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

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1991

1991 saw a dismal number of only eight South African songs on the Capital Radio Top 40 countdown, and two of those were by a single artist: Wendy Oldfield. Others to chart that year were Robin Auld, Big Sky, Jo Day, Little Sister, Mango Groove and the Radio Rats. We have come up with a further 14 songs which we think were good enough to chart that year, and which would have added some welcome diversity to the South African music on the charts.

We suggested a second song by Robin Auld “Charlie Go Crazy”, but the rest of the songs we suggest are by artists who did not chart on Capital in 1991, although most of them have featured in previous “Missed” Mixtapes. There are four artists who had previously featured in Capital Top 40s: Robin Auld (as previously mentioned), Lucky Dube (“House of Exile”), Sipho Mabuse (“Thiba Kamoo”) and Tribe After Tribe (“White Boys in the Jungle”). Manfred Mann had also charted on Capital (“The Runner” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) but we didn’t feature that as a South Africa song because the entire group was British apart from Manfred Mann himself. However, Manfred Mann’s Plains Music album from which we feature “Medicine Song” is a neo-traditional South African album which features several South African musicians alongside Manfred Mann. Another new group, not previously featured on Mixtapes.ZA are the Getout, a relatively new band from East London. The song featured here is the title track of their one and only album Emerge And See.

In 1991 Shifty Records featured for the first time on the Capital Top 40 with the Radio Rats’ “Turn on the Radio”, a song from the 1990 Big Beat album, which is why we featured another song from that album in out 1990 Missed Mixtape and not the 1991 Missed Mixtape. Another Shifty artist, James Phillips, features here with “Africa is Dying” a song recorded in 1991 but only released by Shifty on the Soul Ou album in 1997. We have included it here because we think it should have ideally been released in 1991! Former Shifty artists the Genuines feature here with “Love Song”. Other artists who we think should have charted in 1991 are: Yvonne Chaka Chaka (“Who’s Got the Power”), Basil Coetzee (“Monwabisi”), Miriam Makeba & Dizzy Gillespie (“Eyes on Tomorrow”), No Friends of Harry (“Never Seen a Better Day”), Prophets Of Da City (“Boomstyle”) and Sakhile (“Welcome Home”).

This is our last missed tape for now. This is because, as mentioned in the sleevenotes for the Capital 1991 Mixtape, we do not have sufficient copies of charts from 1992 until the closure of Capital Radio in 1996 to determine a full list of the songs that charted in any one of those years. If by some chance we come across those charts we would love to explore the hits and misses on Capital right through to the station’s closure in 1996.

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”.

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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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Capital 604 – 1985

In 1985 seventeen South African songs featured on the Capital countdown: the most of any year in the 1980s. Although most of the songs could be described as some or other variation of pop or rock there was some variety: the township pop of Sipho Mabuse and Steve Kekana; the smooth pop of Jonathan Butler, the Afro-rock of Tribe After Tribe, the slightly rock-edged pop of Robin Auld, the more mainstream pop of Lesley Rae Dowling, Syndicate, Ella Mental, Stewart Irving and The Helicopters and a turn towards a more international sound from both Juluka and the solo Johnny Clegg.

The top artist on the Capital Countdown in 1985 was Sipho Mabuse with two songs reaching the top 10: ‘Let’s Get it On’ peaked and number 5 and ‘Burn Out’ reached number 6 where it spent three weeks. ‘Fever’ – Juluka reached number 8 where it spent two weeks, as did Lesley Rae Dowling with ‘Give a little’. Also peaking at number 8, but for just one week, was Jonathan Butler with ‘I’ll Be Waiting for You’ while ‘See Yourself (Clowns)’ – Ella Mental reached number 9. Robin Auld peaked at number 10 with ‘After the Fire” and number 15 with ‘All of Woman’. Steve Kekana peaked at number 11 with ‘Paradise’ (Tip Of Africa)’ while ‘Only for you’ – The Helicopters spent two weeks at number 14 and ‘Don’t Go Into Town’ – Syndicate also reached number 14, but just for one week. John Irving’s ‘Superstar’ peaked at number 15. None of the other South African songs made the Top 20.

We would like to thank Marq Vas for his help in tracking down a copy of Lesley Rae Dowling’s ‘Give a Little’. This is not the first time Marq has come to our assistance. We recommend his YouTube channel of South African music – some very rare songs that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. He also has a Facebook page which is a wealth of information.

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Capital 604 – Darren Scott’s Top 20


Darren Scott is the first guest DJ on Mixedtapes ZA, offering us his choice of South African music; in this case his Top 20 South African songs of the 1980s, including songs from 1979 which were around at the beginning of 1980.

This is the first of our occasional series of Guest DJ mixed tapes compiled by former Capital Radio DJ s.

These are ranked from No 20 through to number 1 on the mixed tape. Enjoy!

If you want to see the play listing prior to listening to the countdown you can view the order of the songs in this week’s poll below.

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