Songs About South Africa

Our theme of South African places continues. This mixtape features songs about South African towns and cities performed by foreign musicians. As expected, during the apartheid era there were many songs which linked South African places to apartheid human rights violations. This mixtape begins with those before ending with a series of songs released in the post-1994 era.

In most of the apartheid era songs the name of a specific urban area is used to represent apartheid South Africa more generally, with the exception of Mari Pavone’s “Sharpeville” which is a mournful tribute to people slain by the apartheid police at the Sharpeville massacre. Some of these songs used lyrics to draw attention to apartheid atrocities and supported the struggle against the unjust system including songs by Gil Scott Heron, the Anti-Nowhere League, Love Like Blood, Little Steven, Sonny Okosun, Jeffrey Osborne and Pierre Akendengue. While in “Tears For Johannesburg” by Max Roach, Abey Lincoln’s sorrowful vocals draw attention to the pain caused by apartheid atrocities.

Malcolm McLaren’s “Soweto” and Harry Belafonte’s “Paradise in Gazankulu” do not focus on apartheid injustices but “Soweto” itself was an injustice, with McLaren plundering the music of the Boyoyo Boys for his own gain. Nevertheless, the song drew the attention of many listeners to Soweto and to South African music.

The end of the apartheid era brought with it a new musical attitude towards South Africa, where places can be celebrated for their way of life and sense of space rather than for the injustices they represent (even if injustices do continue). The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger sing about missing a flight to Johannesburg while Clubfeet sing “Let’s fly to Cape Town, baby” as both cities become part of the international leisure globetrotting circuit.

Instrumental pieces by Herman Benjamin, Plaid, Soothsayers, Lawson Rollins, Brink Man Ship and Werken capture post-apartheid South African spaces through music. They can take you on a journey without specifying what that journey entails. Although Werken’s “Port Elizabeth” doesn’t sound like you will necessarily enjoy your stay …

  1. Johannesburg – Gil Scott Heron
  2. Johannesburg – Anti-Nowhere Road
  3. Johannesburg – Love Like Blood
  4. Johannesburg Blues – Les Baxter
  5. Tears For Johannesburg – Max Roach
  6. Sharpeville – Mario Pavone
  7. Pretoria – Little Steven
  8. Fire In Soweto – Sonny Okosun
  9. Soweto – Jeffrey Osborne
  10. Espoir A Soweto – Pierre Akendengue
  11. Soweto – Malcolm Mclaren
  12. Paradise In Gazankulu – Harry Belafonte
  13. Johannesburg – The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger
  14. Durban Poison – Herman Benjamin
  15. Durban Pain – Plaid
  16. Umtata – Soothsayers
  17. Cape Town – Clubfeet
  18. Cape Town Sky – Lawson Rollins
  19. Gugulethu – Brink Man Ship
  20. Port Elizabeth – Werken

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