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”.

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1984

1984 was yet another poor year for South African artists charting on the Capital Radio Top 40 countdown: only nine songs in all. Two bands included in this week’s playlist did chart on Capital’s Top 40: Bright Blue with “Window on the World” and Juluka with “Work For All”.

1984 saw a continuation of some of the themes noted in 1983: there was a steady increase in musicians fusing South African neo-traditional and Western styles of music: Hotline, Juluka and Via Afrika all brought out new albums, eVoid recorded songs possibly for their next album and Bright Blue debuted with their first album. There was also a continuation of the post-punk/new wave scene with songs by Dog Detachment, Niki Daly, The Dynamics and Illegal Gathering. Happy Ships produced the quirky and catchy “Car Hooter” while there were yet again several artists with pop songs based in neo-traditional township forms: Brenda And The Big Dudes, Harari, Joy, Lumumba and Condry Zuqubu, Hugh Masekela, Sankomota and the Soul Brothers. There was also scope for musical styles not often included on our mixtapes thus far: A heavy metal song by Black Rose and Tighthead Fourie & The Loose Forwards contributed the lone country song on this week’s mixtape.

Among the musicians who appear on this week’s playlist there is a reminder of the repressive arm of the apartheid state. The Dynamics, Juluka and Harari were regularly stopped at roadblocks and questioned about people of different race groups travelling together (Harari’s manager was a white woman). Roger Lucey had found it increasingly difficult to find venues at which to perform and broadcasters were not interested in playing his music, and so he changed his name and musical style in an attempt to resurrect his music career. As Tighthead Fourie & The Loose Forwards he hoped to at least get airplay as a country artist. To no avail.

Meanwhile in 1984 Condry Ziqubu had begun to tour in Africa and the USA with Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya, and in 1985 formed the Busa musical with several exiled and South African musicians and they toured several African countries including Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Libya, Senegal and the ‘frontline’ states of Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. On their return from the tour Ziqubu and the other members of the Busa cast had their passports confiscated and were harassed by the security police.

After releasing their debut album in 1984 Bright Blue were forced to take a two-year hiatus while two of their band members – Dan Heyman and Ian Cohen – underwent conscription against which they were strongly opposed. And while touring South Africa in 1984, eVoid’s drummer – Wayne Harker – was arrested by the Military Police because he had gone AWOL in order to participate in the tour. Former eVoid drummer, Danny De Wet, stepped in so that the tour could continue.

Uhuru were a Lesotho-based band who were banned from entering in South Africa because of their political lyrics (and the band’s name didn’t help). To get around this problem Shifty Records ingeniously took their recording studio to Lesotho (in the Shifty caravan) and recorded the band’s debut album there (it was also the first album Shifty recorded). The band in the meantime changed their name to Sankomota, which made it more likely that the album could be released in South Africa without repressive consequences. In time the band relocated to South Africa and continued to perform and release new music from their new base.

Once again, huge thanks to Marq Vas for helping us source a very hard-to-find track.

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Special – Simba Morri Fundraiser

Mixedtapes ZA is calling on our listeners to support Simba Morri’s road to recovery from serious illness: by listening to his music, sharing this post far and wide and if you can afford it, by donating to the Shifty Simba Fund.

In addition, all funds raised from the sale of Simba Morri’s music downloaded on the Shifty Bandcamp page will also go directly to the medical fund.

See Simba Morri and Mapantsula releases a on Bandcamp.

Simba Morri was born in Kenya and came to Johannesburg in the early 1980s to study at Wits University. It was a vibrant time musically with an energetic alternative music scene, promoted by student radio and music magazines, the non-segregationist Jamesons music venue, political gigs and the newly established indie label, Shifty Records. It didn’t take long before Simba was part of up-tempo band called Mapantsula, playing at any non-racially segregated venue they could find, including Jamesons and several UDF and ECC jols. Simba met up with James Phillips, also studying at Wits at the time, and through James he was introduced to the Shifty crowd. Mapantsula went on to contribute a recording of their song ‘Pambere’ to the Shifty/End Conscription Campaign compilation album Forces Favourites and in 1986 Simba recorded his debut solo album, Wasamata, with Shifty. However, it was a harsh world for alternative musicians and fame and fortune were hard to find: the radio stations weren’t particularly interested in Simba’s music and corporate distribution networks were closed to music that they thought was unlikely to sell. Simba described the situation: “So eventually I even ended up selling the music myself, at the fleamarket: selling all the Shifty artists, now – music from the Lurchers, Mapantsula, the Wasamata, the – um – Isja, the Kerels albums, and all the Shifty – Warrick, Kalahari Surfers… I would go there every Saturday at the fleamarket.” In 1990 Simba recorded a second solo album Celebrating Life, this time with another indie label Third Ear Music but with similar marginal results.

He has since continued to play in South and southern Africa, making a living out of his music. However, for musicians on the margins like Simba, it is very difficult to set up a pension fund and contribute to medical aid. Back in the ’80s Simba was one of a minority of musicians who was more concerned with contributing towards the end of apartheid through his music and performance than making money and or stashing it away for retirement. As Simba explained, “cause we use music as the weapon, to conscientise, to move forward, ah – and – I think Shifty was the only – only record company that did that; when other people were in for it for the profits, despite of what was happening.”

Very unfortunately he has recently become ill, and Lloyd Ross and Shifty Records have started a fund raising campaign to ensure that Simba Morri receives the quality medical care he needs.

Mixedtapes ZA has put together this special mixedtape for you to enjoy some up-tempo music by Simba Morri and other Shifty and Third Ear musicians who capture the pan-African spirit that has been a core part of Simba Morri’s musical identity and his philosophy of life more generally.

This mixedtape includes songs on which Simba performed – as a solo artist and with Mapantsula and Mzwakhe Mbuli, together with songs by fellow musicians at Shifty Records and Third Ear Music: Winston’s Jive Mix-Up, Tananas, Noise Khanyile, Sankomota, Isja, Duncan Senyatso and the Kgwanyane Band, Sipho Mchunu and Salif Keita (who did not record with Shifty but whose album Soro was distributed by Shifty to the South African market).

Listen to the mixedtape, get up and jive and don’t forget to donate to the Shifty Simba Fund.