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South African pop for election day

April 22nd, 2009 8 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.

Love Songs For Every Situation: Unrequited Love

February 19th, 2008 7 comments

Unrequited love is a real bastard. The rejection can scar a person for life, depending on its nature. My chapter of unrequited love was set in the seasons 1988/89 and 1989/90, and was cruelly soundtracked by the disgusting cheering of the fans of Arsenal and FC Liverpool, as if to taunt me further in my indescribable pain. There was no comfort, other than Manchester Utd’s FA Cup victory just days before the object of my desire left South Africa. I cannot say whether it was a good thing or not that she and I were very close friends. There was much affection, indeed a certain kind of love. But from her side obviously not that kind of love. So there was always hope, which again and again and again would be gently but brutally crushed. Would it have been easier to let unrequited love turn to festering hate?

Morrissey – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (live).mp3
I presume everybody has this Smiths track already, so here is a live performance by Morrissey from 2004 in Manchester, ripped from DVD. That line about the doubledecker bus crashing into us is justly regarded as a classic lyric, but the one that really gets me is this one: “And in the darkened underpass I thought, ‘Oh God, my chance has come at last’, but then a strange fear gripped me, and I just couldn’t ask.” Don’t I know the feeling! For days, weeks, months one prepares for the perfect moment. The words are ready and practiced, the mood is set in one’s mind. And then, when the perfect opportunity presents itself, one chokes. And what setting could be better than a darkened underpass, where the object of ones desire cannot see the blushes. Ah, but she’d see the potentially crushed face, the dazed look, when they emerge into the light. At which point the 10-ton truck killing the both of us would appear to be an inviting proposition. So one waits for a really long, dark tunnel…

Freshlyground – I’d Like.mp3
South Africa’s most popular band, probably, engaged in a spot of self pity in this tender anthem to unrequited love and the self-loathing which often accompanies it. To the casual observer, the reactions she anticipates from her putative displays of affection seem exaggerated, even silly. Would her object of desire really say the singer deserved to die or humiliate her otherwise for showing affection or making a phone call? I suppose any vaguely negative response, or even a lack of response, would feel like an extreme reprimand or punishment to the one who is in unrequited love. The song might be dealing with a further complication: the lyrics make sense also in a context where the protagonist has same-sex feelings for somebody who is heterosexual (which could also explain the fear of being rejected harshly). Either way, the singer asks questions that make sense to anyone who has experienced unrequited love: “What do I do with all these feelings tearing me up inside? What do I do with all these wasted hours dreaming of you at night?”

Weezer – Pink Triangle.mp3
Weezer provided the flip-side to the theory posited in the entry for “I’d Like”. Here the protagonist is falling for a lesbian. “I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian. I thought I had found the one. We were good as married in my mind, but married in my mind’s no good. Oh, pink triangle on her sleeve.” Which raises the question if there is any comfort to be had if the woman a man desires is at least not with another man. Is Rivers holding out some hope when he asks: “If everyone’s a little queer, can’t she be a little straight?”

Nick Drake – Man In A Shed.mp3
This apparently is based on Drake’s own experience of living in somebody’s backyard, admiring the girl of the house from afar, but she doesn’t acknowledge his existence, presumably thinking she’s above his station in life. Drake clearly doesn’t buy into the class hierarchy (and Amen to that). Employing what might be termed Byronic Marxism, he declares: “So leave your house, come into my shed. Please stop my world from raining through my head. Please don’t think I’m not your sort. You’ll find that sheds are nicer than you thought.” Observe also Drake’s exquisite guitar work on this track.

Mazzy Star – Give You My Lovin’.mp3
You have to love Hope Sandoval. So it is difficult to believe that Hope should have any unhappy experience of unrequited love. And yet she sings: “When I see you I want to kiss you, but I know that ain’t right. So I ask if I can hold you. Oh babe, I need you so bad. Oh babe, I only want to make you glad.” What crazy fuck would say no to these words from the wonderful Ms Sandoval? She believes such crazy fucks do exist: “Discomfort arouses when I speak of you, as if you’ve been saying something bad about me.”

The Band – It Makes No Difference.mp3
You may thank one of the commenters in this series for this song from The Last Waltz, which would otherwise slipped below my radar. And what a fortuitous alert: this is a most beautiful and heartbreaking song. It makes no difference, Rick Danko sings, “where I turn, I can’t get over you when the flame still burns… the shadow never seems to fade away… like a scar, the hurt will always show… who I meet, they’re just a face in the crowd on a dead-end street.” The Counting Crows are drawing their influence from The Band (even framing a song around the news of Richard Manuel’s death), but their lyrics are usually unpenetrable. Here Danko is writing poetry you can actually make sense of, hitting the listener in the guts. “Well, I love you so much, and it’s all I can do just to keep myself from telling you that I never felt so alone before.”

The Temptations – Just My Imagination.mp3
The sweetest song about unrequited love. Our guy plays a trick on us as he begins: “Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by. I say to myself, ‘You’re such a lucky guy. To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true.’ Out of all of the guys in the world, she belongs to me…” Ah, but the alert reader will have spotted that in this post nothing is as well as that. So in verse two, the punchline pokes you in the eye: “But it was just my imagination running away with me.” Our friend even pleads with God to play cupid (and here we briefly call to mind Sam Cooke’s hymn to unrequited love), but how can God fix him up when “in reality, she doesn’t even know me”.

Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him.mp3
And from the sweetest song to the most acerbic. Observing from indoors, Joe sees Jeannie, and every other pretty woman, walking with gorillas down his street. This makes him angry. Knowing that he is puny, and they are gorillas, he employs his imaginary superpowers: “But if looks could kill, there’s a man there who’s more down as dead.” Zapp! He is possibly better served engaging his wit: “They say that looks don’t count for much, if so, there goes your proof”, he sings about Jeannie’s boyfriend (would that be the same Jeannie whose diary Eels wish to be a page in?).

The Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen In Love.mp3
It seems that our boy is having some sort of relationship with the woman who nonetheless is rejecting his love. She doesn’t treat him well. “You spurn my natural emotions, you make me feel like dirt.” He won’t cause a scene though, because then he might just lose her. So while she keeps rejecting him, he’s getting increasingly frustrated and, the clue here is not in the lyrics but in the intensity of music, obsessed with the one-sidedness of it all. Unrequited love happens in established relationships as well. Think of the stunning Odyssey song I posted in the Love Ends post.

Johnny Mathis – Misty.mp3
The person in unrequited love often is like a pathetic puppy. Mathis certainly is in this definitive reading of Erroll Garner’s standard, better even than Sarah Vaughn’s. And the key is that Mathis actually does sound like a lovestruck puppy. The girl sounds like a bit of a tease (she lets him hold her hand), “you can say that you’re leading me on”, and Johnny likes it, “but it’s just what I want you to do”, because as long she takes notice of him, he has hope that his total love will find reciprocation.

Jens Lekman – Maple Leaves.mp3
This song puts an unusual spin on unrequited love. Jens can’t find a way into her heart “” “if you don’t take my hand I lose my mind completely” “” but the problem seems to be twofold. For one, the girl has such low self-esteem, she perhaps cannot accept that somebody could love her (“You said you hated your body, that it was just a piece of meat. I disagreed”). The second problem may be that incredibly unjust curse suffered by millions of nice men: the girl sees you as a friend! A bloody friend! “So we talked for hours and you cried into my sheets”. Of course, it may be that Jens just couldn’t understand her accent. “She says the dreamer just make-believe, but I thought she said maple leaves… and when she talked about about the fall I thought she talked about Mark E Smith.” No wonder he “never understood at all”.

Joshua Radin – Do You Wanna.mp3
I might be way off the mark here, but this is how I read the song: Joshua is in love with his friend (Ducky Dales everywhere!). She is in a destructive relationship. He brings comfort, but doesn’t want to be seen doing so with the ulterior motive of preparing the ground for his romantic relationship with her. And, you know, he cares firstly for her well-being. Which makes him a star among men “” and sets him up for friendship standing in the way of romance and sex. “No one believes you smile alone. You wanna retrieve your high on the phone, but when you hang up all I wanna do is help you to pick up the pieces from your past. But there’s nothing more to gather, holding on to moments that won’t last. Or would you rather end it all; do you wanna?” Well, even if I’m totally wrong, I’d be pleased if this song, from Radin’s excellent First Between 3rd And 4th EP in 2004, is going to turn one or the other reader on to this wonderful singer-songwriter, whose new album will feature Ingrid Michaelson and Catherine Feeny, plus some production by Rick Rubin.

Barenaked Ladies – If I Had $1000000.mp3
Beneath the jocular mirth of this song there is a slightly pathetic subtext. Here our boy wants, Dr Evil style, a million dollars (Canadian, presumably) to buy the object of his desire everything, from a “nice reliant automobile” to a green dress (“but not a real green dress, that’s cruel”). All that sounds very nice, even amusing, until the pathos of the final line of the third verse: “If I had one million dollars, I’d buy your love.” Poor bastard.

Richard Cheese – Creep.mp3
I presume that everybody who needs it already owns Radiohead’s “Creep”. So here, to introduce some levity into the proceedings, is the lounge-jazzy version by the great spoofologist Richard Cheese. In the original, our boy is so intoxicated with self-loathing that he places himself several leagues below hers. He might have a good reason for doing so, but for every “creep” and “weirdo” there is a beacon of hope: Pete Doherty pulled Kate Moss. That must give hope to anyone who believes the unattainable to be just that.