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

Music from Makhanda

Many a poet, writer, journo, musician, dancer, artist, and even person on the street, has experienced the sort of creative inspiration in Makhanda (and also when it was Grahamstown) which only ever comes to one at the centre of the creative universe. This mixtape celebrates why we think Makhanda is the centre of the South African popular music universe. Given the size of the town it is staggering to hear how much good music has been made by people from here, or who have at the very least stopped in Grahamstown and Makhanda as part of their life’s journey.

This mixtape begins with “Deep Frieze” by Chris Letcher, who grew up in Grahamstown, and attended school and university here. As a student he was a member of Gramsci Beat before going on to much bigger things: with Urban Creep and as a duo with Matthew van der Want. When he finally released his long overdue debut solo album (Frieze, released in 2007) it was critically acclaimed, and “Deep Frieze” gives a good indication as to why the album was so well-received.

Larry Strelitz has been part of the Grahamstown and Makhanda music scene since the 1970s, when he was an active member of the Rhodes University Folk Club. He is a songwriter of note and has performed in various groups and as a solo artist. “Declaration of Independence” is from the early 1990s, and was one of a series of songs based on poems by almost equally longstanding Grahamstonian and local poet, Robert Berold.

Gil Hockman is one of several musicians on this mixtape who passed through Grahamstown and Makhanda as a student. He was a founder-member of The Buckfever Underground (see below) and in 2009 began performing as a solo artist. “A Long Way Home” is taken from his 2013 EP, All The Things.

Lucy Kruger was also a temporary Grahamstown sojourner while she studied Music and Drama at Rhodes University towards the end of the first decade of the 2000s. She initially performed as a solo artist but went on to form Medicine Boy and Lucy Kruger & the Lost Boys. While the former has since broken up she still performs as the latter. Like Gil Hockman, she has since relocated to Berlin, Germany. Here we have included “Half Of A Woman: from her 2019 album, Sleeping Tapes For Some Girls.

Back in the 1950s, when Grahamstown was affectionally known in some circles as ‘The Little Jazz Town” , there were several groups who provided the town with a jazz soundtrack, including the Gaiety Brothers, the Modern Keys, the Jumping Jitt Fives, the Satchmo Heights and the Merry Swingsters, who appear here with Victor Mkize & Joyce Foley performing “Hambela eBhayi”, recorded in 1953. The most influential of the musicians in this circle was Jury Mphelo. He became well known in Johannesburg with groups like Orlando Six and King Jury and His Band. Here he features under his own name performing “Isicatula Boots”, recorded in 1957.

Another prominent South African jazz musician, Zim Ngqawana, studied at Rhodes University in the mid to late 1980s before going on to the University of Natal and a hugely successful solo career. “Gobbliesation (In a Global Village)” is taken from his third solo album, Zimphonic Suites, released in 2001.

Andrew Tracey, most closely associated with the International Library of African Music, is almost as well known for the Andrew Tracy Steel Band, for many, many years a part of the Grahamstown soundscape. Here we include “Chakwi”, recorded in 2004.

Another longstanding local musician, Monwabisi Sabani, achieved a degree of national fame in the 1990s, culminating in appearances on SABC TV. “Ningathengisani” is taken from the “Mnandisa” album, recorded by Mountain Records in 1998.

Leather Omnibus were a mostly student Grahamstown band together with members from Rhini township. The band included Tune Me What’s Brett Lock and Leon Lazarus. Here we include “Neighbours” (1989) with yet another permanent local, Mini Dial, on vocals. The band was short-lived but did land a residency at Jameson’s in Johannesburg in December 1989, featuring Gramsci Beat’s Chris Letcher and Alan Finlay as guest musicians.

James Ribbans was a student at Rhodes University at a similar time to Leather Omnibus and always stole the show whenever he performed. He has continued to make music in London, where he has been based for many years. “Night Painting” (2014) performed with Zhenya Strigalev gives some idea as to what the fuss was all about.

Indicator was a band formed by Sean Hayward also formerly of the late ’90s Rhodes student band, Karmic Drink, with various collaborators. BMG Records Africa offered to sign Indicator on the strength of his album Are Their Spirits Here? , but Hayward opted to try his luck in London, but wasn’t successful. The title track is featured on this mixtape. Now living in the USA, Hayward is still active in the local music scene there. Karmic Drink came second in the 1998 Rhodes University campus ‘Battle of the Bands’ behind winner One Large Banana (see below).

Live Jimi Presley were originally a mid-1980s Grahamstown band called Vader Jakob. They changed their name to Manhole and then to Live Jimi Presley. “Song A” is taken from an album of earlier recordings released in 2016.

Photographer and musician Tim Hopwood has spent most of his life in his native Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) but spent a few years at Rhodes University in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. He is a regular at local live venues and periodically releases new music. “Revelations” is a Hopwood song, taken from the album, Songs of Love and Death which he recorded with Joe Van Der Linden in 2007.

Madele Vermaak was a friend and musical contemporary of Lucy Kruger, and has performed as a solo artist over the years. This year she released her first solo work, A Pocket Full of Stones, from which “Love Breaks Time” is taken. Vermaak now lives in Vietnam.

Nishlyn Ramanna has a long relationship with Grahamstown and Makhanda, having spent two fairly long stints in the Rhodes University Music Department, where he currently works. “N3 East” is taken from his critically acclaimed debut album, A Thought, released in 2005.

The Nia Collective are a popular current Makhanda band, whose performances over the past decade have been keenly awaited and enjoyed. “Mind the Gap” is taken from their debut album, Acoustic Soul.

The Koeksusters were a mid-1980s Andrew Sisters-styled vocal group comprising four Rhodes University students: Pauline Higgins, Alison Love, Karin Thorne and Tessa Gawith. They never recorded studio versions of their songs although there might be some live recordings lurking around somewhere. They were an End Conscription Campaign aligned band who performed political songs. The version of “Raglan Road” featured here is a live recording taken from the ECC 25th anniversary concert in 2008. It features only Karin Thorne and Tessa Gawith because the other two members were not able to attend.

The Aeroplanes were also a group of Rhodes students from the late 1970s, early 1980s, but they only formed a band after they left Rhodes University and returned to their home city, Johannesburg. Band members included Michael Rudolf (who had featured in various Grahamstown bands while he was a student), Carl Bekker, Gary Rathbone, Robert Muirhead and James Whyle. Their only album, The Aeroplanes, was released by Shifty Records in 1986. From that album we feature the song “National Madness”, a different version of which also appears on the Shifty/End Conscription Campaign compilation, Forces Favourites (1985).

James Phillips was already a fairly established muso when he arrived at Rhodes University to study music in the early 1980s (and his stay partly overlapped with the future members of the Aeroplanes). He had already released an EP with the Springs band, Corporal Punishment. In his short-lived stay at Rhodes University (he soon left to continue his studies at Wits University) he met Lee Edwards. The two later got together to form the Cherry Faced Lurchers, whose debut album, Live at Jameson’s was also recorded by Shifty Records. “Shot Down” is taken from that album, and just as with the Aeroplanes’ “National Madness”, an alternative version of the song was included on the Shifty/End Conscription Campaign compilation, Forces Favourites (1985).

One Large Banana was a late 1990s Grahamstown band including former Leather Omnibus member, Brett Lock. Other members included Jo Edwards, John Taylor and Gareth Sweetman (son of Barry Sweetman – see below). They released the EP Don’t Feed The Animals and won the Rhodes University leg of Battle of the Bands competition in 1997, which allowed them to appear at Oppikoppi later that year. “Leave This Town” from the EP went on to chart on 5FM and Radio Algoa. The band broke up in 1999.

The Kiffness is the stage name of David Scott who studied Music and Journalism at Rhodes, where he played trumpet in a jazz band and DJed at campus bar, ‘The Union’ The Kiffness’s debut single “Where Are You Going?” (featured here) charted on 5FM in 2013.

Radio Kalahari Orkes is a band fronted by former Grahamstownian Ian Roberts, possibly more familiar to the public as an actor. They perform a sort of progressive Boeremusiek-infused folk. Roberts is a graduate of both St Andrews school and Rhodes University, where he studied Drama and Anthropology in the late 1970s. This mixtape includes the song “Kaptein, Kaptein” taken from the Grootste Treffers album, released in 2011.

Barry Sweetman has been a fixture on the Grahamstown local music scene for almost 5 decades. A blues guitarist, he has performed solo and with various local musicians – including his son Gareth. Notably, he has never released an album, but has made a few professional recordings. We feature an instrumental track called “Soul Thing”.

Toast Coetzer was a Journalism student at Rhodes in the late 1990s and was involved in local music promotion and a DJ on Rhodes Music Radio. Together with a rota of collaborations – similar to the ethos of the Kalahari Surfers – Coetzer set his poetry over a bed of ambient music as The Buckfever Underground (founded with Gil Hockman), releasing a number of albums including Jou Medemens is Dood (1999) and Teaching Afrikaans as a Foreign Language (2002). Here we feature the song “Who’s Your Memory”, taken from the former album.

Cassette was a band led by Jono Savage formerly of late 1990s Rhodes student band Karmic Drink, together with Andrew Wessels of the mid-90s campus band Just Encasement (which also featured Gareth Sweetman, later of One Large Banana). Cassette won a “Best Rock Album” SAMA in 2007 for their album Welcome Back To Earth. In 2008, they won an MTV Africa award and they have the distinction of being the first SA band to tour Japan! After Cassette, Savage became a popular radio host and Wessels a film director. Wessels also drummed for Just Encasement, the final band featured which also included Gareth Steetman (later of One Large Banana). They were a popular band on campus in the mid 1990s.

Songs

  1. Deep Frieze – Chris Letcher
  2. Declaration Of Independence – Larry Strelitz
  3. A Long Way Home – Gil Hockman
  4. Half Of A Woman – Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys
  5. Hambela Ebhayi – Merry Swingsters With Victor Mkize & Joyce Foley
  6. Isicatula Boots – Jury Mphelo
  7. Gobbliesation (In A Global Village) – Zim Ngqawana
  8. Chakwi – Andrew Tracy Steel Band
  9. Ningathengisani – Monwabisi Sabani
  10. Neighbour – Leather Omnibus
  11. Night Painting – James Ribbans & Zhenya Strigalev
  12. Are Their Spirits Here – Indicator
  13. Song A – Live Jimi Presley
  14. Revelations – Tim Hopwood And Joe Van Der Linden
  15. Love Breaks Time – Madele Vermaak
  16. N3 East – Nishlyn Ramanna
  17. Mind The Gap – Nia Collective
  18. Raglan Road – The Koeksusters
  19. National Madness – The Aeroplanes
  20. Shot Down – Cherry Faced Lurchers
  21. Leave This Town – One Large Banana
  22. Where Are You Going? – The Kiffness
  23. Kaptein – Radio Kalahari Orkes
  24. A 2 Soul Thing – Barry Sweetman
  25. Who’s Your Memory – The Buckfever Underground
  26. Welcome Back To Earth – Cassette
  27. Just Encasement – It Feels