South African Women Singers Volume 2


In our previous mixtape we featured twenty South African women singers and we acknowledged that there were too many noteworthy women singers to restrict to one mixtape, so we promised a second one. The intention was to feature another twenty women singers but that task proved too challenging, and so we have ended up with 22 songs this time around. And yet there are many more South African women singers who undoubtedly should have been included. But we are pleased that we have been able to showcase such an amazing variety of singers and hope that you enjoy listening to the selected songs.

Once again we have featured singers all the way from the 1950s and ’60s through to people who have appeared on the scene fairly recently. The earliest recordings included here are Dolly Rathebe’s “Unomeva (Isileyi Sam)”, Dorothy Masuka’s “Zoo Lake”, Sharon Tandy’s “Hold On” and Tandi Klaasen’s “Love Is What I Need Today”.

From the 1980s we include Joy’s “Paradise Road”, Mara Louw’s cover of “Take Me To The River”, Sue Charlton – of the Insisters – singing “Bluebeat”, Cindy Alter – of Zia – singing “Nobody Loves You (Like I do)”, Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s “Thank You Mr DJ” and Rebecca Malope’s “Cheated”.

Songs from the 1990s include Wendy Oldfield’s “Acid Rain”, Skye Stevensen – of The Led – singing “The Boy From Apricot Dreams”, Michelle Breeze – of Fetish – singing “Blue Blanket” and Vicky Sampson’s “Afrikan Dream” .

Into the 21st century we have “Ntjilo Ntjilo” by Gloria Bosman, “Zabalaza” by Thadiswa Mazwai and “Gimme The Music” by Unathi, all from the noughties, and more recent releases include “Isesheli” by Mandisa Dlanga (perhaps best known as a backing vocalist in Johnny Clegg’s band), “Marikana” by Lalitha, “Half Of A Woman” by Lucy Kruger & the Lost Boys, “Stay” by Adelle Nqeto, and the most recent release, “I Forgot To Be Profound Today” by Ruby Gill.

Once again, there is a wide range of voices and styles to enjoy, so dip into these songs and hopefully you will find several avenues to explore. Also, drop us a line with your recommendations for a third mixtape down the line.

  1. Ntjilo Ntjilo – Gloria Bosman
  2. Unomeva (Isileyi Sam) – Dolly Rathebe
  3. Zoo Lake – Dorothy Masuka
  4. Love Is What I Need Today – Tandi Klaasen
  5. Hold On – Sharon Tandy
  6. Take Me To The River – Mara Louw
  7. Bluebeat – Insisters
  8. Gimme The Music – Unathi
  9. Isesheli – Mandisa Mlanga
  10. Afrikan Dream – Vicky Sampson
  11. Paradise Road – Joy
  12. Marikana – Lalitha
  13. Zabalaza – Thadiswa Mazwai
  14. Half Of A Woman – Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys
  15. I Forgot To Be Profound Today – Ruby Gill
  16. Stay – Adelle Nqeto
  17. The Boy From Apricot Spells – The Led
  18. Blue Blanket – Fetish
  19. Acid Rain – Wendy Oldfield
  20. Nobody Loves You – Zia
  21. Thank You Mr Dj – Yvonne Chaka Chaka
  22. Cheated – Rebecca Malope

South African Women Singers Volume 1

In the last mixtape we commemorated Women’s Day by selecting a variety of songs which focused on women and issues affecting women in South Africa. While working on that selection we thought it would be fitting to compile a further mixtape which features some of the women’s voices which have formed part of the South African soundscape since the 1950s. Our initial aim was to select songs by twenty women singers but we soon realised that our task would be easier if we extended our latitude and made way for two mixtapes, rather than one. So this mixtape features the first 20 South African women singers in this two-tape series.

Songs chosen do not follow any particular theme, rather we chose singers and then selected songs by those singers which we think showcase their voices. We include some early veterans of the South African popular music scene (Miriam Makeba, Nancy Jacobs, and Letta Mbulu) and some who appeared on the music scene in the 1970s and 1980s (Margaret Singana, Sathima Bea Benjamin, Edi Niederlander, Laurika Rauch, Rene Veldsman – of Via Afrika, Lesley Rae Dowling, Brenda Fassie, Tara Robb – of The Spectres, Jennifer Ferguson, Heather Mac – of Ella Mental and Busi Mhlongo).

We also feature several more recent singers, who released their first recordings in the 21st Century: Simphiwe Dana, Karen Zoid, Zolani Mahola – of Freshlyground, Shannon Hope, Tailor (Anna Wolf) and Julia Church.

Enjoy your weekend listening and take time to find out more about those singers on this mixtape who you have not previously heard or heard of. There are some interesting stories to be discovered …

  1. Babhemu – Busi Mhlongo
  2. Isiphiwo Sam – Margaret Singana
  3. Mahlalela – Letta Mbulu
  4. Ndiredi – Simphiwe Dana
  5. Windsong – Sathima Bea Benjamin
  6. Meadowlands – Nancy Jacobs & Her Sisters
  7. Pata Pata– Miriam Makeba
  8. Weekend Special – Brenda & the Big Dudes
  9. Hey Boy – Via Afrika
  10. (See Yourself) Clowns – Ella Mental
  11. Teddy Bear – The Spectres
  12. Aeroplane Jane – Karen Zoid
  13. I’d like – Freshlyground
  14. Shiloh – Julia Church
  15. Ancient Dust – Edi Niederlander
  16. Suburban Hum – Jennifer Ferguson
  17. The Spaniard – Lesley Rae Dowling
  18. Kinders Van Die Wind – Laurika Rauch
  19. Daylight – Shannon Hope
  20. Where The Boys Are – Tailor

Women’s Day 2022

This mixtape commemorates Women’s Day in South Africa. On the 9 th of August South Africans acknowledge the contribution made by women towards improving South African society. In particular, on the 9th of August 1956 over 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, to protest an extension of the apartheid government’s pass laws.

Accordingly, black women would also have to carry passes when travelling to ‘white’ urban areas. The march was led by Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams The women left 14 000 copies of a petition at the doors of prime minister, J. G. Strijdom. They stood for 30 minutes before singing a protest song composed especially for that occasion: “Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ Imbokodo” (You strike the women, you strike the rock).

Significantly, the protest saw feminists coming together to make a stand against institutionalized racism. Over the following decades South African feminists continued to define feminist struggle broadly, tackling racism, class inequality and sexism in an intersectional way.

This mixtape begins with Nothembi Mkhwebane’s interpretation of “Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ Imbokodo” before moving into a series of songs which celebrate South African women and women more generally: “Women of the World” by the Mahotella Queens, Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s “Legends”, Laurie Levine and Josie Field’s “Trailblazing”, Edi Niederlander’s “Strong Women in Africa” and “African Women” by Pamela Nkutha.

Dope St Jude (“Inside”) and Godessa (“Social Ills”) tackle beauty standards to which girls and women of colour are expected to conform. There follows a series of songs which explore issues about women’s day to day lives. In “Bay of Bombay” Jennifer Ferguson sings of the sacrifices mothers often make: “her eyes would look at the food she cooked, and the clothes she’d clean and iron” all the time her thoughts escaping to “the ships floating on some bay.”

Khaki Monitor describe a young woman “Trying to Make Sense” and in “Mama Shabalala” Juluka describe the struggle of an old refugee woman “looking for a simple home … living from hand to mouth, dodging the wrong arm of the law.”

In “Mother Agriqua” Vusi Mahlasela tells the story of Saartjie Baartman, taken to Europe as a spectacle to be gazed at: an example of the African “other”, both alive and dead (as a museum exhibit). Finally her remains were returned to South Africa and buried. “Wenu se Goli” by Madosini Manquina documents the difficulty of life for rural black South Africans, when men had to leave home to go to work on the mines. The song is an open letter to a migrant mine worker informing him that because he has been away so long his wife’s love is over and she has been unfaithful. Miriam Makeba’s “Welela” is also about the effect of migrant work, but this time the song is about children calling for their mother to return because they long to see her.

Sexual violence is a theme addressed in depth in several songs included here. South Africa’s biggest shame is the widespread sexual violence by men towards women. In “Icala” Busi Mhlongo warns, ‘Don’t ever raise your hand at your woman”. Freshlyground wrote “Gone Gone Gone” (song for Khwezi) as a dedication to Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, who accused Jacob Zuma of raping her. Her treatment during the trial that followed was appalling, as she was victimized by Zuma’s supporters. In the end Zuma was controversially acquitted of the rape charges. “41 000 Sisters” by Kaalvoet Prinses (Tremaine Barnes) is a song of solidarity with women who have been subjected to sexual violence (41 000 is the average number of reported rapes in South Africa between 2015 and 2019) and is representative of the Barefoot Campaign, a stand against the rape and sexual abuse of women.

Karen Zoid in turn calls for “Justice! Justice!” She angrily demands “Lock away the rapists and throw away the key.” In “Signs” the Pressure Cookies remind us how, when reporting sexual abuse, women are often made to feel guilty about the venues they frequented, the way they were dressed, who they got a lift with, and in fact, they stand accused of failing to “stay behind closed doors”.

The mixtape ends with two songs by male singers providing a critique of sexism. Matthew Van Der Want’s “Lonesome Hero” is a satirical song from the point of view of a woman who wants her lover to experience freedom, but it becomes clear that the experience of freedom which she offers her lover is at her own expense. The song thus questions freedom in a relationship and how in a heterosexual relationship women often sacrifice their own freedom in favour of that of their partners. “Show Luv” by Skwatta Kamp is a hard-hitting attack on men who abuse women, making it clear that such behaviour is never acceptable.

  1. Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ Imbokodo – Nothembi Mkhwebane
  2. Women of the World – Mahotella Queens
  3. Legends – Yvonne Chaka Chaka
  4. Trailblazing – Laurie Levine & Josie Field
  5. Strong Women in Afrika – Edi Niederlander
  6. African Women – Pamela Nkutha
  7. Inside – Dope St Jude
  8. Social Ills – Godessa
  9. Bay of Bombay – Jennifer Ferguson
  10. Trying to Make Sense – Khaki Monitor
  11. Mama Shabalala – Juluka
  12. Mother Agriqua – Vusi Mahlasela
  13. Wenu se Goli – Madosini Manquina
  14. Welela – Miriam Makeba
  15. Icala – Busi Mhlongo
  16. Gone Gone Gone – Freshlyground
  17. 41 000 Sisters – Kaalvoet Prinses
  18. Justice ! Justice ! – Karen Zoid
  19. Signs – Pressure Cookies
  20. Lonesome Hero – Matthew VD Want
  21. Show Luv – Skwatta Kamp

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.

67 Minutes For Mandela

The 18th of July is Mandela Day, the date on which we celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday. It is also the date of the “67 minutes for Mandela” campaign, when everyone is encouraged to volunteer 67 minutes of their time to do something for their community. The message of the Mandela Day campaign is that Nelson Mandela fought for social justice for 67 years and in return people are asked to reciprocate by contributing 67 minutes.

This mixtape celebrates the life and contribution of Nelson Mandela by featuring 67 minutes of music recorded in his honour.

There are many songs we have not featured here simply because there is an abundance of songs to choose from and therefore many songs simply could not be included. We decided to feature musicians from our own continent, and mostly from South Africa. Some of these songs were written while Mandela was still in prison and at the time they expressed a yearning that he would one day be free. This spirit of hope was particularly captured in Hugh Masekela´s “Mandela (Bring Him Back Home)”, Chicco’s “We Miss You Mandela”, and Savuka’s “Asimbonanga” – all of which became popular across South Africa in the late 1980s. Chicco’s song was released as “We Miss You Manelow” in a (successful) attempt to bypass censorship of a song overtly about Mandela. Youssou N’Dour’s “Nelson Mandela” celebrated Mandela’s life from Senegal, while Abdullah Ibrahim recorded “Mandela” from the distance of exile.

In the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, on the 11th February 1990, several musicians released songs commemorating his life to that point, and celebrating his new-found freedom. Brenda Fassie’s “Black President” was the most popular of these, especially on South African dance floors, while Bright Blue’s “Madiba” was a more circumspect tribute. Other tributes soon followed, including Prophet of Da City’s iconic “Neva Again” and the African Jazz Pioneer’s anthemic “Viva Madiba”. The mixtape closes with a sequence of lamentful songs in praise of Nelson Mandela: Vusi Mahlasela’s “Ntate Madiba”, Dorothy Masuka’s “Mandela”, Linda Kekana’s “A Song For Madiba”, Khadja Nin’s “Mzee Mandela”, and Simphiwe Dana’s “Madiba”.

Assembling the mix, it struck us that the passion, hopes, and dreams of many of the artists at the time have been betrayed by a social justice revolution corrupted by kleptocrats and grifters. One particular thought drives home the tragedy of lost promise and broken promises.

Bright Blue’s rousing chorus goes:

Is there a night without a day?
Can you imagine it’s all been for nothing?
Could it be any other way?
Oh no, never, no, no

One can’t help wondering if it was all for nothing. Perhaps if we’d imagined the conditions that might betray the hopes and dreams of a nation back in 1990, it might have been prevented. But we didn’t, and so today millions still live in abject poverty as social services, infrastructure, public utilities – everything – collapses. If ever there was an ironic metaphor for this decay, a Minister of Transport landed in hospital following an accident allegedly caused by potholes they’d failed to have repaired.

The only growth is crime, violence, and government corruption, and it will remain on-the-up while decent and hard-working South Africans have anything left to steal or the endurance to carry on sweating, bleeding and weeping.

Still, we can’t say it was all for nothing. It wasn’t. But at the same time, few of us are doing the same optimistic dance we were doing 30 years ago. It is hard to dance in the face of the biggest disappointment of the 20th Century.

But, the music was great, wasn’t it?

Thanks to these musicians, and many others, who dedicated their time to write and record songs in honour of Nelson Mandela, his legacy will certainly live on in song, a reminder to us and future generations of what he stood for, and a challenge to us to make our own contribution towards social justice. There is still a great deal of work to be done.

  1. Black President – Brenda Fassie
  2. Mandela (Bring Him Back Home) – Hugh Masekela
  3. We Miss You Mandela – Chicco
  4. Nelson Mandela – Youssou N’Dour
  5. Asimbonanga – Savuka
  6. Mandela – Abdullah Ibrahim
  7. Neva Again – Prophets Of Da City
  8. Viva Madiba – African Jazz Pioneers
  9. Madiba – Bright Blue
  10. Ntate Mandela – Vusi Mahlasela
  11. Mandela – Dorothy Masuka
  12. A Song For Madiba – Linda Kekana
  13. Mzee Mandela – Khadja Nin
  14. Madiba – Simphiwe Dana

The Beat of Wings

About a year ago, out of the blue, I got an email from Danny De Wet, the veteran drummer who played with so many iconic SA bands, but was also a manager and producer and all round personality on the South AFrican music scene. I knew Danny from the 90s when he ran one of the alternative rock scene’s most popular Jo’burg music venue, Wings Beat Bar, in Braamfontein. My band at the time, Occam’s Razor played there very often as well as hanging out there to watch other bands, many of them friends. Wings was more than a club, it was a community.

Anyway, the point of Danny’s email was to ask me to write a few memories about WIngs for his memoirs, which have now been published as “Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll…. In Africa”. GIving it some thought, the memories of that time came flooding back and I may have gotten carried away. The unexpurgated version I’ll reproduce below, and I believe a chunk of it made Danny’s book – which I plan to get my hands on as soon as copies make their way to the UK.

I have based this ‘mixtape’ on those memories. Here are the bands I remember, Some of them are good friends today, others I still admire from afar, and others I just remember fondly from the time we were all trying to make it on the music scene.

Most of what I have to say is in the text I sent to Danny, but here are a few additional notes: SOme of the bands I mentioned never recorded, but transformed or reformed and did so later. I don’t think Blue Chameleon of 8-Legged Groove Machine recorded, or if they did, their stuff is like hen’s teeth, so I have substituted their later incarnations as Boo! And Wonderboom respectively. Oh, and hippy duo Ocean Road became Qkumba Zoo, and actually had an international dance hit with The Child Inside.

In the spirit of mixtapes from back in the day, this one contains two tracks recorded off the radio – I can’t think where else you’d find the demo singles from Occam’s Razor or B-World today, so both are taped off the Barney Simon show on 5FM (in 1994), and I’ve left in some of the call-ins and banter from Mr Simon.

Two tracks, I taped myself at Wings via the sound desk: The first is Matthew van der Want singing Dying Of Love, and the second is me, with Heidi Bouwer on violin, playing Another Day – both from one of the folk evenings regularly hosted at Wings.

It is an eclectic mix of everything from folk to metal and a snapshot of the rock scene in Jo’burg in the 90s.

“The Beat of Wings”

The early 1990s was a strange and exhilarating time for a young South African rock musician. Freed from the burden of ‘national service’ and, with the release of Nelson Mandela and the anticipation of a brighter future in which we could hold our heads up high in the international arena, anything seemed possible. Except that is, for finding a gig if you were – like my band, Occam’s Razor – playing original music, a bit ‘alternative, and just starting out.

Apart from a few massive bands like Savuka, Hotline, Petit Cheval, eVoid, Mango Groove, and others, who played arenas, the local South African music scene in the clubs and bars had always favoured the cover band, and if it wasn’t blues-rock, it had to be FM radio-friendly pop, or of course, jazz. But the Voelvry phenomenon of the late 80s, built on the alternative scene around Shifty records and the famous Jameson’s bar, had spawned a new generation of young hopefuls even as they dialed back and closed down themselves.

So where was my band of ‘The Velvet Underground meets Metallica’ misfits (a concept so daft that it took Lou Reed himself another 20 years to think of it) supposed to go? Where was “The Scene”? Luckily the incredibly forward-thinking drummer, Danny De Wet, a veteran of at least two of the biggest acts of the 80s, saw there was a need for the burgeoning South African rock renaissance to have a home, a clubhouse, and a stage. And that’s how we found ‘Wings Beat Bar’ in Braamfontein, just near Wits University. There we found our home-base for the next few years, along with so many other bands.

Sadly, the South African record industry was not as quick to pick up on the emerging talent and so many of the bands that strutted their stuff on the Wings stage are now just a memory, remembered only through demos played by 5FM jock Barney Simon (another champion of local music), or self-released EPs and tapes, compilation CDs, bootlegs, and if nothing else, in legend alone. As I think back a quarter of a century, the names of these bands pop into my head like files recovered off a faulty harddrive: The Sarsipians, Blue Chameleon, King Ink, Live Jimi Presley, B-World, Just Encasement, The Kerels, 8-Legged Groove Machine, Albino Tarbugz, 10 Drops of Valium, Damn the Icebergs, Metalmorphosis, and of course, Danny’s own band, The Electric Petals, and probably many more that I will remember if pressed.

And then there were the folkies, Matthew van der Want, Black Paul, and me, and the poets: Alan Finlay, Gary Cuminskey, Roy Blumenthal, and the purveyors of interpretive dance and monologues, who graced the stage of “Odyssey Theatre’ hosted at Wings on a Sunday night.

The soundsystem was thunderous. You could tell this venue was owned by a hard-rocker himself. There were no half-measures, like the clapped-out speaker-box on a beer crate you’d encounter at half-cocked clubs on the road. There was a proper mixer and a PA with headroom to spare so you always sounded great at Wings.

I have more vivid memories of Wings, I think, than any other venue I’ve played since and this was entirely down to the sense of community fostered by Danny and his business partner Patrick. Danny twirling his drumsticks like the moustache of Dali as the Petals showed how it was done, Matthew vd Want singing to a rapt audience about dying of love to a tune borrowed from Jennifer Ferguson, before launching into a blistering and raucous set backed by The Kerels, Live Jimi showing no regard for health and safety regulations as they attacked anvils with angle-grinders and god-knows-what to a pounding beat, Black Paul mumbling mysteriously, getting the funk out with the Groove Machine or B-World, and of course the pizza!

One of the perks of playing Wings was the pizza thrown in the deal. I’m not going to lie and say it was the world’s greatest pizza, but it was the greatest pizza a starving musso ever got! And for the student crowd and the young bohemians who guaranteed an audience on any night of the week, it was probably the cheap pizza that brought them there!

Of course for me, the night I remember the most was the time we got Wings into the Sunday Papers! Occam’s Razor will go down in Wings lore as the band that played a set stark naked. We had written a cycle of songs that saw us festoon the Wings stage with dismembered papier-mache cadavers and spray fake blood as we played exposing both body and soul. To this day I’m astonished that the Wings management let us make this “artistic statement”, but that is why I remember it as more than just a venue. It was a place that encouraged and nurtured artists and artistry in a way than few other venues ever did, and it was a sad day when Wings eventually closed its doors.

But how can you get a little of that Wings spirit today, you ask? Well, there is a dedicated Facebook group frequented by many of the musicians and punters; and there is the music, if you can find it: Matthew vd Want has released several albums which are on Bandcamp and can be found on online auctions shops and 2nds hand CD shops. Wonderboom (some of 8 Legged Groove Machine, with Danny on drums) released several albums which are easy to find. For collectors of CDs, The Electric Petals have an album called “Polynation’ and B-World put out a CD single which is like hen’s teeth, but out there somewhere. Some of the bands, like Occams, have stuff up on Soundcloud, and the absolute best source of Wings bands on CD is a two-volume compilation called “Soda Sex Fountain”, which is sadly hard to find, but not impossible. Oh, and Q-Zoo were originally a hippy-folk duo who were Wings regulars, but I don’t remember what they called themselves then. And Blue Chameleon morphed into Boo!, and they have several albums worth looking for.

At the end of the day, every scene is – to borrow words from Joni Mitchell – ‘a chalkmark in a rainstorm… the beat of wings’. Wings Beat Bar was of its time and place, and – as we contemplate the sterile world of Spotify playlists and ringtone music – I’ll stick my neck out and say, a better time, and a better place. I’ll always be grateful to have been given the opportunity to be part of it by Danny De Wet and his team at Wings Beat Bar. Long may it live on in our memories.

Brett Houston-Lock
April 2021

  1. Damn The Icebergs – Cycad
  2. Squeal – Long Pig
  3. Boo! – Lucki
  4. Qkumba Zoo – The Child Inside
  5. Wonderboom – She Cries
  6. The Electric Petals – Thank You For The Book James
  7. Occam’s Razor – They Can’t Find You
  8. B-World – Walk The Wire
  9. Matthew Van Der Want – Dying Of Love
  10. Brett Lock & Heidi Bouwer – Another Day
  11. King Ink – Wonderful Art
  12. Just Encasement – It Feels
  13. Urban Creep – Tightroper
  14. Sugardrive – Form The Habit
  15. Sarsippians – Crazy
  16. Metalmophosis – Passion Mother
  17. Albino Tarbugz – Motormouth
  18. Live Jimi Presley – Vorhaut Zur Freiheit
  19. The Kerels – U-Turn
  20. 10 Drops of Valium – Never Get Old

Music Remembering Soweto June 16, 1976

June 16th is Youth Day in South Africa, a day which commemorates June 16th 1976, when, on a wintery Wednesday morning, between 10 000 and 20 000 Soweto school children marched against the apartheid government’s decision to force school children to be taught half their subjects in Afrikaans. The police used violence to stop the protest and many students were shot, injured and killed. The uprising quickly spread across South Africa and developed into a protest against Bantu Education in general.

June 16th became a landmark date, after which resistance to apartheid gradually spiralled, despite government attempts to suppress it. Like Sharpeville at the beginning of the previous decade, Soweto June 1976 sent shockwaves through South Africa and the rest of the rest of the world, and musicians wrote songs in protest, in solidarity and in commemoration.

Among the first musicians to respond was South African musician in exile, Hugh Masekela, who penned the powerful “Soweto Blues” (released in 1977). Others who were quick to react included South African folk singer, Paul Clingman, whose commemorative song, “Anniversary Of June 16” was released in 1977, Nigerian Sonny Okosun’s whose “Fire In Soweto” was also released in 1977, South African exiled cultural ensemble, Jabula, whose “Soweto’s Children” was released in 1978, and Edi Niederlander, whose “Bitter Fruit” was written and performed soon after the event, but only recorded when she negotiated her first recording contract in 1985. “Farwell, Embers Of Soweto” by the Amandla Cultural Group was written and performed in the late 1970s but released as part of a live album in 1982.

Many protest and commemorative songs were released over the next few decades. In the 1980s these included Billy Bragg’s moving cover of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Chile, Your Waters Run Deep Through Soweto”, performed for the John Peel Sessions in 1986, Jeffery Osborne’s “Soweto” (1986), Stimela’s “Soweto Save The Children” (1987), “Soweto – So Where To?” by the Mamu Players (From the Township Boy musical, released by Shifty Records in 1987), Super Diamano De Dakar’s “Soweto” (1987) and Max Adioa’s “Soweto Man” (1989).

The K-Teams’ “June 16” was also performed in the 1980s but released by Shifty Records in 1990. Other 1990s releases included Brenda Fassie’s “Shoot Them Before They Grow” (1990), Dolly Rathebe & the Elite Swingsters’ “Blues For Soweto” (1991) and Sipho Mabuse’s “Suite June 16” (1996).

Commemorative releases have continued into the 21st Century, including Baba Shibambo’s “Remember June 16, 1976 (Soweto Uprising)” (2004) and Jimmy Dludlu’s “June 16th (2007). Some of the Soweto June 16th releases from the past two decades have included a comparative dimension, such as Joy Denalane’s “Soweto ’76 – ’06” (2006), Simphiwe Dana’s “State Of Emergency” (2012) and “Uprising 16 June 1976” by OLU8, MXO, SimeFree, Don Dada, Nyiwa and Lady Presh (2021).

In particular, Simphiwe Dana draws a comparison between conditions facing the youth of 1976 and those confronted by today’s youth. Despite the overthrow of the system of apartheid, the current government has let down today’s youth: the public education system is in tatters and unemployment is growing. For many of today’s youth it is a dry black season with little to celebrate. As much as we take pause to remember the youth of 1976, we need to recognize that the struggle continues …

  1. Soweto blues – Hugh Masekela
  2. Bitter fruit – Edi Niederlander
  3. Anniversary of June 16 – Paul Clingman
  4. Chile your water run deep through Soweto – Billy Bragg
  5. June 16 – The K Team
  6. Soweto – so where to? – Mamu Players
  7. Shoot them before they grow – Brenda Fassie
  8. State of emergency – Simphiwe Dana
  9. Soweto ’76 – ’06 – Joy Denalane
  10. Soweto – Jeffery Osborne
  11. Remember June 16, 1976 (Soweto Uprising) – Baba Shibambo
  12. Soweto save the children – Stimela
  13. June 16th – Jimmy Dludlu
  14. Blues for Soweto – Dolly Rathebe & the Elite Swingsters
  15. Soweto – Super Diamano De Dakar
  16. Suite June 16 – Sipho Mabuse
  17. Fire in Soweto – Sonny Okosun
  18. Soweto man – Max Adioa
  19. Uprising16 June 1976 – OLU8, MXO, SimeFree, Don Dada, Nyiwa, Lady Presh
  20. Soweto’s children – Jabula
  21. Farwell, embers of Soweto – Amandla Cultural Group

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)

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

May Day Songs

The first day of May was chosen as International Workers’ Day in 1889, initially to commemorate the deaths of workers in Chicago who had been protesting for an eight-hour working day. Since then it has taken on much broader significance, with a continuing focus on workers’ rights and ongoing contests over those rights.

This mixtape does not so much celebrate May Day as it does contemplate the situation of the working class in South Africa in particular. Almost everything we do, from driving along a road to eating our next meal, watching tv, and communicating on our mobile phones, is possible because of the labour of workers. These products we use are especially affordable because workers are paid less than their labour is worth. South Africa is among the most unequal societies in the world, which, apart from the greed of the wealthy, is in part because workers are generally paid poorly, a situation which is exacerbated by what Juluka (in “Work For All”) refer to as the “jobless army at my door”. The millions of unemployed in South Africa push down the wages of those who do work, just because of their availability to take the jobs of those who are employed. Thus there are many members of the working class who, as Freshlyground sing (in “Working Class”) “have got no work”. As simply expressed by Bayete, there is often “No Work” for members of the working class. This situation is captured in “Zabalaza” by Thandiswa Mazwai, who describes the desperation of an unemployed mother: “I rise early in the morning; To stand at street corners; With my child on my back; Asking for money.”
A compilation of South African songs about work of necessity includes songs about migrant labour, which was a core aspect of the creation of a black working class in South Africa. Under colonialism, many black people were forced off the land into a migrant labour system which in many ways came to define the racial segregation system which eventually became formalised as apartheid. Hugh Masekela’s “Stimela” is about the trains which came from neighbouring countries, bringing foreign workers to the South African mines, while Sipho Mchunu’s “Jomane” is about the hostel life to which migrant workers were subjected once they reached their places of employment. In this case, Mchunu refers to workers at a hostel in Dube. Amampondo’s “Apha-Egoli” is about labourers in Johannesburg, many of them presumably there as migrant workers. “Gumboot Dance” by Zim Ngqawana recalls the central part which gumboot dancing has played as a recreational activity for mineworkers. The dance is rooted in traditional South African culture, and, was, and still is, tourism spectacles aside, a therapeutic form of unleashing deep-seated frustration and anger at the terrible conditions under which migrant workers live and work.

“Miner Man” by Babsy Mlangeni and Des Lindberg’s “Mountains Of Men” (written by David Marks when he was working on the mines) focus on the miners themselves. The former tells the story of a migrant worker working on the mines in South Africa, and documents the difficult conditions under which he has to work. The latter song considers that the mine dumps scattered around Johannesburg (in the 1960s, when Marks wrote the song) were not simply made of mined ore brought up to the surface, but were symbolically mountains of men who sacrificed their lives and health for mining profits: “Men slaved and died just to build us a dream; Those men in the mines they worked the earth’s crust; So these mountains are priceless, all be they of dust.”

In the 1980s Shifty Records recorded and released songs by trade union singing groups, and this vital archival project allows us to include some worker songs which would otherwise not have been recorded. Here we have included “Mooi River Textiles” by workers at Mooi River Textiles, two Federation of South African Trade Unions celebratory songs: “ Ke FOSATU” by the Brits Metal and Allied Workers Union, and “Siyabonga FOSATU” by the K-Team, and “Hlanganani” by DTMB, in which the union singers remind workers that there is strength in unity.

In contrast to the mostly black anti-apartheid aligned trade unions there were also racist whites only trade unions, protecting the interests of white workers against those of black workers. Corporal Punishment’s “Brain Damage” is a sardonic song about Arrie Paulus, the leader of the all-white Mineworkers Union. Paulus was well known for spewing racist comments about black South Africans, something with which Corporal Punishment take issue in the song.

Steve Kekana’s “Working Man”, Sipho Gumede’s “Working Man”, and Johnny Mbizo Dyani’s instrumental “Song For Workers” are tributes to workers in general. While Davy James and David Kramer wrote songs in which they explore the idea of work and unemployment respectively, through characters in their songs. Davy James, who drove a bulldozer for a living and was a singer songwriter in his spare time, wrote “Ballad Of A Working Man” about the life of the traditional working man: “Wake up in the morning, put my boots on; Start yawning, I got work to do.” In “Dawid Ryk” David Kramer explores the personal dynamics of a poverty-stricken character who finds himself unemployed, battling to provide for his wife and children.

“Woza Friday” by Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu (in their pre-Juluka days) is a different sort of protest song against the hardship of working life. It is a celebratory love song to the weekend: “Come, come Friday my darling, come, come, Friday my sweetie”.

And as we approach this May Day long weekend in South Africa, we do so with the contribution of workers in mind, both past and present, and the terrible sacrifices they have had to make, and ongoing hardships they have had to endure.

  1. Working Class – Freshlygroun
  2. Working Man – Steve Kekana
  3. No Work – Bayete
  4. Work For All – Juluka
  5. Mooi River Textiles – Mooi River Textiles
  6. StimelaHugh Masekela
  7. Zabalaza – Thandiswa Mazwai
  8. Working Man – Sipho Gumede
  9. Siyabonga Fosatu – K-Team
  10. Woza Friday – Johnny And Sipho
  11. Gumboot Dance – Zim Ngqawana
  12. Apha-Egoli – Amampondo
  13. Hlanganani – DTMB
  14. Jomane – Sipho Mchunu
  15. Ke Fosatu – Brits Mawu
  16. Brain Damage – Corporal Punishment
  17. Mountains Of Men – Des Lindberg
  18. Miner Man – Babsy Mlangeni
  19. Dawid Ryk – David Kramer
  20. Ballad Of A Working Man – Davy James
  21. Song For The Workers – Johnny Mbizo Dyani