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South Africa – Vol. 4

July 9th, 2010 2 comments

The party is almost over. On Sunday, two hands will receive the World Cup trophy and lift it high as confetti sprays out of machines, reminding me that some poor souls will have to clean up the mess.

For South African residents in the seven host cities, it has been a ride. The vibe has been amazing, and the tournament has been very well organised. The special courts that were set up to deal with crime have been in a somnolent state due to inaction. I am sure those bottomless pits of vomit in the European and British media that predicted roaming bands of criminals robbing and raping foreign fans and shooting with AK-47s at the German team will gladly retract their slanderous and ““ yes, I”ll damn well will say it ““ racist propaganda against South Africa.

These unfounded predictions cost South Africa. Fewer people than expected came. We may account for some of the shortfall with reference to the economic crisis. But the vicious propaganda hurt South Africa. Still, the host has answered its critics. The stadiums were built in time, travelling fans were safe from crime and race wars, and the atmosphere was every bit as genial as it was in Germany four years earlier. Of course, crime was controlled only by an immense show of strength by the police, which now knows that with good application and resources it might get a handle on the country”s crime crisis. And one hopes that the government will show the same political will in solving poverty as it did in building stadiums and tossing FIFA”s salad.

South Africa put on a world class show. It could not have been much better, give or take a few transport snafus (Durban airport screwed things up royally on Wednesday). The world”s biggest event was staged in South Africa ““ in Africa! ““ with every bit as much competence and efficiency as it was in Germany four years ago. The impact of this on South Africa”s and Africa”s psyche cannot be underestimated. Likewise, the memory of South Africa”s successful organisation must alter the perception of the country and continent among those who have held images of cliché. The government has shown the political will to show that it can do something extraordinary. It must now show the will to do more extraordinary things: beating poverty and crime chief among these.

Like everybody else who was in the host cities over the past four weeks, I will retain many great memories (some are represented in the collage avove). The country being awash in flags, the sound of the vuvuzelas, the opening goal that sent South Africa into a huge simultaneous orgasm, several trips to the fan park and four games in the stadium, doing the fan walk (not so great in cold and rainy weather; glorious on balmy evenings), Germany beating England and Argentina, my black Germany scarf, K”naan”s Wave your Flag song and Shakira’s Waka Waka, fans in fancy dress (the Dutch fans especially were great), and ““ the happiest of all memories ““ spending a lot of time with Any Minor Dude.

And whoever wins on Sunday, I will have seen the 2010 World Cup winner on their way to becoming champions (Spain against Portugal and Holland against Cameroon).

With all that out of the way, here”s the final batch of South African songs:

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Tony Schilder Trio – Gimme Loving (1995).mp3
Robbie Jansen (with Allou April) – Love Song For Forgotten People (1991).mp3
Spirits Rejoice – Shine On (1978).mp3

The great Cape Town saxophonist and singer Robbie Jansen died on July 7 at the age of 61. Some 20-odd years ago I heard Robbie sing the best version of What”s Going On I have ever heard (he recorded it in 2005; I”ve never heard that though). With his gravelly voice, hoarse from smoking cigarettes (containing brown and green stuff), he was a great interpreter of songs. A collection of covers sung by Robbie Jansen could have been a brilliant album. He recorded a couple of Cape jazz albums and contributed to albums by others, usually by playing the sax. He appeared on Dollar Brand”s classic Mannenberg album (the title is a sloppy misrendering of the ghetto”s name; on the LP he and the larte Basil Coezee harmonised on alto sax), and guested on both albums by the great keyboardist Tony Schilder, who himself is in poor health (as, sadly, is his musician son Hilton; the struggling Schilder family can be assisted via this site), as well as with acts such as Tananas, Juluka and the Sons of Table Mountain, with whom he visited Cuba a few years ago. Jansen was the saxophonist of Pacific Express alongside a young Jonathan Butler and then of Spirits Rejoice (the hit Shine On features Paul Peterson, now a producer, on vocals). Janssen may not have been known outside South Africa, perhaps not even much outside Cape Town. But the man was a legend, a cultural icon in a jazz city. A local trade union has called for a street to be named after Jansen. It is a marvellous idea. Indeed, the city should name a whole district after departed local jazz greats.

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Hugh Masekela ““ Mama (1996).mp3
Hugh Masekela – Don’t Go Lose It Baby (1984).mp3
Hugh Masekela ““ Grazing In The Grass (1968).mp3

The jazz legend appeared in the opening ceremony of the World Cup (which also featured R Kelly ““ an ill-considered choice for an event in a country with high levels of sexual violence against minors). I was surprised by that; Masekela had taken a very negative stance towards the event, arguing that the money should have been spent on poverty relief. Still, it was good to see the doyen of SA jazz still active and looking good at 71. Featured here are three songs from the man”s long career. On Mama, Masekela sings in his deliciously growling voice. It probably is my favourite Masekela track. Don’t Go Lose It Baby is a blazing jazz-funk track, with some retro-rapping for the “80s nostalgists. Masekela”s joyful Grazing In The Grass, composed by Philemon Hou, topped the US charts in 1968, and is internationally Masekela”s signature song. Dig the cowbells!

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Blk Sonshine ““ Building (2000).mp3
Blk Sonshine ““ Born In A Taxi (2000).mp3

It”s difficult to categorise Blk Sonshine. Though an acoustic outfit, Neo Muyanga and Masauko Chipembere have eclectic influences, drawing from kwela, kwaito and reggae as well as from folk, rock and hip hop, with socially conscious lyrics. The rousing Building is a folk-hued, as was their hit song, the gentle and lovely Born In A Taxi. Blk Sonshine are still recording and appearing live. I”ve heard a few songs from their latest album, Good Life. It sounds great (Check the tunes out). Gil Scott-Heron fans will be interested to note that the great man”s flautist Brian Jackson has lately been collaborating with Chipembere, who was born in the US of Malawian parents. And listen to Building: the vocals aren’t a million miles from Scott-Heron’s at his more agitated.  Visit Blk Sonshine at blksonshine.com/

Blk Sonshine must not be confused with the highly-rated township heavy metal band Blk Jks (for a taste of them, check out the excellent Liberator Magazine blog.

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Sipho “˜Hotstix” Mabuse ““ Burn Out (1985).mp3
Burn Out was the big South African hit of 1985. A true dance track from the townships that easily crossed the race divide, as Brenda Fassie”s Weekend Special had done the previous year, at a time when that was still remarkable. It sold half a million copies, an extraordinary figure in South Africa”s small market. Before that, Mabuse had been a member of the influential Afro-funk band Harari, the first black pop group to appear on white TV, in 1979. Mabuse never capitalised on the success of Burn Out to become a big recording star (it took him ten years to release a follow-up album), becoming a successful producer of nascent talent instead.

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Miriam Makeba – Ring Bell, Ring Bell (1967).mp3
This series has to feature at least one Makeba song. I suppose most readers will have stocked up on Makeba music after her death in late 2008, but might have missed this lovely song from Mama Afrika”s 1967 Pata Pata LP, released on Frank Sinatra”s Reprise label. Makeba”s life would make for a great TV mini-series; born to a sangoma (similar to a shaman) mother, the beautiful Miriam had success in South Africa and on the London stage (with Todd Matshikiza”s musical King Kong) before going into exile in the US, where she was also unwanted after marrying civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael in 1968. In the interim, she addressed the United Nations on the subject of apartheid, upon which the Pretoria regime revoked her citizenship. Even her last moments were filled with an activist”s spirit: she died after appearing at a concert against organised crime in Italy.

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Letta Mbulu ““ Hareje (1973).mp3
Another one of the great South African exiles with King Kong connections, Mbulu made her breakthrough when the jazz great David Axelrod signed her to Capitol Records in 1968, to be produced by him alongside such luminaries as Cannonball Adderley and Lou Rawls. Though the critics loved Mbulu”s albums, the label had no idea how to market her unique Afro-soul sound. After Capitol, she recorded the 1973 Naturally album on Adderley”s Fantasy Records label, from which this track comes. Backing musicians on the album, and on Hareje, included the Crusaders luminaries Wilton Felder, Joe Sample, Stix Hooper and Wayne Henderson. This opened the door for a deal with Herb Alpert”s A&M label, but commercial success continued to elude Mbulu. Still, Quincy Jones liked her, having her sing on the soundtracks to the mini-series Roots and the film The Color Purple. She also sang on Michael Jackson”s Liberian Girl. She returned to South Africa with her husband Caiphus Semenya, an acclaimed musician and producer himself, in 1991.

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Four Jacks & A Jill – Master Jack (1968).mp3
This group was at the centre of a beer-fuelled spat I got embroiled in many years ago. I had compiled a pub trivia quiz, and one of the questions concerned South African acts that had ever entered the UK charts. One team of worthies, perennial winners whose dedication to the beer life was amply reflected in their protruding guts, included Four Jacks & A Jill in their answer Their disputation of the fact that Four Jacks & A Jill never bothered the UK charts became rather heated. Alas, I had thought it unnecessary to lug with me all my reference books “” in this case the 8th edition of the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles. Ultimately, to keep the peace, the utterly wrong bastards got their point. In return, I marked all their subsequent answers with spiteful strictness. Where my pals went wrong was in confusing the charts: Master Jack failed to chart in Britain but was a Top 20 hit in the US (and a chart-topper in Canada). Although the band comprised four men and a female member, none were called Jack or Jill (the “Jill” was in fact named Glenys Lynne.). The folk-pop group was named after a 1942 movie.

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Prime Circle – Lose Tomorrow (2003).mp3
Occasionally I enjoy a bit of alt.rock; I like a bit of Foo Fighters from time to time. So I can see an upside to Germany being reduced to a third-place play-off against Uruguay today: Prime Circle are scheduled to play at Cape Town”s fan park before the game. Having missed out on Freshlyground last week and Blk Sonshine in June (but having caught the excellent electronica outfit Goldfish there), I am looking forward to that. Their Wikipedia entry seems to have been vandalised with insights like “In 1999 the band hadn”t yet formed” and Wildean wit such as “73% of Prime Circle circle [sic] fans are masochists. The other 27% don’t actually listen to the music.” I am delighted to report that my sides have not split.

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More South African stuff

The Sound Of Africa Mix Vol. 2

August 18th, 2008 3 comments

This is the second volume of The Sound of Africa, a mix of relatively new music from Africa and a few classics, compiled for this blog.

Some of these artists have acquired some recognition in the West: Baaba Maal, Fela Kuti, King Sunny Adé, Ali Farka Touré and Manu Dibango may not be household names, but they are join the non-featured likes of Johnny Clegg and some of the acts featured on the first volume among the celebrated representatives of African music. Others, such as Angelique Kidjo and South Africa”s Judith Sephuma have likewise found some international recognition. The keen Africa watcher will know Franco & OK Jazz, the oldest performers on either set ““ the song here comes from the mid-50s.

The versatile, late Brenda Fassie was so much a superstar in Africa, she had no need to look to Europe for greater fame. Her supposed rival for the crown of South Africa”s biggest female star, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, has lived a less rock “˜n roll life; she too is hugely popular throughout Africa. Brenda and Yvonne”s compatriots Bayete were quite big in their country ““ I saw them in concert very often (as I have Ringo Madlingozi, mostly with his fantastic “˜80s band Peto) ““ but just as they threatened to break big, frontman Jabu Khanyile died. Women are better represented here than on the first mix: besides Brenda, Yvonne and Angelique, Mali”s Oumou Sangare and Algeria”s Souad Massi represent.

So, which country can claim the crown of Africa”s musical capital? In my view it”s a four-way tie between Mali, Senegal, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Zaire). And my favourite African artist? That would be a toss-up between Khadja Nin and Ismael Lo.

1. Baaba Maal – Mbaye (Senegal)
2. Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa (Cameroon)
3. Fela Kuti – Yellow Fever (Nigeria)
4. King Sunny Ad̩ РMa Jaiye Oni (Nigeria)
5. Brenda Fassie – Shikhebe Shamago (South Africa)
6. Manecas Costa – Ermons De Terra (Guinea Bissau)
7. Ali Farka Tour̩ with Ry Cooder РSoukora (Mali)
8. Bayete – Mmaolo-We (South Africa)
9. Jean Bosco Mwenda – Tambala Moja (DR Congo)
10. Diogal – Samba Alla (Senegal)
11. Ringo Madlingozi – Sondela (South Africa)
12. Angelique Kidjo – Babalao (Benin)
13. Oumou Sangare – Ah Ndiya (Mali)
14. Souad Massi – Yawlidi (Algeria)
15. Yvonne Chaka Chaka – Makoti (South Africa)
16. Franco and OK Jazz – On Entre OK, On Sort KO (Congo)
17. Mose “˜Fan Fan” – Lwambo (DR Congo)

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The Sound Of Africa Mix Vol. 1

August 5th, 2008 5 comments
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It is peculiar that even in South Africa, music from Africa commands its own section. Even rock acts from South Africa are liable to be relegated to the South Africa section, not in the (much bigger and more prominent) Rock shelves. Music retailers are idiots.

So, straight from the Africa section, this mix of music from the continent. When I compiled it, I had two constituencies in mind: those for whom such a mix might serve as an introduction to the wonderfully diverse yet synchronous sound of Africa, and those who already have an appreciation for it and might look for some new stuff. The former category of people is well-served, I think, with a very accessible selection. I hope the latter group might find a few tracks they had not previously heard.

While this mix is a sound of Africa, it cannot be ignored that in urban areas one is as likely, perhaps more likely, to hear the strains of American R&B or hip hop, or local music drawing their influence from these genres. In some cases, such as South Africa”s hugely popular kwaito, R&B and rap fused with local musical forms to create a sound which is distinctly indigenous. As an example, take Mandoza”s Nkalakatha (download). This mix does mostly exclude such musical forms ““ mainly, I must admit, because I”m not very well versed in that regard to create a representative mix.

Of course, many of these songs embrace Western influences. The guitar on Thomas Mapfumo”s Set The People Free owes something to Santana; Hugh Masekela is a jazz musician; Koffi Olomidé freely draws from pop and R&B, without compromising his African traditions; Cesaria Evoria”s Cape Verdan tradition is influenced by Latin sounds of Portugal and Brazil, and so on.

Some of these artists have remarkable stories. During the liberation war against Rhodesia”s racist regime, Thomas Mapfumo was the poet laureate for the armed struggle which would culminate in the birth of Zimbabwe in 1980. But by the mid-90s, the one-time supporter of Robert Mugabe became disillusioned with the tyrant, and made his opposition known. He now lives in exile in the US.

Salif Keita comes from a royal line which should have ruled out a career in music. But as an albino, he was ostracised by his family, and here he shares a mix with a man of the griot underclass, Mory Kanté, who was born in Guinea but grew up in Mali. Papa Wemba, who was a local chief in what was the Zaïre (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), was jailed a few years ago in France for smuggling illegal immigrants into Europe.

Algeria”s Khaled faced death threats from Islamic fundamentalists who objected to his progressive lyrics; they also issued death threats to other popular Algerian musicians, and proceeded to murder one. And South Africa”s Fortune Xaba, a saxophonist, won the country”s Road To Fame talent competition (which actually frequently realised its premise by producing gifted performers) in 1996, had a brief career in which he released two albums, and suddenly died in 2003.

If this mix proves popular, I have another one lined up. Let me know what you think. As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R.

1. Mory Kant̩ РYeke Yeke (Guinea/Mali)
2. Cesária Évora – Nho Antone Escade (Cape Verde)
3. Tour̩ Kunda РWadini (Senegal)
4. Salif Keita – N B’I Fe (Mali)
5. Ismaël Lo – Tajabone (Senegal)
6. Fortune Xaba – Mi Fe Le Wa Kuti (South Africa)
7. Papa Wemba – Le Voyageur (DR Congo)
8. Khadja Nin – Mama Lusiya (Burundi)
9. Kampi Moto & George Phiri – Maio Maio (Zambia/Malawi/South Africa)
10. Habib Koit̩ & Bamada РWassiy̩ (Mali)
11. Hugh Masekela – Happy Mama (South Africa)
12. Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited – Set the People Free (Zimbabwe)
13. Remmy Ongala – Inchi Vetu (Our Country) (Tanzania)
14. Youssou N’Dour – Mame Bamba (Senegal)
15. Koffi Olomid̩ feat Coumba Gawlo РSi Si Si (DRCongo)
16. Khaled – Aicha (Algeria)
17. Tarika – Aretina (Madagacar)

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Categories: Mix CD-Rs Tags: ,

Mandela is 90

July 17th, 2008 7 comments

In the late “80s, the apartheid Security Branch raided my place a couple of times. That sounds more grandiose than it really was: my part in the destruction of the racist regime was minute. The fact that the SB was investigating at all me shows just how pervasive the bastards really were. I also hasten to point out that by the second raid, they had dispatched the intellectual rejects from the absolute bottom of their inbreds” gene pool. Captain Domgat”s line of interrogation included the question: “Are your friends European?”, employing the popular noun by which the racists liked to describe themselves. I could muster no greater wit than to reply that they were all born in South Africa. Captain Domgat was too feeble to rephrase his question. A fearsome interrogator he was not.

All the while a strong wind was blowing through the window, making the pages of my Marilyn Monroe calendar flutter. That made me nervous, because behind the calendar hung a picture of Nelson Mandela. That was contraband: it was illegal to own images or writings by banned persons, such as Mandela (especially Mandela), and illegal to publish these.

I got away with the pic, but had no such luck with a video film of Mandela”s life. Captain Domgat had instructed me to play all my videos. So by the time I got to the tape labelled something like Uncle Bert”s 60th Birthday Party, I knew I was in trouble. I remembered that last time I had stopped the video, it was at the scene of the Sharpville massacre. So I “accidentally” pressed the fast forward button, hoping to arrive at a non-descript scene, perhaps of Nelson and Winnie tasking a romantic stroll (without being stopped by a stupidly moustached cop like Captain Domgat demanding to see their passbooks). Of course, when I caught my “mistake” and pressed play, the film showed somebody building a bomb”¦ I never saw the video again. But I got off lightly. People were persecuted for lesser things.

All this is to mark the 90th birthday of Nelson Mandela, the greatest man alive, on Friday, July 18. I”ve been in close proximity to Mandela only twice. I”ve met many famous people, but none with an aura like that man. I could almost cut it.

I have written before about the day Mandela was released (link here). Now that he is frail and very old, I dread the day he dies. Not because I expect that his death will unleash a torrent of civil unrest, but because a world without Mandela will be a world diminished. Rarely have the traits of idealism, principle, pragmatism, intelligence, integrity, honour, courage, charisma, charm and generosity of spirit coalesced in one man to such degrees as it has with Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Whatever the man”s personal failings, and he certainly was no Gandhi, his peace building in South Africa was nothing less than heroic.

Sadly his legacy ““ a model democratic dispensation ““ is being distorted and wrecked by his successors in the ANC who display little by way idealism, principle, pragmatism, intelligence, integrity, honour, courage, charisma, charm or generosity of spirit. The current leadership, and that which it has replaced, is by and large morally tainted. What heritage of Mandela”s is being sustained when two leaders undertake to “kill for Zuma” should the presumptive future president of South Africa be made to answer charges of corruption and racketeering in court?

Still, even in this political climate, Mandela remains a hero. Everybody wants a piece of him. Every two-bit celebrity or slimy pol who comes to South Africa wants an audience with him. I suspect that these audiences are contingent on contributions being offered to the various foundations in Mandela”s name. If so, how much did it cost Gerri Halliwell to touch Mandela”s arse? And, speaking of fundraising, what sort of wankwit will shell out $17,000 for a platinum bangle bearing the numbers 46664, Mandela”s prison number which now is the name of his AIDS charity? Charity bling is just obscene. That is not to say that Mandelas”s foundations don”t do good work. But I am alarmed by the apparent commoditisation of Mandela (note that I don”t call him by his clan name Madiba, an overused name which at once indicates affection and lack of respect if not employed by those close to him). Oh, but Mandela has loads of pop pals. Ole Blue Shades is a good friend of Mandela”s too, the ingratiating tosser.

The world would be a poorer without Mandela, but a better place without those ghastly 46664 concerts. Before the first 46664 concert in Cape Town, Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics pontificated about how South Africa must address its poverty problem. Of course, being thus put in place by this man of stature and relevance, the government lurched into immediate action. And at a more recent 46664 concert in Johannesburg, Stewart”s erstwhile sidekick, the ghastly Annie Lennox, positioned herself next to Mandela as he made a speech about sexual responsibility as a way to fight AIDS et cetera. All the while Lennox was emphatically nodding her head, as if her consent to Mandela”s words would persuade “the kids” to “listen to this man”. Did that delusional cow think that a sign of her dissent would in any way impair the reception of Mandela”s speech?

I blame Mandela”s people who are obviously so clueless as to think that Annie Lennox or Sting are relevant. They probably are the kind of people who”ll profess a passion for soul music. You know, like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. How difficult is it to round up two dozen authentically relevant acts for those 46664 gigs (if one must have them in first place). I”d be happy to invite Mandela around to my place to give him some guidance on the matter. As long as I don”t have to give money to his behemoth, overstaffed charities.

Here is some music to celebrate Mandela”s birthday. Hugh Masekela”s urgent and danceable Bring Him Back is a live version of his 1987 song (which could not have anticipated that Nelson and Winnie would one day divorce). Brenda Fassie was the queen of South African pop, which did not prevent her from making political statements such as this excellent song about Mandela, released in 1989 when the regime was making its last bitter stand. I posted the Bright Blue track a year ago: Weeping, from 1987, was the first big hit by a white South African group to blantantly criticise the apartheid regime. It features strains of the struggle anthem Nkosi Sikel’ iAfrica, yet it was not banned on state-owned radio. Peter Tosh”s Apartheid, from 1977, probably does not express Mandela”s mind (“You in me land” sounds more like Mugabe”s gig), but it was a popular song among anti-apartheid activists during the struggle. I needn”t introduce 1984″s Free Nelson Mandela (also reposted) or Sun City from the following year.

Brenda Fassie – Black President.mp3
Hugh Masekela – Bring Him Back Home (live).mp3
Artists United Against Apartheid – Sun City.mp3
Peter Tosh – Apartheid.mp3
The Special A.K.A. – Free Nelson Mandela.mp3
Johnny Clegg & Savuka – Asimbonanga.mp3
Bright Blue – Weeping.mp3

The other files are of historical interest. Two files of Mandela speaking, on recorded during the Rivonia trial which sentenced him to life imprisonment, the other from his first speech as a free man in February 1990 (on this clip he restates his iconic manifesto from the Rivonia trial). The other spoken file is the judge, Quartus de Wet, sentencing Mandela and his co-accused (including the saintly Walter Sisusulu). Note his use of the word non-European; perhaps he was Captain Domgat”s uncle. Then there are sounds from the struggle: the freedom song Rolihlahla (Mandela”s Xhosa name), the full anthem (compare to the hybrid version of South Africa”s current national anthem), and a clip of chanting to the wardance-like toyi toyi.

(Links below updated on March 16, 2009)

Nelson Mandela – Demand for equal rights for African People (Rivonia Trial).mp3
Rivonia Trial – Sentencing (Judge Quartus de Wet).mp3
Nelson Mandela – Day of release from prison, Cape Town 1990.mp3

Struggle Songs – Nkosi Sikel’ iAfrica.mp3
Struggle Songs – Rolihlahla.mp3
Struggle Songs – Toyi Toyi Beat.mp3