Music from Makhanda

Many a poet, writer, journo, musician, dancer, artist, and even person on the street, has experienced the sort of creative inspiration in Makhanda (and also when it was Grahamstown) which only ever comes to one at the centre of the creative universe. This mixtape celebrates why we think Makhanda is the centre of the South African popular music universe. Given the size of the town it is staggering to hear how much good music has been made by people from here, or who have at the very least stopped in Grahamstown and Makhanda as part of their life’s journey.

This mixtape begins with “Deep Frieze” by Chris Letcher, who grew up in Grahamstown, and attended school and university here. As a student he was a member of Gramsci Beat before going on to much bigger things: with Urban Creep and as a duo with Matthew van der Want. When he finally released his long overdue debut solo album (Frieze, released in 2007) it was critically acclaimed, and “Deep Frieze” gives a good indication as to why the album was so well-received.

Larry Strelitz has been part of the Grahamstown and Makhanda music scene since the 1970s, when he was an active member of the Rhodes University Folk Club. He is a songwriter of note and has performed in various groups and as a solo artist. “Declaration of Independence” is from the early 1990s, and was one of a series of songs based on poems by almost equally longstanding Grahamstonian and local poet, Robert Berold.

Gil Hockman is one of several musicians on this mixtape who passed through Grahamstown and Makhanda as a student. He was a founder-member of The Buckfever Underground (see below) and in 2009 began performing as a solo artist. “A Long Way Home” is taken from his 2013 EP, All The Things.

Lucy Kruger was also a temporary Grahamstown sojourner while she studied Music and Drama at Rhodes University towards the end of the first decade of the 2000s. She initially performed as a solo artist but went on to form Medicine Boy and Lucy Kruger & the Lost Boys. While the former has since broken up she still performs as the latter. Like Gil Hockman, she has since relocated to Berlin, Germany. Here we have included “Half Of A Woman: from her 2019 album, Sleeping Tapes For Some Girls.

Back in the 1950s, when Grahamstown was affectionally known in some circles as ‘The Little Jazz Town” , there were several groups who provided the town with a jazz soundtrack, including the Gaiety Brothers, the Modern Keys, the Jumping Jitt Fives, the Satchmo Heights and the Merry Swingsters, who appear here with Victor Mkize & Joyce Foley performing “Hambela eBhayi”, recorded in 1953. The most influential of the musicians in this circle was Jury Mphelo. He became well known in Johannesburg with groups like Orlando Six and King Jury and His Band. Here he features under his own name performing “Isicatula Boots”, recorded in 1957.

Another prominent South African jazz musician, Zim Ngqawana, studied at Rhodes University in the mid to late 1980s before going on to the University of Natal and a hugely successful solo career. “Gobbliesation (In a Global Village)” is taken from his third solo album, Zimphonic Suites, released in 2001.

Andrew Tracey, most closely associated with the International Library of African Music, is almost as well known for the Andrew Tracy Steel Band, for many, many years a part of the Grahamstown soundscape. Here we include “Chakwi”, recorded in 2004.

Another longstanding local musician, Monwabisi Sabani, achieved a degree of national fame in the 1990s, culminating in appearances on SABC TV. “Ningathengisani” is taken from the “Mnandisa” album, recorded by Mountain Records in 1998.

Leather Omnibus were a mostly student Grahamstown band together with members from Rhini township. The band included Tune Me What’s Brett Lock and Leon Lazarus. Here we include “Neighbours” (1989) with yet another permanent local, Mini Dial, on vocals. The band was short-lived but did land a residency at Jameson’s in Johannesburg in December 1989, featuring Gramsci Beat’s Chris Letcher and Alan Finlay as guest musicians.

James Ribbans was a student at Rhodes University at a similar time to Leather Omnibus and always stole the show whenever he performed. He has continued to make music in London, where he has been based for many years. “Night Painting” (2014) performed with Zhenya Strigalev gives some idea as to what the fuss was all about.

Indicator was a band formed by Sean Hayward also formerly of the late ’90s Rhodes student band, Karmic Drink, with various collaborators. BMG Records Africa offered to sign Indicator on the strength of his album Are Their Spirits Here? , but Hayward opted to try his luck in London, but wasn’t successful. The title track is featured on this mixtape. Now living in the USA, Hayward is still active in the local music scene there. Karmic Drink came second in the 1998 Rhodes University campus ‘Battle of the Bands’ behind winner One Large Banana (see below).

Live Jimi Presley were originally a mid-1980s Grahamstown band called Vader Jakob. They changed their name to Manhole and then to Live Jimi Presley. “Song A” is taken from an album of earlier recordings released in 2016.

Photographer and musician Tim Hopwood has spent most of his life in his native Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) but spent a few years at Rhodes University in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. He is a regular at local live venues and periodically releases new music. “Revelations” is a Hopwood song, taken from the album, Songs of Love and Death which he recorded with Joe Van Der Linden in 2007.

Madele Vermaak was a friend and musical contemporary of Lucy Kruger, and has performed as a solo artist over the years. This year she released her first solo work, A Pocket Full of Stones, from which “Love Breaks Time” is taken. Vermaak now lives in Vietnam.

Nishlyn Ramanna has a long relationship with Grahamstown and Makhanda, having spent two fairly long stints in the Rhodes University Music Department, where he currently works. “N3 East” is taken from his critically acclaimed debut album, A Thought, released in 2005.

The Nia Collective are a popular current Makhanda band, whose performances over the past decade have been keenly awaited and enjoyed. “Mind the Gap” is taken from their debut album, Acoustic Soul.

The Koeksusters were a mid-1980s Andrew Sisters-styled vocal group comprising four Rhodes University students: Pauline Higgins, Alison Love, Karin Thorne and Tessa Gawith. They never recorded studio versions of their songs although there might be some live recordings lurking around somewhere. They were an End Conscription Campaign aligned band who performed political songs. The version of “Raglan Road” featured here is a live recording taken from the ECC 25th anniversary concert in 2008. It features only Karin Thorne and Tessa Gawith because the other two members were not able to attend.

The Aeroplanes were also a group of Rhodes students from the late 1970s, early 1980s, but they only formed a band after they left Rhodes University and returned to their home city, Johannesburg. Band members included Michael Rudolf (who had featured in various Grahamstown bands while he was a student), Carl Bekker, Gary Rathbone, Robert Muirhead and James Whyle. Their only album, The Aeroplanes, was released by Shifty Records in 1986. From that album we feature the song “National Madness”, a different version of which also appears on the Shifty/End Conscription Campaign compilation, Forces Favourites (1985).

James Phillips was already a fairly established muso when he arrived at Rhodes University to study music in the early 1980s (and his stay partly overlapped with the future members of the Aeroplanes). He had already released an EP with the Springs band, Corporal Punishment. In his short-lived stay at Rhodes University (he soon left to continue his studies at Wits University) he met Lee Edwards. The two later got together to form the Cherry Faced Lurchers, whose debut album, Live at Jameson’s was also recorded by Shifty Records. “Shot Down” is taken from that album, and just as with the Aeroplanes’ “National Madness”, an alternative version of the song was included on the Shifty/End Conscription Campaign compilation, Forces Favourites (1985).

One Large Banana was a late 1990s Grahamstown band including former Leather Omnibus member, Brett Lock. Other members included Jo Edwards, John Taylor and Gareth Sweetman (son of Barry Sweetman – see below). They released the EP Don’t Feed The Animals and won the Rhodes University leg of Battle of the Bands competition in 1997, which allowed them to appear at Oppikoppi later that year. “Leave This Town” from the EP went on to chart on 5FM and Radio Algoa. The band broke up in 1999.

The Kiffness is the stage name of David Scott who studied Music and Journalism at Rhodes, where he played trumpet in a jazz band and DJed at campus bar, ‘The Union’ The Kiffness’s debut single “Where Are You Going?” (featured here) charted on 5FM in 2013.

Radio Kalahari Orkes is a band fronted by former Grahamstownian Ian Roberts, possibly more familiar to the public as an actor. They perform a sort of progressive Boeremusiek-infused folk. Roberts is a graduate of both St Andrews school and Rhodes University, where he studied Drama and Anthropology in the late 1970s. This mixtape includes the song “Kaptein, Kaptein” taken from the Grootste Treffers album, released in 2011.

Barry Sweetman has been a fixture on the Grahamstown local music scene for almost 5 decades. A blues guitarist, he has performed solo and with various local musicians – including his son Gareth. Notably, he has never released an album, but has made a few professional recordings. We feature an instrumental track called “Soul Thing”.

Toast Coetzer was a Journalism student at Rhodes in the late 1990s and was involved in local music promotion and a DJ on Rhodes Music Radio. Together with a rota of collaborations – similar to the ethos of the Kalahari Surfers – Coetzer set his poetry over a bed of ambient music as The Buckfever Underground (founded with Gil Hockman), releasing a number of albums including Jou Medemens is Dood (1999) and Teaching Afrikaans as a Foreign Language (2002). Here we feature the song “Who’s Your Memory”, taken from the former album.

Cassette was a band led by Jono Savage formerly of late 1990s Rhodes student band Karmic Drink, together with Andrew Wessels of the mid-90s campus band Just Encasement (which also featured Gareth Sweetman, later of One Large Banana). Cassette won a “Best Rock Album” SAMA in 2007 for their album Welcome Back To Earth. In 2008, they won an MTV Africa award and they have the distinction of being the first SA band to tour Japan! After Cassette, Savage became a popular radio host and Wessels a film director. Wessels also drummed for Just Encasement, the final band featured which also included Gareth Steetman (later of One Large Banana). They were a popular band on campus in the mid 1990s.

Songs

  1. Deep Frieze – Chris Letcher
  2. Declaration Of Independence – Larry Strelitz
  3. A Long Way Home – Gil Hockman
  4. Half Of A Woman – Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys
  5. Hambela Ebhayi – Merry Swingsters With Victor Mkize & Joyce Foley
  6. Isicatula Boots – Jury Mphelo
  7. Gobbliesation (In A Global Village) – Zim Ngqawana
  8. Chakwi – Andrew Tracy Steel Band
  9. Ningathengisani – Monwabisi Sabani
  10. Neighbour – Leather Omnibus
  11. Night Painting – James Ribbans & Zhenya Strigalev
  12. Are Their Spirits Here – Indicator
  13. Song A – Live Jimi Presley
  14. Revelations – Tim Hopwood And Joe Van Der Linden
  15. Love Breaks Time – Madele Vermaak
  16. N3 East – Nishlyn Ramanna
  17. Mind The Gap – Nia Collective
  18. Raglan Road – The Koeksusters
  19. National Madness – The Aeroplanes
  20. Shot Down – Cherry Faced Lurchers
  21. Leave This Town – One Large Banana
  22. Where Are You Going? – The Kiffness
  23. Kaptein – Radio Kalahari Orkes
  24. A 2 Soul Thing – Barry Sweetman
  25. Who’s Your Memory – The Buckfever Underground
  26. Welcome Back To Earth – Cassette
  27. Just Encasement – It Feels

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1987

There were fourteen South African songs that charted on the Capital Countdown Top 40 in 1987 and we suggest another sixteen which we think should have joined them. Two of these songs are by groups (Bright Blue and Savuka) who made the Top 40, but with only one song each. The rest were well-established musicians who somehow or other escaped the Capital music manager’s radar.

Once again their was a cluster of Shifty Records artists with some iconic songs deserving of a wider audience: Cherry Faced Lurchers, Jennifer Ferguson, Kalahari Surfers and Mr Mac and the Genuines. Syd Kitchen had been around for a decade and a half and finally recorded his debut album Waiting For The Heave, but he had to keep on waiting because his music was ignored by virtually everyone other than a few campus radio stations. All Night Radio had been around for a few years but were also battling to be noticed by radio stations. Bayete’s debut album also escaped Capital’s attention, as did anything ever released by Chicco, Mahlathini And The Mohatella Queens, Hugh Masekela, Sabenza, the Soul Brothers and Zia. Gothic band No Friends of Harry released an impressive debut EP but also failed to make the Capital Top 40.

The elephant in the room was the fear of the security branch and the possibility of losing the license to broadcast and so it almost went without saying that Capital would not playlist an overtly anti-apartheid song like Savuka’s “Asimbonanga” (although the slightly less obvious political song, “Missing” did chart in 1987). Perhaps this is why Capital ignored Shifty’s music, even though there were several classic songs which they released which would not have interested the security branch in the slightest, “Bay Of Bombay” by Jennifer Ferguson being one of them. Interestingly, the SABC sponsored a video of the song which they screened:

Capital could have got away with Chicco’s clever “We Miss You Manelow” in which he playfully laments the absence of someone called Manelow, but which everyone knew was Mandela.

Sadly, a lot of the exciting musical contests of the day seemed to bypass Capital. Be sure to give these a songs a listen now, they deserve your attention!

Show Playlist + Poll

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1986

There were just nine South African songs on the Capital Radio Top 40 in 1986, which is remarkable given the wide array of good South African music recorded and released that year. In particular the independent label, Shifty Records, was continuing to pick up on a variety of worthwhile music which nobody else was prepared to record.

Indeed, the idea behind Shifty was to document (by recording) music that reflected South African life – both musically and lyrically – and we have included a variety of their release on the 1986 mixtape: the Cherry Faced Lurchers, Dread Warriors, the Genuines, Isja, the Kalahari Surfers, Noise Khanyile, Mapantsula, Mzwakhe Mbuli, Simba Morri and Nude Red all deserved to be heard by a wider audience. But to Shifty’s and the artists’ frustration, radio stations were not interested. However, it ought to be noted that the Cherry Faced Lurchers (The Other White Album) and the Dread Warriors albums were recorded but not released at the time. We think they most definitely should have been.

Three songs included here – “Don’t Dance”- Kalahari Surfers, “Pambere” – Mapantsula and “Too Much Resistance”- Nude Red – are taken from the anti-conscription Forces Favourites compilation album which Shifty brought out in partnership with the End Conscription Campaign. The album was actually released in December 1985 but released internationally (through Rounder Records) in 1986, which is the year we went with for the mixtapes. In the mid-1980s South Africa was in a state of civil war (and emergency) and many of Shifty’s artists reflected this reality through their music. In fact, Mzwakhe Mbuli’s Change is Pain album was banned by the apartheid government’s Directorate of Publications.

London-based Kintone’s single ‘State of Emergency’ also captured the turbulent times in South Africa, as to a lesser extent did Stimela’s “Who’s Fooling Who”, David Kramer’s “Dry Wine” and (by now also London-based) eVoid’s “Sgt. Major”, a song which could easily have fitted on the Forces Favourites compilation. 1986 also saw the first release from Bayete, who would soon be recording and performing politically astute songs of their own. Other politically relevant new music in 1986 came from Edi Niederlander, who had been performing on the folk scene for years, and Johnny Clegg’s new band, Savuka.

1986 saw the introduction of Keith Berel’s new band, Carte Blanche, Jonathan Handley’s new band, Titus Groan, and Zasha. We also saw the return of Lesley Rae Dowling, Falling Mirror, Steve Kekana, Sipho Mabuse and Zia. All in all a wide and enjoyable spectrum of new music.

Show Playlist + Poll

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1985

1985 saw a record number of 17 South African releases on the Capital Radio Top 40 Countdown. Yet there were several other songs which we think also should have charted. These included additional songs by musicians who did chart that year: Johnny Clegg’s “Gumba Gumba Jive”, Sipho Mabuse’s “Jive Soweto” and Tribe After Tribe’s “Life Of A Love Song”.

Several overseas musicians in exile released music in 1985 which was ignored or avoided by South African radio stations including Capital. These were District Six (with “Woza Wena”) , Kintone (with “Going Home”), the Malopoets (with “Intsizwa”) and Hugh Masekela (with “Lady”). These overseas releases involved several collaborations with overseas musicians: both District Six and Kintone comprised several overseas musicians while Masekela’s “Lady” was a cover of the well-known Fela Kuti track. Further, John Kongos wrote the theme tune for the British crime drama Cats Eyes and teamed up with British singer Louise Burton to record a vocal version of the theme (featured in this week’s playlist).

Meanwhile, Shifty Records was beginning to record an increasing volume of South African music which otherwise would probably have not been recorded. This week’s mixed tape includes several Shifty artists: The Cherry Faced Lurchers with their poignant “Shot Down”, the Kalahari Surfers (fronted by Tighthead Fourie) singing “Song For Magnus, a sinister cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walking”, “International News” by National Wake (Off the 1985 A Naartjie In Our Sosatie compilation album) and Bernoldus Niemand singing a cover of the Radio Rats’ “Welcome To My Car”, which was specifically banned from airplay on the SABC.

There were also several township pop style songs: “Bongani” by Brenda And The Big Dudes, “Heartbeat” by Harari, “Jive Soweto” by Sipho Mabuse and “Skorokoro” – Lumumba and Condry Ziqubu. Zia ventured in that same direction with “Nobody Loves You” and to complete a wide range of South African sounds for 1985, Petit Cheval released the new wave influenced “Once In A Lifetime”.

Show Playlist + Poll

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.

Show Playlist + Poll