I’m putting up 20 great SA songs that we’ve forgotten, one a day for 20 days. Here are the first four, but to keep getting the daily updates, follow me on Twitter or search #20ForgottenSAsongs.
The full collection is on my Tumblr chrisroperza.tumblr.com
I love this band. They combine traditional African folksiness (I know, that’s not really a genre) with a rootsy hiphop ethos, and they just plain make you happy. You probably know “Born in a taxi”, but this is the first song on their first album, Blk Sonshine (1998). The band is Masauko Chipembere and Neo Muyanga, and I think of the band as Capetonian because of Neo (he works at UCT in the music department), but actually they’re a Malawian/Sotho/American hybrid. They’re collaborating on an upcoming album with RZA of Wu-Tang, which is pretty damn cool.
Ska was alive and well in the 80s in SA, and The Dynamics were one of the great bands. Live, they were amazing, like The Rudimentals but much punkier. This song is actually a great song irrespective of geography: in the UK, it would have been seen as a classic of the era. It’s weirdly ominous as well as being danceable, a very fitting soundtrack to a party in the apartheid 80s. The musos were Winston Nyaunda, Harvey Roberts:, Jimmy Florence, and ex-Asylum Kid Steve Howells. Funny historical note: according to the SA Rock DIgest, when the band tried to tour the UK in 1984, Winston Nyaunda was turned back at Heathrow as he had a Boputhatswana passport – not a country recognized by the UK.
Three Bored White Guys were a great country meets rockabilly meets pure rock ‘n roll band from Cape Town. Famously, they were started by Anton Marshall (now with Longtime Citizen, and the Rolling Stone SA online editor), who isn’t actually white. When a fourth member joined, Anton had to endure the ignominy of being asked when the band had decided to get a coloured bassplayer. Other members included the great Greg Donnelly, whose big group was the Dolly Rockers (formed 1990). One of Greg’s other projects, Waxy O’Conor, was an incredible homage to a dirty Elvis, if memory serves me correctly.Three Bored White Guys became Three More White Guys, and lineups varied, including Steve Smith (@stevesmithza) on guitar (currently Red Bull Mag editor, and writer of the Herschelle Gibbs biography), and Frank Ellis. I could go on, but why bother. This is “We been robbed” (2005).
There are a lot of great South African rock bands that you might have never heard of, or at least never heard their music. So I’m going to choose 20 songs, one a day, that never had a chance because of the tiny, circumscribed nature of the SA music scene. We’ll start with the song that sums it all up, “You can’t make it big in a small town”, by The Glee Club. This band was an offshoot of the incredibly good Radio Rats from Springs, and both starred that genius lyricist Jonathan Handley. This song is from 1997, and was dedicated to Helen Martins from the Owl House, another major talent stuck in a society too small for her creativity. By the way – this band is so under the radar, I couldn’t even find the album cover online.And remember: this isn’t supposed to be exhaustive, or even representative. It’s just a bunch of cds I’ve got lying around in a drawer.