka
  12. A Song For Madiba – Linda Kekana
  13. Mzee Mandela – Khadja Nin
  14. Madiba – Simphiwe Dana

South African Road Songs

For many people music and road trips are synchronous. Hardly ever is a road trip portrayed in a film without accompanying music as a soundtrack to the road stretching out ahead into the unfolding landscape. Music creates travel moods which cannot be captured in any other way. It can make one want to go on a road trip or perhaps it’s the other way round: road trips require music. Certainly, for many music lovers a road trip is cause for long deliberations over what music to pack in the cubby hole or add to a digital playlist. In the days when cassette players were regular features in cars, some of us spent ages putting together mixtapes, searching for that perfect road trip soundtrack. We knew to be careful to avoid songs with lots of ultra-quiet segments which were easily drowned out by the hum of the engine, or with volume swings that would necessitate continual groping for the volume control. One could become an expert in the road trip mixtape.

Clearly, car trip mixtapes can include music about anything and which capture any mood. But for this South African road trip mixtape we have chosen twenty songs by South African musicians which specifically refer to road trips in one form or another. From Bright Blue’s reference to “Taking a trip on a freeway, trying my best to escape” to All Night Radio’s song about driving at dusk, “with my windows open wide, lights are getting brighter as the sun is going down. There’s two more hours until I stop.”

Perhaps the song which most captures the spirit of road trips on this mixtape is “Lifetime On The Road” by Josie Field and Laurie Levine. These two singer songwriters formed a duo and promoted their debut and subsequent album by embarking on several road trip tours, travelling from town to town, day after day. The song captures the freedom of the road: “Rolled down the window, turned on the radio”, but at the same it expresses the drudgery of too much time on the road, travelling from gig to gig: “Left a town I barely know … so many places I’ll never call my own. A lifetime on the road.”

The tv show Going Nowhere Slowly romanticised the South African road trip, as the presenters journeyed from place to place, travelling down tar roads and gravel tracks, often to the accompaniment of music. It is therefore fitting that two songs from that programme are featured here: Liesl Graham’s “All Roads” and Seven Day Story’s “Going Nowhere Slowly” both of which capture the feeling of travelling on the road, music in our ears.

Many of the songs featured here use travel and the road as metaphors for aspects of our journey through life. Juluka often sang in metaphors and in this instance Johnny Clegg sings, “Spirit is the journey, body is the bus, I am the driver from dust to dust … Across this distance, this divide, I will be with you forever.” In “The Road Is Much Longer” Roger Lucey also uses metaphors to express his desire to cross the distance between himself and a loved one, although in this instance he is on the side of the road, trying to thumb a ride: “And now the night’s fallen and I’m nearer to home. And I hear you calling are you feeling alone? Well it’s up and down highways always returning.” The Gereformeerde Blues Band and Big Sky also sing about hitchhiking along the road while the unfortunate character in David Kramer’s “Matchbox Full of Diamonds” has to settle for walking along the road for hours, “under a sky that never cries”, yet he is nevertheless “happy as a hotel in the springtime, when the flowers bloom again.”

Also featured on this mixtape are Jack Hammer’s “Stay At The Wheel”, “Automobile” by the Blues Broers, Baxtop’s “Golden Highway”, Falling Mirror’s “Highway Blues”, “Rearview Mirror Blues” by the Radio Rats, McCully Workshop’s “Fast Car”, “Seat By The Window” by John Kongos, “Kelly’s Song” by Bobby Angel, Johnny Clegg’s “Ride In Your Car” and “Padkos” by Tony Cox, which is his acknowledgment of that very South African road trip tradition: of packing or stopping to buy food for the road.

If you can’t listen to this mixtape in your car we hope you can at least grab some padkos, sit back, imagine the road ahead of you and escape into the music.

  1. Window On The World – Bright Blue
  2. Hopetown 1975 (Stolen Gasoline) – All Night Radio
  3. Stay At The Wheel – Jack Hammer
  4. Ry – Gereformeerde Blues Band
  5. Hitch-Hike – Big Sky
  6. Automobile – Blues Broers
  7. Golden Highway – Baxtop
  8. Highway Blues – Falling Mirror
  9. Rearview Mirror Blues – Radio Rats
  10. Fast Car – Mccully Workshop
  11. Seat By The Window – John Kongos
  12. Spirit Is The Journey – Juluka
  13. Padkos – Tony Cox
  14. Life Time On The Road – Josie Field & Laurie Levine
  15. Kelly’s Song – Bobby Angel
  16. The Road Is Much Longer – Roger Lucey
  17. Ride In Your Car – Johnny Clegg
  18. All Roads – Liesl Graham
  19. Matchbox Full Of Diamonds – David Kramer
  20. Going Nowhere Slowly – One Day Remains

Songs About South African Streets

Music has the ability to capture the spirit of a place. This is a theme we have been exploring in the past few mixtapes about music and place names in South Africa. This mixtape continues that theme, but takes us right down to street level. Musicians have regularly been inspired to compose songs about the street they live or work in, a road they drive along, or to commemorate someone a street is named after.

Simphiwe Dana begins this mixtape with such a song: an ode to Steve Biko and the black consciousness ideas he encouraged. Biko said that, “A people without a positive history are like a vehicle without an engine.” And Dana seems to suggest that when black South Africans find that engine, they drive down Bantu Biko Street, celebrating their pride and dignity.

Also exploring principles through the metaphor of street names, in “Ambush Street” the Kalahari Surfers comment on South Africans being ambushed by corruption, some trying to beat the Jo’burg heat, discreetly breaking the law in Ambush Street. The woman in Jennifer Ferguson’s “In Judith Road” also breaks the law, doing what she needs to get by: “She feeds the fat boys ginger biscuits and masturbates the rest”.

The singer in Beatenberg’s “M3” thinks about how the freeway he drives along connects him to the person he sings to in the song, following the road wherever it takes him. Also in Cape Town, Bright Blue’s “2nd Avenue” is where the singer stops to make a bane, on the way to the station to catch a train.

Many of the songs on this mixtape capture the feel of streets solely through music, not using lyrics at all. From the upbeat vibe of the Boyoyo’s song about Eloff Street in the Jo’burg city centre to the mellow rural folksiness of Nibs van der Spuy & Guy Buttery’s Lobombo Mountain Drive in KwaZulu-Natal.

So many moments and places are aptly captured in songs, allowing us to remember or perhaps just to imagine …Wherever these songs take you, we hope you enjoy the journey!

  1. Bantu Biko Street – Simphiwe Dana
  2. New Street – Dave Goldblum
  3. M3 – Beatenberg
  4. Nuttall Street – Basil Coetzee
  5. Hanover Straat – Anton Goosen
  6. 2nd Avenue – Bright Blue
  7. Eloff Street No 2 – Boyoyo Boys
  8. 10th Avenue – African Jazz Pioneers
  9. WD 46 Mendi Road – Dick Khoza
  10. In Judith Road – Jennifer Ferguson
  11. Down Rockey Street – Moses Molelekwa
  12. Ntuli Street – Bheki Mseleku
  13. London Drive – Jo’burg City Stars
  14. Freeway to Soweto – David Thekwane & the Boyoyo Boys
  15. Ambush Street – Kalahari Surfers
  16. Armitage Road – The Heshoo Beshoo Group
  17. N3 East – Nishlyn Ramanna
  18. Lobombo Mountain Drive – Nibs van der Spuy & Guy Buttery
  19. 9 Aldershot Road – Government Car
  20. Mampuru Street – Sakhile

Censorship – Capital Played What SABC Would Not!

The first mixtape in our censorship series featured songs which Capital Radio played but which were banned from airplay on the SABC. We end our censorship series with a sequel to that first mixtape: focusing on 20 more songs which charted or were playlisted on Capital but which were ‘avoided’ by the SABC.

Back in September 1980, Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” was playlisted on Capital Radio. It is not clear whether or not the SABC censors realized the drug reference in the song, or even if they checked the lyrics at all, because the entire album was banned by the apartheid government’s Directorate of Publications. And so the SABC shelved the whole bang shoot, including “Comfortably Numb”.

“Tyler” by UB40 reached number one on Capital Radio on the 20th of June 1981, and stayed there for one week. As far as the SABC censors were concerned, UB40 were guilty of recording a politically provocative song. The song was about the racially-biased trial of 17 year old Gary Tyler who was convicted of murder by an all-white jury in Louisiana, despite several irregularities in the prosecution’s evidence and the lack of a murder weapon. The chorus lamented, “Tyler is guilty, the white judge has said so; What right do we have to say it’s not so.” The censors believed that the song was too similar to the apartheid context to be spun on South African radio. And so it wasn’t.

“Ghost Town” by the Specials spent two weeks at number one on the Capital Countdown on the 19th and 26th of September 1981. It reflected the dire situation in inner cities in England, including urban decay, unemployment, and violence. Its release coincided with the riots in places like Brixton and so became a soundtrack to the riots. Lines like “Government leaving the youth on the shelf”, “No job to be found in this country, can’t go on” and “The people getting angry” also spoke to the South African situation. Out of fear the SABC censors decided not to play it.

“Reggae Man” by John Miles peaked at number 22 on the Capital Top 40 on the 2nd of January 1982. Despite John Miles claiming “the reggae man good for you”, the SABC censors banned the song from airplay because it mentioned marijuana use, especially because the reggae man was “growing weed” and could “take you so high”.

“Golden Brown” by the Stranglers spent one week at number one on the Capital Countdown on the 24th of April 1982. Many listeners regarded ‘golden brown’ as an ode to heroin, as did the SABC censors who consequently ‘avoided’ it. Perceptive listeners interpreted ‘golden brown’ as referring jointly to a woman and heroin, both of whom help the protagonist to escape into peaceful, distant places. Or perhaps the SABC censors DID realize that the song was about a white man singing about a black lover …

In late 1981, Epic released Dutch band Quick’s song “Zulu” in South Africa . It was playlisted on Capital Radio in May and June 1982 but banned from airplay on the SABC because the censors believed its contentious lyrics hinted at a Zulu uprising, even though the lyrics seem to be referring to a bygone colonial era: “Pick up that spear and fight; Now that the time is right; Zulu man; Sound of the burning flight; Run like the wind tonight; Zulu man.”

Third World’s “Try Jah Love” spent two weeks at number four on the Capital Countdown on the 19th and 26th of June 1982. The SABC censors viewed Rastafarianism as a false religion or cult, and being uptight conservative Christians they banned anything that promoted Rastafarianism, including songs with the word ‘Jah’ in them. So it was goodbye to “Try Jah Love”.

There was no doubt about the drug reference in Rita Marley’s “One Draw” which was playlisted on Capital in July 1982. Marley begins the song by singing “I wanna get high, so high, I wanna get high so high, I wanna get high, so high, I wanna get high, so high, one draw, one draw”. This also turned out to be the chorus, so the SABC prevented the song from getting anywhere near the South African airwaves.

Rita Marley’s late husband, Bob Marley, also got jilted by the SABC censors in 1982. His song “Natural Mystic” was playlisted on Capital in August 1982. The song warns of the approaching apocalypse as described in the book of Revelations, with reference to trumpets blowing and “a natural mystic blowing through the air”. While the song is quite vague it does have political undertones, especially to the paranoid ear. Marley refers to “Many more will have to suffer, many more will have to die” and “can’t keep them down”. The SABC censors must have feared that this could be interpreted as an overtly political song applicable to South Africa, so they banned it from airplay.

Pink Floyd’s “Not Now John” reached number 25 on the Capital Top 40 on the 18th of June 1983. It is a critique of western global politics and corporate greed. The SABC censors, primed as they were to detect swear words, would have had no need to go beyond the first two lines: “Fuck all that we’ve gotta get on with these; Fuck all that, Fuck all that”. Which pretty much summed up the SABC censors’ sentiments towards the possibility of airplay for the song.

“She’s Sexy (And 17)” by the Stray Cats peaked on Capital Radio at number 23 on the 29th of October 1983. The word ‘sexy’ no doubt raised the suspicions of the censors who went on to ‘avoid’ the song because of its rebellious tone and suggestions of promiscuity. This included mildly rebellious sentiments such as “I ain’t goin’ to school no more; It starts much, much too early for me; I don’t care about readin’, writin’, ’rithmatic or history” and slightly sexual allusions like, “Acts a little bit obscene; gotta let off a little bit of steam”. It would have been viewed as irresponsible to air such sentiments on public radio with a large school-going audience. So it was avoided.

Despite spending two weeks at number one on Capital on the 28th of April and 5th of May 1984, “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood was barred from airplay on SABC. The song was far too sexually overt for the narrow-minded censors to accept: “Relax don’t do it, when you want to come; Relax don’t do it, When you want to suck it, chew it” and then later in the song: “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow uh, I’m coming, I’m coming yeah.” Well, Frankie my dear, not on the SABC.

Bright Blue’s “Window On The World” peaked at number 11 on the Capital Countdown on the 10th of November 1984. Given that the SABC was an ideological wing of the apartheid state it is not surprising that they objected to the song. It commented on the disquiet which many white South African males felt about being conscripted into a war they did not want to fight. While the rhythm is upbeat and even jovial, the lyrics lament the situation of “The young men marching everywhere, trying their best to escape” and “The young men marching everywhere, not sure how to cope.” Capital had the perceptive foresight to air the song.

“Steel Claw” by Dave Edmunds was playlisted on Capital in early 1985. While being a fairly cryptic song the SABC nevertheless objected to the political lines, “The politicians have forgotten this place”, and “So many people hanging onto the edge; Crying out for revolution, retribution.”

Don Henley’s “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” peaked at number 25 on the Capital Top 40 on the 27th of July 1985. The song is generally viewed as a critique of Reagan-era USA intervention in Central and South America. The woman in the song is seemingly oblivious to all the military shenanigans going on around her because “all she wants to do is dance”. The song includes lines like “Rebels been rebels since I don’t know when; But all she wants to is dance” and “Molotov cocktail – the local drink; When all she wants to do is dance”. For the SABC censors these references to war resembled the guerrilla warfare South Africa was involved in. They thus decided it was safest to ban the song from airplay.

Night Ranger’s “Sentimental Street” peaked at number 23 on the Capital Countdown on the 28th of September 1985. It is not immediately apparent why this song was ‘avoided’ by the SABC censors. It is about a person watching someone else walking down a street called Sentimental Avenue, and reflecting on their life. Perhaps the censors thought the line “Did you get your fill? Did you think you had to pay?” referred to prostitution. But it seems a flimsy reason to censor a song.

“Your Latest Trick” by Dire Straits peaked at number seven on the 14th of June 1986. The protagonist in the song describes the down town scene in a city: “And most of the taxis, most of the whores; Are only taking calls for cash”. That, together with reference to the prostitute’s “latest trick”, was enough for the SABC censors to ‘avoid’ the song.

Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” went to number one on the Capital Countdown on the 3rd of June 1989, where it spent one week. The ‘wild thing’ referred to by Tone Loc was inconsequential sex for fun. The song describes various scenarios where this happened to the central character. In one scenario, for example, he describes how he “Couldn’t get her off my jock, she was like static cling; But that’s what happens when bodies start slappin’ from doin’ the wild thing.” The SABC censors promptly slapped the song with an airplay banning order.

In “Together As One” Lucky Dube asked the question, “Too many people hate apartheid, why do you like it?” The SABC censors’ answer was to ban the song from airplay. However, on Capital it reached number two, where it spent two weeks, on the 3rd and 10th of June 1989.

If anything, Salt N Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex” is a positive song about the importance of sex education. It charted on Capital in late 1991, reaching number 6 on the 7th of December 1991 (we’re not sure if it moved further up the chart because we are missing some charts). In the song they sing, “Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows; Many will know, anything goes; Let’s tell it like it is; How it was, and of course, how it should be; Those who think it’s dirty have a choice; Pick up the needle, press pause, or turn the radio off.” Talk about inviting the censors to the party! They needed no second bidding and couldn’t get to the record player quick enough … and picked up the needle for the entire nation.

Fortunately Capital Radio didn’t waste money and time on censorship committees and sticky pieces of paper with ‘avoid’ written on them. Capital listeners got to hear a wider array of music both musically and lyrically, often not even realizing that the SABC wasn’t playing some of their favourite songs. They were encouraged to be more open-minded and free. Which is exactly what the apartheid censors were trying to repress. This mixtape goes out to Capital Radio, for being there when South Africans needed you most!

  1. Window On The World – Bright Blue
  2. Not Now John – Pink Floyd
  3. Relax – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
  4. Let’s Talk About Sex – Salt N Pepa
  5. All She Wants To Do Is Dance – Don Henley
  6. Steel Claw – Dave Edmunds
  7. She’s Sexy (And 17) – Stray Cats
  8. Sentimental Street – Night Ranger
  9. Your Latest Trick – Dire Straits
  10. Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
  11. Golden Brown – The Stranglers
  12. Ghost Town – The Specials
  13. Tyler – UB40
  14. Reggae Man – John Miles
  15. Natural Mystic – Bob Marley
  16. One Draw – Rita Marley
  17. Together As One – Lucky Dube
  18. Try Jah Love – Third World
  19. Zulu – The Quick
  20. Wild Thing – Tone Loc

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1990

In 1990 a fair range of South African musicians charted on the Capital Radio Top 40 countdown, 15 songs in all, including four released in 1989 but which charted in early January. These included Big Sky, Jonathan Butler, Cinema (two songs), David Kramer, Little Sister (three songs), Mango Groove (four songs), Marc Alex, Edi Niederlander and Trevor Rabin. We have come up with a further eightteen songs from 1990 which we think ought to have charted on Capital.

Of those musicians who did chart in 1990 we have included an additional song by Big Sky (“Diamonds and Dirt”) but all the other musicians whose songs we recommend escaped Capital’s attention that year.

In February 1990 Nelson Mandela was finally release from prison and to celebrate this Bright Blue recorded the song “Madiba” but unfortunately did not release it at the time, which is a pity because it would have perfectly captured the celebratory feel so many people experienced on that momentous occasion. Another song that captured that moment was Brenda Fassie’s “Black President” which Capital mysteriously did not promote, despite the significance of Fassie’s sentiments. Roger Lucey made a welcome comeback to music in 1990. His “Cape of Storms” was written at the time of Mandela’s release. Lucey, who was then working as a TV cameraman recalls, “I came to Cape Town in 1990 to cover Mandela’s release and I swear the wind blew without a break for four months. I spent a lot of time out on the Cape Flats. Then winter came and the rain started …”.

Shifty Records began the new decade with some significant releases, including Tony Cox’s In.To.Nation (from which we have included “Dinaledi”), Jennifer Ferguson’s Untimely (from which we have featured “Where you gonna be tomorrow”) and the Radio Rats’ Big Beat (from which we have included “Diary of a Diseased Coke Rep”). We also feature former Shifty artists, Tananas with their songs “Shake” (originally recorded with Shifty before Tananas switched labels).

3rd Ear Music made a big comeback in 1990 and deservedly also feature in our choices for 1990. They released new albums by Juluka’s Sipho Mchunu, Umhlaba Uzobuya (The World is Coming Back), (from which we feature “Jomane”), former Shifty artist Simba Morri, Celebrating Life,( from which we have featured “Unity”) and Roger Lucey, Running For Cover, including (as mentioned) “Cape of Storms” . There was also a recording comeback from Tony Bird, who, back in the 1970s used to play alongside many of the folk musicians associated with 3rd Ear Music. Here we have included his song “Wings Like Vivian’s”.

South Africa’s first notable hip-hop group, Prophets Of The City released the Our World album from which we feature the title track. There were also great songs released by Yvonne Chaka Chaka (“Umqombothi”), Bakithi Kumalo and Robbi Kumalo (“African woman”), Mike Makhalemele (“The Guys”), Mahlathini and the Mohatella Queens (“Music of Our Soul’) and the Soul Brothers (“Umhlola”).

Finally, Piet Botha’s band Jack Hammer released their second album of polished blues-rock.

Capital 604 – The Ones We Missed

In the course of putting together our series of songs that thought should have charted on Capital Radio in the 1980s, we missed out on a few songs that surely should have made it. Most of these we left off because we decided to restrict ourselves to one song per artist per mix tape.

These include songs by Bright Blue, Dog, eVoid, Jennifer Ferguson, Harari, Koos Kombuis, Mapantsula, Simba Morri, Edi Niederlander, No Friends Of Harry, Nude Red, Colin Shamley and Savuka. We like the Nude Red album so much that we decided to include two songs here, thus breaking our rule at the last opportunity! In addition, we have included Dudu Pukwana and The Softies because they ought to have been included to begin with, but they weren’t.

Thank you to anyone who gave us suggestions on what to include on this mixtape. We have you have enjoyed the series, and most importantly, we hope you enjoy this final selection for this series.

Show Playlist + Poll

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1988

1988 was a poor year for South African musicians on the Capital Countdown: only eight artists with nine songs made the Top 40 (there were two songs by Cinema). As always, we have put together a playlist of additional songs which we think should have charted.
Once again, we have Shifty Records to thank for recording various musicians who otherwise would not have been recorded and thus more easily forgotten: The Gereformeerde Blues Band, The Kêrels, Koos and Tananas. Shifty got behind the Voelvry tour in 1988 and three of these groups: the Gereformeerde Blues Band, The Kerels and Koos were included on the Voelvry compilation album of that year. As the Voelvry spirit of white Afrikaans rebellion swept through the dorps and cities of South Africa it is strange that Capital missed out on the opportunity to capture that moment.

1988 saw further releases from now established artists: Bright Blue, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Dog Detachment, Sipho Mabuse, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, Malopoets, Mango Groove and Savuka all released great new music, while David Kramer was back with music from the Cape Town musical, composed by Kramer and Petersen. Veteran folk guitar player, Steve Newman, was back with a group formed with two established Shifty artists, Gito Baloi and Ian Herman. 1988 also saw the emergence of Ralf Rabie (Johannes Kerkorrel) who was the main force behind the Gereformeerde Blues Band. Both of these Shifty initiatives went on to greater mainstream success over the next decade and a half. 1988 also saw a once-off album from the Jazzanians. While they did not record another album Zim Ngqawana went on to enjoy a successful solo career.

The Psycho Reptiles also recorded their first and only album in 1988, and are still remembered for their single “Monster From The Bog”. Bakithi Kumalo had risen to fame through his collaboration with Paul Simon on the Graceland album and tour and he released his first solo albumin 1988. Shake Baby was one of several Carl Raubenheimer initiatives after his collaborations with James Philips (Corporal Punishment and Illegal Gathering) but although they were a popular band on the live circuit in Cape Town they never went on to release a full album. Koos were a bilingual English-Afrikaans avante garde punk band who sadly also only brought out one album. The Kêrels released their debut album in 1988 and their “Golden Days” single has ended up on the occasional compilation album.

This eclectic mix of songs makes for interesting and enjoyable listening. Sit back, turn up the volume and have fun!

Show Playlist + Poll

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1987

There were fourteen South African songs that charted on the Capital Countdown Top 40 in 1987 and we suggest another sixteen which we think should have joined them. Two of these songs are by groups (Bright Blue and Savuka) who made the Top 40, but with only one song each. The rest were well-established musicians who somehow or other escaped the Capital music manager’s radar.

Once again their was a cluster of Shifty Records artists with some iconic songs deserving of a wider audience: Cherry Faced Lurchers, Jennifer Ferguson, Kalahari Surfers and Mr Mac and the Genuines. Syd Kitchen had been around for a decade and a half and finally recorded his debut album Waiting For The Heave, but he had to keep on waiting because his music was ignored by virtually everyone other than a few campus radio stations. All Night Radio had been around for a few years but were also battling to be noticed by radio stations. Bayete’s debut album also escaped Capital’s attention, as did anything ever released by Chicco, Mahlathini And The Mohatella Queens, Hugh Masekela, Sabenza, the Soul Brothers and Zia. Gothic band No Friends of Harry released an impressive debut EP but also failed to make the Capital Top 40.

The elephant in the room was the fear of the security branch and the possibility of losing the license to broadcast and so it almost went without saying that Capital would not playlist an overtly anti-apartheid song like Savuka’s “Asimbonanga” (although the slightly less obvious political song, “Missing” did chart in 1987). Perhaps this is why Capital ignored Shifty’s music, even though there were several classic songs which they released which would not have interested the security branch in the slightest, “Bay Of Bombay” by Jennifer Ferguson being one of them. Interestingly, the SABC sponsored a video of the song which they screened:

Capital could have got away with Chicco’s clever “We Miss You Manelow” in which he playfully laments the absence of someone called Manelow, but which everyone knew was Mandela.

Sadly, a lot of the exciting musical contests of the day seemed to bypass Capital. Be sure to give these a songs a listen now, they deserve your attention!

Show Playlist + Poll

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1984

1984 was yet another poor year for South African artists charting on the Capital Radio Top 40 countdown: only nine songs in all. Two bands included in this week’s playlist did chart on Capital’s Top 40: Bright Blue with “Window on the World” and Juluka with “Work For All”.

1984 saw a continuation of some of the themes noted in 1983: there was a steady increase in musicians fusing South African neo-traditional and Western styles of music: Hotline, Juluka and Via Afrika all brought out new albums, eVoid recorded songs possibly for their next album and Bright Blue debuted with their first album. There was also a continuation of the post-punk/new wave scene with songs by Dog Detachment, Niki Daly, The Dynamics and Illegal Gathering. Happy Ships produced the quirky and catchy “Car Hooter” while there were yet again several artists with pop songs based in neo-traditional township forms: Brenda And The Big Dudes, Harari, Joy, Lumumba and Condry Zuqubu, Hugh Masekela, Sankomota and the Soul Brothers. There was also scope for musical styles not often included on our mixtapes thus far: A heavy metal song by Black Rose and Tighthead Fourie & The Loose Forwards contributed the lone country song on this week’s mixtape.

Among the musicians who appear on this week’s playlist there is a reminder of the repressive arm of the apartheid state. The Dynamics, Juluka and Harari were regularly stopped at roadblocks and questioned about people of different race groups travelling together (Harari’s manager was a white woman). Roger Lucey had found it increasingly difficult to find venues at which to perform and broadcasters were not interested in playing his music, and so he changed his name and musical style in an attempt to resurrect his music career. As Tighthead Fourie & The Loose Forwards he hoped to at least get airplay as a country artist. To no avail.

Meanwhile in 1984 Condry Ziqubu had begun to tour in Africa and the USA with Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya, and in 1985 formed the Busa musical with several exiled and South African musicians and they toured several African countries including Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Libya, Senegal and the ‘frontline’ states of Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. On their return from the tour Ziqubu and the other members of the Busa cast had their passports confiscated and were harassed by the security police.

After releasing their debut album in 1984 Bright Blue were forced to take a two-year hiatus while two of their band members – Dan Heyman and Ian Cohen – underwent conscription against which they were strongly opposed. And while touring South Africa in 1984, eVoid’s drummer – Wayne Harker – was arrested by the Military Police because he had gone AWOL in order to participate in the tour. Former eVoid drummer, Danny De Wet, stepped in so that the tour could continue.

Uhuru were a Lesotho-based band who were banned from entering in South Africa because of their political lyrics (and the band’s name didn’t help). To get around this problem Shifty Records ingeniously took their recording studio to Lesotho (in the Shifty caravan) and recorded the band’s debut album there (it was also the first album Shifty recorded). The band in the meantime changed their name to Sankomota, which made it more likely that the album could be released in South Africa without repressive consequences. In time the band relocated to South Africa and continued to perform and release new music from their new base.

Once again, huge thanks to Marq Vas for helping us source a very hard-to-find track.

Show Playlist + Poll