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One of the biggest success stories of our 20 years of democracy is the growth of the music industry. From the numerous festivals to the success of independent labels to the flourishing of original music and the death of the cover band culture, South African music is thriving. Testament to that is the fact that the South African Music Awards is the biggest entertainment event on the calendar. Oppikoppi attracts 20 000 alternative rockers. The recent Cape Town International Jazz Festival attracted 30 000 people. The examples are many. In celebration of the success of South African music over the past 20 years, Tonight compiled a list of the 20 most influential songs. These songs are not necessarily based on sales, they are the songs that have helped to change and mould South African culture.
Arthur: Kaffir (1994)
Released 18 months into our democracy, this controversial song was immediately a hit with the youth. It was banned on a few radio stations because of the title of the track. The idea behind it was a celebration of being released from the shackles of apartheid, with the lyrics: Hey, baas, don’t call me kaffir. It also helped solidify the idea of the kwaito movement as the bad boys of the music industry, and brought the sound into the mainstream media. All for supposedly the wrong reasons.
Boom Shaka: Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (1997)
They caused great consternation when they performed this song at the Samas in 1998. They claimed they wanted the youth to learn the words to the song, and a kwaito version of the track was the way to go.
The outrageous on-stage gyrating of Thembi Seete and Lebo Mathosa, combined with their wild, skimpy dress sense, had the elders wailing and gnashing their teeth. However, they resonated with the youth and signified the dawning of political, social and cultural freedom. The fresh sound, with Junior’s ragga rapping and Theo’s pretty voice, was at the forefront of kwaito.
Brasse vannie Kaap: Potjiekos (2001)
They were the first group to rap in slang Afrikaans, and surprisingly took the rock world by storm. The song was released on their groundbreaking Yskoud album in 2000. For a while they were all the rage on the rock festival scene from Oppikoppi to Splashy Fen. These hip hop artists, consisting of Ready D, Mr Fat and their breakdancers, inspired future rappers like Die Antwoord and Jack Parow.
Brenda Fassie: Vulindela (1997)
No list of songs is complete without a Ma Brrr song. Almost 10 years after the release of Weekend Special, South Africa’s favourite diva outsold every other artist in the country with this mammoth hit. The song confirmed her status as music royalty and one of the biggest stars on the African continent. It also influenced a range of aspiring young female artists.
Fokofpolisiekar: Hemel van die Platteland (2004)
The closest music with Afrikaans lyrics got to this kind of anarchy was Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie by Koos Kombuis in 1994. Fokof burst on to the scene in 2004 with Francois van Coke vomiting on stage and Wynand Myburgh’s famous scissors kick. They had a creative code that was uncompromisingly Afrikaans in lyrics, but at the same time flew in the face of the conservative Afrikaans culture.
This song led to the Belville movement,with artists like Die Heuwels Fantasties. It was finally cool to make real rock music in Afrikaans.
Goldfish: Soundtracks and Comebacks (2008)
South Africa is the only place where house music is played on daytime mainstream radio, and among the many leaders of the pack are Goldfish.
Their album, Perceptions of Pascha, from which this big hit comes, was released on the world famous dance label, Pascha. This also led to the group flying the South African flag at Ibiza on a yearly basis. In fact, they perform more outside the country than in the country. Their unique jazz dance sound, which combines saxophones and double bass live on stage, has spread around the world.
Lebo Mathosa: I Love Music 2004
This was her last big hit and was a beautiful requiem at her funeral. Lebo Mathosa was born to be famous. Her work ethic when it came to live performance turned her into one of the best live artists of the past 20 years.
From her outrageous days in Boom Shaka, and those costumes and dance moves, she evolved into a sophisticated musician at the forefront of fashion both on and off stage. This song is a fitting tribute by a South African icon, summarising her wonderful, glamorous life. She died too early – on October 23, 2006, aged 29.
Mafikizolo: Ndihamba Nawe (2003)
The reinvention of Afro pop took place when Oskido suggested to the threesome on the Kalawa Jazmee label that they remake traditional wedding songs with dance beats. The country went crazy and the group sold more than 100 000 units within six weeks of the release of Kwela.This sound led to the likes of Malaika and Ntando enjoying massive success. Eleven years later, Mafikizolo have reinvented their sound with their hits Khona and Happiness, using more west African beats and chanting.
Mandoza: Nkalakatha (2000)
To this day, white people everywhere automatically stick out their booties whenever they hear this song. It is kind of the only song that makes them feel black. It remains the biggest crossover song of the past 20 years, and gave Mandoza an extra five years with his career – mostly because he was the only authentic black artist that corporate white South Africa knew. Apparently, it made their presentations and launches edgier.
Mdu: Tsiki Tsiki Yo (1994)
The godfather of kwaito’s biggest hit. This was the time when not many lyrics were needed in kwaito songs. He along with Spikiri basically invented the genre when they collaborated on a project in 1989. They released only two albums before they split. Mdu’s unique sound was epitomised in this song. It had vast space within the arrangements and was very catchy. Twenty years later it still packs the dance floors when it is played.
Morafe: The Whole Thang (2004)
The Motswako movement exploded when Morafe (including a young Khuli Chana) released this track. It took Motswako from North West to the streets of Soweto and the taverns of Khayelitsha. This song was a breakthrough, opening the commercial doors for people like JR and HHP.
The Parlotones: Giant Mistake 2008
This indie rock/pop band are the only South African musicians to have the confidence to play the Coca Cola Dome. They not only booked it, they filled it too. No one, not Hugh Maseskela, not the Kalawa Jazmee crew has even dared to think to do this as the Coca Cola Dome is seen as the domain of international artists.
This is testament to just how popular are. Giant Mistake was their first big hit and with lyrics that resonate with all music fans, it certainly affirmed their presence on the South African music map.
Seether: 69 Tea (2000)
This song was from their debut album, Fragile. Its mournful lyrics epitomised the grunge depression of the Doctor Martens-wearing youth at the time. The song also helped them sign to Wind Up Records in the US, and within months they had moved there. They have sold over 3 million units.
On their return tour late last year, it was apparent that 69 Tea was still an anthem among their myriad South African fans.
Skeem: Waar Was Jy? (1996)
This was the first song that gave kwaito real lyrics and not just one-word repeats. The song also paid tribute to South African songs from the past and really showed Ishmael’s singing ability. He would go on to a solo career as an R&B singer, rapper and producer and a member of rap group Jozi.
Skwatta Kamp: uMoya (2003)
This song is credited with taking the bubbling underground Jozi rap scene into the commercial realm. Taken from the platinum selling album, Mkhukhu Funkshen, uMoya had a stirring video. The ethereal chorus mixed with deep African traditional male voices is still a winner today.
Springbok Nude Girls: Bubblegum On My Boots (1995)
It heralded the beginning of the rock revolution in South Africa. In spite of its stripped-down production, this anarchic song managed to be playlisted on mainstream radio.
The Nudies, as their fans fondly call them, were and still are a band like no other. With the magnificent voice of lead singer Arno Carstens, the metal rock guitaring of Theo Crous, and the trumpet and keyboards of Adriaan Brand, their sound was as fresh and exciting as our brand new democracy.
TKZee: Dlala Mapantsula (1999)
After the big singles, Shibobo and Phalafala, TKZee released Halloween and redefined the kwaito genre. With songs like their hit Dlala Mapantsula they bought expert production and a much bigger sound. This song had lyrical impact with the clever rhymes of wordsmiths Tokollo, Kabelo and Zwai Bala.
The song and the album were produced by the three of them. All three would go on to carve successful solo careers.
Trompies: Sigiya Ngengoma (1994)
This foursome of pantsula-dancing kwaito stars burst on to the music scene with this big track. It marked the arrival of Mahoota, Spikiri, Eugene Mthethwa and Jairos. They would go on to form Kalawa Jazmee, which 20 years later is the most influential and relevant record label in the country.
From the invention of kwaito to the modernisation of Afro pop and the development of a production powerhouse, they have moulded modern South African music and made it their own.
T’Zozo & Professor: Woza Durban (2005)
With its simple title, this song heralded the dominance of the Durban kwaito/house sound and paved the way for Tira and his Afrotainment label featuring artists like Big Nuz. This genre has kwaito teetering on the verge of house, and provided a needed injection into the popular genre.
Oddly enough, T’Zozo and Professor, both Durban-born, are not signed to Afrotaiment but are both Kalawa artists.
Zola: Umdlwembe (2001)
This ferocious, vocally charged song changed the face of South African music. Zola brought a hard edge rap to his music. It was testosterone driven, with the song featured later on the award winning Tsotsi soundtrack. But more than that, this song introduced Zola the saviour. He went on to host Zola 7 on SABC1, where he challenged people to help themselves in order for him to help them.
At one stage, during a survey in KZN, it was found that many people trusted Zola above their parents and even their priests.