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 – Chris Prior’s Top Picks!

Chris Prior was one of the original dee jays on Capital radio when it first aired in 1979. He spent the late 1960s and first half of the seventies travelling the world before joining the SABC, initially for a brief spell with the news department and then the English Service where he was with Radio Today for two and a half years as a radio journalist and then he was appointed as editor of Audio Mix round about 1978. And then at the end of ’78 Capital Radio took him on as their specialist music presenter, programmer and he was with them for two years. After a brief period overseas he joined SABC’s Radio 5 at the end of ’81, beginning of ’82 and was with them into the early-mid 1990s. During this time he became known as the ‘rock professor’ for his knowledge of blues and rock music which was reflected in his playlists. Since the mid-1990s he has continued to host specialist rock shows through various outlets and is currently hosting The Rock Professor Show every Friday evening on MC90.3 Plettenberg Bay and Knysna 97.0 FM (also available as a Podcast).

Reflecting on South African music in the 1980s he lamented “the type of material that the record companies had chosen to record and the lack of effort that they put behind musicians of real worth and calibre …the type of crap that they thought the listeners should hear. You know, the kind of music that they were selling, that they actually put a bit of money behind – it was never much – was the sort of Euro-centric disco twaddle that really wasn’t worth anything at all. And that in essence was all that South African music consisted of. Fortunately in the ’70s there was the sort of underground element, and I think in terms of Mike Dickman playing guitar, and Abstract Truth were a very nice band. I mean now they’re horribly dated, but in those days they were jolly interesting and innovative. Julian Laxton and Freedom’s Children and all that stuff. I mean Baxtop: great, great, great! And in the ’80s we had bands like Falling Mirror. I mean there were always bands that were just a little outside of the outside. But what was available as a DJ to play was pure shlock.”

Fortunately Chris Prior has been able to provide us with a grooving playlist of South African music from the late 1970s into the early 1990s which we can enjoy, from the Radio Rats, Finch & Henson and Baxtop in the late 1970s to Neill Solomon & the Uptown Rhythm Dogs in the early ’80s, eVoid, Cherry Faced Lurchers, Falling Mirror, Tribe After Tribe and Edi Niederlander in the mid ’80s, the Genuines and Celtic Rumours in the late 1980s and Mauritz Lotz in 1991.

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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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Capital 604 – 1985

In 1985 seventeen South African songs featured on the Capital countdown: the most of any year in the 1980s. Although most of the songs could be described as some or other variation of pop or rock there was some variety: the township pop of Sipho Mabuse and Steve Kekana; the smooth pop of Jonathan Butler, the Afro-rock of Tribe After Tribe, the slightly rock-edged pop of Robin Auld, the more mainstream pop of Lesley Rae Dowling, Syndicate, Ella Mental, Stewart Irving and The Helicopters and a turn towards a more international sound from both Juluka and the solo Johnny Clegg.

The top artist on the Capital Countdown in 1985 was Sipho Mabuse with two songs reaching the top 10: ‘Let’s Get it On’ peaked and number 5 and ‘Burn Out’ reached number 6 where it spent three weeks. ‘Fever’ – Juluka reached number 8 where it spent two weeks, as did Lesley Rae Dowling with ‘Give a little’. Also peaking at number 8, but for just one week, was Jonathan Butler with ‘I’ll Be Waiting for You’ while ‘See Yourself (Clowns)’ – Ella Mental reached number 9. Robin Auld peaked at number 10 with ‘After the Fire” and number 15 with ‘All of Woman’. Steve Kekana peaked at number 11 with ‘Paradise’ (Tip Of Africa)’ while ‘Only for you’ – The Helicopters spent two weeks at number 14 and ‘Don’t Go Into Town’ – Syndicate also reached number 14, but just for one week. John Irving’s ‘Superstar’ peaked at number 15. None of the other South African songs made the Top 20.

We would like to thank Marq Vas for his help in tracking down a copy of Lesley Rae Dowling’s ‘Give a Little’. This is not the first time Marq has come to our assistance. We recommend his YouTube channel of South African music – some very rare songs that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. He also has a Facebook page which is a wealth of information.

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Capital 604 – 1984

As with 1983 there were less than 10 South African songs on the Capital Countdown charts of 1984. No artist charted more than once and there was a far more commercial imitative character to the songs that charted than in 1983, with Juluka’s “Work For All” and Bright Blue’s “Window on the World” being the only songs that didn’t sound like the performers were copying USA or UK sounds. Indeed, Benjy Mudie at WEA is proud of the part he played in signing innovative South African bands like National Wake, the Asylum Kids and eVoid but he admits that the Working Girls were “the one time in my life to my absolute and internal disgrace I actually signed a band to make money.”

Juluka and Bright Blue on the contrary involved musicians exploring musical ideas, infusing South African and western musical influences. As Tom Fox of Bright Blue described, he listened to performers like the Soul Brothers and he “wanted to find out about the style, but not in a commercial sense. More like, really interested in the guitar interplay and the vocal harmonies, the chord structures and the rhythms and things like that.”

Many of these musicians were regarded as part of the cream of the crop of South African music at the time. In January 1985 the Concert in the Park (Ellis Park) was arranged to raise money for Operation Hunger to help children affected by hunger in South Africa. To attract a large audience the top acts of the time were invited to participate. Of those who charted on Capital in 1984, Pierre de Charmoy, Ella Mental, Face To Face, Feather Control, Juluka and the Working Girls all performed at Ellis Park. Bright Blue were invited but could not make it and instead wrote the song “Hungry child” and donated it to the cause. On the day it was performed by an ensemble of the performers at the concert and it was released as a single.

It was a generally poor year for South Africa musicians on the Capital Countdown in 1984. Of the most successful South African songs charting on Capital in 1984, Face To Face reached number 1 with “Here We Are”, Juluka spent two weeks at number 7 with “Work For All”, “Working Girls” by the Working Girls and “Mysteries and Jealousies” by The Helicopters both peaked at number 10 and “Window on the World” by Bright Blue reached a disappointing number 11. “Footprints” by Feather Control reached number 17 and the rest failed to make the top 20 at all.

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Capital 604 – 1983

It was fairly slim pickings for South African music on Capital countdowns in 1983 but the year did produce some South African classics. It was the year when different forms of cutting edge music styles developed, alongside a hybrid of music, fashion and language, to create a new identity of openness and togetherness rather than apartheid separation and repression. As Rene Veldsman of Via Afrika described , “even though we had the apartheid laws and that sort of thing, we found freedom in music, and I think lots of groups felt that way, and that’s why we got some great music out in the ’80s. It was kind of like a club, a secret place to go where we could be free.”

Juluka had been around for a while, charting on Capital each year of the 80s so far, and they continued to produce excellent songs out of a mix of neo-traditional Zulu, Celtic folk and rock music, what Johnny Clegg described as “a fascinating adventure in trying to construct a meeting point between different forms of musical expression, rhythm, melody (and) tone.” Clegg also sustained his exploration of Zulu culture with Sipho Mchunu in several other ways, including language, dance and dress. Meanwhile eVoid had started out in Brakpan in the late 70s as Zennith, before becoming Void but by 1982 they were transformed into eVoid: fadgets adorned in a fusion of fashion styles and playing a vibrant form of what eVoid called ‘ethnotronics’, a combination of new wave, rock and mbaqanga grooves. They also developed their own style of new romantic fashion which incorporated Ndebele beadwork and other Southern African influences. At the same time Via Afrika were also expressing themselves through music and fashion. Rene Veldsman described the group as “an explosion of talented people getting together and expressing themselves”. Via Afrika’s ‘curio-pop’ ( a term coined by band member Lucas Crouse) was a combination of pan-African and western music styles, all done with the intention of partying and dancing against the system – of racism, homophobia and separation.

Veteran Billy Forrest and former Pop Shop presenter Karl Kikillus had fringe hits on the countdown, and the novelty act the Soft Shoes who had won the tv “Follow That Star” talent competition entered the charts on the back of that exposure. But 1983 can be remembered as the year in which a fresh fusion of African-western musical styles combined with broader elements of cultural bricolage entered the mainstream of South African music.

Of the most successful songs of 1983, eVoid reached number 1 with “Shadows”, and number 4 with “Taximan”, the Soft Shoes also reached number 1 with “Elvis Astaire”, Juluka spent two weeks at number 7 with “December African rain” but only reached number 17 with “Umbaqanga music” and Via Afrika’s “Hey boy” surprisingly only reached number 11, where it spent two weeks.

*Unfortunately we were not able to track down the original vinyl release of Billy Forrest’s “I loved ’em everyone” in time to include on this mixtape and we have had to rely on a later version.

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Special – Simba Morri Fundraiser

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

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

See Simba Morri and Mapantsula releases a on Bandcamp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capital 604 – Darren Scott’s Top 20


Darren Scott is the first guest DJ on Mixedtapes ZA, offering us his choice of South African music; in this case his Top 20 South African songs of the 1980s, including songs from 1979 which were around at the beginning of 1980.

This is the first of our occasional series of Guest DJ mixed tapes compiled by former Capital Radio DJ s.

These are ranked from No 20 through to number 1 on the mixed tape. Enjoy!

If you want to see the play listing prior to listening to the countdown you can view the order of the songs in this week’s poll below.

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Capital 604 – 1982

Capital Radio began 1982 continuing to broadcast from the idyllic Port St Johns but with plans in place to move to Milpark in Johannesburg. This they did programme by programme so that gradually more slots were broadcast from Johannesburg and fewer from Port St Johns until the move had taken place in totality. While some listeners hankered after Capital broadcasting from the mystical Port St Johns, the deejays were mostly relieved to be back in the fast lane and urban civilization. Still, it was the end to the original dream, of a maverick station operating from the margins of apartheid South Africa.

The move to Johannesburg did not affect Capital’s eclectic choice of South African music, from debut singles by Angie Peach and the Insisters to the more established crossover sounds of Steve Kekana and Juluka. They also followed some trends, like promoting Bolland’s “You’re in the army now”, a song which the SADF were quick to pounce on and for years to come, play through loudspeakers on sports fields where new recruits handed themselves over. And as if an escape from that hell, John Ireland wistfully groaned about syrup apricot and cream and Hotline covered the Beatles’ “Help”. That was what we heard on Capital in 1982, this accumulating soundtrack to our lives.

There might be a few raised eyebrows at the inclusion of Bolland and Cindy Dickinson in this week’s Mixtape of South African music. We decided to broaden the criteria out of fondness for Port Elizabeth, which is where the Bolland brothers grew up before pursuing a successful music career in Holland. In the words of another Capital countdown song in 1982, by Juluka, they qualify as scatterlings of Africa. And although Cindy Dickson was British and started her career there, it was only when she moved to South Africa that she fully launched her career as recording artist in her own right, initially as a solo artist and then as part of two groups, Syndicate and People Like Us. In the process she established herself as a South African musician.

Of the most successful South Africans songs on the Capital countdown in 1982, Steve Kekana’s “The Bushman” spent one week in the number 1 spot, Bolland’s “You’re in the army now” peaked at number 5, where it spent two weeks, John Ireland’s “I like” reached number 7 where it stayed for two weeks and Juluka’s “Scatterlings of Africa” peaked at number 10.

This mixtape plays from number 13 through to the number 1 South African song of the year as per performance on the Capital Radio weekly countdowns. If you want to see the play listing prior to listening to the countdown you can view the order of the songs in this week’s poll below.

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Capital 604 – 1981

In 1981 Capital Radio was still broadcasting from Port St Johns in the Wild Coast, and still charting a new way forward with music policy. They continued to select songs from a broad spectrum including reggae (still not played on Radio 5), funk, soul, disco, pop, rock, country and post-punk influenced new wave. Juluka , whose ‘Africa’ was playlisted on Capital from the outset , offered a unique combination of Celtic folk rock and mbaqanga to add to the already eclectic mix of music Capital listeners got to hear on their radios.

Some of the South African acts which charted on Capital in 1980 did so again in 1981: City Limits, Joy, Juluka, Lastique and Peach but 1981 offered up songs by artists new to Capital Radio. Margaret Singana was already well-known to the South African audience but Capital introduced several musicians and groups on the release of their debut albums and singles. These included Lesley Rae Dowling, Hotline, Kariba, Morocko and Neill Solomon & The Uptown Rhythm Dogs.

Such was the difficult and transient nature of the South African music industry that on occasion some groups shared musicians who were either trying their luck with two or more bands at once or who had jumped ship in the hope of something more successful and lucrative. On many occasions a musician’s group broke up and they sought a new group to play in.

For example, of the groups who charted on Capital in 1981 Jethro Butow was a member of both Kariba and Morocko and Mike Faure was a member of Morocko but after they broke up he briefly joined the Uptown Rhythm Dogs (in 1982). By 1981 one-time Ballyhoo drummer Cedric Samson had become initially drummer and then vocalist for Morocko. After Clout broke up in 1981 Bones Brettell became the keyboard player for Hotline and Gary van Zyl became the bass player for Juluka, who were expanding from a duo to a fully-fledged band. Another member of the newly expanded Juluka was keyboardist Rick Wolf who had been a member of City Limits until their demise earlier that year. In turn, Wolf was replaced in 1983 by former Clout keyboardist Glenda Millar (formerly Glenda Hyam).

In 1981 no South African songs reached number one or two in the Capital charts. Of the top performing songs on the Capital Top 40 countdown “When you gonna love me” – City Limits peaked at number 3, “Nightmare” – Peach reached number 4, “Love chain reaction” – Joy spent two weeks at number 6 and “Impi” – Juluka spent two weeks at number 7. “Bowtie boogaloo” – Morocko reached number 10.

This mixtape plays from number 14 through to the number 1 South African song of the year as per performance on the Capital Radio weekly countdowns. If you want to see the play listing prior to listening to the countdown you can view the order of the songs in this week’s poll below.

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