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Miss Tadey’s Musical Tour of South Africa

May 1, 2015

Ladysmith Black Mambazo are probably the first South African musicians anyone here in America ever heard.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I think music is one of the most important forms of expression ever. In all of my travels and research, music figures heavily and I make a point to find musical experiences wherever I go. As a musician, I can’t help but listen to and analyze the chord structures, intervallic tendencies and cadences of music that are typical for any locale. I marvel at the differences in instrumentation and vocal qualities to be found in foreign lands. Of course, the similarities are often surprising as well.

When we were in Krakow, I enjoyed a jazz club with our TD, Michael. Jazz is a very American style of music that can be heard in many other countries, South Africa included, but is often embellished with localized stylings. In Japan, TAP attended a fantastic Bunraku performance.  Like many other theater productions, live musicians provided a soundtrack to augment the onstage action. However, the sounds we heard were unlike any other I had experienced in theater and helped make the performance, for me at least, a quintessentially Japanese experience.

To prepare for any travel, whether it is with TAP or not, I create a playlist to help get my mind ready for the new experiences I will encounter.  Some pieces I choose because they are local favorites. Others I include because they remind me of previous experiences with travel or the culture I will be exploring. And sometimes, I pick music just because it is fun and exciting for me. Here are a few of my favorites from my South Africa playlist.


My playlist starts with Isicathamiya, because this is the music I most often associate with South Africa. One of my favorite songs to sing when I was younger was Shosholoza, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo did a great version of this song at a Chicago venue in 2012. The music starts 1:50


Of course, Paul Simon’s album, Graceland, features many excellent examples of Ladysmith doing what they do best. The following is a fun version of Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes.  It gives you a chance to see the choreography that typical of Isicathamiya groups and also gives a nice tasting of some of the instrument sounds that can be heard in South African music similar to Zydeco.


Before I leave this fantastic ensemble, I want to share one more track from Graceland. The song Homeless is one of my favorites and really highlights the reason Paul Simon chose to work with Ladysmith. This video and the words of the song refer to the inequalities and poor living conditions of black South Africans. It was, for many American citizens, the first view of the shantytowns that surrounded the cities of South Africa. If you remember from our discussion, Simon broke through the ban on SA and made many members of the music community very angry. In his mind, he was bringing the troubles of the country to light. Do you agree?

Shiyani Ngcobo- Izinyembezi

Shiyani Ngcobo was born in KwaZulu-Natal and taught a fantastic style of guitar playing called Maskanda at the music school in Durban.  Both of his parents were Zulu and his music often uses traditional folk tunes and tells stories of modern day life for the Zulu people. I like his music because even though I don’t understand the lyrics, his singing sounds very conversational to me.


Dave Matthews Band with Hugh Masekela- Proudest Monkey

Dave Matthews is probably one of the most commonly recognized South African musicians in our country. Born in Johannesburg, Matthews’ family moved to New York when he was 2, but returned to Jo’Burg in 1977 after his father’s death.  He attended college in SA but returned to the states upon graduation to avoid conscription into the South African army.  This performance of  Proudest Monkey features an excellent South African trumpeter, Hugh Masekela on the flugelhorn. Masekela has been instrumental (no pun intended) in the South African jazz movement. This song is quite long due to DMB propensity to ‘jam out’ but Masekela makes a wonderful entrance at about 3 minutes in. You don’t really get to hear him play though until 8 minutes have passed. Feel free to scroll forward through the beginning of the video to hear at least the last two minutes of this song.


Sixto Rodriguez- Sugar Man

Sixto Rodriguez is an American artist who lives in Detroit. I am including him in my playlist because of a documentary I watched called Searching for Sugar Man.  Long story short, Rodriguez never gained much fame in the US but his music was widely popular in South Africa during Apartheid. In fact, his music because the anthem for many of South Africa’s people. I think it is amazing that the music was written to protest the poverty of Detroit but the message resonated so strongly with people on the other side of the world.  If you get a chance, find the documentary and watch it. There is a great surprise ending. I might have sobbed like a baby when I watched it. Happy tears, of course.


It might come as a surprise to some you but I am not a morning person. There are few things I enjoy more than sleeping in, snuggled under the covers and as a result, I always need some motivation to get me going in the morning. For the past couple of months, I have been using Kwaito to get me going.

As you know, Kwaito is South African house music. It is very similar to house music here in the states, (same instruments, synthesizers, lyric topics, repetition) but it generally uses much slower tempos. Kwaito has been a pretty perfect soundtrack for my mornings. Here are a few of my favorites.

Kabelo Mabalane- Matimba

Mabalane is a very popular Kwaito artist with his own record label. He has even served as a judge on South Africa’s Got Talent! I like the song Matimba because it has a Latin feel with the horn section and rhythmic signatures.


Thebe- Bulaboot

This song is apparently old school Kwaito from the early 2000s. I don’t really have any idea what the lyrics are trying to say but I do love bopping around my house in the morning sing ‘bulaboot’ over and over and over again. I think this is a celebratory song but from the video, I’m not so sure. Maybe he is happy that even though his car broke down, the stereo still works so he can have a dance party with all of his friends who just happen to be there? What do you think?


DJ Ganyani feat FB- Xigubu

DJ Ganyani has been making music for 20 years but until recently no one knew what he looked like. It’s not because no one heard his music, on the contrary his grooves have received heavy rotation. DJ Ganyani has shied away from public life and focused on his music. He has his own recording studio in Soweto and enjoys his anonymity. Recently however, he has started making videos and is becoming a recognizable face. This song, Xigubu, is sung in his native tongue of Tsonga and means “big drum.” I am drawn to this song because of the female vocalist, FB.

Kwaito is a male dominated genre and I enjoy the addition of the female voice.  However, I like every song of DJ Ganyani’s that I have heard. Another good one is Be There.


Vusi Mahlasela- Basimanyana

We’ve already discussed Vusi Mahlasela during our music presentation but I would be remiss if I didn’t include him in our online discussion as well. We listened to a track called Ubuhle Bomhlaba in which Vusi sang about the beauty of his country. This is an easy way to approach our travels to South Africa. I know we will see the natural splendor of this country while we are on safari, or as we view Cape Town from the top of Table Rock. However, for this post I chose Basimanyana.  This song is about ‘the wisdom of forgiveness and understanding’ and obviously speaks to an important message. Vusi undoubtedly intended his words to relate back to the injustice of South African Apartheid and the need for forgiveness and understanding from both sides of the political coin.


I hope this message can serve as a reminder for us that we are traveling as guests in this country and that we will strive to understand the unique cultures we encounter. Travel should change us.  Last year, when TAP toured Europe we observed the effects of the Holocaust from both sides. That trip taught me the power and importance of forgiveness and understanding. I hope this trip will again allow us to observe these two important skills in action.

It isn’t hard to look at my list and notice some serious holes.  Where is the Marabi or pennywhistle jive? What about South African Jazz or bubblegum? I didn’t even mention Miriam Makeba, or the Soweto Gospel Choir, or Johnny Clegg, or Brenda Fassie or……..  This is your chance. I am asking each TAP travelor to find three songs that are helping you get ready for our grand South African adventure.

Choose wisely, because you may hear your songs again. Each year, with the technical skills of Mr. Doerr, TAP produces daily videos of our travels. Your musical choices for this assignment may become our daily soundtrack. Be sure to include your rationale for each song choice and, if possible, include a video or audio link so we can hear your choices. Maybe you will hear a Vusi Mahlesela song that makes your heart sing or you already love the song Wavin’ Flag and it makes you think of Cape Town.  Maybe you will discover an artist that no one else knows about. Surprise us.

Share your favorite South African music in the comments section below.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian Cottingim permalink
    May 1, 2015 4:28 pm

    Let us get right into it….
    1.) Shakira- Waka Waka
    This is a song from 2010 when South Africa held the FIFA World Cup. There are a couple reasons I like this song, first, who doesn’t like a bit of Shakira? Also, it has a nice upbeat tempo and happy meaning.

    2.) Vusi Mahlasela- Say Africa
    I like the meaning of the song, and the explanation that he gives of “Ubuntu” if you click the link.

    This song has no connection to South Africa (other than being in the FIFA soundtrack), But I would like to point out that I feel like the next song is very similar in the meaning and mood of Vusi’s song,”Say Africa.”
    3.)Michael Franti & Spearhead- Say Hey
    Like I said its very happy, its a reggae pop thing. You will know it when you hear it.

    • Ms. Tadey permalink
      May 12, 2015 8:03 pm

      Brian, can you give some more specific reasons why you chose these pieces of music? What does Waka Waka mean or refer to? Why is “this” Africa? I saw a lot of sports imagery that did inspire me to think of community and team efforts but what made you think specifically of South Africa? As a musician yourself, can you speak to the style, instrumentation, or syncopation? I think of Shakira as a Latin musician typically, why is this selection different?
      I appreciate the Vusi selection, particularly since he is “The Voice” of South Africa but what does it mean to you?
      I like that you included music that is not specifically South African. Can you elaborate on why you made this choice? What about Michael Franti made you think of South Africa?

  2. Stephanie Melendez permalink
    May 4, 2015 4:43 pm

    Vulindlela-Brenda Fassie
    Brenda Fassie was a South African anti-apartheid singer. She was commonly known as the “Queen of African Pop”. She was also known as the “Madonna of the Townships.” Brenda Fassie was a very popular singer in South Africa. Although I have no clue how to say any of the words in this song since it’s sung in Zulu I still find a way to jam out to it every time I listen to it. The meaning of Vulindlela is open the gates. Open the gates was referred to as freedom during the anti-apartheid era.

    Soweto Gospel Choir-Mighty God
    I can’t even describe the feelings I get when listening to the Soweto Gospel Choir. All of their voices just blend perfectly together and the outcome of their voices is almost magical. Let’s just say my heart melts each time I listen to the Soweto Gospel Choir. The Soweto Gospel Choir formed to celebrate the unique and inspirational power of African Gospel music.

    Miriam Makeba-Pata Pata
    Miriam was the first artist from Africa to popularize African music around the world. “Pata Pata” means “Touch Touch” in english. Her most popular song which happens to be “Pata Pata” is very uplifting and just makes me want to get off my feet and dance. This song is so groovy and it just makes me feel happy when I listen to it!

    • Ms. Tadey permalink
      May 12, 2015 8:13 pm

      Really nice selections. We actually listened to this Brenda Fassie piece during our last class meeting. For me, it has a very happy feeling based on the brisk tempo and bright instrumentation. I found that these qualities are very characteristic of South African music, particularly the bubble gum style.
      Do you listen to a lot of Gospel here from the states? How does South African Gospel compare? I loved the imagery of the video from this selection and could think of many locations we will visit that would fit the feelings inspired by this song. What do you think will inspire you on our trip? As we craft our TAP soundtrack, where will this song fit in?
      Pata Pata is such a classic choice, well done. I can’t believe I skipped this during our discussion. What do you think the dance for this song would look like?

  3. Haley Watson permalink
    May 4, 2015 5:08 pm

    The first song I chose was “We Miss You Manelo” by Sello “Chicco” Twala. It’s a bubblegum style song and is a reference Nelson Mandela was still a prisoner at Robben Island when the song came out. The song title used “Manelo” instead of Mandela to get past the censors on SA during the apartheid, in attempt to get his message on the radio.

    The second song I chose was from another Bubblegum band…The song is “Peace in Africa” by the band Splash. Splash was a Soweto township band in the 80’s. Two members of the band ended up being arrested for performing tribute songs to Nelson Mandela.

    The last song I chose was “Changes” by Johannes Kerkorrel. Johannes Kerkorrel’s style of music was named “alternatiewe Afrikaans (Alternative Afrikaans)” during it’s time, but served it’s purpose of exposing divergent political views to Afrikaaners.

    this one is in English, I looked to see if there was a version that wasn’t in English, but I couldn’t find one.

    • May 12, 2015 8:30 pm

      Haley, What a cool surprise to see the Chicco video! I listened to it two times. the first time, I watched the video and was a little shocked by what I saw because it was not at all like what you wrote in your post. However, I followed up with some research and then listened to the song again, without watching the video. What an ingenious way to spread a message amongst a people who are hampered by government policies. This practice was actually quite in South Africa for many years. I think it reinforces the importance of music for the populace and can teach us about the power of musical expression.
      The song by Splash made me laugh a little because it immediately conjured images of Genesis and Phil Collins. In fact, I think all three of your choices are a little retro in their instrumentation and style, which I kinda like. Do you think South Africa will have a modern feel as a country or will it remind you of a retro United States? Should we bring lots of neon clothes and big hair? I think I might have a bottle of aqua net floating around somewhere….

  4. Cameron Smith permalink
    May 4, 2015 6:39 pm

    I really enjoyed the matimba song because of how similar it is to music you might hear in America. The instruments the tone and the beat of the music sounds very familiar to me. even the way the camera moves, pans, and zooms looks like a music video made by an American artist.

  5. Cameron Smith permalink
    May 4, 2015 6:45 pm

    I also really enjoyed basimanyana because it’s so peaceful. The tone of the music only gets slightly more intense later on in the song but not so much where it stops the peaceful feeling I got from this song. It’s the kind of song that I would listen to while I’m falling asleep or when I need to calm down or relax.

  6. Cameron Smith permalink
    May 4, 2015 6:57 pm

    Another song I really enjoy is bulaboot and the reason I really enjoy this one is because it makes me happy. The beat stays consistent through out yet it still kept me entertained till the very end. Unlike basimanyana where it was peaceful bulaboot doesn’t sound peaceful at all its very loud music but the tone it creates is still cheery and puts a smile to my face when I listen to it.

    • May 12, 2015 8:36 pm

      Cameron, I am glad you enjoyed the music and especially pleased that you noticed the different styles represented. I have a feeling we will experience many different emotions on our trip, from elation to excitement, to exhaustion, to enjoyment. Can you provide some examples of music that are not included in the original post that you think might fit some of the emotions or experiences you will encounter on this excursion? It might help to think of something you are really looking forward to, like Table Mountain or the trip to see the local school, and find a song that would make a good soundtrack for that moment. I am excited to hear what you come up with.

  7. Jordan Springer permalink
    May 4, 2015 7:59 pm

    Song 1: Mdlwembe by Zola:
    As shown by the heavy bass and rapped lines, this song is Kwaito. I have fallen in love with Kwaito, as I really enjoy hearing foreign languages with a familiar, hip-hop-like background. In addition to being very catchy, Mdlwembe reminds me of Tsotsi and, more importantly, the less fortunate of South Africa’s townships.

    Song 2: Mbube by Ladysmith Black Mambazo:
    To me, this song represents S.A.’s natural beauty and biodiversity. It also showcases the ability of some of the country’s best artists. In addition to this, Mbube shows just how much South Africa has impacted the U.S., as this is a song that many, if not all, of us have heard before. I heard this song on Pandora and I couldn’t believe that such a memorable song from my childhood was actually related to South Africa.

    Song 3: Nkosi (Sikelela) by Re3d. As this song is listed as explicit by iTunes, I did not include a link. You are welcome to listen to it, as it is entirely in another language and I didn’t hear anything bad, but just be cautious. Secondly, I really don’t recommend listening to the other songs on his album “Biskop and Kwaito” because many are very vulgar and in English. Despite all this, I think that this song is representative of South Africa. I didn’t want to include another Kwaito song, but this one is just too interesting to not point out. Not only do you hear some interesting aspects of an African language, many of the sounds in the background sound like traditional African music. Finally, although I cannot confirm it, I suspect that the song is a modified version of the national anthem: “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica.” I was able to find some Zulu words hidden in the song, but the rest remains a mystery to me.

    Song 4: Gumboot Dancing:
    I included this extra song because we discussed it at the meeting and I didn’t really find it. I couldn’t get this style out of my head. It’s so uniquely South African and complex, yet very simple at the same time. It’s interesting to see how simple claps and stomps can make music.

    • May 12, 2015 8:47 pm

      Let me begin by discussing Mbube. What a great song!! It really has made an impact on our society from the first time it was heard in the states in the early 1900s, to its integration on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, to its resurgence thanks to Disney. I marvel at the number of singing shows on TV now, especially accappella singing shows. There is even a new Pitch Perfect movie coming out. It is kinda cool to think that this all started with some Isicathamiya from South Africa. Which of our upcoming South African experiences do you think will best fit the mood of this song?
      How great that you have found a new style of music in Kwaito. It can be hard sometimes to be a responsible listener when the lyrics don’t match the joy of the beat but I think it speaks to the fact that sometimes, anger, dissension, and a need for change can be expressed in different ways. When I was watching your Gumboot video I got to thinking that the rhythms are similar to some of the sounds from Kwaito. Do you think this is why you like it so much?

  8. Gianna Kriechbaum permalink
    May 11, 2015 4:00 pm

    Alright well lately I’ve been listening to quite a lot of gumboot dancing. Its just so different and exciting and gets me so pumped to go to south Africa. Another song is called “Say Hey”. The man singing it just reminds me of South Africa for some reason. I’ve been listening to this song since I was a little kid with my brother and now I keep listening to it to get into that south African groove. Lastly, I love kwaito music. After doing an article about it and learning plenty of things, I’ve found that this music is quite energetic, while also having that kind of soft feel to it that I find so enjoyable.

  9. Ronnie Stovall permalink
    May 11, 2015 9:18 pm

    The first song I chose was “Bring back Nelson Mandela” this song was written by Hugh Masekela. Hugh Masekela sings well,but is known best for his musical talents of blowing the horn, the trumpet and the flugelhorn. His song Bring Back Nelson Mandela inspired change in the government ,through out the country and apartheid. This song is about just what it says release Nelson Mandela and bring him home .

  10. Ronnie Stovall permalink
    May 12, 2015 4:32 pm

    My second song is from a movie I think everyone at Minooka Tap should know. “The Lion King”. The lion sleeps tonight was originally sang by “Solomon Linda,” But made famous by Disney and “Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Mint Juleps.” It’s an upbeat song, playful song. Solomon was a Zulu migrant where “Mbube” is lion in Zulu. And teaches about the beauty of the land

    The last song I have chosen is a song by Zenzile Miriam Makeba nicknamed Mama Africa I chose her because of her role as a civil right activist and she is to South African music what Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson are to American music. The song I chose specifically is called “The Click Song” In English, but to South Africans it’s called Qongqothwane which is a song played for young girls when getting married. I chose this song because it’s neat and cool how she sings, by making a clicking.

  11. Ronnie Stovall permalink
    May 12, 2015 4:34 pm

    Here is Solomon Linda Original version

  12. Kelsie Stanley permalink
    May 13, 2015 5:24 pm

    The first song I chose is Wena by DJKDrumboss featuring Mpumi. It belongs to the house music genre which seems similar to our American pop style. I really like the exciting, upbeat, happy, celebration feel of it.

    The second song is Soon and Very Soon by Brenda Fassie. This one I thought might have been about Nelson Mandela being released from prison, but I checked the dates and that turned out to be inaccurate. I love the choir in the background of this one; they add so much empowerment.

    The third song is Chill by Gasha featuring Eddy Kenzo. In this song, I was focused on the beat and instruments in the background more than I was on the words. I really like how in modern pop music, they still use traditional sounds and rhythms. It gives it a much more authentic feel compared to the modern pop music we are used to.

  13. erin seymour permalink
    May 13, 2015 8:05 pm

    My first song is Preformed by the amazing Hugh Masekela. He is probably my favorite trumpet player from South Africa. The song is called “Grazing in the Grass”. Hugh started out small and has found the love for music at a young age. He has preformed with many other famous people since then. This song is very South African but reminds me of American Jazz as well. It is very interesting. Here is his masterpiece.

  14. erin seymour permalink
    May 13, 2015 8:13 pm

    My second song is called “Bawo thixo somandla” preformed by world youth choir in South Africa. It is really nice and really relaxing to listen to. They have that South African style that is really nice to listen to and the song is beautiful.

  15. erin seymour permalink
    May 13, 2015 8:30 pm

    My last song is called “Mpiarak’andro. This is a great song. This song is by D’Gary but it is sung by Deenyz Madagascar in this video. It is a happy song that will really lift your spirits. Deenyz Madagascar is a South African singer that sings many other songs on Island Africa Talent.

  16. erin seymour permalink
    May 13, 2015 8:36 pm

    And I also realized that the first videos song in Ms. Tadey’s presentation was in our last Tap movie, Invictus

  17. Hannah Breier permalink
    June 4, 2015 7:34 pm


    This selection is an example of what many traditions were like in South Africa in years past. Of course there are still traditions like this today, however, a lot of music today is like the videos above; more modern. This type of music makes me think of what fun traditions our generation today has missed and how happy the villagers are because of their music!


    My second selection is a Marabi based song. Marabi comes from the apartheid era when the government restricted rules on African americans for nightly curfew. This music was an upbeat tone that not only helped this issue, but made the villagers genuinely happy. Through this genre i can see how bright this must have sounded to the Africans when all they were going through was criticism.


    This is a simple piece by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It is more of a modern, 20th century South Africa Jam. It gives a clue to what a more peaceful South African soundtrack is like!

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