In The Spirit Of Mixtapes 1: SA In The 2000s

We have been putting together mixtape selections with various themes for over two years, but this is our first mixtape in which one of us has put together a selection of songs in the spirit of the old cassette mixtape: put together for various reasons but most often it was a work of creative passion. Mike Glennon of the School of Creative Arts and Media suggests that the “audio cassette and recordable cassette player allowed amateurs, enthusiasts and consumers to similarly capture, share and reconfigure recorded sound, thus inserting themselves into the production process.” In other words, we used to contemplate all the music we had at hand, and then select just a small assortment of those songs and record them in the order which we chose. In that exciting or special moment that selection of songs, in that particular order, became part of our identities.

Sometimes we made mixtapes for ourselves to play on a car journey or at a party, and sometimes we made them for somebody special. Sometimes the tape had a theme, such as songs with meaningfully chosen lyrics for a romantic partner (or optimistically chosen to woo a potential partner) or sometimes it was a selection of songs recorded from someone else’s record collection just so that we could take them home with us to listen to. I remember two or three occasions when I made mixtapes from records belonging to people for whom I was housesitting. Because, of course, those were the days when many of us had limited budgets for record or cassette purchases and there was no internet, so we had to make do with what we owned, what we could scavenge from others (by means of recording onto cassette) or the radio. And in 1970s South Africa, that pretty much meant middle of the road Radio 5 or some regional radio station like Radio Good Hope. Thus mixtapes were often the cherished option.

There was a lot of skill to making a good mixtape. While some of those skills apply to the modern day digital equivalent: the curated digital playlist, some uniquely belonged to the cassette mixtape. So for example, while in both instances there is a skill to choosing songs which flow exquisitely into each other and which maintain the listener’s ongoing interest, the cassette tape uniquely required a skilful choice of songs which fitted as closely as possible into a (typically) 30 minute or 45 time limit: the length of one side of a tape. I remember many wasted hours spent staring agonisingly at the diminishing amount of tape on the cassette feeder spool, balanced with equally anxious glances at the amount of space left before on the current track on the record as it span around the turntable. Much cursing took place when the play and record buttons snapped up on the tape deck, while the chosen song was still playing. That was the catalyst for a furious search through the record stacks for a song of the required length, most often something short. It was not acceptable to leave a long pause at the end of a cassette tape: it was a waste of precious recording opportunity. When one got it right it was with a sense of immense accomplishment: that moment when the last note of the songs played and then a few seconds later the cassette came to an end. Pure bliss! Another skill particular to a cassette mixtape was ordering the music of the two sides: so that each side had its own particular identity: fast vs slow songs or short vs long songs and so on. Or perhaps it was just a mix of a mixtape which in itself took careful compiling.

This is a bit of a mix of a mixtape. I have selected 20 South African songs from this century which I would like as many people as possible to hear and which in all likelihood would not have been playlisted on regional radio stations (or in fact any radio stations). These are songs I wish had been given regular rotation on commercial radio and which I wish had earned their composers and performers enough money to live off for a year or two, even if modestly. Instead I can only hope that people who listen to this mixtape find a few songs which they like and which in turn motivate them to go out and buy some of this music – in whatever format is available. Or perhaps support them at their next live show.

I don’t want to say too much about the musicians I have chosen. That can be up to you. Some of them are people who have appeared on the scene fairly recently (such as Adelle Nqeto and Madele’ Vermaak) or who have been around a bit longer but whose music I have discovered in the past five years or so, such as Hot Water and Lucy Kruger & the Lost Boys). I am also always interested to hear new music brought out by people whose music I grew up with – before I left university, that is. So on this mixtape that includes Dax Butler (of Nude Red who appeared on the Shifty Records Forces Favourites album), 70s folk singer, Paul Clingman, Bright Blue’s original vocalist, Robin Levetan, eVoid, Jennifer Ferguson, Gary Herselman (with his project, Die Lemme), and Syd Kitchen and Madala Kunene with their project as a duo, Bafo Bafo. Beyond that there’s a mix of people who make exciting music, most of whom have been around for ten or twenty years or more: the Dolly Rockers, Simphiwe Dana, Guy Buttery (with an appearance from Vusi Mahlasela), Amathongo, Nakhane Toure, Laurie Levine, Matthew van der Want, Chris Letcher and Hotep Idris Galeta. Listen, enjoy and find out more!
Michael Drewett

  1. Lovesong – Dolly Rockers
  2. Standing On Air – Die Lemme
  3. You Keep Calling – Simphiwe Dana
  4. Mix It Up – eVoid
  5. Perfect Day – Robin Levetan
  6. Bushfire – Hot Water
  7. Lift Me Up – Dax Butler
  8. Everywhere Everything – Paul Clingman
  9. Werner Meets Egberto In Manaus – Guy Buttery & Vusi Mahlasela
  10. Mlisa – Bafo Bafo
  11. Nozimama – Amathongo
  12. Tabula Rasa – Nakhane Toure
  13. Where Have You Gone – Laurie Levine
  14. Stay – Adelle Nqeto
  15. Empty Hands – Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys
  16. Pocket Full Of Stones – Madele’ Vermaak
  17. God’s Hotel – Jennifer Ferguson
  18. Dream Of You – Matthew Van Der Want
  19. Frail Lib – Chris Letcher
  20. Blues For Mongezi – Hotep Idris Galeta

Special – Gary Herselman Fundraiser

Gary Herselman is a legend of the alternative South African music scene. Recently Shifty Records championed a campaign to raise finds for Gary who, like many veteran indie South African musicians, has fallen on hard times. As Shifty noted:

It has recently come to our attention that notorious (only in the best way) shorts-sporting Kêrels frontman Gary Herselman (AKA Piet Pers of the Gereformeerde Blues Band) has fallen on hard times, within already hard times for him, within what are, as I’m sure you are aware, hard times for everyone. To help Gary out, we have organised a Back-a-Buddy campaign and are working on a compilation album of his best tunes (https://shiftyrecords.bandcamp.com/releases), as well as a few other treats for fans. Visit https://www.backabuddy.co.za/gary-herselman to lend your support .

Gary Herselman is best known for his band The Kêrels, but prior to forming the Kêrels he began his career in the music industry by forming various bands while at school before getting a long-standing job at Hillbrow Records in 1980 and during that time playing in the band Hard Lines (contemporaries of The Asylum Kids) and then the Kêrels. Like many musicians of that time they ended up playing at Jamesons and, also like several musicians of that time, were signed by Shifty Records. In 1988 they recorded the album Ek sê. As Gary remembered:

“Lloyd … came up to me after one gig at the Jameson’s and said ‘look I want to record your band.’ And it took me about eight months to accept that this guy was actually serious, you know, I thought he just was pulling my leg! But eventually I accepted that he was serious and went and make the record.”

The album did not sell very many copies but gained a cult following. Not long after that the Kêrels broke up but a second phase of the group formed in the 1990s and they released a second album, Chrome Sweet Chrome (1995) which met with a similar fate to the first album. meanwhile Gary had formed his own record company, Tic Tic Bang, recording some South African music and distributing both their own and other independent artists as well as licensing overseas music.

Musically, from 1989 until the late 1990s, Gary was involved in other projects, such as being a member of Johannes Kerkorrel’s Gerefomeerde Blues Band for the Eet Kreef (1989) album and on the Voëlvry tour, playing on the Koos Kombuis Niemandsland (1989) album and on the Radio Rats Big Beat (1990) album and also playing with the Radio Rats around the same time. In 1997 the Kêrels played on two tracks on Matthew van der Want’s debut album, Turn on You (1997) and also periodically backed him on stage.

Gary has always been supportive of other musicians and worked with the likes of Matthew van der Want, Jo Edwards and Sue Charlton in recording music in the late 90s/early 2000s period. For Gary, music wasn’t just a serious business, it was a creative calling and fun. Matthew van der Want remembered he and Gary recording the satirical song “The Worst Song in the World … Ever! (Battle of the Bads)”, about a terrible Battle of the Bands competition, where the musicians played their instruments badly:

“It’s supposed to be a dig at crap SA bands: ‘It’s Friday night at half past ten the band’s about to start. Everyone who’s nobody is loitering at the bar. The singer is a looker, she’s invested in her clothes. Isn’t there a law against lyrics like those?’ and behind the vocals, there’s this drummer who keeps playing on the wrong beat and a bass player who is intent on making the song go in another direction. I did the music with Gary Herselman and we were in hysterics while we were doing it.”

Gary’s life has always centred around music and he has been most satisfied when able to make music and make a living from music. Back in 1998 he commented:

“In my books I’ve been successful already. I’ve managed to do exactly what I’ve wanted to do. The music was absolutely without compromise, and there was a sector of the population that accepted it, that really loved it. There was a kind of a feeling that I had there that you either really loved it or you really hated it. So I think that the success in the first time that the Kêrels played was just in making the album. That was the success. I never wanted to be on the cover of Billboard or to change the world or you know … I just wanted to maybe change a few people’s minds and have a bit of a laugh along the way … to me I think the success is in having not made a compromise in that I don’t have to take a job at the OK Bazaars and I’m still working in music and I can record the music that I like.”

Since the demise of the Kêrels and Tic Tic Bang, Gary has battled on, working with other musicians, including co-producing (with Matthew van der Want) the tribute to Koos Kombuis Kombuis Musiek compilation album and periodically putting out his own music, including the highly acclaimed Die Lemme’s Rigtingbefok (2014) album in which he collaborated with several South African musicians and House For Sale (2018).

This mixtape is our attempt to celebrate Gary’s contribution to South African music. From his own work with the Kêrels, as a solo artist, and with Die Lemme to his output as part of Die Gereformeerde Blues Band and the Radio Rats and his collaborations with South African musicians Matthew van der Want, Sue Charlton, Q-Zoo and Jo Edwards. Whatever he has done, ultimately Gary has always played his music on the outskirts of the music industry, and having a hellova time while doing it. As Gary noted:

“musicians … going down, getting their own together with the help of no corporates or no major companies were behind things like the Voëlvry tour. It was an Indie like Shifty who understood what was going on. And it was in fact a case of that: that you just actually took the microphone for yourself rose up and took … the small man rose up and took a slice of the boerewors!”