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)

The Best South African Music – 2021 – Vol.2

2021 was another year hindered by lockdown but many South African musicians and record companies were busy with new releases. This is the second mixtape featuring what we think are the best 30 songs of 2021. This selection is generally more relaxed than the previous one, so sit back, chill and enjoy …

There are a few musicians included on this second volume who also appeared on the first, although not in quite the same way. While previously The Kalahari Surfers performed with Lesego Rampolokeng, here they partner the IKD Band, led by Ivan Kadey, formerly of National Wake. They sing “Moonwatcher”.

Arno Carstens is the lead singer of the Springbok Nude Girls, featured in volume one, but here he appears on his own, with “Reason”, from his 7th solo album, Out Of The Blue Into The Light. Koppies have three vocalists: Victoria Hume, Chris Letcher and Matthew van der Want. Each gives the group a distinct sound. On the previous mixtape we included “# Time’s Up” with Matthew van der Want on vocals. This time Victoria Hume is on vocals, singing the haunting “Hospital Song”.

It has been over a decade since BLK JKS released the album After Robots (2009) and the EP Zol (2010) but in 2021 they were back with a new album, Abantu/ Before Humans, from which we have selected “Human Hearts”. There were also new pieces from two familiar jazz musicians – Bokani Dyer and Bheki Mseleku. Dyer’s “Ke nako” is taken from the compilation album, Indaba Is, curated by Thandi Ntuli and Siyabonga Mthembu. “Cosmic Dance” is from the posthumously released Bheki Mseleku album, Beyond The Stars. The album was recorded as a solo session in London in 2003. The session was set up by Mseleku’s musician and music scholar friend, Eugene Skeef, and it is Skeef who oversaw this release, working with Fred Bolza and Francis Gooding, co-founders of new record label, Tapestry Works.

Veteran South African guitarist Tony Cox released the album The World Went Quiet from which we feature “Bathed In Blue”, and another veteran South African musician, Wendy Oldfield released the album Salt, the title track of which is included here. Lucy Kruger and her backing band, the Lost Boys, entered the South African music scene more recently, although Kruger has now relocated to Germany. In 2019 she released the album Sleeping Tapes For Some Girls, the first in a planned trilogy of albums. In 2021 the second album, Transit Tapes (For Women Who Move Furniture Around), was released, from which we have selected the first single release, “Evening Train”. We look forward to the April 2022 release of the third album in the ‘tapes’ trilogy, Teen Tapes (For Performing Your Own Stunts). Mthata-born Nathi (Nkosinathi Mankayi) has been around for almost a decade, having won several South African Music Awards in 2015. In 2021 he released the single, “iThemba”, featured here.

Singer songwriters Dave Starke, Alice Phoebe Louw, Stanley Sibande, Gaellou, and Sarah Blake are also featured on this mixtape. Dave Starke’s “Burn After Reading” was released in December 2020 but sneaks in because we only came across it in 2021! Alice Phoebe Lou has been releasing new music at a prolific rate lately, with two new albums in 2021: Glow and Child’s Play. The title track of the latter is included here. Zambian-born Stanley Sibande released his debut album, Hopeless Dreams in August 2021. “Lavender eyes” is a single taken from the album. “Language of Kindness” is folk musician Gaëllou’s debut single, released in February 2021. Another debut single in 2021, “Precious Time” was released by Cape Town-based multi-instrumentalist and singer songwriter Sarah Blake. It sees out this mixtape.

2021 was a productive year for South African music. We have tried to capture a good glimpse of it over these two mixtapes and hope it will interest you into following some new musicians. As always, they depend on your support.

  1. Moonwatcher – Ikd Band & The Kalahari Surfers
  2. Human Hearts – Blk Jks
  3. Ke Nako – Bokani Dyer
  4. Cosmic Dance – Bheki Mseleku
  5. Bathed In Blue – Tony Cox
  6. Burn After Reading – Dave Starke
  7. Hospital Song – Koppies
  8. Evening Train – Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys
  9. Child’s Play – Alice Phoebe Lou
  10. Ithemba – Nathi
  11. Salt – Wendy Oldfield
  12. Reason – Arno Carstens
  13. Lavender Eyes – Stanley Sibande
  14. Language Of Kindness – Gaellou
  15. Precious Time – Sarah Blake

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

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1990

In 1990 a fair range of South African musicians charted on the Capital Radio Top 40 countdown, 15 songs in all, including four released in 1989 but which charted in early January. These included Big Sky, Jonathan Butler, Cinema (two songs), David Kramer, Little Sister (three songs), Mango Groove (four songs), Marc Alex, Edi Niederlander and Trevor Rabin. We have come up with a further eightteen songs from 1990 which we think ought to have charted on Capital.

Of those musicians who did chart in 1990 we have included an additional song by Big Sky (“Diamonds and Dirt”) but all the other musicians whose songs we recommend escaped Capital’s attention that year.

In February 1990 Nelson Mandela was finally release from prison and to celebrate this Bright Blue recorded the song “Madiba” but unfortunately did not release it at the time, which is a pity because it would have perfectly captured the celebratory feel so many people experienced on that momentous occasion. Another song that captured that moment was Brenda Fassie’s “Black President” which Capital mysteriously did not promote, despite the significance of Fassie’s sentiments. Roger Lucey made a welcome comeback to music in 1990. His “Cape of Storms” was written at the time of Mandela’s release. Lucey, who was then working as a TV cameraman recalls, “I came to Cape Town in 1990 to cover Mandela’s release and I swear the wind blew without a break for four months. I spent a lot of time out on the Cape Flats. Then winter came and the rain started …”.

Shifty Records began the new decade with some significant releases, including Tony Cox’s In.To.Nation (from which we have included “Dinaledi”), Jennifer Ferguson’s Untimely (from which we have featured “Where you gonna be tomorrow”) and the Radio Rats’ Big Beat (from which we have included “Diary of a Diseased Coke Rep”). We also feature former Shifty artists, Tananas with their songs “Shake” (originally recorded with Shifty before Tananas switched labels).

3rd Ear Music made a big comeback in 1990 and deservedly also feature in our choices for 1990. They released new albums by Juluka’s Sipho Mchunu, Umhlaba Uzobuya (The World is Coming Back), (from which we feature “Jomane”), former Shifty artist Simba Morri, Celebrating Life,( from which we have featured “Unity”) and Roger Lucey, Running For Cover, including (as mentioned) “Cape of Storms” . There was also a recording comeback from Tony Bird, who, back in the 1970s used to play alongside many of the folk musicians associated with 3rd Ear Music. Here we have included his song “Wings Like Vivian’s”.

South Africa’s first notable hip-hop group, Prophets Of The City released the Our World album from which we feature the title track. There were also great songs released by Yvonne Chaka Chaka (“Umqombothi”), Bakithi Kumalo and Robbi Kumalo (“African woman”), Mike Makhalemele (“The Guys”), Mahlathini and the Mohatella Queens (“Music of Our Soul’) and the Soul Brothers (“Umhlola”).

Finally, Piet Botha’s band Jack Hammer released their second album of polished blues-rock.