Censorship – No Booze And Drugs On The SABC

Given that recreational drugs were illegal in apartheid South Africa it is not surprising that the SABC’s censorship committee prohibited songs about drug use on SABC radio stations. While alcohol use was not illegal, the censors extended their prohibition to songs about excessive drinking too (it seems). Sipping on a glass of wine was okay but not getting intoxicated and ending up with a hangover.

Given the SABC’s stand on drugs, it was obvious that some of the songs on this playlist were non-starters: Eric Clapton singing about getting high on cocaine, Bob Dylan urging everyone to get stoned, the Rolling Stones singing of the protagonist’s longing for ‘Sister Morphine’ while lying in a hospital bed, Black Sabbath singing an ode to the ‘sweet leaf’, Bob Marley commending kaya use and Peter Tosh calling for its legalization. Also prohibited from airplay were songs with fairly obvious drug references such as Depeche Mode’s ‘The Sweetest Perfection’, Boy George’s ‘You Are My Heroin’ and Tim Curry’s ‘Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire’.

Rodriguez’s ‘Sugar Man’ was banned from airplay because he sings about a cocaine dealer and the “sugar” he is selling. Contrary to claims made in the film Searching for Sugar Man, the song was first banned on the SABC in 1993, when it was submitted on CD and not in the heady days of apartheid in the early 1970s. When the album was first released in South Africa in 1971 the record company didn’t even bother to submit it because they knew the two most obvious singles ‘Sugar Man’ and ‘I Wonder’ would be banned from airplay, and so there was no point in wasting sample copies sending them to the SABC. Don’t be fooled by the smoke and mirrors in the film!

The censors objected to Bernoldus Niemand’s reference to “zol” in ‘East Rand Blues’, to ‘powdered goods’ and other drug references in Motley Crue’s ‘Dr Feelgood’, and to taking a toke in Grace Jones’ ‘My Jamaican Guy’. In ‘Crack in New York’, Culture sing of the danger of crack in New York, and that ganja is not the problem, and in ‘Intoxication’, Shriekback not only sing about the pleasures of intoxication but claim that god is “in the wine”. ‘Bomskok En Bablaas’ by Koos Kombuis refers to “dagga stompies” and “bablaas” which the censors regarded as sufficiently unsavoury to declare it unplayable on the airwaves.

The SABC censors also objected to the line “Someone passed some bliss among the crowd” in David Bowie’s ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’, and the reference to ‘smoking pot’ in ‘Pushing Up The Daisies’ by Psycho Reptiles. And they must have been positively shocked by ‘Chemist Girl’ by Falling Mirror in which they list drugs the chemist girl provides to drug users. Similarly, the Radio Rats reference to ‘benzene dreams’ in ‘Rocking’ did not pass the censors’ approval.

This is quite an eclectic mix of songs conjuring up a fair selection of drugs and booze. We suggest, though, that you settle for a smooth glass of red, turn up the volume, sit back, get comfortable, and enjoy!

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: 1990

In 1990 a fair range of South African musicians charted on the Capital Radio Top 40 countdown, 15 songs in all, including four released in 1989 but which charted in early January. These included Big Sky, Jonathan Butler, Cinema (two songs), David Kramer, Little Sister (three songs), Mango Groove (four songs), Marc Alex, Edi Niederlander and Trevor Rabin. We have come up with a further eightteen songs from 1990 which we think ought to have charted on Capital.

Of those musicians who did chart in 1990 we have included an additional song by Big Sky (“Diamonds and Dirt”) but all the other musicians whose songs we recommend escaped Capital’s attention that year.

In February 1990 Nelson Mandela was finally release from prison and to celebrate this Bright Blue recorded the song “Madiba” but unfortunately did not release it at the time, which is a pity because it would have perfectly captured the celebratory feel so many people experienced on that momentous occasion. Another song that captured that moment was Brenda Fassie’s “Black President” which Capital mysteriously did not promote, despite the significance of Fassie’s sentiments. Roger Lucey made a welcome comeback to music in 1990. His “Cape of Storms” was written at the time of Mandela’s release. Lucey, who was then working as a TV cameraman recalls, “I came to Cape Town in 1990 to cover Mandela’s release and I swear the wind blew without a break for four months. I spent a lot of time out on the Cape Flats. Then winter came and the rain started …”.

Shifty Records began the new decade with some significant releases, including Tony Cox’s In.To.Nation (from which we have included “Dinaledi”), Jennifer Ferguson’s Untimely (from which we have featured “Where you gonna be tomorrow”) and the Radio Rats’ Big Beat (from which we have included “Diary of a Diseased Coke Rep”). We also feature former Shifty artists, Tananas with their songs “Shake” (originally recorded with Shifty before Tananas switched labels).

3rd Ear Music made a big comeback in 1990 and deservedly also feature in our choices for 1990. They released new albums by Juluka’s Sipho Mchunu, Umhlaba Uzobuya (The World is Coming Back), (from which we feature “Jomane”), former Shifty artist Simba Morri, Celebrating Life,( from which we have featured “Unity”) and Roger Lucey, Running For Cover, including (as mentioned) “Cape of Storms” . There was also a recording comeback from Tony Bird, who, back in the 1970s used to play alongside many of the folk musicians associated with 3rd Ear Music. Here we have included his song “Wings Like Vivian’s”.

South Africa’s first notable hip-hop group, Prophets Of The City released the Our World album from which we feature the title track. There were also great songs released by Yvonne Chaka Chaka (“Umqombothi”), Bakithi Kumalo and Robbi Kumalo (“African woman”), Mike Makhalemele (“The Guys”), Mahlathini and the Mohatella Queens (“Music of Our Soul’) and the Soul Brothers (“Umhlola”).

Finally, Piet Botha’s band Jack Hammer released their second album of polished blues-rock.

Capital 604 – 1991

In 1991 there were only eight South African songs which made it onto the Capital Top 40 countdown. The top two songs of the year were both by Wendy Oldfield and only six other artists reached the Top 40 including the Radio Rats, the first ever Shifty Records artists to do so, after seven years of drawing blanks. Robin Auld, Big Sky Little Sister and Mango Groove were all back in the charts and there was a debut from Jo Day, with her first solo single, “Tender Love”.

The Radio Rats were the first previously commercially successful band to sign with Shifty Records and it is perhaps their fame which led to Shifty finally getting a song onto the Capital charts. The Radio Rats had a big hit with “ZX Dan” back in 1978 and this must have played a part in their success on Capital in 1991, especially as the song which made the charts – “Turn on the Radio” – was not even released as a single. It is also noticeable that many artists who charted on Capital over the years did so more than once while songs by other similar artists were overlooked. It seems to suggest that artists’ names as a form of branding certainly helped to spark further recognition.

Wendy Oldfield was the only South African artist to reach number one – for one week – with “Miracle”, while her song “Acid Rain” peaked at number 2. Robin Auld’s “Love Kills”, Big Sky’s “Slow Dancing”, Mango Groove’s “Moments Away” and the Radio Rats’ “Turn on the Radio” all failed to reach the top 20, while Little Sister’s “Peace on Earth” and Jo Day’s “Tender Love” peaked in the top 20 but we are not sure how high they reached because we do not have the charts for December 1991.

1991 is the last year we are able to provide a definitive list of South African songs which charted on Capital. We only have a scattering of top 40 countdowns for 1992 and 1993 and none at all for 1994, 1995 and 1996. The station closed down on 29th November 1996. If you have copies of any Capital Radio Top 40 countdown charts (from December 1979 through to 1996 when the station closed down) please get in touch as these will be able to help us fill some gaps.

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Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1981

There was plenty of good South African music in 1981. 14 South African songs made the Capital Top 40 countdown and we think there are 21 more songs which should have made the cut. There was also a healthy variety of musical styles, from post-punk, ska, reggae and new wave to folk, pop, rock, funk and soul, very often with a particular South African flavour such as Juluka’s Zulu folk-rock, David Kramer’s Western Cape klopse folk and the township funk-soul sounds of Harari, Kabasa and the Movers.

1981 saw a continuation of the resurgence of original South African music with the alternative scene rooted in punk, ska and new wave continuing to grow. The Asylum Kids, National Wake, Flash Harry, the Lancaster Band and the Usuals had each been gaining a following on the live music scene and now emerged from the studio with songs worthy of radio play. Mara Louw, who had appeared in musicals for years, made her debut solo recording, as did David Kramer, who brought out the album Bakgat after gaining a strong following on the folk circuit, particularly in the Western Cape. The Radio Rats re-appeared with “Erase” after the success of their 1978 hit “ZX Dan” (see Youtube for the video as it appeared on SABC at the time), Falling Mirror followed up 1980’s “Neutron Bop” with “The Crippled Messiah” and Bite released “Loud Radio” after previous singles had not received much attention. There were also songs from a variety of established performers from Harari, Steve Kekana and John Kongos to the Julian Laxton Band, Marumo, the Movers and Neville Nash. And there were interesting new experiments from the Pop Guns (a minor super group comprising members of the Radio Rats, the Chauffeurs and the Safari Suits) and Soweto Soul Orchestra (a studio project put together by Sipho Mabuse).

Several of these songs were playlisted on Capital Radio but did not make the Top 40 countdown: “Schoolboy” – Asylum Kids, “Loud Radio” – Bite, “Modern Science” – Lancaster Band, “Make A Stand For Love” – Julian Laxton Band, “Crippled Messiah” – Falling Mirror, “Shine On (Brightly)” – Steve Kekana, “I’m Dreaming” – John Kongos and “Rules And Regulations” – The Usuals. Furthermore, some of these musicians were playlisted with songs not featured here: Flash Harry (“Hot blood”), National Wake (“Supaman” and “Bolena”), Harari (“Liven up”) and Neville Nash (“Wind Me Up”).

Meanwhile over at SABC’s Radio 5 some of these songs were prohibited from airplay. The entire Bakgat album by David Kramer was not allowed to be played for various reasons including the way he mixed languages (which went against the SABC’s apartheid policy of cultural purity), his use of inappropriate language (slang and obscenities) and his mild criticism of the apartheid establishment. Flash Harry’s satirical protest song, “No Football”, was banned from airplay because it was viewed as blasphemous, indicating that more people watch football “than go to church”. “Crippled Messiah” by Falling Mirror was also rejected because the SABC censors thought it was blasphemous. The Asylum Kids’ “Schoolboy” was also not played on SABC, because it was seen to encourage a rebellious attitude towards school. The SABC were not yet playing Juluka because they mixed languages in their songs and they sometimes took on political themes critical of the government, for example in “African Sky Blue” they note that “Soon a new day will be born” and that “The warrior’s now a worker and his war is underground”. In 1981 Radio 5 was not playing reggae and so the Usuals and National Wake were not considered acceptable. This was especially true of National Wake given their political edge, with lyrics like “Wake up nation, wake up, ‘cause this might be your very last chance, we’re bubbling up in the new time space with the new time people” (“Wake Of The Nation”).

Fortunately some of these songs were heard on South African airwaves thanks to Capital Radio, but most of all we have the musicians and record companies to thank, for writing and recording these songs, regardless of how the broadcasters would react.

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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.

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