Friday, July 9, 2010

Top 20 South African Songs

So, the World Cup 2010 is coming to an end with the Finals being played in a couple of days. For about a month, the entire world has turned its attention to South Africa and, in the process, we have learned more about this country's rich culture and convulsive history - from Apartheid to Stephen Biko to Nelson Mandela to the World Cup, South Africa has inspired several musicians, not only local but also from around the world, to tell its story. Today, as the World Cup draws to an end, I salute the heritage of this beautiful country. These are my top 20 songs from and about South Africa.

1. Solomon Linda & The Evening Birds - Mbube > The Weavers - Wimoweh > The Tokens - The Lion Sleeps Tonight

"Mbube" (Zulu for "lion") was first recorded by its writer, South African musician Solomon Linda, and his group, the Evening Birds, in 1939. The song became so popular that Mbube lent its name to a style of African a cappella music, though the style has since been mostly replaced by Isicathamiya (a softer version). In November 1951, the American group The Weavers recorded their version entitled "Wimoweh", a mishearing of the original song's chorus of 'uyimbube' (meaning "you're a lion"). 10 years later, the Tokens, an American doo-wop vocal group from Brooklyn, New York, rewrote “Wimoweh” as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", which rose all the way to #1 all over the world. Several artists have covered this version, including Robert John, Tight Fit, and R.E.M., and it was used in the both the film and stage versions of Disney's The Lion King.

2. Peter Gabriel - Biko

"Biko" is about Stephen Biko, a noted black South African anti-apartheid activist. Biko had been arrested by the South African police in late August 1977. After being held in custody for several days, he was interrogated at Walmer Street prison in Port Elizabeth. Following the interrogation, during which he sustained serious head injuries, Biko was transferred to a prison in Pretoria, where he died shortly afterwards, on September 12, 1977. Peter Gabriel often plays the song at the end of concerts, encouraging the audience to join in the singing, and eventually leaving only the drummer on stage. The album version of the song is bookended by a recording of the South African song “Senzeni Na?” as sung at Biko’s funeral.

3. Miriam Makeba - Pata Pata

Recorded in 1967, “Pata Pata” peaked at #12 in the Billboard Hot 100 and has since been covered by many artists. Originally written and sung in the Xlosa language by Makeba, the song's title means "touch touch" in English.

4. Shakira & Freshlyground- Waka Waka (Time for Africa)

“Waka Waka”, which samples the chorus of the 1986 Cameroonian hit song "Zangaléwa", by Cameroonian band Golden Sounds, features Afro-Colombian instrumentation, Soca beat and South African guitars as well as one of the most acclaimed South African bands, Freshlyground.

5. Toto - Africa

“Africa” was co-written by David Paich and Jeff Poccaro. On writing the song, David Paich says the following: "At the beginning of the '80s I watched a late night documentary on TV about all the terrible suffering of the people in South Africa. It both moved and appalled me and the pictures just wouldn't leave my head. I tried to imagine how I'd feel about if I was there and what I'd do."

6. Artists United Against Apartheid - Sun City

"Sun City" is a 1985 protest song written by “Little” Steven Van Zandt and recorded by Artists United Against Apartheid to convey opposition to the South African policy of Apartheid. A wide array of artists, including Little Steven, Bruce Springsteen, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Bono, Peter Gabriel, Pat Benatar, Joey Ramone, Hall & Oates, Lou Reed, Run DMC and The Rolling Stones, participated in both the video and the recording of the song.

7. K'Naan & David Bisbal – Wavin’ Flag (The Celebration Mix)

Somali-Canadian artist K'naan specially recorded a version of this song for the FIFA World Cup, hosted by South Africa. The remix of "Wavin' Flag" is part of Coca-Cola's global integrated marketing campaign "inspired by the joyous dance celebrations familiar to Africa." 20 different versions of "Wavin' Flag (The Celebration Mix)" have been made, some bilingual as in English/Spanish, or English/Arabic or English/Portuguese and many times with amended English language lyrics and often with different musical arrangements.

8. Dave Matthews Band - Cry Freedom

"Cry Freedom" is a song about finding equality among everyone - despite the "gold that divide us" and "the fear that divide us". Dave Matthews was born in South Africa and spent some of his childhood there as well. During Apartheid in South Africa, all people were legally classified into one of four racial groups: white, black, colored, and Indian. The racial categories into which people were placed determined whether they could vote or own land; the jobs they could hold; the schools they could attend; where they could live, eat or play; and the people they could marry. Written in part for the murdered anti-Apartheid movement leader, Stephen Biko, "Cry Freedom" exemplifies the inspiration that swelled in Dave Matthews' soul.

9. Seether & Amy Lee - Broken

Seether is a rock band from Pretoria, South Africa, formed in 1999. Originally named Saron Gas, they changed their name in 2002, in honor of Veruca Salt's song "Seether". This version of “Broken” features Amy Lee of Evanescence who would later start dating Seether’s vocalist, Shaun Morgan.

10. Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Blinded by the Light.

In 1961, strongly opposed to the Apartheid system in his native South Africa, Johannesburg keyboard virtuoso Manfred Mann re-located to the United Kingdom to form his Manfred Mann and his Manfred Mann's Earth Band bands. Although spanning a lengthy career with several well known songs, including “Do Wah Diddy” and “The Mighty Queen”, his greatest success to date is this 1971 Bruce Springsteen cover.

11. Johnny Clegg & Savuka - Asimbonanga

Savuka was a band formed in 1986 by English-born South African musician Johnny Clegg, known as the White Zulu, after the disbanding of his first band, Juluka. Both of his bands were inter-racial in the racially segregated Apartheid South Africa. “Asimbonanga” ("We Have Not Seen Him") is a musical tribute to former South African president Nelson Mandela.

12. Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Paul Simon - Diamonds in the Sole of Her Feet

Paul Simon's “Graceland” album features an eclectic mixture of musical styles including pop, a cappella, isicathamiya, rock, and mbaqanga. Much of the album was recorded in South Africa, and it features many South African musicians and groups. The worldwide success of the album introduced some of the musicians, especially the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to global audiences of their own.

13. Youssou N'Dour - New Africa

Youssou N'Dour is one of the most celebrated African musicians in history. A renowned singer, songwriter, and composer, Youssou's mix of traditional Senegalese mbalax with eclectic influences ranging from Cuban samba to hip hop, jazz, and soul has won him an international fan base of millions. N'Dour has associated himself with several social and political issues. In 1985, he organized a concert for the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and this song was written for such occasion.

14. Tracy Chapman - Freedom Now

In 1988, the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert at London's Wembley Stadium was a focal point of the anti-Apartheid movement, with many musicians voicing their support for Mandela. At that concert, Tracy Chapman performed "Freedom Now", a song dedicated to Mandela which was later released on her album Crossroads.

15. Freshlyground - Doo Be Doo

Freshlyground is a South African Afro-fusion band that was formed in Cape Town in 2002. The band members are from South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

16. Via Afrika - Hey Boy

Via Afrika erupted on to the South African music scene in the early 1980’s. Singer Rene Veldsman says "We were banned on radio – something to do with the lyrics of “Hey Boy”. They, the broadcasting authorities, didn't understand! The music was happening and it was changing. It's so funny to think back that the people in power really thought they had it welded."

17. Zola - Ghetto Scandalous

Kwaito is a South African urban genre of music. It emerged post-Apartheid and amidst the numerous political and social changes that were occurring, including but not limited to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, and South Africa's first democratic election in 1994.[1] Through his lyricism, it is evident that Zola is proud of many of his country's unique languages, but especially Afrikaans.

18. Rabbitt - Locomotive Breath

Rabbitt were a South African rock band formed in 1972, evolving from a band called The Conglomeration, consisting of members (Trevor Rabin, Duncan Faure, Ronnie Robot, and Neil Cloud). Their successes included making it to the top of the South African charts with the hit "Locomotive Breath", a Jethro Tull cover. Rabbitt broke up in 1978. Rabin would later become a member of Yes, and Faure went on to join the Bay City Rollers.

19. Gepy & Gepy - African Love Song

The artist behind Gepy & Gepy is Giampiero Scalamogna, an italian producer who had a significant success in the 70's thanks to works for famous italian pop artists like Patty Pravo and Ornella Vanoni. In 1979 he decided to try an experiment brushing up his rhythm & blues roots when he performed as vocalist and musician in UK clubs, so came out this song which was his greatest success.

20. The Specials AKA - Free Nelson Mandela

This song contributed to making Mandela a cause célèbre in the United Kingdom in the early 80’s, and became popular with anti-Apartheid activists in South Africa.

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