Songs About South African Streets

Music has the ability to capture the spirit of a place. This is a theme we have been exploring in the past few mixtapes about music and place names in South Africa. This mixtape continues that theme, but takes us right down to street level. Musicians have regularly been inspired to compose songs about the street they live or work in, a road they drive along, or to commemorate someone a street is named after.

Simphiwe Dana begins this mixtape with such a song: an ode to Steve Biko and the black consciousness ideas he encouraged. Biko said that, “A people without a positive history are like a vehicle without an engine.” And Dana seems to suggest that when black South Africans find that engine, they drive down Bantu Biko Street, celebrating their pride and dignity.

Also exploring principles through the metaphor of street names, in “Ambush Street” the Kalahari Surfers comment on South Africans being ambushed by corruption, some trying to beat the Jo’burg heat, discreetly breaking the law in Ambush Street. The woman in Jennifer Ferguson’s “In Judith Road” also breaks the law, doing what she needs to get by: “She feeds the fat boys ginger biscuits and masturbates the rest”.

The singer in Beatenberg’s “M3” thinks about how the freeway he drives along connects him to the person he sings to in the song, following the road wherever it takes him. Also in Cape Town, Bright Blue’s “2nd Avenue” is where the singer stops to make a bane, on the way to the station to catch a train.

Many of the songs on this mixtape capture the feel of streets solely through music, not using lyrics at all. From the upbeat vibe of the Boyoyo’s song about Eloff Street in the Jo’burg city centre to the mellow rural folksiness of Nibs van der Spuy & Guy Buttery’s Lobombo Mountain Drive in KwaZulu-Natal.

So many moments and places are aptly captured in songs, allowing us to remember or perhaps just to imagine …Wherever these songs take you, we hope you enjoy the journey!

  1. Bantu Biko Street – Simphiwe Dana
  2. New Street – Dave Goldblum
  3. M3 – Beatenberg
  4. Nuttall Street – Basil Coetzee
  5. Hanover Straat – Anton Goosen
  6. 2nd Avenue – Bright Blue
  7. Eloff Street No 2 – Boyoyo Boys
  8. 10th Avenue – African Jazz Pioneers
  9. WD 46 Mendi Road – Dick Khoza
  10. In Judith Road – Jennifer Ferguson
  11. Down Rockey Street – Moses Molelekwa
  12. Ntuli Street – Bheki Mseleku
  13. London Drive – Jo’burg City Stars
  14. Freeway to Soweto – David Thekwane & the Boyoyo Boys
  15. Ambush Street – Kalahari Surfers
  16. Armitage Road – The Heshoo Beshoo Group
  17. N3 East – Nishlyn Ramanna
  18. Lobombo Mountain Drive – Nibs van der Spuy & Guy Buttery
  19. 9 Aldershot Road – Government Car
  20. Mampuru Street – Sakhile

South African Songs About Political Places

Music has the ability to capture moments and sentiments. On occasion it reminds us of places and also of events which transpired in those places. This mixtape includes a selection of musical pieces written about political events which unfolded in specific places in South Africa. Some of these focus on particular events such as the Rivonia Treason Trial, the Mdantsane bus strike, and the Marikana Massacre, while the majority reflect in one way or another on that especially heartless apartheid practice of forced removals: moving people against their will from the place they called home to a different, hostile, and unfriendly place: away from one’s community, away from all the familiar associations of home. Because forced removals were so painful it is no surprise that there are so many compositions about places from which people were forced to move by the apartheid state. Sophiatown, Cato Manor, Crossroads, and District Six are covered in this mixtape . People lost their homes and their communities but held onto their memories … and the songs remain.

One of the songs included here captures the mood of most, if not all, the pieces featured on this mixtape. In Mdantsane in July 1983, in response to severe price increases, a boycott was called, of buses partly owned by the Ciskei government. The apartheid Ciskei security forces, supported by vigilantes, attempted to force people to use the buses, resulting in bloody assaults, injuries and death. Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu wrote the song “Mdantsane” about the bus boycott. They asked, “Why don’t you sing about the African moon; Why don’t you sing about the leaves and the dreams; Why don’t you sing about the rain and the birds?” And they answered, “’Cause mister I’ve seen mud coloured dusty blood; Bare feet on a burning bus; Broken teeth and a rifle butt; On the road to Mdantsane.”

All the musicians on this mixtape similarly chose to document government and employer atrocities rather than to only sing about the leaves and the dreams.

Mzwakhe Mbuli contemplated the apartheid legislative capital, Pitoli, Dolly Rathebe & the Elite Swingsters commemorated the accused at the Rivonia treason trial, and Lesego Rampolokeng and the Kalahari Surfers reflected on the Sebokeng siege. The Junction Avenue Theatre Company (who performed the musical Sophiatown), the African Jazz Pioneers, and Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks all lament the forced removals from and bulldozing of Kofifi/Sophiatown, while Nancy Jacobs & her Sisters sang about people’s reluctance to be moved from Sophiatown to Meadowlands, established by the apartheid state as an alternative township to Sophiatown. In a song named after Soweto, Barry Gilder sings of the struggle to live and work in South Africa, in a society where people were expected to travel vast distances under the migrant labour system, yet whose lives were not valued by business owners and the government. Stimela’s “Soweto save the children” alerted listeners to the detrimental effects apartheid was having on the children of Soweto.

The only song on this mixtape about a post-apartheid atrocity is Lilitha’s mournful “Marikana” about the Marikana Massacre. A reminder that the alliance between the government and capital continues to be problematic, even in a post-1994 government, and an even harsher reminder as to where exactly the state is prepared to draw a moral line.

Sipho Gumede & Pops Mohamed remembered Cato Manor in the Durban area and Juluka documented the violence surrounding the Mdantsane bus boycott. The mixtape ends with a series of songs related to the Western Cape. Winston Mankunku and Mike Perry, Sakhile, Syd Kitchen, and Roger Lucey all contributed songs about the apartheid state’s attack on the residents of Crossroads, targeted for forced removal. “Mooi River Textiles” is a song by workers at that factory, recorded and documented by Shifty Records. Finally Cyril Valentine (with a song from the District Six musical), Hugh Masekela (featuring Corlea) and Abdullah Ibrahim, remember District Six, another area which the apartheid state decided to bulldoze into oblivion and forcibly remove all its inhabitants because they decided to rezone it as a white area.

Sometimes the songs on this mixtape are a mournful and painful reminder of places, and sometimes they recall spirited community togetherness. They often remind us of defiance – that people resisted and continue to resist oppressive laws, policies and actions. Crucially, they are documents of the events that occurred and of the places where they took place. As long as this music plays we cannot be allowed to forget.

  1. Pitoli – Mzwakhe Mbuli
  2. Rivonia – Dolly Rathebe & The Elite Swingsters
  3. Sebokeng Siege – Lesego & Kalahari Surfers
  4. Kofifi Sophia – Junction Avenue Theatre Company
  5. Kofifi – African Jazz Pioneers
  6. Sophiatown Is Gone – Miriam Makeba & The Skylarks
  7. Meadowlands – Nancy Jacobs & Her Sisters
  8. Soweto Song – Barry Gilder
  9. Soweto Save The Children – Stimela
  10. Marikana – Lilitha
  11. Remember Cato Manor – Sipho Gumede & Pops Mohamed
  12. Mdantsane – Juluka
  13. Crossroads Crossroads – Winston Mankunku & Mike Perry
  14. Crossroads – Sakhile
  15. Crossroads – Syd Kitchen
  16. Crossroads – Roger Lucey
  17. Mooi River Textiles – Fosatu Worker Choirs
  18. Heart Of District SixCyril Valentine
  19. District SixHugh Masekela & Corlea
  20. District SixAbdullah Ibrahim

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1989

The eighties ended with a wide variety of South African music making the Capital Radio Top 40 Countdown (14 songs released in 1989 made the charts) and even more which did not chart. Of the songs we suggest should have charted, three are by artists who did make the charts but who had other songs worthy of radio play: David Kramer, Edi Niederlander and Savuka.

In a market where so many South African musicians packed in their musical ambitions after a single or an album or two it was reassuring to see so many musicians who were still releasing music who had been there at the beginning of the 1980s: Johnny Clegg (as part of Juluka), Dog Detachment (as Dog), Sipho Gumede (as a member of Spirits Rejoice and then with Sakhile), David Kramer, Sipho Mabuse (as a member of Harari), Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Sipho Mchunu (as part of Juluka) and Tim Parr (as a member of Baxtop and then with Ella Mental) all released significant music which either charted on Capital Radio in 1980 or which curiously missed out. There were also others who were performing in 1980 who released music in 1989: members of the African Jazz Pioneers, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens and Edi Niederlander.

Shifty Records were still releasing poignant music for the times: Johannes Kerkorrel’s Gereformeerde Blues Band and Koos Kombuis, main attractions of the Voelvry Tour, as well as the Kalahari Surfers, Noise Khanyile & the Jo’Burg City Stars and Winston’s Jive Mix Up. There were also good tunes from Cape Town-based musicians, Amampondo and Niki Daly.

We recognise that even in our missed mixed tapes we have ironically missed other songs from the 1980s which you might think were worthy of airplay at the time. Some of these have already been pointed out to us. If you have noticed any songs which have been missed, either by Capital Radio or on Mixedtapes.ZA please leave your suggestions in the comments section and we will do out best to include them in next week’s double missed mixtape!

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