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

Boy From The Suburbs

“What the @$%! was that1” asks Leon Lazarus as he invites you to listen to his personal mixtape of the sounds around him growing up in the suburbs of Johannesburg in the 70s and 80s, before setting out into the world, but his ears still tuned to the Southern Hemisphere. From Springbok Radio Pop to Punk to New Wave to Rock and Folk in the 70s, 80s, an 90s, this was the soundtrack to his upbringing in South Africa.

Clout – Substitute
This is where I begin. I was only four when the song dropped into the charts and yet I remember singing along to it with my siblings. It was a brilliant piece of pop music making and deserved its place in the international charts. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Cindy Alter a few years back, and I was completely start-struck.

Jessica Jones – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday
This is another piece of pop genius and an enduring earworm that I could sing along to fifty years after hearing it for the first time. I was only six when it came out, but my sisters had the single playing on repeat, so it is now fused with my DNA.

Maria – Clap Your Hands, Stamp Your Feet
You know that every seven-year-old would be clapping and stamping along to this South African pop classic. Back in 1973, this song was everywhere and remained on heavy rotation at least until I sprouted hairs in parts unknown.

Glenys Lynne – Ramaja
This was the first Afrikaans language song that didn’t drive me round the bend. In primary school, Afrikaans was already a problematic language for me. It brought with it all sorts of complications. As a Jewish kid in a government school, I was forced to sit through sermons delivered by domienees, sing the national anthem (which I refused after a time), and attend veld-school where a neo-Nazi took pleasure in beating the spit out of us. When I found myself enjoying this song, I was as surprised as the next person. I am sure I wouldn’t have admitted that in 1976.

Ipi nTombi – Mama Thembu’s Wedding
This was the very first live stage show I was taken to, back in 1976. It was the year in which my primary school was sent home for fear of the unrest spilling over from nearby Alexandra Township. I clearly recall walking through the grounds of the Civic Theater in Johannesburg and climbing the steps to the enormous lobby. I remember the excitement of finding our seats, and the curtain going up. Most of all, I remember Margaret Singana’s spectacular performance. Despite it being a controversial musical about the plight of black women and their migrant men written by two white women, the music continues to hold a special place in my heart.

Paradise Road – Joy
A black all girl group singing a beautiful, touching, and immensely enjoyable song was an important step along my path to shrugging off the decades of bullshit we had been fed by the Apartheid government. At a time when the country was tearing itself apart, this brave song had us singing along. Looking back, the chorus was wonderfully subversive: “There are better days before us and a burning bridge behind, fire smoking, the sky is blazing. There’s a woman waiting, weeping and a young man nearly beaten, all for love. Paradise was almost closing down.”

Rabbitt – Charlie
My sister-in-law was one of the hundreds of screaming fans that camped outside the Duncan Faure’s house back in the 70’s. She and I got on like a house on fire, and her infatuation with the band was catching. I like the band enough to be able to sing along, but I think they needed to find a place on this list more for the fact that they were ever present in my life through the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Ballyhoo – Man On The Moon
This song makes it into the list by osmosis. I was not a huge fan of Ballyhoo, but jolling in Joburg during the 80’s, you couldn’t escape them. If you walked through Hillbrow on the way to a disco or bar, you were bound to hear Ballyhoo spilling out onto the street from a dinner club or music venue. After a while, they just became part of the wallpaper, and then you found yourself humming the damned tune.

éVoid:- Shadows
I spent my teenage years in a club called DV8, drinking, smoking, and generally being a hooligan. éVoid regularly made an appearance in the basement dive and never failed to bring the house down. Shadows was their biggest hit, and it brings back the fondest of memories.

Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse – Burn Out
I know, I know. You’ve heard it a million times. Make it a million and one. I love the song because it is so tightly intertwined with a memory that I recall like it was yesterday. My buddy Steven and I are gunning it down Louis Botha Avenue in Johannesburg at about 3am, on our way to a dice at the Pickin’ Chickin, and I do my radio DJ song ID over the iconic intro to Burn Out. Man, good times!

David Kramer – Botteltjie Blou
After matriculating, I started a law degree though Unisa and studied at the RAU library in Johannesburg. That’s where I first took notice of David Kramer. His posters were everywhere on campus, I remember getting a copy of Bakgat! from the record library and falling in love with it. I became a fan. To this day I have the same reaction as I did the first time I heard Botteltjie Blou. It is a sad song that pierces deep. I am instantly reminded of the terrible wave of deaths associated with the consumption of methylated spirits in the early 80’s. Back then, we spoke about it with a “shame, hey,” but the better I understood the world, the more I grasped how landless, poor, desperate, and brutalized people would go to any lengths to dull the pain, even drinking meths through a half-loaf.

Mango Groove – Pennywhistle
In the early 80’s, just out of matric, my circle of friends used to hang out at a club in Norwood called Quavers. It was a reasonably priced Jazz venue with great murals and a small stage in the corner. Steve, Mel, Lee, Gav and all the rest of us were regulars and could be found there at least once or twice a week downing flaming Sambucas with coffee beans floating in them, or late-night Irish coffees. Mango Groove was a regularly featured band and we landed up seeing them at least ten or fifteen times. It must be said that a good part of our gang lusted after Claire Johnston, so maybe the Sambuca wasn’t the only draw. Lacking sex appeal but perhaps the more memorable member of the group was Mickey Vilakazi, the trombonist. A showman with his instrument, he was both brilliant and fun to watch. Great memories.

Juluka – Thandiwe
I first saw Juluka perform live at the Free Peoples Concert on the WITS University sports fields. It wasn’t the last time. I was lucky enough to see the band bring the house down a few years later at Grahamstown’s Settlers Monument theater, and I attended Cleggs final farewell concert in San Diego. I remember hearing the song Thandiwe for the first time when my older brother and his friends had African Litany on the Hi-Fi. I can’t be sure, but today it feels like that was the moment I found the link between the music that was coming from Freddy’s PM9 powered record player in the back yard and the popular music on my radio. In the end, Juluka turned out to be crucial in shaping my attitude to Apartheid. Their songs helped break down my ideas of what being African meant and set in concrete my resolve to defy the SADF draft and do what I could to affect a different outcome in South Africa.
Johannes Kerkorrel en die Gereformeerde Blues Band – Ossewa
When the Voelvry tour came to Grahamstown in 1989, it was a lightbulb moment for me. Here was a group of Afrikaners who were pissed off about the same things I was. Even better, they played rock and blues and they were satirical and wry. It ticked all the boxes for me. I could have chosen a more political song from the tour, but honestly, I cracked up when I heard Ossewa for the first time. My family ran a motor spares shop in Edenvale, so the thought of cruising to Transkei at 160km/h in a V6 ox wagon with Elvis playing on the tape deck was brilliant!

Jack Parow – Cooler as Ekke
Jack Parow is one of those guys that figured out Afrikaans rap was waiting for a champion and a sense of humor couldn’t hurt. This is one of those songs that will remain evergreen for me.

Jack Parow and Valiant Swart – Tema Van Jou Lied
And then, Jack Parow showed his softer side by working with Valiant Swart to turn a well-crafted song into something extraordinarily touching and beautiful.

Vusi Mahlasela – Say Africa
The song Say Africa was written and originally performed by Dave Goldblum and appeared on his album Valley Road in 1997. Vusi Mahlasela took an already brilliant song and turned it into an iconic South Africa anthem. I find myself singing the chorus every now and again, especially when I am feeling a little homesick.

Urban Creep – Shot Down
I have always been a fan and admirer of Chris Letcher, not least of all because I had the pleasure of playing on a stage at his side. The fleeting moment our band went supernova at Jameson’s remains one of my most treasured memories. But he has never been better than when he paired up with Brendan Jury in Urban Creep. It gives me chills.

Springbok Nude Girls – Blue Eyes
I fell for SNG long after everyone else had. When I first heard Blue Eyes, I was already in the United States back in the early 2000’s. The song begins as a serene lullaby and then explodes into its signature fuzz. It is beautiful throughout and reminds me of a passionate argument with someone you love.

One Large Banana – Leave This Town
You might think I say this because I count Brett as my closest pal, but I have always loved his first EP Don’t Feed the Animals. It captures a moment in South African music and Grahamstown’s college vibe. I like to think it would have been the music I’d have been playing had we continued together in a band. More than anything, the songs are bloody catchy and turn into earworms immediately. A nod to Gareth Sweetman on Drums whose dad passed away recently, John Taylor on Guitar who is now quite respectable, and the smooth Jo Edwards with the golden pipes.

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 Places

To mark Heritage Day we have chosen a playlist of songs by South African musicians about South African places. Something homely to cuddle up with, or if you’re feeling active, to jive to. There are far more songs about South African places than we can fit on one mixtape, but we hope this is a good representation of songs and places. It’s a starting point: there will be more to come in this series where music and places meet.

There are all sorts of reasons someone could write and perform a song about a place. Often it is out of fondness, sometimes out of loathing or frustration, or simply because it is where one happens to be when a moment of song-writing inspiration hits. And at times it could be ironic, out of both loathing and attraction, where one isn’t entirely sure which it is.

The twenty songs on this mixtape begin in Cape Town, with Sabenza’s “CT Blues” and then Dollar Brand’s iconic “Mannenberg”, both of which feature Basil Coetzee. We end our stay in the Western Cape with Hotep Idris Galeta’s “Cape Town Before Midnight” before travelling north east along the coast to “Ebhayi”, as celebrated by Ami Faku. Then it is to the KwaZulu-Natal coast for Trans.Sky’s song about “Durban Poison” and Urban Creep’s “Sea Level”, both of those songs feature Brendan Jury and both are somewhat ambivalent about Durban, as many residents are. In 1977 Rabbitt were asked to write the theme tune for a new tv programme – The Dingleys – about a bookshop in Pietermaritzburg. Although the shop is fictional, Rabbitt nevertheless captured various aspects of Pietermaritzburg which remind us of the city at that time.

Next we move up to the Gauteng region for the remainder of the mixtape, starting with the Radio Rats’ celebration of Springs in “East Rand Town Called Springs” and then onto a series of Soweto-themed songs: “Orlando” by Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks, “Soweto Inn” by the Movers, Sipho Mabuse’s “Jive Soweto” and Tribe After Tribe’s “Suburb In The South”. Just a short drive from Soweto is the southern suburb of Rosettenville to which Van der Want/Letcher pay homage in the satirical “Rosettenville Blues”. The Julian Laxton Band contribute the offbeat “Johannesburg” and the Gereformeerde Blues Band pay tribute to Hillbrow with a classic Voëlvry song of that name. Then on to “Living In Yeoville” by the Aeroplanes, a song which will tweak on the heartstrings of lefties who lived in Yeoville in the 1980s and 1990s.

Lesego Rampolokeng & the Kalahari Surfers bring us back down to earth with “Johannesburg”, a city where dreams come to die. We move north east with Moses Molelekwa’s “Spirit Of Tembisa” and further north east again with Vusi Mahlasela’s tribute to Mamelodi, “Hello Mams”. James Phillips as Bernoldus Niemand ends things with his ironic tribute to Pretoria (as it was then), “Snor City”, about the growth of hair above the lip of every white man who passed him by on the street. As he lamented, the longer he waited, the more his hope diminishes.

Thanks to South African musicians for writing and performing songs that have become the soundtrack of our lives, and for those moments, celebrated on this mixtape, when creativity captures this place we come from.

  1. CT Blues – Sabenza
  2. Mannenberg – Dollar Brand
  3. Cape Town After Midnight – Hotep Idris Galeta
  4. Ebhayi – Ami Faku
  5. Durban Poison – Trans.Sky
  6. Sea Level – Urban Creep
  7. Dingley’s Bookshop – Rabbitt
  8. East Rand Town Called Springs – Radio Rats
  9. Orlando – Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks
  10. Soweto Inn – The Movers
  11. Jive Soweto – Sipho Mabuse
  12. Suburb in the South – Tribe After Tribe
  13. Rosettenville blues – Van der Want/Letcher
  14. Johannesburg – Julian Laxton Band
  15. Hillbrow – Gereformeerde Blues Band
  16. Living in Yeoville – The Aeroplanes
  17. Johannesburg – Lesego Rampolokeng & the Kalahari Surfers
  18. Spirit of Tembisa – Moses Molelekwa
  19. Hello Mams – Vusi Mahlasela
  20. Snor City – Bernoldus Niemand

Censorship – No Anti-Apartheid Sentiment On The SABC

The SABC was a central component of the apartheid government’s propaganda machine, bombarding South African citizens with entertainment and information which either promoted the government’s ideology or at the very least did not overtly oppose it. The SABC censorship committee was therefore following a very clear mandate when it prohibited any music which in some way or another opposed the government’s apartheid system.

This mixtape documents songs which tackled a variety of issues dealing with the injustices of apartheid. Most of the songs featured are by South African musicians: The Cherry Faced Lurchers, Brenda Fassie, Jennifer Ferguson, The Genuines, the Gereformeerde Blues Band, Koos Kombuis, Louis & The Jive, Sipho Mabuse, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Edi Niederlander, Savuka, Stimela and Condry Ziqubu. There are also a few international artists: Aswad, Harry Belafonte, Nona Hendryx, Latin Quarter, The Maze (featuring Frankie Beverly) and Joe Smooth.

These are just a few of the thousands of songs which fell foul of the SABC’s political censorship but nevertheless capture a cross section of the issues political songs dealt with: calling for political freedom in South Africa generally as well as the freedom of political prisoners in particular (for example Nelson Mandela), calling for justice, drawing attention to atrocities such as political detention and apartheid policing in support of unjust laws, and protesting against politicians (such as PW Botha).

A previous mixtape focused on political songs banned outright (for retail and import) by the Directorate of Publications and all songs featured on that mixtape were also necessarily banned from airplay on the SABC. They have been left out here to avoid repetition but that mixtape is recommended as an essential companion to this one.

  1. Jail To Jail – Brenda Fassie
  2. They Want To Be Free – Joe Smooth
  3. Confusion (Ma Afrika) – Condry Ziqubu
  4. Bring Him Back Home – Hugh Masekela
  5. Chant Of The Marching – Sipho Mabuse
  6. Where’s The Justice – Louis & The Jive
  7. Do It Right – The Genuines
  8. Sit Dit Af – Gereformeerde Blues Band
  9. Shot Down In The Streets – The Cherry Faced Lurchers
  10. No Rope As Long As Time – Latin Quarter
  11. Asimbonanga – Savuka
  12. Swart September – Koos Kombuis
  13. Suburban Hum – Jennifer Ferguson
  14. A New Day – Edi Niederlander
  15. Set Them Free – Aswad
  16. Move It – Harry Belafonte
  17. Freedom (South Africa) – The Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly
  18. Winds Of Change (Mandela To Mandela) – Nona Hendryx
  19. Soweto Save My Children – Stimela
  20. Soweto Blues – Miriam Makeba

Censorship – Watch Your Mouth on the SABC

There were two reasons relating to SABC apartheid-era language censorship. First, the apartheid government’s separate development policy affected radio broadcast. There was to be no mixing of languages in songs played on the SABC. The SABC was divided into numerous stations which each catered for a particular language group. For example, there was an English service, an Afrikaans service and seven Radio Bantu stations, each catering for an ‘indigenous bantu’ language. Even the bilingual (English/Afrikaans) Springbok Radio did not allow the mixing of English and Afrikaans in songs. Second, songs were banned if they included what the censorship committee regarded as swear words, or more broadly, obscene language.

On this mixtape songs banned (at least in part) because of the mixing of languages were: “Uhuru” by Sankomota, “Woza Friday” by Juluka, “Boy Van Die Suburbs” and “Bokkie Bokkie” by David Kramer. In all four instances the songs included the sort of phrasing which South Africans used when talking to each other, throwing in a word or more of a different language to express themselves using the nuances of the different languages they were exposed to. But this everyday use of language fell on the monolingual ears of the censors and all were banned from airplay at the time of their release (there was a relaxing of this form of censorship in the mid-to-late 1980s).

The rest of the songs on the mixtape were banned from SABC broadcast because they included obscene language. In some of the cases here there were further reasons for being prohibited from airplay, for example “Paranoia In Parow-Noord” by Koos Kombuis which was banned for using obscene Afrikaans words such as “Doos” and “Fok” but was also banned for drug reference (“Ek rook zol”) and blasphemy (“Maar dank god”).

“Energie” by the Gereformeerde Blues Band included the line “Selfs al kak jy weens die rente” (“Even though you’re shitting yourself over the rent”). Another naughty word which led to songs being banned from airplay was “ass”, as in “All I wanna do is sit on my ass” in Queen’s “Man On The Prowl”, “And you better get your ass out the door” in Billy Joel’s “Ain’t No Crime” and “I’d say we’ve kicked some ass” in “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts also used the word ‘ass’ in “Someday” with the line “‘I’m gonna spit in your face an’ laugh at your ass” but pushed the barrier much too far by also including the line, “listen to me you son of a bitch”. Another word to be exorcised from South African radio was ‘shit’, included in Joe Jackson’s ‘Friday” (“You’ll take any shit”), Prince’s “Housequake” (“My lord (Housequake); My lord (Housequake); Bullshit”), Monty Python’s “ Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” (Life’s a piece of shit when you look at it”), “Streetwise” by Bros (“You need the shit like a latest trend”) and “Private Life” by Grace Jones (“Attachment to obligation, through guilt and regret, shit that’s so wet”).

If fairly tame words like ‘ass’ and ‘shit’ upset the SABC censors, then more severe words like ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ must have sent shudders through the boardroom table and had the censors scrambling for their heart tablets and crucifixes. “F.R.C.” (Fat Rich Cunts) by the Screaming Jets was banned because of the word ‘cunt’ while several songs were banned for uttering some or other variation of the word ‘fuck’: “Had It With You” by the Rolling Stones (“And I love you dirty fucker’”), “The Kiss” by the Cure (“Get your fucking voice out of my head”), Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “Crush” (“I can’t stand this fucking rain”) and Soundgarden’s “Big Dumb Sex” with a chorus that goes “I’m gonna fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck you, fuck you”.

Reflecting on apartheid state broadcast censorship through the lens of the examples provided in this mixtape, many musicians would seemingly have concluded that the most obscene four letter word was undoubtedly ‘SABC”.

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!”

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1989

The eighties ended with a wide variety of South African music making the Capital Radio Top 40 Countdown (14 songs released in 1989 made the charts) and even more which did not chart. Of the songs we suggest should have charted, three are by artists who did make the charts but who had other songs worthy of radio play: David Kramer, Edi Niederlander and Savuka.

In a market where so many South African musicians packed in their musical ambitions after a single or an album or two it was reassuring to see so many musicians who were still releasing music who had been there at the beginning of the 1980s: Johnny Clegg (as part of Juluka), Dog Detachment (as Dog), Sipho Gumede (as a member of Spirits Rejoice and then with Sakhile), David Kramer, Sipho Mabuse (as a member of Harari), Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Sipho Mchunu (as part of Juluka) and Tim Parr (as a member of Baxtop and then with Ella Mental) all released significant music which either charted on Capital Radio in 1980 or which curiously missed out. There were also others who were performing in 1980 who released music in 1989: members of the African Jazz Pioneers, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens and Edi Niederlander.

Shifty Records were still releasing poignant music for the times: Johannes Kerkorrel’s Gereformeerde Blues Band and Koos Kombuis, main attractions of the Voelvry Tour, as well as the Kalahari Surfers, Noise Khanyile & the Jo’Burg City Stars and Winston’s Jive Mix Up. There were also good tunes from Cape Town-based musicians, Amampondo and Niki Daly.

We recognise that even in our missed mixed tapes we have ironically missed other songs from the 1980s which you might think were worthy of airplay at the time. Some of these have already been pointed out to us. If you have noticed any songs which have been missed, either by Capital Radio or on Mixedtapes.ZA please leave your suggestions in the comments section and we will do out best to include them in next week’s double missed mixtape!

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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!

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