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

The Best South African Music – 2021 – Vol.1

At the beginning of each year we reflect on what we think were the best South African songs of the previous year. 2021 was a refreshingly good year for South African music, with a divergent array of new music released. Whereas we featured 20 songs from 2020, this time around we are highlighting 30 songs which we think everyone should listen to. These are presented over two volumes of fifteen songs each, so that the listening experience is less daunting, fitting more easily into our often busy schedules.

This first volume includes several veterans of the South African music scene. The Springbok Nude Girls sum up the return to a semi-normal life after severe lockdown with “Emerging Submarines”, one of the 2021 singles from their Partypocalypse album. Lesego Rampolokeng and the Kalahari Surfers are back with Babylon Mission Report, their first album since 1992’s End Beginnings. “Perverse Chrysalis” is a good example of Rampolokeng’s insightful poetry against the backdrop of the Kalahari Surfers’ deft accompaniment. Tim Parr first appeared on the South African music scene as guitarist for Baxtop back in 1979 and has featured in several bands since then, including Ella Mental in the 1980s and the Zap Dragons and Colourfields in the 1990s. He has also intermittently performed as a solo artist, most notably with the release of his Still Standing solo album released in 1996. This mixtape features “Time”, a single released this year. Hopefully it will be the first of many more songs from the legendary South African guitarist. Another guitarist with a solid reputation, with several solo albums to his credit, is Dan Patlansky who will be bringing out a new album, Hounds Loose, in 2022. Here we include his first single and title track from that album, released in late November. Steve Louw has been a feature of the South African music scene since the 1980s, with his bands All Night Radio and then Big Sky. In 2021 he released a solo album, Headlight Dreams, from which “Crazy River” is taken.

Lead vocalist for Freshlyground, Zolani Mohola (The One Who Sings), released a couple of singles as a solo artist in 2021. “Remember Who You Are” is the song we have opted for here. London-based Anna Wolf released her first solo album, The Dark Horse (under the name Tailor), in 2012. Over the past few years she has re-emerged with songs released under her own name. One such song is “Gong”, a single released early in 2021.

Montparnasse Musique is a collaboration between Algerian-French producer Nadjib Ben Bella and South African DJ Aero Manyelo. Their self-titled debut EP was released in 2021 and sure to get you jiving around your living room. On “Bitumba” they team up with Congolese band Mbongwana Star to great rhythmic effect. In mid-2021 Mushroom Hour Half Hour were back with the album, On Our Own Clock. This oft-changing ensemble featured artists from London, Dakar and Johannesburg. The Johannesburg musicians were Asher Gamedze (drums), Siya Makuzeni (trombone), Zoe Molelekwa (keyboards) and Tebogo Sedumede (bass). Recording began in June 2020 in the three cities and the digital collaboration resulted in this 2021 album, from which we have selected “Ngikhethile”.

It has been a while since fellow Shifty singer songwriters Chris Letcher and Matthew VD Want have released solo material but in 2020 they teamed up with Letcher’s singer-songwriter partner, Victoria Hume, bassist Andrew Joseph and drummer Nicholas Bjorkman. What began as a live show to showpiece new songs by Hume, Letcher and VD Want led to the formation of Koppies and the release of an EP of six new songs, two each by the aforementioned musicians. On this mixtape we feature one of VD Want’s compositions, “# Time’s up”.

There are also a few songs by relatively new musicians. Indie singer-songwriter Nic Jeffrey contributes “Say Love”, We Kill Cowboys perform “Take”, and The Great Yawn contribute “Take My Money”. It is exciting to see the recent emergence of indie label, Mongrel Records, especially as they are signing an enjoyable array of refreshing new artists: Here we feature the infectious “The Day I Gave My Sister Away” by The Amblers (duo Jason Hinch and Justin Swart) and “Feel It” by the Filthy Hippies, taken from the trio’s 2021 album Animal Farm.

We hope you discover some new music on this mixtape and follow a path of exploration into the music by the artists you like, and be sure to support them. The second volume appears in two weeks’ time, so listen to this one so long, put it on repeat and see you again next time with 15 more great 2021 releases …

  1. Bitumba – Montparnasse Musique & Mbongwana Star
  2. Ngikhethile – Mushroom Hour Half Hour
  3. Perverse Chrysalis – Lesego Rampolokeng & Kalahari Surfers
  4. Emerging Submarines – Springbok Nude Girls
  5. The Day I Gave My Sister Away – The Amblers
  6. Hounds Loose – Dan Patlansky
  7. # Time’s Up – Koppies
  8. Feel It – Filthy Hippies
  9. Say Love – Nic Jeffrey
  10. Take – We Kill Cowboys
  11. Time – Tim Parr
  12. Remember Who You Are – Zolani Mohola
  13. Crazy River – Steve Louw
  14. Take My Money – The Great Yawn
  15. Gong – Anna Wolf

The Best South African Music – 2020

2020 was a rough year for everyone: Covid infections affecting some and lockdowns affecting us all. Such a rough year, in fact, that it has taken Mixtapes.ZA almost two months to recover, and get going again in 2021!

We are starting the year with a look back on what we thought were some of the best songs of 2020. We have chosen twenty in all, although there were others by the artists already listed which we have left out so as to include a diverse range of musicians.

Although there are twenty distinct artists listed, some musicians appear on more than one song. Lucy Kruger features in her own right as Lucy Kruger and the Lost Boys while also part of Medicine Boy, while Arno Carstens appears with a solo release in addition to being the lead singer of the Springbok Nude Girls. And, Nduduzo Makhathini sings a duet with his wife, Omagugu Makhathini, while also being a member of Shabaka and the Ancestors.

Despite the lockdown, 2020 saw various releases recorded outside South Africa and/or with some form of international collaboration. Julia Church (England), Lucy Kruger (Germany), and Medicine Boy (Germany) were all based in Europe for the recording of songs listed here, while Nigerian Tony Allen (who sadly died in 2020) and Hugh Masekela recorded the original sessions for the album Rejoice together in London in 2010, with the album only coming out in 2020, with additional tracks added in 2019. Meanwhile Simphiwe Dana collaborated with Malian Salif Keita who co-produced (with Dana) many of the songs on her album Banako. In addition, several Malian musicians (including Keita) perform on the album. Shabaka and the Ancestors was formed by British-Barbadian musician Shabaka Hutchings after a trip to South Africa several years previously. The rest of the group are South African jazz musicians with whom Hutchings developed a rapport during his initial visits to South Africa. Seba Kaapstad too, involves international collaboration with members coming from Germany, Swaziland and South Africa, while being based in Cape Town.

There are number of South African musicians who have developed a reputation over several years who are featured on our list: Amersham, Arno Carstens, Benguela, Simphiwe Dana, Lucy Kruger and the Lost Boys, Hugh Masekela, Medicine Boy, Seba Kaapstad, Shabaka and the Ancestors, the Spectres, Springbok Nude Girls, Van der Want/Letcher and Anna Wolf (aka Tailor). There was a debut album from relative newcomers the Medicine Dolls who continue to establish themselves, as do Ami Faku, Sun El Musician and Spaza. Julia Church followed her 2019 debut EP Take What You Want, Do As You Please with the very impressive follow-up EP To Have, Not Just To Hold and then yet another 2020 EP, Cups and Balloons. Hopefully the best songs from these along with some new tracks will be put together on a debut album in 2021. An exciting debut album, Buffering Juju, was released by Dumama and Kechou, very well worth adding to your collection.

A big heads up to new label Mushroom Hour Half Hour who brought out both the Dumama and Kechou and Spaza albums in 2020. Their albums are very professionally produced and packaged as downloads and also on CD and LP. This is very refreshing in a recording environment in which music is increasingly released as download only. UK-based Matsuli Music is also putting out well-packaged and exciting South African releases (re-releases) including (in March 2021), the Beaters’ Harari and Harari’s Rufaro Happiness. Their releases are available as downloads and on LP but unfortunately not on CD. The only way these initiatives can keep going is if we support them financially, so make sure you explore their release and buy whatever grabs your fancy.

Finally, enjoy listening to some new South African music on this mixtape and be sure to let us know if you we have left out anyone who you think should have been included.

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