Songs About South African Places

To mark Heritage Day we have chosen a playlist of songs by South African musicians about South African places. Something homely to cuddle up with, or if you’re feeling active, to jive to. There are far more songs about South African places than we can fit on one mixtape, but we hope this is a good representation of songs and places. It’s a starting point: there will be more to come in this series where music and places meet.

There are all sorts of reasons someone could write and perform a song about a place. Often it is out of fondness, sometimes out of loathing or frustration, or simply because it is where one happens to be when a moment of song-writing inspiration hits. And at times it could be ironic, out of both loathing and attraction, where one isn’t entirely sure which it is.

The twenty songs on this mixtape begin in Cape Town, with Sabenza’s “CT Blues” and then Dollar Brand’s iconic “Mannenberg”, both of which feature Basil Coetzee. We end our stay in the Western Cape with Hotep Idris Galeta’s “Cape Town Before Midnight” before travelling north east along the coast to “Ebhayi”, as celebrated by Ami Faku. Then it is to the KwaZulu-Natal coast for Trans.Sky’s song about “Durban Poison” and Urban Creep’s “Sea Level”, both of those songs feature Brendan Jury and both are somewhat ambivalent about Durban, as many residents are. In 1977 Rabbitt were asked to write the theme tune for a new tv programme – The Dingleys – about a bookshop in Pietermaritzburg. Although the shop is fictional, Rabbitt nevertheless captured various aspects of Pietermaritzburg which remind us of the city at that time.

Next we move up to the Gauteng region for the remainder of the mixtape, starting with the Radio Rats’ celebration of Springs in “East Rand Town Called Springs” and then onto a series of Soweto-themed songs: “Orlando” by Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks, “Soweto Inn” by the Movers, Sipho Mabuse’s “Jive Soweto” and Tribe After Tribe’s “Suburb In The South”. Just a short drive from Soweto is the southern suburb of Rosettenville to which Van der Want/Letcher pay homage in the satirical “Rosettenville Blues”. The Julian Laxton Band contribute the offbeat “Johannesburg” and the Gereformeerde Blues Band pay tribute to Hillbrow with a classic Voëlvry song of that name. Then on to “Living In Yeoville” by the Aeroplanes, a song which will tweak on the heartstrings of lefties who lived in Yeoville in the 1980s and 1990s.

Lesego Rampolokeng & the Kalahari Surfers bring us back down to earth with “Johannesburg”, a city where dreams come to die. We move north east with Moses Molelekwa’s “Spirit Of Tembisa” and further north east again with Vusi Mahlasela’s tribute to Mamelodi, “Hello Mams”. James Phillips as Bernoldus Niemand ends things with his ironic tribute to Pretoria (as it was then), “Snor City”, about the growth of hair above the lip of every white man who passed him by on the street. As he lamented, the longer he waited, the more his hope diminishes.

Thanks to South African musicians for writing and performing songs that have become the soundtrack of our lives, and for those moments, celebrated on this mixtape, when creativity captures this place we come from.

  1. CT Blues – Sabenza
  2. Mannenberg – Dollar Brand
  3. Cape Town After Midnight – Hotep Idris Galeta
  4. Ebhayi – Ami Faku
  5. Durban Poison – Trans.Sky
  6. Sea Level – Urban Creep
  7. Dingley’s Bookshop – Rabbitt
  8. East Rand Town Called Springs – Radio Rats
  9. Orlando – Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks
  10. Soweto Inn – The Movers
  11. Jive Soweto – Sipho Mabuse
  12. Suburb in the South – Tribe After Tribe
  13. Rosettenville blues – Van der Want/Letcher
  14. Johannesburg – Julian Laxton Band
  15. Hillbrow – Gereformeerde Blues Band
  16. Living in Yeoville – The Aeroplanes
  17. Johannesburg – Lesego Rampolokeng & the Kalahari Surfers
  18. Spirit of Tembisa – Moses Molelekwa
  19. Hello Mams – Vusi Mahlasela
  20. Snor City – Bernoldus Niemand

Censorship – No Anti-Apartheid Sentiment On The SABC

The SABC was a central component of the apartheid government’s propaganda machine, bombarding South African citizens with entertainment and information which either promoted the government’s ideology or at the very least did not overtly oppose it. The SABC censorship committee was therefore following a very clear mandate when it prohibited any music which in some way or another opposed the government’s apartheid system.

This mixtape documents songs which tackled a variety of issues dealing with the injustices of apartheid. Most of the songs featured are by South African musicians: The Cherry Faced Lurchers, Brenda Fassie, Jennifer Ferguson, The Genuines, the Gereformeerde Blues Band, Koos Kombuis, Louis & The Jive, Sipho Mabuse, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Edi Niederlander, Savuka, Stimela and Condry Ziqubu. There are also a few international artists: Aswad, Harry Belafonte, Nona Hendryx, Latin Quarter, The Maze (featuring Frankie Beverly) and Joe Smooth.

These are just a few of the thousands of songs which fell foul of the SABC’s political censorship but nevertheless capture a cross section of the issues political songs dealt with: calling for political freedom in South Africa generally as well as the freedom of political prisoners in particular (for example Nelson Mandela), calling for justice, drawing attention to atrocities such as political detention and apartheid policing in support of unjust laws, and protesting against politicians (such as PW Botha).

A previous mixtape focused on political songs banned outright (for retail and import) by the Directorate of Publications and all songs featured on that mixtape were also necessarily banned from airplay on the SABC. They have been left out here to avoid repetition but that mixtape is recommended as an essential companion to this one.

  1. Jail To Jail – Brenda Fassie
  2. They Want To Be Free – Joe Smooth
  3. Confusion (Ma Afrika) – Condry Ziqubu
  4. Bring Him Back Home – Hugh Masekela
  5. Chant Of The Marching – Sipho Mabuse
  6. Where’s The Justice – Louis & The Jive
  7. Do It Right – The Genuines
  8. Sit Dit Af – Gereformeerde Blues Band
  9. Shot Down In The Streets – The Cherry Faced Lurchers
  10. No Rope As Long As Time – Latin Quarter
  11. Asimbonanga – Savuka
  12. Swart September – Koos Kombuis
  13. Suburban Hum – Jennifer Ferguson
  14. A New Day – Edi Niederlander
  15. Set Them Free – Aswad
  16. Move It – Harry Belafonte
  17. Freedom (South Africa) – The Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly
  18. Winds Of Change (Mandela To Mandela) – Nona Hendryx
  19. Soweto Save My Children – Stimela
  20. Soweto Blues – Miriam Makeba

Censorship – Watch Your Mouth on the SABC

There were two reasons relating to SABC apartheid-era language censorship. First, the apartheid government’s separate development policy affected radio broadcast. There was to be no mixing of languages in songs played on the SABC. The SABC was divided into numerous stations which each catered for a particular language group. For example, there was an English service, an Afrikaans service and seven Radio Bantu stations, each catering for an ‘indigenous bantu’ language. Even the bilingual (English/Afrikaans) Springbok Radio did not allow the mixing of English and Afrikaans in songs. Second, songs were banned if they included what the censorship committee regarded as swear words, or more broadly, obscene language.

On this mixtape songs banned (at least in part) because of the mixing of languages were: “Uhuru” by Sankomota, “Woza Friday” by Juluka, “Boy Van Die Suburbs” and “Bokkie Bokkie” by David Kramer. In all four instances the songs included the sort of phrasing which South Africans used when talking to each other, throwing in a word or more of a different language to express themselves using the nuances of the different languages they were exposed to. But this everyday use of language fell on the monolingual ears of the censors and all were banned from airplay at the time of their release (there was a relaxing of this form of censorship in the mid-to-late 1980s).

The rest of the songs on the mixtape were banned from SABC broadcast because they included obscene language. In some of the cases here there were further reasons for being prohibited from airplay, for example “Paranoia In Parow-Noord” by Koos Kombuis which was banned for using obscene Afrikaans words such as “Doos” and “Fok” but was also banned for drug reference (“Ek rook zol”) and blasphemy (“Maar dank god”).

“Energie” by the Gereformeerde Blues Band included the line “Selfs al kak jy weens die rente” (“Even though you’re shitting yourself over the rent”). Another naughty word which led to songs being banned from airplay was “ass”, as in “All I wanna do is sit on my ass” in Queen’s “Man On The Prowl”, “And you better get your ass out the door” in Billy Joel’s “Ain’t No Crime” and “I’d say we’ve kicked some ass” in “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts also used the word ‘ass’ in “Someday” with the line “‘I’m gonna spit in your face an’ laugh at your ass” but pushed the barrier much too far by also including the line, “listen to me you son of a bitch”. Another word to be exorcised from South African radio was ‘shit’, included in Joe Jackson’s ‘Friday” (“You’ll take any shit”), Prince’s “Housequake” (“My lord (Housequake); My lord (Housequake); Bullshit”), Monty Python’s “ Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” (Life’s a piece of shit when you look at it”), “Streetwise” by Bros (“You need the shit like a latest trend”) and “Private Life” by Grace Jones (“Attachment to obligation, through guilt and regret, shit that’s so wet”).

If fairly tame words like ‘ass’ and ‘shit’ upset the SABC censors, then more severe words like ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ must have sent shudders through the boardroom table and had the censors scrambling for their heart tablets and crucifixes. “F.R.C.” (Fat Rich Cunts) by the Screaming Jets was banned because of the word ‘cunt’ while several songs were banned for uttering some or other variation of the word ‘fuck’: “Had It With You” by the Rolling Stones (“And I love you dirty fucker’”), “The Kiss” by the Cure (“Get your fucking voice out of my head”), Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “Crush” (“I can’t stand this fucking rain”) and Soundgarden’s “Big Dumb Sex” with a chorus that goes “I’m gonna fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck you, fuck you”.

Reflecting on apartheid state broadcast censorship through the lens of the examples provided in this mixtape, many musicians would seemingly have concluded that the most obscene four letter word was undoubtedly ‘SABC”.

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!”

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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Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1988

1988 was a poor year for South African musicians on the Capital Countdown: only eight artists with nine songs made the Top 40 (there were two songs by Cinema). As always, we have put together a playlist of additional songs which we think should have charted.
Once again, we have Shifty Records to thank for recording various musicians who otherwise would not have been recorded and thus more easily forgotten: The Gereformeerde Blues Band, The Kêrels, Koos and Tananas. Shifty got behind the Voelvry tour in 1988 and three of these groups: the Gereformeerde Blues Band, The Kerels and Koos were included on the Voelvry compilation album of that year. As the Voelvry spirit of white Afrikaans rebellion swept through the dorps and cities of South Africa it is strange that Capital missed out on the opportunity to capture that moment.

1988 saw further releases from now established artists: Bright Blue, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Dog Detachment, Sipho Mabuse, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, Malopoets, Mango Groove and Savuka all released great new music, while David Kramer was back with music from the Cape Town musical, composed by Kramer and Petersen. Veteran folk guitar player, Steve Newman, was back with a group formed with two established Shifty artists, Gito Baloi and Ian Herman. 1988 also saw the emergence of Ralf Rabie (Johannes Kerkorrel) who was the main force behind the Gereformeerde Blues Band. Both of these Shifty initiatives went on to greater mainstream success over the next decade and a half. 1988 also saw a once-off album from the Jazzanians. While they did not record another album Zim Ngqawana went on to enjoy a successful solo career.

The Psycho Reptiles also recorded their first and only album in 1988, and are still remembered for their single “Monster From The Bog”. Bakithi Kumalo had risen to fame through his collaboration with Paul Simon on the Graceland album and tour and he released his first solo albumin 1988. Shake Baby was one of several Carl Raubenheimer initiatives after his collaborations with James Philips (Corporal Punishment and Illegal Gathering) but although they were a popular band on the live circuit in Cape Town they never went on to release a full album. Koos were a bilingual English-Afrikaans avante garde punk band who sadly also only brought out one album. The Kêrels released their debut album in 1988 and their “Golden Days” single has ended up on the occasional compilation album.

This eclectic mix of songs makes for interesting and enjoyable listening. Sit back, turn up the volume and have fun!

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