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Weekend Special: The Sunday Times List of the 100 Greatest South African Songs

In their weekend music special, the folks at South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper came out with their list of the 100 greatest South African songs. We looked at the list and agree with many of them, though some important songs have been left out.



 In a country where gospel and Afrikaans music produce both stars and high earners, we didn’t see too many from these categories. And one could argue  that their national anthem Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika is  their greatest song. A song that has the potential to unite such a divided country. Why was it left out? One of the greatest of South African musical exports was Mbube, a song that earned its composer Solomon Linda a small fee in his lifetime,  but was a hit for several groups  in the US as the “Wimoweh” version.

 There are a lot of songs a dedicated lover of South African music  will know on this list. This was their criteria:   1) musical brilliance; 2) popular success; 3) impact on the national mind.

Despite what the list lacks in perhaps a completeness and more illustrative guide to the heart of South African music by going wide and including songs that surely didn’t impact “the national mind” (is there one?) it includes a lot of chart hits, and those songs that got a lot of airplay.

The descriptions of some of the songs are great, and it will be interesting to see if perhaps they come up with an actual CD or mp3 compilation next time round. We are going to have to search high and low for some of the much older songs. Here are a few of the write-ups:


Weekend Special: Brenda Fassie (1983)

There is only one South African song and this is it. It looks backward from the ’80s to the ’70s and calls up a downcast solo dance at the disco; it looks forward from the ’80s to the ’90s and sparks a proto-kwaito block jam. It sidles west with its side-eyeing synth, but gets down in Langa-town with its black-power brazenness. Mabrr’s snarling but vulnerable moue teaches us: we put up with mistreatment from our lovers and go back to them because we need them and they’re beautiful. Like South Africa. – Ben Williams

Waar Was Jy?: Skeem (1994)

Apartheid was newly dead. I started my first year in a white school. Mandela was God in the ‘hood and Boom Shaka gave us Doc Martens, thick braids and denim shorts. In came Ishmael and his two pals, protesting that they were hobos, and asking the elders about their whereabouts during great revolutionary moments like June 16. Cut to a club in 2014: it’s packed with girls clad just like Boom Shaka in ’94, and we dance to Waar Was Jy? Except we’re asking a different question: waar was jy when Skeem was the ish? I was there. I was nine. The question is: waar was JY? –Gabi Mbele


Thath’ Isigubhu: Bongo Maffin (1999)


A tune, and a sound, that we never saw coming: an indefinable mish-mash of genres and languages. Appleseed brought reggae flair, Stoan and Speedy brought rap, and Thandiswa Mazwai brought powerful isiXhosa vocals beyond her years. Soon they were dubbed “The Fugees of SA”. Some lazily called them a kwaito band. They were entirely their own creation. –Andile Ndlovu

Bongo Maffin (Image:Afripop)

Bongo Maffin (Image:Afripop)

To view the entire list: Times Live