world cup! 16 great south african songs

June 11th, 2010

rural south african soccer
rural south african soccer

The World Cup starts today and I’m in the thick of it. A game will be played 500m from my doorstep in a few scant hours. The anticipation is madness; I think the country will explode before the first game.

My South African parents didn’t listen to pop music but we did have Graceland. My brother and I would blast the opening accordion riff of “I Know What I Want” and dance around the living room while my parents were out. After that I started collecting music on various trips here. Much later, I’d dig through the world music archives at KZSU trying to find still new more great music. I’ve always had a soft spot for the music of this country.

South Africa has eleven official languages and many unofficial ones. There are two dozen or more strong musical traditions and there are so many different styles of music in South Africa, one couldn’t even count them all.

Today, with the start of the World Cup and the eyes of the world on South Africa, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite tunes in a variety of styles.

Obviously this is not comprehensive and skewed in styles. There’s significant rock, folk, reggae, Indian-derived music, Islamic music, kwaito, house and other dance music, and many other styles that are produced in South Africa in abundance that aren’t represented below. Nevertheless I hope you enjoy the music I’ve picked.

You can grab all the songs here. See below for individual songs.
South Africa Mix (zip file, mediafire link)

Vintage R&B-influenced Afropop (Xhosa)
Miriam Makeba – Pata Pata
Makeba, one of the most famous South African singers, recorded this hit with a Philadelphia R&B producer in 1967. This is a song that never gets old.

Miriam Makeba – Pata Pata (mp3) (buy)

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Hip Hop/ Motswako (English, Setswana)
Tuks – Botho (feat Kabomo)
I’m a sucker for hip hop slow jams and this is a good one from possibly my favorite South African rapper. From the oddly picked Katie Melua sample to the laid back, but discontent lyrics, I think this is a winner. Tuks’ song aren’t universally great but his best songs are very good.

Tuks – Botho (feat Kabomo) (mp3) (from artist website)

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Township Jive/ Mbaqanga + Maskandi (Zulu)
Ubombo – Sibonabantu Ben Zondo & Nganeziyamfisa No Khambalomvaleliso – Sini Lindile
Here are two stylistically similar songs. And both are awesome. With the virtuosic guitar beginning and the rapid-fire spoken section, there’s a touch of maskandi in these, but in the end, I just like calling them ‘awesome’. (I think they’d be classified as mbaqanga.) Great call-and-response, upbeat bass and concertina/ accordion work in both.

Ubombo – Sibonabantu Ben Zondo (mp3) (buy)

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Nganeziyamfisa No Khambalomvaleliso – Sini Lindile (mp3) (buy)

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Cape Town Jazz
Abdullah Ibrahim – Mannenberg Is Where It’s Happening (Cape Town Fringe)
Among the most famous South African jazz musicians along with Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand) produced a hit and an iconic piece with “Mannenberg”. As music historian Rob Allingham says “from the first bar, you know it could only have come out of South Africa.” Many articles have been written about this beautiful song.

Abdullah Ibrahim – Mannenberg Is Where It’s Happening (Cape Town Fringe) (mp3) (buy)

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“Mbube”/ early Zulu Choral Music (Zulu)
Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds – Mbube
From the first notes of the song, you’ll probably recognize it. It’s not A Lion Sleeps Tonight—it’s what that song ripped off. A simple and instantly catchy song, American corporations have made millions of the song while, until recently, Linda and his family got nothing.

Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds – Mbube (mp3) (buy)

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