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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Migrant Workers’ Song turned Sports Anthem (Ndebele or Zulu)
AcfC – Shosholoza
A song about the train from South Africa sung by migrant workers somehow turned into a sports anthem for the 1995 Rugby World Cup. And it’s stayed a sports anthem: if the South African fans stop blowing their vuvuzelas for long enough to sing, this is probably the song you’ll hear. (The stadium version is a bit more raucous than this version.)
Zulu Street Guitar
Blanket Mkhize – Blanket’s Guitar Solo
Nothing fancy here, just engaging and otherwise great solo guitar work. It’s deceivingly simple but I always find it interesting what someone can do with just a guitar.
Hymn turned Protest Song turned National Anthem (Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho)
Soweto Community Hall – Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika
Starting out as a hymn (“God Bless Africa”), “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” later became the anthem of the ANC and a protest song during the apartheid years and is now part of the national anthem. It’s also one of the most beautiful songs and anthems I know. I love this raw recording from a protest gathering; at the end is the traditional call-and-response Amandla! Awethu! (“Power!” “To Us!”)
Soweto Percussion Ensemble – Umzabalazo (Protest): First Movement
Polyrhythms are important in music from all over Africa. They’re particularly prominent in West Africa, but as you can hear here, South Africa does them pretty well, too.
Kwela/ Pennywhistle Jive (Zulu?)
Nancy Jacobs & Sisters – Meadowlands
Kwela is an older style that has prominent pennywhistle. I like the jazzy shuffle and swagger of this tune.
Mathula Home Singers – Bhula Wesangoma
Isicathamiya is a style that is most often associated with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and, outside of them, Zulu choral groups from Durban and surrounding Kwazulu Natal. But this is a great example of the style by an Ndebele group.
Ndebele Call-and-Response (Ndebele)
Koernag Namandlanga – Ngiyalila
I’m really not sure what to call this style, but the music is great with looping, repeating guitar work and call-and-response vocals to draw you in.
Ihashi Elimhlophe – Umalume (Uya Luma)
While some earlier songs touched on the style, this song is pure maskandi, with the guitar intro, stereotypical steady drums and the rapid-fire spoken section. Wind your window down, rest your arm out the window and roll down the street with this playing on a nice day.
Qwii – Kolota
San (or “bushmen”) along with Khoi were the original people in South Africa predating the Bantu (Zulu, Xhosa, etc) people in the country by many centuries. I like this recording with polyrhythmic clapping, some sort of zither or harp and what sounds like wordless singing.
Northern Sotho Garage Jazz
Sedjabaledi – Ditabakelo
Though its another one I can’t really describe the style for, I saved one of my favorites for last. Listen to those distorted guitars with awesome horns on top. Listen to the shuffling drums. Fantastic!
If you want to learn more about South African music, a good place to start is the great documentary Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony.Or, of course, wikipedia. The African Renaissance series of compilations are great.