Capital 604 – 1987

There was a healthy variety of South African music in the Capital Radio charts in 1987 from the wistful South African pop rock of Bright Blue, the Afro pop of Sipho Mabuse and Brenda Fassie to the political energy of Savuka and Hi-NRG Euro disco of People Like us, and the novelty studio sounds of Pocket Lips with several other artists making up the 14 South Africans which made the Top 40 countdown.

If there is one particular theme which characterises several of the performers who charted on Capital Radio in 1987 it is a sense of artistic reincarnation combined with renewed creativity. After over a decade performing with Sipho Mchunu as Johnny and Sipho and then more prominently as Juluka and then a short hiatus as a solo singer, Jonny Clegged re-emerged with his new band Savuka and with a far more overt political orientation to deal with increasingly troubled times in South Africa. This is clearly borne out in the song that charted on Capital – “Missing” – which dealt with the disappearance of political activists opposing the apartheid regime. Neill Solomon had a very short period of success on the Capital charts in the early ’80s with the Uptown Rhythm Dogs but in 1987 returned with the Passengers. Cindy Dickinson, who had first made her mark in South Africa as a solo artist and then with Syndicate in 1987, appeared on the Capital charts with People Like Us, who, like Savuka, were as or more popular in parts of Europe than they were in South Africa. Several members of the early ’80s kwela-ska infused band Pett Frogg re-emerged when they morphed into Mango Groove who developed a sound which captured a growing mood towards a more harmonious South Africa.

Also in 1987, Wendy Oldfield left Sweatband to embark on a solo career in which she could move away from a rock sound dominated by the band to explore her own pop-soul sound as a singer-songwriter in her own right, to create what she referred to as “a new kind of Wendy thing”. Also reinventing herself as a solo artist with her first solo album in 1987 was Brenda Fassie who left behind the Big Dudes and began a hugely successful solo career. Meanwhile, Bright Blue, who charted on Capital in 1984 with “Window on the World”, had taken a forced break of two years while Dan Hartman and Ian Cohen served two very reluctant years of conscription in the South African Defence Force. Bright Blue re-emerged in 1987 without former lead singer Robin Levetan but nevertheless with what was to become one of the anthems of the transition to a post-apartheid South Africa, “Weeping”.

Established artists such as Lesley Rae Dowling, Jonathan Butler and Sipho Mabuse continued to chart on Capital, as did Sweatband (still with Wendy Oldfield as vocalist) and new arrivals on the scene Pocket Lips and 909, both of whom developed more in the studio rather than on the stage.

The most successful of the South African songs on the Capital charts in 1987 were Mango Groove’s “Move Up” and Wendy Oldfield’s “The Real World” which both reached number 1. Surprisingly, “Weeping” by Bright Blue spent two weeks at number 2 but missed out on the top spot. Jonathan Butler also peaked at number 2 with “Lies” but lower down, at number 5, with “Holding On”. “It’s Amazing” by Pocket Lips reached number 3.

Savuka’s “Missing” got as far as number 8 while “Tonight” by Sweatband peaked at number 10, as did Lesley Rae Dowling with “When the Night Comes” and “Hold On” by the Passengers (where it spent two weeks). 909’s “What Are We Going to do About Love” and Sipho Mabuse’s “Shikisha” both peaked at number 20 while Brenda Fassie’s “Mr. No Good” only reached number 21 and “Hiroshima” by People Like Us peaked at number 22.

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Capital 604 – 1986

The Info Song (as it was referred to) created strong division in South African musical circles. The government decided to distract people from its politically-motivated deaths, detentions and torture with a song encouraging everyone to get on and work together. To encourage musicians to take part they offered them tempting sums of money. The more politically enlightened musicians refused to take part and warned others not to do so, but there were those who ignored those warnings and got behind the government’s efforts. Musicians from both sides of the divide charted on Capital in 1986: Lesley Rae Dowling and Jonathan Selby (lead vocalist for Petit Cheval) took part, the rest did not.

Taking part was not without its negative consequences. Steve Kekana’s house was burnt down and one of his friends staying there at the time was burnt to death. Others were simply shunned by the musical fraternity. It created divisions within some bands such as Petit Cheval. Selby explained that “there were artists like Steve Kekana, Papa and Blondie and these guys were part of the whole scene, so it didn’t really bother me that much and I really wasn’t tuned into what was going on in the townships, I really wasn’t tuned into the kind of oppression and suppression that was going on. I was raised on Springbok Radio. I was brought up in a protected, middle class Jewish environment. I was more interested in what was going on overseas and trends overseas, that sort of thing … My bent in life at that stage was really exploring myself, my ego, everything was a huge self-centred, I believe a huge self-centred sort of hedonistic journey.” Petit Cheval drummer Danny De Wet noted that Selby’s participation “basically split the band”.

Wendy Oldfield of Sweatband nearly took part but pulled out in the eleventh hour. As she explained:

“When I pulled out I really got a lot of flak from that side. There was a lot of pressure, like ‘Stop, don’t let those lefties influence you’ from that side. And then I had the lefties saying ‘Don’t be bloody mad’. And I was kind of stuck in the middle looking for advice.”

Another of the musicians to chart on Capital in 1986, David Kramer, went further than refusing to take part in the song. He was a witty and insightful satirical singer songwriter but the critique of society within his message was often not detected by a generally conservative audience. Kramer explained:

“I got to a point where I felt quite trapped by my popularity, and by the expectations of what people thought I was going to do and the potential for writing, moving more and more into the ra-ra-ra type of South African song. And I suppose at that point I was becoming quite disillusioned with people misinterpreting what I really was trying to do … and also I got involved with the Volkswagen commercials and I suppose people started seeing me much more as just a comedian. You know, a funny little guy … and I became more and more one-dimensional. And what I was saying there was that I felt people weren’t really listening. And I suppose the edge that I had in the early years – which was very powerful for me – I’d lost that … it was the time of the State of Emergency and the country was really in a bad, bad way – and suddenly I looked at myself and I didn’t like what I saw. This happy-go-lucky guy making everybody feel good, and I decided to try and get back to where I had started. And that’s what led me back to doing Baboon Dogs.”

The Baboon Dogs album included politically overt songs such as a cover of Roger Lucey’s “Dry Wine” and the song which charted on Capital, “Going Away’ which questioned people’s commitment to South Africa. In the process Kramer lost a lot of his conservative fan base but at least this was the first of his songs to chart on Capital.

Of the South African songs that charted on Capital in 1986, “This Boy” by Sweatband reached number 5, “Going Away” by David Kramer reached number 7, “Love Is Knocking” by Petit Cheval,which featured a guest vocal by Lesley Rae Dowling, who also charted this year, reached number 8, where it spent two weeks, and “We Are Growing” by Margret Singana reached number 20. The rest of the songs did not make the top 20.

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