So this is a very personal playlist for me – all but two of the songs hold a special meaning. It might not necessarily be the most representative playlist in terms of South African history of music, or the songs with the greatest significance in the cultural resistance to apartheid, but hopefully there’ll be something for everyone to bounce along to.
Also I had to submit it now or I’d have gone crazy trying to make it ‘poifect’!
NB – I would have like to includ Biko by Peter Gabriel but I couldn’t find it on spotify.
01. Nkosi Sikelele – Abalingani BrothersWritten in 1897 as a hymn; this song became a Pan-African liberation theme. Translated from Xhosa, the title means ‘Lord Bless Africa’ – as a result; this uplifting ode to the continent has been used by five African states as their national anthem – including South Africa (joint with the pre-independent Anthem “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika”), Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Namibia and Zambia (though Namibia and Zimbabwe have subsequently changed to different songs).While I was in primary school; every morning we would sing this song while the national flag was raised. Just hearing the first few bars transports me to another place and time – with joyous results.02. World In Union – PJ Powers and Ladysmith Black MambazoIn 1995 – only a year after one of the most significant years in modern South African history – South Africa hosted the third Rugby World Cup. It was also the first time that South Africa had been able to compete in the tournament, having been barred due to the Apartheid regieme prior to 1992.PJ Powers is a legend within Southern Africa (though at that point I admit I was primarily aware of her courtesy of an advert for Gloria flour). Her joining forces with Ladysmith Black Mambazo – at the World Cup where Mandela wore the Springboks jersey…well, it was just brilliant. A moment in time I can’t ever describe adequately.03. Something Inside So Strong – Labi SiffreFor years I was totally unaware that this song was written as a protest song against apartheid. I just thought it was an awesome song.Labi Siffre had hit a decline in his popularity by 1985. One night he caught a documentary on conditions in South Afria and he wrote this as a sign of solidarity for the oppressed – encouraging them to stand tall in the face of adversary. It became his most successful track; peaking at no 4 in the UK charts and lifting Labi Siffre out of semi-retirement.I hope he’s enjoyed every minute of it because I LOVE this song!04. Under African Skies – Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black MambazoI have no memory of ever NOT being familiar with this song. Till I was about 7 Gracelands was just EVERYWHERE.Seriously. EVERYWHERE.This was the album that introduced me to Ladysmith Black Mambazo – and for that I will always be so grateful. Forgetting about their amazing harmonies; fantastic sense of rhythm and timing as a group and the sheer power of their songs – they sang the songs we sang at school and in church. How could I not fall in love! Instant recognition is indeed a powerful tool!05. Lion In A Cage – Dolores KeaneMy first ever protest song (possibly). Dolores Keane is one of Ireland’s most beloved singer, occasional actor and interpreter of songs. She has this incredibly rich and melodic voice; capable of This – the title track from her second album – was a hit internationally and .I have this incredibly vivid memory of that day in 1991 when Nelson Mandela was released from Robin Island. My family were visiting friends and every person was glued to the TV over a ceremony that ran for HOURS longer than initially expected. This song played every half hour (or at least it felt that way).And I still love it.06. One Man One Vote – Johnny Clegg and SavukaKnown as the White Zulu; Clegg is at once an anthropologist and musician. In 1969; he formed South Africa’s first mixed race group, Juluka – which was illegal at the time. The national radio stations were legally bound from playing the bands music and their albums became word of mouth success stories.As his music became progessively more political – with songs calling for the release of ANC prisoners – Clegg and (his new band) Savuka members were routinely arrested and had their concerts disrupted, while achieving great success in Europe (Funny side note – while Savuka were touring in France – Michael Jackson had to cancel his show in a town that they were playing as he hadn’t attracted the same volume audience).Me, I think this is a really interesting song – far more mellow than the ‘heavy’ political lyrics would imply.07. Beware, Verwoerd (Ndodemnyama) – Miriam MakebaMama Africa (as the artist was nicknamed)was a South African singer and political activist – exiled from her homeland in the 1960’s for speaking out publicly and internationally about South African politics. She only returned to her native country after the end of apartheid in 1990.A huge success in the USA; President Kennedy insisted on meeting her after a performance – despite her turning down the opportunity as she’d been feeling ill. How cool is that?Ndodemnyama is one of the earliest examples of South African rebel songs. Though I personally find the introduction to be a touch shrill – it’s still a cracker of a track!08. Lakeside – BLK JKSAnd now to the future.BLK JKS are a South African rock band from Jo’burg. This song – which attraction interest from around the world – was used on the soundtrack to the computer game FIFA 10.09. Enter the Ninja – Die AntwoordA rap/rave group, Die Antwoord (The Answer in Afrikaans) are this really weird eclectic mix – a bit of a love them/hate thing going on there too. Still, this is interesting and really catchy.10.Shosholoza – Ladysmith Black Mambazo with Lucky Dube and Bhekumuzi LuthuliThis is one of the songs that we sang in the playground. And at church. Awesomeness. Included on the track is Lucky Dube and I’m so pleased that he’s on the playlist. I honestly think that he’s the most significant South African musician of the last half century. I did search for a solo track but his reggae/zulu/afrikaans/english mixes are a little difficult to mesh with other songs!