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)

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

Poetry In Music

Today’s sleeve notes are are guest-written by poet and anthology editor Alan Finlay.

When Brett Houston-Lock sent me a message asking me if I would like to write this introduction, he also asked if I thought anything was missing from the list of South African “songs based on poems” he had forwarded. It’s a strangely difficult question to answer, not just because it prods the hornet’s nest of when poetry is song and song poetry, but because, off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of any other examples.

What Houston-Lock and his co-conspirator Michael Drewett have come up with is a rich and surprising collection of tracks that straddles genres – country-folk ballad, experimental reggae/funk, techno, electronic soundscape, jazz, choral, goth metal etc. – with three live tracks – by Koos Kombuis, David Kramer and a performance of Paul Mealor’s ‘Invictus’ – thrown in. Most but not all are South African musicians (Mealor is Welsh). Houston-Lock, who formed his band The Sighs of Monsters in the UK and who have recorded a translation of Ingrid Jonker’s ‘Tekening, lives abroad. Except for Mary Oliver, and William Ernest Henley who wrote ‘Invictus’, all the poets are South African.

Not every track here fits the bill of “songs based on poems” – and it’s clearly the intention to test the liminalities of the idea. Some are the result of creative collaborations between poets and musicians (e.g. Lesego Rampolokeng and the Kalahari Surfers, or Robert Berold and Larry Strelitz, who have worked together on and off for decades now). The Buckfever Underground is more like a poet-band project, where Toast Coetzer reads the often meandering and vivid landscapes of his poems to the background weaving of chunky electric guitar and drums, as if the point of the performance is the live search for the moment when the two cross paths. Mzwakhe Mbuli, as far as I know, always performed his struggle poems to a backing track. ‘The Beat’, which was to become one of the mainstays for the anti-apartheid left, was recorded in 1986 in the Shifty studio with amongst others Ian Herman and Gito Baloi, who a year later would form Tananas.

The work of poet-musicians is also included: Abdullah Ibrahim (whose reminiscing in ‘Knysna Blue’ shifts into some interesting, slow freestyle jazz poetry), Koos Kombuis, and the reclusive Gert Vlok Nel, known for coming out of hiding every so often to perform his poems as songs.

Musicians aren’t always faithful to the original poems they use – modifying them in small or big ways to fit the rhythmic needs of their songs, deleting lines, or shifting and repeating them to create a chorus, or for effect. David Kramer makes mostly slight changes to Christopher Hope’s ‘Kobus Le Grange Marais’ – which Hope calls a “satirical ditty” – to suit his characteristic African-infused country Cape carnivalesque style (at one point he goes as far as changing the name of a town, and it would be interesting to known why). I found this annotated version of the poem online, which shows the changes for his performance of the song at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg in 1983. I’ve only quoted from the last two verses, and Kramer’s changes are in square brackets:

From Slagtersnek to [R’]Sonderwater
He smears the Boers’ good name;
And God is still a rooinek God,
Kommandant op [Koppiefontein] {Koffiefontein}:
[And] if what I hear about heaven is true,
[Well] it’s a racially mixed affair;
In which case, ons gaan kak da’ bo,”
Said Kobus Le Grange Marais

“[Now] the times are as cruel
As the big steel wheels
That carried my legs away;
Oudstryders like me
Are out on our necks
[We] {and} stink like the scum on [the] {a} vlei;
And [the] white man puts the white man down,
The volk are led astray;
There’ll be weeping at Weenen once again,
No keeping [those] {the} impis at bay;
(2 times) [And the/ yes, the] {and}tears will stream
From the stony eyes
Of Oom Paul in Pretoria Square:
[For/’Cause] he knows we’ll all be poor whites soon,”
Said Kobus Le Grange Marais

For their version of Mary Oliver’s ‘When I Am Among The Trees’, Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys repeat lines and phrases for effect (also changing ”Stay awhile” to “Why don’t you stay awhile?”) and reorganise the last two stanzas into a kind of chorus to create an hallucinatory sense of the movement and energy of swirling trees. The result is a haunting, almost bewitched soundscape – drawing on a sense that is already there in the poem, but creating something darker, more dramatic.

Koos takes a different approach. They shatter the necessity of the form of Chris van Wyk’s ‘In Detention’ entirely, fragmenting it into a series of rearranged statements and ad libs with the poem as a reference point. It’s a piece saturated with a ‘fuck you’ to the apartheid state and everything that comes with it.

Compare this to Mealor’s ‘Invictus’ – a poem Nelson Mandela read to other prisoners on Robben Island. It’s a choral for a 70-voice children’s choir, composed as the third part to a three-part movement called ‘Spirit of Hope’, and apparently performed in Cape Town (although I don’t know where this recording’s from). Mealor changes the poem too, dropping a stanza, repeating phrases and lines, but, like Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys’ take on Oliver’s ‘Trees…’, is an impressive example of how a poem can be carefully reset to music using precise and articulate phrasing. Henley’s four-beat poem lends itself more easily to this sort of job than, for example, ‘In Detention’, with its modernist energy and form. But it’s worth reading the poem while listening to the recording to see how Mealor does it – never mind the stunning percussive coda to the composition.

‘Sunship’ – a tribute to John Coltrane – is equally careful, with Strelitz’s aching melody following the phrasing in Berold’s poem closely; although I feel that at times Strelitz’s predilection for the blues vocable (the ‘mmm-ing’ and ‘oh-ing) gets in the way of the poem – I wanted to hear it more starkly, the lines more alone.

In counterpoint to Mealor’s composition, Rampolokeng and Ibrahim work organically with different forms – reggae/funk, and jazz – with freer, and ultimately more complex phrasing, but to a different purpose.

These sorts of collaborations (let’s call the use of a poem such as Jonker’s a form of collaboration between the musician and the poet’s work) shift audiences and introduce new ‘readers’ to poems – and maybe the other way around too. It’s a way to wrest us out of our cultural echo chambers. I hadn’t read Christopher Hope’s poem, and didn’t know David Kramer had sung it, and haven’t read much of David Chislett’s stuff. Shannon Hope’s ‘Daylight’ (Chislett) is beautiful and moving, drawing effectively on the universal resonance of its refrain of love and loss: “My love was never going to be enough/in daylight”. Matthew Van der Want’s interpretation of Chislett’s poem ‘For You Or Someone Like You’ closely maps his own concerns in his song-writing, refracting interpersonal exchanges and situations through his complex and layered mix of tracks, effects and rhythms. I also hadn’t heard Edi Niederlander’s electric, energetic version of ‘Come Wi Goh Dung Deh’, which sent me back to listen to Linton Kwesi Johnson’s dub original.

The list could be expanded. There must be traditional oral poetry in indigenous languages set to music. I’d be surprised if someone like Miriam Makeba hadn’t done this. Johnny Clegg drew on the izibongo tradition and rituals in his music. There’s definitely more that’s gone on in the performance poetry or hip-hop – but you need to be immersed in the scene to know where to find it. I also thought of Maskandi, which the poet Mxolisi Nyezwa is currently exploring as a way to reinvigorate the isiXhosa poetry tradition. But that moves quite quickly out of the more straightforward ‘poem to music’ frame that Houston-Lock and Drewett are using.

As it is, the list is exciting – and I really enjoyed listening to these tracks. That they have taken the time to put this selection together is another selfless act of informal archival work that is the hallmark of their podcast series – a curation and reframing of cultural production in a new and simultaneously historical light. It is exactly how cultures flourish, and, although probably less acknowledged, is no different to the important work being done by institutions such as the Amazwi South African Museum of Literature in Makhanda. It deepens us, and reminds us of the possibilities that are right in front of us.

  1. The BeatMzwakhe Mbuli (Mzwakhe Mbuli)
  2. Toilet PoemKoos Kombuis (Andre Le Toit)
  3. In DetentionKoos (Chris van Wyk)
  4. When I Am Among The Trees – Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys (Mary Oliver)
  5. Come Wi Goh Dung DehEdi Niederlander (Linton Kwesi Johnson)
  6. Kobus Le Grange MaraisDavid Kramer (Christopher Hope)
  7. Die Dans Van Die Reen – Laurinda Hofmeyr (Eugene Marias)
  8. The Desk – Lesego Rampolokeng & the Kalahari Surfers (Lesego Rampolokeng)
  9. Sunship – Larry Strelitz (Robert Berold)
  10. Drawing -The Sighs of Monsters (Ingrid Jonker)
  11. Vyf Lewens – Chris Chamelion (Ingrid Jonker)
  12. Daylight – Shannon Hope (David Chislett)
  13. For Your Or Someone Like You – Matthew van der Want (David Chislett)
  14. Beautiful In Beaufort Wes – Gert Vlok Nel (Gert Vlok Nel)
  15. Invictus – Paul Mealor (William Ernest Henley)
  16. Jy Gee Geboorte Ann Jou Asem – Breyten Breytenbach (Breyten Breytenbach)
  17. The Last Days of Beautiful – Buckfever Underground (Toast Coetzer)
  18. Knysna BlueAbdullah Ibrahim (Abdullah Ibrahim)
  19. December Poems – Guy Buttery (Instrumental)

Alan Finlay is a South African poet who lives in Argentina. He has published several collections of poetry, most recently ‘That kind of door’ (2017, Deep South Publishing), and ‘The cactus of a bright sky’ (2021, Dye Hard Press). He has  founded and edited poetry journals, and co-edited selections of South African poetry and prose. He works on internet and media rights, and part-time at the Wits Centre for Journalism in Johannesburg.

Remembering Sharpeville: 21 Human Rights songs

This week we remember the victims of the Sharpeville Massacre which took place on the 21st March 1960. 69 protesters were killed and 189 injured by the apartheid police, in response to a gathering of approximately 7000 people who assembled at a Sharpeville police station to protest the government’s heinous pass law policy. In South Africa the 21st of March is honoured as Human Rights Day and is a public holiday. For this mixtape we have put together 21 songs which remember human rights abuses, Sharpeville in particular, and which call for (equal) human rights.

We begin with Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Get Up! Stand Up!” which has become an anthem for human rights all over the world, often sung at political concerts with a human rights focus.

Several of the tracks included here refer directly to Sharpeville (sometimes spelt without the ‘e’): Hugh Masekela, Mario Pavone, Big T Commemoration Band, Ewan Maccoll and Peggy Seeger, Black Savage, and Karl Hektor and the Malcouns all recorded pieces which pay direct tribute to the victims at Sharpeville.

The Brixton Moord En Roof Orkes’s “Die Geraamtes In Jou Kas” (“The Skeletons In Your Closet”) and Bester Meyer’s “Die Kind” (“The Child”, based on the famous Ingrid Jonker poem) refer to Sharpeville within the context of the widespread injustices of the apartheid regime.

Miriam Makeba’s “Nonquonqo” (Beware Verwoerd) and Letta Mbulu’s “Nonquonqo” both capture the anti-apartheid government protest sentiments of the post-Sharpeville period. While the former warns Verwoerd’s government of Black protest, the latter grieves the imprisonment of political prisoners after the repressive government’s clampdown in the 1960s.

Juluka’s “Mama Shabalala” and Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll” remind us how human rights abuses often take place on an individual level, even while we generally think of human rights abuse on a larger scale. Both songs consider the plight of individuals within an oppressive system, the former a fictional case in South Africa, the latter an actual incident from the United States.

Indeed, human rights abuses occur globally, and the mixtape also focuses on human rights abuses more broadly. Billie Holiday’s iconic “Strange Fruit” laments the lynching of black people in the southern states of the United States, while U2’s “Mothers Of The Disappeared” and Sting’s “They Dance Alone” are tributes to the mothers and partners of victims of government repression in Central and South American countries. The victims had been arrested, killed and ‘disappeared’. U2’s song refers to the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers whose children had ‘disappeared’ at the hands of Chilean and Argentinian dictatorships, and to the Comadres, a similar group in El Salvador. Sting’s “They Dance Alone” is dedicated to women related to the ‘disappeared’ in Chile, referring to the way the women danced the Cueca (the national dance) alone, while holding photographs of their loved ones. Both U2 and Sting were inspired to write these songs because of their work with the Human Rights organization, Amnesty. Another artist who has worked closely with Amnesty is Peter Gabriel, who wrote “Wallflower” as a tribute to political prisoners around the world. Gabriel’s chilling words are both a tribute to political detainees and a reminder of the human rights abuses carried against them:

Hold on, you have gambled with your own life
You faced the night alone
While the builders of the cages
Sleep with bullets, bars and stone
They do not see the road to freedom
That you build with flesh and bone

Though you may disappear, you’re not forgotten here
And I will say to you, I will do what I can do

The mixtape ends with four songs which advocate human rights in one way or another: by Rhiannon Giddens’ version of “Freedom Highway”, Daweh Congo’s “Human Rights And Justice”, “Equal Rights” by Peter Tosh and finally, Laurel Aitken’s interpretation of the USA folk protest song, “We Shall Overcome”.
As we listen to this selection, we are reminded of music’s capacity to mourn and document human rights abuses, and its ability to capture emotional sentiments which in turn can draw people together as they fight against repressive governments the world over.

  1. Get Up! Stand Up! – Bob Marley & The Wailers
  2. Sharpville – Hugh Masekela
  3. Sharpeville – Mario Pavone
  4. Tears For Sharpeville – Big T Commemoration Band Featuring Vuyelwa Luzipo
  5. Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday
  6. The Ballad Of Sharpeville – Ewan Maccoll And Peggy Seeger
  7. Ndodemnyama – Miriam Makeba And Harry Belafonte
  8. Nonquonqo – Letta Mbulu
  9. Mama Shabalala – Juluka
  10. The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll – Bob Dylan
  11. Sharpeville – Black Savage
  12. Sharpville Massacre – Karl Hector & The Malcouns
  13. Die Kind – Bester Meyer
  14. Die Geraamtes In Jou Kas – Brixton Moord En Roof Orkes
  15. They Dance Alone – Sting
  16. Mothers Of The Disappeared – U2
  17. Wallflower – Peter Gabriel
  18. Freedom Highway – Rhiannon Giddens
  19. Human Rights And Justice – Daweh Congo
  20. Equal Rights – Peter Tosh
  21. We Shall Overcome – Laurel Aitken

The cover art features an extract of a painting depicting the Sharpeville massacre by Godfrey Rubens which hangs in the South African Consulate in London.

Special – Gary Herselman Fundraiser

Gary Herselman is a legend of the alternative South African music scene. Recently Shifty Records championed a campaign to raise finds for Gary who, like many veteran indie South African musicians, has fallen on hard times. As Shifty noted:

It has recently come to our attention that notorious (only in the best way) shorts-sporting Kêrels frontman Gary Herselman (AKA Piet Pers of the Gereformeerde Blues Band) has fallen on hard times, within already hard times for him, within what are, as I’m sure you are aware, hard times for everyone. To help Gary out, we have organised a Back-a-Buddy campaign and are working on a compilation album of his best tunes (https://shiftyrecords.bandcamp.com/releases), as well as a few other treats for fans. Visit https://www.backabuddy.co.za/gary-herselman to lend your support .

Gary Herselman is best known for his band The Kêrels, but prior to forming the Kêrels he began his career in the music industry by forming various bands while at school before getting a long-standing job at Hillbrow Records in 1980 and during that time playing in the band Hard Lines (contemporaries of The Asylum Kids) and then the Kêrels. Like many musicians of that time they ended up playing at Jamesons and, also like several musicians of that time, were signed by Shifty Records. In 1988 they recorded the album Ek sê. As Gary remembered:

“Lloyd … came up to me after one gig at the Jameson’s and said ‘look I want to record your band.’ And it took me about eight months to accept that this guy was actually serious, you know, I thought he just was pulling my leg! But eventually I accepted that he was serious and went and make the record.”

The album did not sell very many copies but gained a cult following. Not long after that the Kêrels broke up but a second phase of the group formed in the 1990s and they released a second album, Chrome Sweet Chrome (1995) which met with a similar fate to the first album. meanwhile Gary had formed his own record company, Tic Tic Bang, recording some South African music and distributing both their own and other independent artists as well as licensing overseas music.

Musically, from 1989 until the late 1990s, Gary was involved in other projects, such as being a member of Johannes Kerkorrel’s Gerefomeerde Blues Band for the Eet Kreef (1989) album and on the Voëlvry tour, playing on the Koos Kombuis Niemandsland (1989) album and on the Radio Rats Big Beat (1990) album and also playing with the Radio Rats around the same time. In 1997 the Kêrels played on two tracks on Matthew van der Want’s debut album, Turn on You (1997) and also periodically backed him on stage.

Gary has always been supportive of other musicians and worked with the likes of Matthew van der Want, Jo Edwards and Sue Charlton in recording music in the late 90s/early 2000s period. For Gary, music wasn’t just a serious business, it was a creative calling and fun. Matthew van der Want remembered he and Gary recording the satirical song “The Worst Song in the World … Ever! (Battle of the Bads)”, about a terrible Battle of the Bands competition, where the musicians played their instruments badly:

“It’s supposed to be a dig at crap SA bands: ‘It’s Friday night at half past ten the band’s about to start. Everyone who’s nobody is loitering at the bar. The singer is a looker, she’s invested in her clothes. Isn’t there a law against lyrics like those?’ and behind the vocals, there’s this drummer who keeps playing on the wrong beat and a bass player who is intent on making the song go in another direction. I did the music with Gary Herselman and we were in hysterics while we were doing it.”

Gary’s life has always centred around music and he has been most satisfied when able to make music and make a living from music. Back in 1998 he commented:

“In my books I’ve been successful already. I’ve managed to do exactly what I’ve wanted to do. The music was absolutely without compromise, and there was a sector of the population that accepted it, that really loved it. There was a kind of a feeling that I had there that you either really loved it or you really hated it. So I think that the success in the first time that the Kêrels played was just in making the album. That was the success. I never wanted to be on the cover of Billboard or to change the world or you know … I just wanted to maybe change a few people’s minds and have a bit of a laugh along the way … to me I think the success is in having not made a compromise in that I don’t have to take a job at the OK Bazaars and I’m still working in music and I can record the music that I like.”

Since the demise of the Kêrels and Tic Tic Bang, Gary has battled on, working with other musicians, including co-producing (with Matthew van der Want) the tribute to Koos Kombuis Kombuis Musiek compilation album and periodically putting out his own music, including the highly acclaimed Die Lemme’s Rigtingbefok (2014) album in which he collaborated with several South African musicians and House For Sale (2018).

This mixtape is our attempt to celebrate Gary’s contribution to South African music. From his own work with the Kêrels, as a solo artist, and with Die Lemme to his output as part of Die Gereformeerde Blues Band and the Radio Rats and his collaborations with South African musicians Matthew van der Want, Sue Charlton, Q-Zoo and Jo Edwards. Whatever he has done, ultimately Gary has always played his music on the outskirts of the music industry, and having a hellova time while doing it. As Gary noted:

“musicians … going down, getting their own together with the help of no corporates or no major companies were behind things like the Voëlvry tour. It was an Indie like Shifty who understood what was going on. And it was in fact a case of that: that you just actually took the microphone for yourself rose up and took … the small man rose up and took a slice of the boerewors!”

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.