SA Musicians Covering Overseas Songs

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

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

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

South African Musicians Covering South African Songs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Post ’94 Protest Music in South Africa

This week marks the second anniversary of mixtapes.ZA. To mark the occasion we have put together a mixtape of post-1994 protest songs, reflecting on how popular musicians have continued to speak out against injustice, despite the toppling of the apartheid government.

South African protest music against the apartheid system is well documented and has been featured in various mixtapes over the past two years. When, in 1994, the African National Congress came to power it was hoped that there would no longer be a need for protest music against injustices. However, extreme poverty and government corruption have continued. As the gap between the rich and poor grew, and public infrastructure deteriorated, some musicians began to protest the ongoing economic inequalities and government corruption through their music. Others also protested the relentless violent misogynist attacks against women which characterize life in South Africa.

This mixtape features a selection of music from different genres which tackle a cross-section of injustices. While there is some debate about what constitutes a protest song, for this mixtape we have selected songs which voice opposition to an injustice. Sometimes the songs are angry, other times they are mournful, and on occasion they are even humorous, when musicians use laughter as a weapon against injustice.

After the initial euphoria that came with the ending of apartheid, musicians began to voice concerns about greed and self-interest in the ANC government. In their 1998 release, “Put Off Saving The World”, Dorp tackled the problem of greed, both in society generally and within the government – “We’ve got inside information; On government masturbation; Don’t need no explanation; To come to a conclusion; It’s a fuct up situation.”

This situation worsened and as the early 2000s set in, service delivery was failing, infrastructure was falling apart and corruption was spreading. In “Potholes And Politicians”, Fuzigish drew a direct connection between government corruption and failing infrastructure: “On my way back home I hit another pothole; The government’s corrupted, the constitution is ill; All I seem to do is pay another bill.” While The A. K. Massive reflected that government lies and corruption put paid to dreams of a better future: “Ahh corruption! No more lies … In a country that teaches you to reach for the future, but be satisfied with less …” Similarly, in “Die Stad Bloei Vanaand”, Johannes Kerkorrel agonizes, “the dream was promised, but just another lie has been sold.”

During the Zuma years government corruption in the form of state capture was so appalling that Freshlyground called South Africa a “Banana Republic”:

All your people dying in freedom
Suffering a profound lack of leading
Are you even there when we call?
Are you a human, man?
Full of lies! Can’t believe what I’m hearing
From your lips a river of scheming
Poisoning all the water we’re drinking
Are we good to go?
Emergency
Discovery
No opportunity
It’s just another day in the Banana Republic
State of emergency!!!!

Freshlyground’s reference to the current situation as a “State of Emergency” especially rankled ANC supporters because it effectively compared Zuma’s abuse of power to that of the apartheid state, who tried to hold on to power through the declaration of a series of States of Emergency in the mid-to-late 1980s. Simphiwe Dana similarly draws a comparison between the two eras – in “State of Emergency”. She protests the way conditions in post-apartheid South Africa mirror the conditions facing the youth of 1976: “Only poverty reigns in our streets”. Lilitha’s “Marikana” also stands as a comparison between apartheid South Africa and the current ANC regime: this time miners shot dead by the new South African Police Services, defending the interests of mining capital.

Johnny Clegg’s “Asilazi” is “about an ordinary person who has to give up power to guarantee
their place in an uncertain tomorrow and the chorus is about those who have been waiting for
so long for this change to take place” (Johnny Clegg). While in “Zabalaza”, Thandiswa
Mazwai considers how those people waited in vain. She laments the state of South Africa and
asks how these atrocities can be happening in her father’s house, suggesting that the
government ought to be the father of the nation, securing everyone’s needs: “Why is it this
way? At my own father’s house; For their blood, sweat and tears; For their struggle and pain;
’Cause they gave up their lives for this.”

“Skunk Atavistic” by Lesego Rampolokeng & Kalahari Surfers is a stream of consciousness type dub poem with moments of bitter protest such as “Amandla for what? Not a fist you are clinching; It’s your sphincter.” Meanwhile in “Politics” Skwatta Kamp overtly and angrily protested the failure of the ANC government to deliver a better society to South Africans:

To me political parties are like escort agencies,
Those that fuck around the most get more money.
Of course they work hard to make their own pockets fat.
They don’t give a fuck about you and me it’s all an act.
Call me ignorant but I know my shit, I got direction.
Why the fuck you think I don’t take part in these elections.
Flabba signing out A-N-C you later.
Skwatta Kamp people’s thoughts are always greater.

Karen Zoid and Kaalvoet Prinses address the most appalling feature of South African society: endemic sexual violence against women. Zoid sings “Justice! Justice! Lock up all the rapists and thrown away the key” while Kaalvoet Prinses (Tremaine Barnes) who champions the Barefoot Campaign which supports victims and survivors of gender based violence, also protests violence against women with her call to action: “Women gave birth to this human race; And a new born girl gets a can of mace …”

Some musicians have used satire, irony and humour to critique human rights abuse and corruption. Witty and biting criticism is able to ridicule those in the wrong, and the subsequent laughter signifies moral triumph over the wrong doing.

In “Die Fokkol Song” (“The Fuck All Song”), Koos Kombuis makes humorous use of the term ‘fuck all” to ridicule and protest the government’s inability to provide South Africa’s basis needs. The song was released prior to the 2010 Football World Cup, and he introduced the song as though it was a welcome message broadcast to tourists arriving at the airport:

“Welcome to the airport, it’s the year 2010, I’m assuming you’re here to watch the soccer games. We finally have a chance to show the world our friendly democracy, so make yourself at home.

Fuck all petrol, Fuck all diesel, Fuck all TV, Fuck all power, Fuck all water in your whisky, Fuck all jokes to laugh about, Fuck all pills at the clinic, Fuck all doctors when you ask, Fuck all people to take the rubbish from your pavement… Welcome to South Africa. Yes, Welcome to South Africa.”

Roger Lucey set his song “Dalai Lama” to the tune of a traditional South African song “Daar Kom Die Alibama” (“There Comes The Alibama”) which apparently commemorated the visit of the warship, ‘The Alibama’, to Cape Town in 1863. Lucey made use of the similar sounding names to sing a humorously cutting critique of the Zuma government’s unlawful (pro-China) refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a South African visa to attend Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations. In “House Of Parliament Blues” Tony Cox uses humour mock the shenanigans which go on in Parliament.

In “Blue Light Brigade” the Kalahari Surfers cut and paste Julius Malema’s outrageous verbal attack against a journalist to both criticize and ridicule his behaviour, which is characteristic of the general arrogance of the ruling party politicians (at that stage Malema was an ANC member), most clearly evidenced in the way they race through the streets escorted by the South African Police with no regard for road rules or the rights of the average citizen:

Blue light Brigade
not another cavalcade
to knock you off your bike
as they jump a red light
or beat you to the ground
like a dog
to the sound
of the sirens
and the violence
unleashed
when you express your outrage

When Justin Nurse’s satirical T-shirt company, Laugh It Off, produced a T-shirt which parodied South African Breweries’ Black Label beer (“Black Labour, White Guilt”), South African Breweries sued them. David Kramer recorded and contributed the song “More Reward” towards a fund-raiser CD to help with legal costs. The song protests South African Breweries’ practices: “As we raise out glasses now that freedom’s here; Does the working man really profit from the beer?”

SOIL 7T7 and Half Price protest racism and capitalism respectively. “Can’t Keep Us Down” by SOIL 7T7 is a protest song by means of mobilising people against racism. They sing, “You can’t keep us down; ‘Cos we are coming around .. And we’re never gonna give it up”. Half Price’s “Guess It’s War” also calls for people to mobilise: “we should fight for our freedom, I think that we should die for what we believe in. If you think that it’ll end up alright. That’s bullshit cause it won’t, no it won’t. Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight.”

What these songs show us is that while there are issues we need to protest, South African democracy allows for such protests to be voiced. Songs like these would most probably have been banned by the apartheid government and/or the South African Broadcasting Corporation. And so, for now, that’s one thing we don’t have to protest.

  1. Banana Republic – Freshlyground (2017)
  2. State Of Emergency – Simphiwe Dana (2012)
  3. Zabalaza – Thandiswa Mazwai (2004)
  4. Marikana – Lilitha (2016)
  5. 41 000 Sisters – Kaalvoet Prinses (2019)
  6. Justice! Justice! – Karen Zoid (2015)
  7. Asilazi – Johnny Clegg (2006)
  8. More Reward – David Kramer (2003)
  9. Skunk Atavistic – Lesego Rampolokeng & Kalahari Surfers (2021)
  10. Blue Light Brigade – Kalahari Surfers (2012)
  11. House Of Parliament Blues – Tony Cox (2016)
  12. Dalai Lama – Roger Lucey (2011)
  13. Die Fokkol Song – Koos Kombuis (2008)
  14. Can’t Keep Us Down – SOIL 7T7 (2003)
  15. Politics – Skwatta Kamp (2002)
  16. Put Off Saving The World – Dorp (1998)
  17. Potholes And Politicians – Fuzigish (2002)
  18. Ahh Corruption – AK Massive (2005)
  19. Guess It’s War – Half Price (2006)
  20. Die Stad Bloei Vanaand – Johannes Kerkorrel (2000)