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South African pop for election day

April 22nd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today South Africans go to the polls to elect their new parliament, which in turn will elect the president. It”s a foregone conclusion that the African National Congress will win a majority; the only question is whether they will repeat their two-thirds plus majority of 1999 and 2004. Of interest will be also how the smaller parties, especially the ANC-breakaway Congress of the People will fare, and whether the ANC will lose, as expected, the regional government of the Western Cape (the province that includes Cape Town).

But I did the political thing on Monday. To mark the South African elections, let”s have some randomly chosen South African pop music. I covered the SA jazz angle a couple of months ago with this mix (did anyone like it?).

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Farryl Purkiss ““ Better Days.mp3
farryl_purkissAn appropriate title for today, even if the certain election of the misogynist homophobe Jacob Zuma is not a cause for extravagant optimism (though he can’t be much worse than Aids denialist, Mugabe-supporting Thabo Mbeki) . I”ve pushed the fare of Durban”s Farryl Purkiss in the past. This track, from his wonderful eponymously-titled 2006 album, is absolutely beautiful, in the singer-songwriter vein. He cites as an influence Elliott Smith, and at times sounds a lot like him, as well as the likes of Iron & Wine, Joe Purdy, Sufjan Stevens and Calexico. I have a hunch that Purkiss might have listened also to “70s folkie Shawn Phillips (who, incidentally, now lives in South Africa) and the majestic Patty Griffin. I wrote about a Purkiss gig I saw in July 2007 (here), where I took the photo on the right; oddly, I have missed all his subsequent gigs in my area. Purkiss on MySpace.

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Josie Field – Every Now And Then.mp3
josie_fieldThe same year, the lovely Josie Field had a radio hit (singles aren”t widely sold in SA, so charts are based on radio airplay) with this excellent song. I”m waiting for Natalie Imbruglia or somebody like that to cover it. Her debut album apparently sold 7,000 copies, which in her genre in South Africa is a very respectable number. With figures like that, I don”t know why anyone with Field”s obvious talent would bother to release albums in South Africa. (Homepage)
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Bright Blue – Weeping.mp3
bright-blueA real South African classic from 1986 which I think had some influence on the anti-apartheid struggle by way of conscientising young white South Africans. The song is about apartheid-era president PW Botha’s antics and features the strains of the then-banned struggle hymn Nkosi Sikelel” iAfrica. Strangely the state-owned radio stations played Weeping prodigiously. Songs had been banned for much less (a year previously, all Stevie Wonder music was banned from the airwaves after the singer dedicated his Grammy to Nelson Mandela).

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Juluka ““ Impi.mp3
julukaJuluka”s frontman Johnny Clegg “” the “White Zulu” “” did a great deal for the struggle by integrating himself into Zulu culture, with sincerity and respect for Zulu culture. His groups, first Juluka and then Savuka, where multi-racial at a time when that was virtually unheard of. I have seen many concerts by Clegg”s groups, including a fantastic one in London”s Kentish Town & Country Club. Invariably, these were incredibly energetic. As a live performer, Clegg was not far behind Springsteen. The highlight always 1981″s Impi, which would send the crowd wild, especially when Clegg did those high-kicking, floor-board shattering Zulu wardance moves.

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Brenda Fassie – Vuli Ndlela.mp3
brenda_fassieRecently a contestant in South Africa”s Idols show was favourably compared to the late Brenda Fassie. Such compliments are not offered lightly, not by sensible people. Fassie was a superstar, throughout Africa. People have compared her to Madonna (minus Fassie”s drug abuse, violence, lapses into madness, financial difficulties, lesbian affairs, and premature death). The comparison flatters Madonna. Fassie was a superstar but yet still one with the people, of the people. She showed that talent and charisma trumps vacant beauty. Vuli Ndlela was Fassie”s huge dance hit from 1998, an infectious number that by force of sheer energy compensates for some regrettable production values.

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Freshlyground ““ Castles In The Sky.mp3
freshlygroundDespite rumours of an impending break-up, Freshlygrounds remain South Africa”s most popular group. The multi-ethnic group transcends boundaries of race and genre. The group”s first hit, 2002″s Castles In The Sky, is a good example of veering between genres. This remixed version received the airplay; the original is a slightly African-inflected pop song which Everything But The Girl might have sung. The superior remix adds to it a House feel which turns the song into a slow-burning dance track. (Freshlyground homepage)

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Niki Daly – Is It An Ism Or Is It Art.mp3
nikidalyIn 1984, artist and author of children”s books Niki Daly had one of the more bizarre South African hits with this song, doubtless inspired by the likes of Bowie, Roxy Music, Gary Numan and Thomas Dolby. A great slice of mid-80s new wave. Like so much of great South African songs, it made no impression on the international charts. At least one of his books, Not So Fast, Songololo, is a children”s book classic. Many of the Capetonian”s books published in the 1980s promoted interracial relations, thereby helping to instil a mindset among those who were then children (and are now young adults) that colour ought not be a social barrier. Read more on Daly”s books.

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Andr̩ de Villiers РMemories.mp3
andre-de-villiers-017I have posted this before, and it proved a very popular song. When the link went dead, I received a few requests to please re-upload it. Memories, by a Cape Town-based songwriter of folk and gospel material, scored a lovely South African TV commercial for Volkswagen, perhaps my all-time favourite ad. I suppose it has special appeal for those who are experiencing the nostalgic musings that accompany middle-age. (André de Villiers” homepage)

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Next week is the 15th anniversary of South Africa”s first democratic election (obviously, racially exclusive elections should not be called democratic). If the above proves to be of any interest at all, I will mark that day with another eight randomly chosen South African songs. And if anyone has tried unsuccessfully to download the Mandela soundclips I posted last July, I”ve reuploaded them.

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  1. Viki
    April 23rd, 2009 at 03:47 | #1

    These past two post of yours have been so enlightening! I’m already a fan of Johnny Clegg: I used the events of his ‘Warsaw 1943’ for part of the plot of a novel. I respect him enormously. so I’m checking out some of the other artists too.

  2. April 28th, 2009 at 14:35 | #2

    Years ago in Birmingham, UK (around 1985, I think), I saw a superb South African jazz band, District Six. Do they still exist? Is there a jazz scene to speak of in SA?

  3. April 28th, 2009 at 14:55 | #3

    I don’t think I know that band, though their name is as generic Cape Town as it comes. I can well believe that the were good; there have been some brilliant jazz musicians here.

    Yeah, SA has a vibrant and quite diverse jazz scene. Check out the mix I posted a while back:
    http://halfhearteddude.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/jazzy-south-africa/

  4. Bernard Knight
    June 14th, 2010 at 21:04 | #4

    Re: Niki Daly – Is It An Ism Or Is It Art.mp3

    I really thought I’d never find this song again.

    I heard it around in CT in early 1985 but never knew who did it. I managed, just prior to leaving SA for a year (which turned permanent), to do a bad recording from the radio of on the end of a tape of misc. local bands (Under 2 Flags, Wunderbah, etc.) just so I could ensure I’d remember it and find out who it was at a later stage. Mid-90s I ripped those tracks (badly, given technology & disk space) onto my Mac as the tapes were wearing out. So, by this stage it was not very listenable. I did some searches on the www for bits of the lyrics then but never came with anything – well the www was not very big then.

    Today, while cleaning out my iTunes music I stumbled upon the now long forgotten track & tried a google search. The only good hit was your site & now I’ve safely got a copy from rhythmnrecords.

    You’ve made my day, perhaps, quarter century at least. Thanks so much for that & the now indispensable blog.

  5. halfhearteddude
    June 15th, 2010 at 07:59 | #5

    Great feedback, Bernard. Makes my day. Were you at UCT?

  6. Bernard Knight
    June 15th, 2010 at 20:24 | #6

    @halfhearteddude
    I started some business degree in 1979 but only lasted that year. I then did a couple of years doing art at, what was then, the Cape Technikon. Were you around about that time?

  7. halfhearteddude
    June 16th, 2010 at 08:49 | #7

    Actually, by 1985 I lived in London. But I knew the Pig & Whistle scene well, and when I returned to SA the NUSAS scene as well.

  8. Bernard Knight
    July 4th, 2010 at 20:45 | #8

    Ahh … the Pig & Whistle. Went there sometimes, but a place called (I think) Stealers in Rondebosch was our preferred hangout for Fri night, along with Scratch (Reggae/Dub) in town on Sat eve and the Hout Bay Hotel weekend afternoons. Such were the days. Mostly all gone now I expect.

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