South African Songs About Political Places

Music has the ability to capture moments and sentiments. On occasion it reminds us of places and also of events which transpired in those places. This mixtape includes a selection of musical pieces written about political events which unfolded in specific places in South Africa. Some of these focus on particular events such as the Rivonia Treason Trial, the Mdantsane bus strike, and the Marikana Massacre, while the majority reflect in one way or another on that especially heartless apartheid practice of forced removals: moving people against their will from the place they called home to a different, hostile, and unfriendly place: away from one’s community, away from all the familiar associations of home. Because forced removals were so painful it is no surprise that there are so many compositions about places from which people were forced to move by the apartheid state. Sophiatown, Cato Manor, Crossroads, and District Six are covered in this mixtape . People lost their homes and their communities but held onto their memories … and the songs remain.

One of the songs included here captures the mood of most, if not all, the pieces featured on this mixtape. In Mdantsane in July 1983, in response to severe price increases, a boycott was called, of buses partly owned by the Ciskei government. The apartheid Ciskei security forces, supported by vigilantes, attempted to force people to use the buses, resulting in bloody assaults, injuries and death. Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu wrote the song “Mdantsane” about the bus boycott. They asked, “Why don’t you sing about the African moon; Why don’t you sing about the leaves and the dreams; Why don’t you sing about the rain and the birds?” And they answered, “’Cause mister I’ve seen mud coloured dusty blood; Bare feet on a burning bus; Broken teeth and a rifle butt; On the road to Mdantsane.”

All the musicians on this mixtape similarly chose to document government and employer atrocities rather than to only sing about the leaves and the dreams.

Mzwakhe Mbuli contemplated the apartheid legislative capital, Pitoli, Dolly Rathebe & the Elite Swingsters commemorated the accused at the Rivonia treason trial, and Lesego Rampolokeng and the Kalahari Surfers reflected on the Sebokeng siege. The Junction Avenue Theatre Company (who performed the musical Sophiatown), the African Jazz Pioneers, and Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks all lament the forced removals from and bulldozing of Kofifi/Sophiatown, while Nancy Jacobs & her Sisters sang about people’s reluctance to be moved from Sophiatown to Meadowlands, established by the apartheid state as an alternative township to Sophiatown. In a song named after Soweto, Barry Gilder sings of the struggle to live and work in South Africa, in a society where people were expected to travel vast distances under the migrant labour system, yet whose lives were not valued by business owners and the government. Stimela’s “Soweto save the children” alerted listeners to the detrimental effects apartheid was having on the children of Soweto.

The only song on this mixtape about a post-apartheid atrocity is Lilitha’s mournful “Marikana” about the Marikana Massacre. A reminder that the alliance between the government and capital continues to be problematic, even in a post-1994 government, and an even harsher reminder as to where exactly the state is prepared to draw a moral line.

Sipho Gumede & Pops Mohamed remembered Cato Manor in the Durban area and Juluka documented the violence surrounding the Mdantsane bus boycott. The mixtape ends with a series of songs related to the Western Cape. Winston Mankunku and Mike Perry, Sakhile, Syd Kitchen, and Roger Lucey all contributed songs about the apartheid state’s attack on the residents of Crossroads, targeted for forced removal. “Mooi River Textiles” is a song by workers at that factory, recorded and documented by Shifty Records. Finally Cyril Valentine (with a song from the District Six musical), Hugh Masekela (featuring Corlea) and Abdullah Ibrahim, remember District Six, another area which the apartheid state decided to bulldoze into oblivion and forcibly remove all its inhabitants because they decided to rezone it as a white area.

Sometimes the songs on this mixtape are a mournful and painful reminder of places, and sometimes they recall spirited community togetherness. They often remind us of defiance – that people resisted and continue to resist oppressive laws, policies and actions. Crucially, they are documents of the events that occurred and of the places where they took place. As long as this music plays we cannot be allowed to forget.

  1. Pitoli – Mzwakhe Mbuli
  2. Rivonia – Dolly Rathebe & The Elite Swingsters
  3. Sebokeng Siege – Lesego & Kalahari Surfers
  4. Kofifi Sophia – Junction Avenue Theatre Company
  5. Kofifi – African Jazz Pioneers
  6. Sophiatown Is Gone – Miriam Makeba & The Skylarks
  7. Meadowlands – Nancy Jacobs & Her Sisters
  8. Soweto Song – Barry Gilder
  9. Soweto Save The Children – Stimela
  10. Marikana – Lilitha
  11. Remember Cato Manor – Sipho Gumede & Pops Mohamed
  12. Mdantsane – Juluka
  13. Crossroads Crossroads – Winston Mankunku & Mike Perry
  14. Crossroads – Sakhile
  15. Crossroads – Syd Kitchen
  16. Crossroads – Roger Lucey
  17. Mooi River Textiles – Fosatu Worker Choirs
  18. Heart Of District SixCyril Valentine
  19. District SixHugh Masekela & Corlea
  20. District SixAbdullah Ibrahim

Rocking And Rolling The Boat: Political Censorship

Despite all its attempts to silence music about sex, drugs and religion, the Directorate of Publications was most famous for its political censorship. Clearly, the main reason for its existence was to support the apartheid regime, so it was no surprise that it acted incisively when music of a contentious political nature came before its scrutiny.

One of the most notorious cases was Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” which was originally submitted to the Directorate by a religious student group at the Pretoria Teaching College, who were alarmed at the popularity of the song (and accompanying album) with its rebellious lyrics, which they believed would cultivate “an environment for communism”. The Directorate agreed, but also observed that it had become a rallying song for school children protesting apartheid education. The single had already sold over 70 000 copies nationally, and had reached the top of the charts on SABC’s Springbok Radio and Radio 5, as well as on Capital Radio. Yet the Directorate banned it anyway and the Publications Appeal Board upheld the ban, which lasted until 1982. Other internationally well-known examples of banned songs included singles which championed anti-apartheid leaders, Peter Gabriel’s “Biko”, and the Special AKA’s “(Free) Nelson Mandela”.

Further songs from international artists that were banned for opposing apartheid included: “(Ain’t Gonna Play) Sun City” – Artists United Against Apartheid, “Majority Rule” – Jimmy Cliff, “UDF” – Follow Fashion Monkeys, “Gimme Hope Jo’Anna” – Eddy Grant, “Free Mandela In Azania” – Lovemore Majaivana & Jobs Combination, “Fire In Soweto” – Sonny Okosun, “Stop The War” – Prince Far I, “Apartheid” – Peter Tosh and “Sing Our Own Song” – UB40.

Several songs by South Africans which openly opposed apartheid were also banned. A cross-section of these have been included on this mixtape, including: “Beware Verwoerd” – Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba, “Nongonqo” – Harry Belafonte and Letta Mbulu, “Johnny Vorster On The Couch” – Barry Gilder, “Ngeke, Ngeke, Ngeke” – Abdullah Ibrahim and others, “All For One” – Jabula, “Thabane” – Roger Lucey, Miriam Makeba’s version of Jeremy Taylor’s “A Piece Of Ground” and “Now Is The Time” – Mzwakhe Mbuli.

The Directorate also banned songs and albums which espoused liberation struggles in neighbouring countries. On this mixtape examples of this come in the form of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Zimbabwe”, Zimbabwe’s Jairos Jiri Sunrise Kwela Band whose “Take cover” promoted the cause of Zimbabwean guerrilla freedom fighters, including a guitar approximating the sounds of a machine gun, and the SWAPO Singers’ “The Wind Of Change”, a song which later became better known in the United Kingdom when Robert Wyatt released a collaborative version adding his own vocals.

The Directorate were also wary of songs which supported liberation struggles in general, lest the message be incorporated into the South African context. Thus it also banned songs such as Black Uhuru’s “Solidarity”, Discharge’s “Tomorrow Belongs To Us” and from the early 1960s, Pete Seeger’s pro USA civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome”.

In several instances entire albums were banned because of one or more songs on the albums. Of the above, these included Live… – Harry Belafonte, An Evening With – Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba, Black Uhuru’s Anthem, Jimmy Cliff’s Give The People What They Want, Follow Fashion Monkeys – Follow Fashion Monkeys, Peter Gabriel’s 3rd solo album, Barry Gilder’s Fists Against The Sky, Liberation Freedom SongsAbdullah Ibrahim and others, In Amsterdam – Jabula, Roger Lucey’s The Road Is Much Longer, Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata, Mzwakhe Mbuli’s Change Is Pain, Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Survival, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Prince Far I’s Umkhanto We Sizwe, We Shall Overcome – Pete Seeger, One Namibia One Nation – SWAPO Singers, Equal Rights – Peter Tosh and UB40’s Rat In The Kitchen.

The most unusual of the instances of political music being banned was the case of Barry Gilder’s album, which wasn’t banned by name because when the police confiscated a bootleg copy of the cassette during a raid on the UCT SRC offices in June 1978, it was not marked in any way, other than the name of the company who made the cassette. The cassette was banned after a laborious process whereby a member of the South African Police Security Branch (Officer R.R Brand) transcribed the entire cassette and then listed the songs according to their first lines, such as “I’m a great politician”, “In the factories of Johannesburg” and “Fidel Castro’s in the mountains”. The Directorate of Publications concluded that “The incitement through the spoken word and catchy tunes, and the fact that such a cassette can be used for group meetings of activists and radicals, make it necessary to prohibit the possession of the cassette … In addition, many of the songs are radically undesirable.”

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1986

There were just nine South African songs on the Capital Radio Top 40 in 1986, which is remarkable given the wide array of good South African music recorded and released that year. In particular the independent label, Shifty Records, was continuing to pick up on a variety of worthwhile music which nobody else was prepared to record.

Indeed, the idea behind Shifty was to document (by recording) music that reflected South African life – both musically and lyrically – and we have included a variety of their release on the 1986 mixtape: the Cherry Faced Lurchers, Dread Warriors, the Genuines, Isja, the Kalahari Surfers, Noise Khanyile, Mapantsula, Mzwakhe Mbuli, Simba Morri and Nude Red all deserved to be heard by a wider audience. But to Shifty’s and the artists’ frustration, radio stations were not interested. However, it ought to be noted that the Cherry Faced Lurchers (The Other White Album) and the Dread Warriors albums were recorded but not released at the time. We think they most definitely should have been.

Three songs included here – “Don’t Dance”- Kalahari Surfers, “Pambere” – Mapantsula and “Too Much Resistance”- Nude Red – are taken from the anti-conscription Forces Favourites compilation album which Shifty brought out in partnership with the End Conscription Campaign. The album was actually released in December 1985 but released internationally (through Rounder Records) in 1986, which is the year we went with for the mixtapes. In the mid-1980s South Africa was in a state of civil war (and emergency) and many of Shifty’s artists reflected this reality through their music. In fact, Mzwakhe Mbuli’s Change is Pain album was banned by the apartheid government’s Directorate of Publications.

London-based Kintone’s single ‘State of Emergency’ also captured the turbulent times in South Africa, as to a lesser extent did Stimela’s “Who’s Fooling Who”, David Kramer’s “Dry Wine” and (by now also London-based) eVoid’s “Sgt. Major”, a song which could easily have fitted on the Forces Favourites compilation. 1986 also saw the first release from Bayete, who would soon be recording and performing politically astute songs of their own. Other politically relevant new music in 1986 came from Edi Niederlander, who had been performing on the folk scene for years, and Johnny Clegg’s new band, Savuka.

1986 saw the introduction of Keith Berel’s new band, Carte Blanche, Jonathan Handley’s new band, Titus Groan, and Zasha. We also saw the return of Lesley Rae Dowling, Falling Mirror, Steve Kekana, Sipho Mabuse and Zia. All in all a wide and enjoyable spectrum of new music.

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Special – Simba Morri Fundraiser

Mixedtapes ZA is calling on our listeners to support Simba Morri’s road to recovery from serious illness: by listening to his music, sharing this post far and wide and if you can afford it, by donating to the Shifty Simba Fund.

In addition, all funds raised from the sale of Simba Morri’s music downloaded on the Shifty Bandcamp page will also go directly to the medical fund.

See Simba Morri and Mapantsula releases a on Bandcamp.

Simba Morri was born in Kenya and came to Johannesburg in the early 1980s to study at Wits University. It was a vibrant time musically with an energetic alternative music scene, promoted by student radio and music magazines, the non-segregationist Jamesons music venue, political gigs and the newly established indie label, Shifty Records. It didn’t take long before Simba was part of up-tempo band called Mapantsula, playing at any non-racially segregated venue they could find, including Jamesons and several UDF and ECC jols. Simba met up with James Phillips, also studying at Wits at the time, and through James he was introduced to the Shifty crowd. Mapantsula went on to contribute a recording of their song ‘Pambere’ to the Shifty/End Conscription Campaign compilation album Forces Favourites and in 1986 Simba recorded his debut solo album, Wasamata, with Shifty. However, it was a harsh world for alternative musicians and fame and fortune were hard to find: the radio stations weren’t particularly interested in Simba’s music and corporate distribution networks were closed to music that they thought was unlikely to sell. Simba described the situation: “So eventually I even ended up selling the music myself, at the fleamarket: selling all the Shifty artists, now – music from the Lurchers, Mapantsula, the Wasamata, the – um – Isja, the Kerels albums, and all the Shifty – Warrick, Kalahari Surfers… I would go there every Saturday at the fleamarket.” In 1990 Simba recorded a second solo album Celebrating Life, this time with another indie label Third Ear Music but with similar marginal results.

He has since continued to play in South and southern Africa, making a living out of his music. However, for musicians on the margins like Simba, it is very difficult to set up a pension fund and contribute to medical aid. Back in the ’80s Simba was one of a minority of musicians who was more concerned with contributing towards the end of apartheid through his music and performance than making money and or stashing it away for retirement. As Simba explained, “cause we use music as the weapon, to conscientise, to move forward, ah – and – I think Shifty was the only – only record company that did that; when other people were in for it for the profits, despite of what was happening.”

Very unfortunately he has recently become ill, and Lloyd Ross and Shifty Records have started a fund raising campaign to ensure that Simba Morri receives the quality medical care he needs.

Mixedtapes ZA has put together this special mixedtape for you to enjoy some up-tempo music by Simba Morri and other Shifty and Third Ear musicians who capture the pan-African spirit that has been a core part of Simba Morri’s musical identity and his philosophy of life more generally.

This mixedtape includes songs on which Simba performed – as a solo artist and with Mapantsula and Mzwakhe Mbuli, together with songs by fellow musicians at Shifty Records and Third Ear Music: Winston’s Jive Mix-Up, Tananas, Noise Khanyile, Sankomota, Isja, Duncan Senyatso and the Kgwanyane Band, Sipho Mchunu and Salif Keita (who did not record with Shifty but whose album Soro was distributed by Shifty to the South African market).

Listen to the mixedtape, get up and jive and don’t forget to donate to the Shifty Simba Fund.