The 100 greatest South African songs | TimesLive

From TimesLive

Abdullah Ibrahim - image: Sunday Times
Abdullah Ibrahim – image: Sunday Times

The full 100

Here they are, in chronological order, chosen by a 20-strong panel of LS writers using three criteria: 1) musical brilliance; 2) popular success; 3) impact on the national mind. Some tracks aced one category and flunked the other two, but plenty ticked all three boxes. Which immortal hits have we missed? Tune us the odds at lifestyle@sundaytimes.co.za

1. Phalafala Dolly Rathebe and the Elite Swingsters (1964)

2. Pata Pata Miriam Makeba (written in 1957 with Dorothy Masuka, but a global hit in 1967)

3. Master Jack Four Jacks And A Jill (1968)

4. Yakhal’ Inkomo Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi (1968)

5. For your Precious Love The Flames (1968)

6. The Seagull’s Name Was Nelson Des and Dawn Lindberg (1971)

7. Nomathemba Letta Mbulu (1973)

8. Mama Tembu’s Wedding Margaret Singana (1973)

9. Stimela Hugh Masekela (1974)

10. Mannenberg Abdullah Ibrahim (1974)

11. Charlie Rabbitt (1975)

12. Blues For a Hip King Abdullah Ibrahim (1975)

13. Marabi Malombo (1976)

14. Chocolate Toffee Saitana (1976)

15. Substitute Clout (1978)

16. Universal Men Juluka (1979)

17. ZX Dan The Radio Rats (1979)

18. Jo Bangles Baxtop (1979)

19. Paradise Road Joy (1980)

20. Party Harari (1981)

21. Man on the Moon Ballyhoo (1981)

22. Impi Juluka (1981)

23. The Bushman Steve Kekana (1982)

24. Isiphiwo Soul Brothers (1982)

25. Hey Boy Via Afrika (1983)

26. Shadows éVoid (1983)

27. Weekend Special Brenda Fassie (1983)

28. Shot Down The Cherry Faced Lurchers (1983)

29. See Yourself (Clowns) Ella Mental (1984)

30. Burnout Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse (1984)

31. Is it an Ism or is it Art? Niki Daly (1984)

32. Jabulani Hotline featuring PJ Powers (1984)

33. I’m in Love with a DJ Yvonne Chaka Chaka (1985)

34. Stimela sazeZola – Mbongeni Ngema (1985)

35. Reggae Vibes is Cool Bernoldus Niemand (1985)

36. This Boy Sweatband (1986)

37. National Madness The Aeroplanes (1986)

38. Change is Pain Mzwakhe Mbuli (1986)

39. Homeless Ladysmith Black Mambazo (1986)

40. Johnny Calls the Chemist Falling Mirror (1986)

41. Now or Never Sankomota (1987)

42. Ten Ten Special African Jazz Pioneers (1987)

43. Scatterlings of Africa Johnny Clegg and Savuka (1987)

44. Weeping Bright Blue (1987)

45. Hillbrow Johannes Kerkorrel (1988)

46. Quick Quick Marcalex (1989)

47. Slave Lucky Dube (1990)

48. Shake Tananas (1990)

49. Special Star Mango Groove (1990)

50. Tomorrow Nation O’Yaba (1991)

51. I’m in Love with a Rastaman Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens (1991)

52. Sarafina! Hugh Masekela (1992)

53. It’s About Time Boom Shaka (1993)

54. The Crossing Johnny Clegg (1993)

55. Mmalo-We Bayete (1994)

56. Never Again Prophets of Da City (1994)

57. When You Come Back Vusi Mahlasela (1994)

58. Waar Was Jy? Skeem (1994)

59. Sea Level Urban Creep (1995)

60. The Child Inside Qkumba Zoo (1995)

61. Kaffir Arthur Mafokate (1995)

62. African Dream Vicky Sampson (1996)

63. Kiss the Machine Battery 9 (1996)

64. Magasman Trompies (1997)

65. Stand in your Way Just Jinger (1997)

66. Fords Nissans Toys en Beetles Brasse vannie Kaap (1997)

67. Shibobo TKZee (1998)

68. Vul’indlela Brenda Fassie (1998)

69. Yehlisan’ Umoya Busi Mhlongo (1998)

70. Sondela Ringo Madlingozi (1999)

71. Thathi Sgubu Bongo Maffin (1999)

72. Blue Eyes Springbok Nude Girls (1999)

73. Genes & Spirits Moses Molelekwa (2000)

74. Born in a Taxi Blk Sonshine (2000)

75. Nkalakatha Mandoza (2000)

76. Afrikaners is Plesierig Karen Zoid (2001)

77. Meisie Meisie Kurt Darren (2001)

78. Ghetto Fabulous Zola & Kaybee (2002)

79. Ndihamba Nawe Mafikizolo (2002)

80. Ayelekile Amasango Ismael (2002)

81. Picture Perfect Perez (2002)

82. Midnight 340ml (2003)

83. Umoya Skwatta Kamp (2003)

84. Nomvula (After the Rain) Freshlyground 2003

85. Destiny Malaika (2004)

86. Nizalwa Ngobani Thandiswa Mazwai (2004)

87. Matofotofo Pitch Black Afro (2004)

88. Akekh’ uGogo Mzekezeke (2005)

89. Whistling in Tongues Felix Laband (2005)

90. De La Rey Bok van Blerk (2006)

91. Sister Bethina Mgarimbe (2006)

92. Feel Good Lira (2007)

93. Bantu Biko Street Simphiwe Dana (2007)

94. Show Dem (Make the Circle Bigger) JR feat Hip-Hop Pantsula (2009)

95. Cooler as Ekke Jack Parow (2010)

96. Enter the Ninja Die Antwoord (2010)

97. Fairytale Liquideep (2010)

98. Tot Die Son Uitkom Van Coke Cartel (2011)

99. Loliwe Zahara (2011)

100. Hosanna The Brother Moves on (2013)

Searching for Malik Bendjelloul – a tragedy revisited | Film | The Observer

In May Swedish film-maker Malik Bendjelloul – who had won an Oscar for his debut, the stunning Searching for Sugar Man – shocked everyone by taking his own life. Talking to the people closest to him, Andrew Anthony tries to make sense of a tragedy.

Malik Bendjelloul photographed in 2012: ‘He had a tremendous personal aura.’ Photograph: Andrew H Walker
Malik Bendjelloul photographed in 2012: ‘He had a tremendous personal aura.’ Photograph: Andrew H Walker

Documentary feature film-making, if done well, is a long, arduous and very often thankless task. There is no script to speak of, no blueprint or guidelines. All there is to work on is the shapeless chaos of the world, or a particular part of the world, out of which the film-maker hopes to fashion a coherent structure, arresting images, compelling characters and a story that excites and touches people. In terms of reaching a large and appreciative audience, it’s almost always a study in failure.

There are, though, a select group of exceptions, narrative documentaries that enjoy critical recognition and the special approval of a cinematic release. One such film was Searching for Sugar Man, a story about Sixto Rodriguez, a forgotten Detroit singer-songwriter from the early 1970s who, unbeknown to him, was a huge star in South Africa during the apartheid era. It was the debut of a young and immensely talented Swedish film-maker named Malik Bendjelloul, who had come across Rodriguez’s story while travelling in Africa, looking for stories to turn into short TV pieces.

So struck was he by the tale of this lost musician that he went off on his own and gathered the material, directed, filmed some sections himself, wrote incidental music, added his own illustrations, made the title sequence and finally edited it for 1,000 days. During filming Bendjelloul ran out of money and, as he could no longer afford Super 8 film, he shot some of the remaining footage on a smartphone using the iPhone app8mm Vintage Camera.

Read more at Searching for Malik Bendjelloul – a tragedy 

Cause It’s the Greatest Last Song Ever Recorded

By Mark Worth ​

Coming From Reality
Coming From Reality

 

One of the most noteworthy final albums ever recorded might never have been made had Steve Rowland not been sitting in the London office of music publisher Freddy Beanstalk one day in the summer of 1970.

Rowland looked on Beanstalk’s desk and saw a copy of an album hardly anyone had ever heard of, by a singer-songwriter from Detroit who was just as obscure. Rowland borrowed Cold Fact and listened to it.

“I said to Freddy, is this guy Rodriguez gonna do another album? Because if he is, I’d like to get in line and be the producer. I really, really am into this,” Rowland recalls telling Beanstalk.

“Freddy said, ‘Be my guest, man, because nobody’s really interested.’ I said, well, I don’t understand that, because this guy is great.”

That fall, Rodriguez was on a plane to London. Within three weeks of meeting him for the first time, Rowland had put together Coming from Reality, Rodriguez’s second and final record. The closing track, “Cause,” was the last song Rodriguez would ever record for an album.

Rowland, who has produced more than 20 albums and dozens of singles that span the musical spectrum, says “Cause” is the saddest song he’s ever heard – sad enough to have made his girlfriend at the time, actress Sally Farmiloe, cry when she heard Rodriguez record it in the studio.

Forty years later, “Cause” nearly brought Rowland himself to tears while being interviewed for the documentary Searching for Sugar Man. The profile of Rodriguez elevated to international fame the near-destitute construction worker whose two albums were total failures in the US, only to learn nearly 30 years later that he was a superstar in South Africa whose anti-establishment lyrics helped bring down Apartheid.

The “Cause” scene is one of the Oscar-winning film’s most lasting moments: Rowland, sitting in his home in Palm Springs, California, plays the song for filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul. Rodriguez’s opening line – Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas – visibly stuns Rowland as though hearing the song for the first time. He manages only to shake his head and say, “Oh, man…”.

After collecting himself, he explains that Rodriguez was dropped from his record label shortly after Coming from Reality was released in 1971 – “as if premonition,” Rowland says, two weeks before Christmas.

A song that is held between happenstance and genius, “Cause” has become the five-and-a-half-minute, 239-word anthem for the improbable, almost impossible story of Sixto Diaz Rodriguez.

Setting Sail into a Teardrop

The 10 tracks on Coming from Reality were recorded in the fall of 1970 at London’s Lansdowne Studios, which has also hosted the likes of John Lennon, Maynard Ferguson, Rod Stewart, Sex Pistols and Rowland’s own band, Family Dogg. The studios had been installed inside a former underground squash court with thick walls 20 feet high.

“When the studio was built they didn’t tear those walls down, so the sound in that studio was completely original. You would get a sound that nobody else had. Lansdowne was known for that,” says Rowland. “It provided the overall ambience of the whole album, and you can hear it especially on ‘Cause’. There’s a majestic quality to it, and it comes from that studio.

“I suppose today, with all the digital stuff, you could probably re-create the sound. But nothing is as good as natural.”

Lansdowne, since closed, wasn’t far from Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles recorded their final album track a year earlier. “The End” evokes emotion with hope: And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. “Cause” does it with despair:

Cause they told me everybody’s got to pay their dues

And I explained that I had overpaid them…

So I set sail in a teardrop and escaped beneath the doorsill

Cause the smell of her perfume echoes in my head still

It was lyrics like this that moved Rowland to produce “Cause” and the rest of Coming from Reality in a way that completely went against the grain during that era.

With the advent of concept albums and new technologies – not to mention lavish studio budgets – many bands would spend months or even years working on a record. Instrumental tracks were obsessively laid over each other to the point that the instruments drowned out the vocals. An experienced actor who placed a high value on the spoken word, Rowland made sure Rodriguez’s lyrics stood out from the music – so that every word was discernable.

“We tried to get a dramatic effect without overpowering the vocal. That’s so important. Because for my money, good production is: less is more.”

The only music that can be heard on “Cause,” in fact, are Rodriguez’s gentle picking and strumming on his converted, hollow-sounding classical guitar, and a simple, undulating string arrangement composed by a young violinist named Jimmy Horowitz.

“We worked a long time on ‘Cause’. The strings were written and recorded to match Rodriguez’s vocal,” Rowland said. “He seemed to be completely thrilled with what was coming out. He loved those arrangements.”

The strings are orchestrated to coincide so closely with Rodriguez’s lyrics that they can actually influence how you hear the song. Horowitz’s arrangement begins to soar lightly just as Rodriguez sings the line, And give a medal to replace the son of Mrs. Annie Johnson. The gently rising strings conjure the first glimpse of a sunrise, so subconsciously you may hear sun instead of son. The orchestration and melody reach a calming resolution, as though the sun has finally climbed above the horizon.

After this moment passes, you realize what Rodriguez is saying. The government gave Mrs. Johnson a medal because her son had been killed in the Vietnam War.

“Rodriguez is saying it in a sardonic tone, but it’s a front for how he really feels. He’s being very sardonic and cynical. Yeah, give a medal to a mother for the son she lost in Vietnam,” says Rowland. “What he’s really feeling is: how can a country do something like that? The country had no feeling for the actual person himself.”

The juxtaposition of the music and the message brings more power to both. “The arrangement is the complete opposite of the lyrics, and that’s how we looked at it,” Rowland said. “Rodriguez loved it, and it worked.”

Drowning the Sun

The son of a film director and great-nephew of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, Rowland was a teen star during the 1950s, appearing in TV’s Bonanza and The Rifleman, and a number films including Battle of the Bulge and the original The Thin Red Line.

After crossing over into music in the ’60s, he went on to produce a string of hit acts including Jerry Lee Lewis, The Pretty Things, P.J. Proby and the British pop band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, which charted 13 Top 10 hits. Rowland discovered Peter Frampton and The Cure, worked with Elton John when he was a young session pianist named Reggie Dwight, and had a hit single with his band Family Dogg – the choralized, minimalist “Sympathy.”

It would take an effort on the scale of producing Coming from Reality to overshadow what Rowland achieved at Olympic Studios in London the previous year. In September 1969 he was producing Proby’s album Three Week Hero when Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham played on the psychedelic-tinged “Jim’s Blues.” It was the first occasion all four members of Led Zeppelin, then known as the New Yardbirds and barely into their 20s, performed together in the studio. Days later, they began recording their eponymous first album.

Though he had worked with many musical greats and was himself a top-selling performer, Rowland was aware that the unknown but sheerly gifted Rodriguez would present him with a new set of creative openings and tests.

Rodriguez arrived in London with his manager/girlfriend at the time, Rainy Moore. (The story goes that the album was named spontaneously when Moore was asked where Rodriguez was coming from.) At that first meeting, Rowland remembers, both he and Rodriguez were on guard.

“I was apprehensive about the whole thing because I wanted to do the album so badly. I wanted to make sure that he believed in me as a producer. But when we started to talk, he was very shy, quiet, very introspective. He’s an intellectual. He thinks before he speaks. He’s not a guy who is outgoing. I guess he was trying to suss me out as well.”

Despite having worked and crossed paths with Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Fonda, James Dean and many other legendary figures, Rowland confesses he was star-struck by Rodriguez.

“We as artists and creators have our heroes, too. And we get just as awe-inspired by our heroes as people who aren’t in the business get inspired by big movie stars or rock stars or sports stars,” says Rowland. “And when you meet them, you know, it’s always overwhelming. Well, that’s how it was for me with Rodriguez, because I really, really was into the way he was writing. I was into the way he thought.”

Within a day or two, when Rowland and Rodriguez began going through the songs together, the barriers fell and the two began an intense collaboration. “I said when we were in the studio, let us – in music – show the guy’s soul. Let’s show what this man really is,” says Rowland. “How can I make this guy felt in the music? That was my main objective. How can I get people to feel him?”

In “Cause,” Rodriguez reveals his soul through wrenching lyrics about lost loves, despondent friends, resignation and drugs:

While the rain drank champagne / My Estonian Archangel came and got me wasted
Cause the sweetest kiss I ever got is the one I’ve never tasted…

Cause I see my people trying to drown the sun in weekends of whiskey sours
Cause how many times can you wake up in this comic book and plant flowers?

Rowland, in a way few others have, came know and understand the aloof Rodriguez, the son of Mexican immigrants who earned most of his living demolishing buildings and who reportedly lives in the same broken-down house he bought in the 1970s for $50.

“Sadness can be contained within a whole life of a person, and even some of the happiness that a person remembers in that life makes them sad as well, because it’s no longer there for them,” Rowland said. “This is how I approached Rodriguez. Because I felt, you know, here’s a guy, he lives in Detroit, which is not what you would call a paradise of the world. It’s a hard life in Detroit, and he’s lived in the same house since he was a young guy. He’s seen lots of ups and downs – probably mostly downs.”

Take Rodriguez’s lyrics, which alternate from rebellious to playful to despondent to romantic. Lay on top of this a life story that embodies these lyrics. Now, form all this into songs with melodies and structures that don’t cheapen any of it. For Rowland, producing Coming from Reality was more than a creative exercise. This became a personal responsibility – even a duty to the artist known as Rodriguez.

“I did put a lot of myself into it because I was really knocked out by what he was talking about. I believed in it that much. But actually,” says Rowland, “because I believed in him so much, nothing we did was challenging. It just flowed. I could hear it in my head.”

Perhaps because Rowland could visualize the sound and feel of the album, no song needed more than two takes to get right. The entire album was recorded in about 10 days.

It was 10 days that pushed Rowland to create something that lived up to his image, his idealized portrait, of Rodriguez.

“I wanted to make sure…,” said Rowland, pausing, “It was very important to me that I did the best I could with this man, and that I brought out everything that I saw and felt in the way he writes and sings – that I could bring that out in the record. Each one of those songs was made to give a feeling to Rodriguez. It had to be real, and I would do it again today the same way.”

Cause It’s the Greatest Last Song Ever Recorded

How Steve Rowland Produced the Real Rodriguez on “Coming from Reality”

By Mark Worth ​

Coming From Reality
Coming From Reality

 

One of the most noteworthy final albums ever recorded might never have been made had Steve Rowland not been sitting in the London office of music publisher Freddy Beanstalk one day in the summer of 1970.

Rowland looked on Beanstalk’s desk and saw a copy of an album hardly anyone had ever heard of, by a singer-songwriter from Detroit who was just as obscure. Rowland borrowed Cold Fact and listened to it.

“I said to Freddy, is this guy Rodriguez gonna do another album? Because if he is, I’d like to get in line and be the producer. I really, really am into this,” Rowland recalls telling Beanstalk.

“Freddy said, ‘Be my guest, man, because nobody’s really interested.’ I said, well, I don’t understand that, because this guy is great.”

That fall, Rodriguez was on a plane to London. Within three weeks of meeting him for the first time, Rowland had put together Coming from Reality, Rodriguez’s second and final record. The closing track, “Cause,” was the last song Rodriguez would ever record for an album.

Rowland, who has produced more than 20 albums and dozens of singles that span the musical spectrum, says “Cause” is the saddest song he’s ever heard – sad enough to have made his girlfriend at the time, actress Sally Farmiloe, cry when she heard Rodriguez record it in the studio.

Forty years later, “Cause” nearly brought Rowland himself to tears while being interviewed for the documentary Searching for Sugar Man. The profile of Rodriguez elevated to international fame the near-destitute construction worker whose two albums were total failures in the US, only to learn nearly 30 years later that he was a superstar in South Africa whose anti-establishment lyrics helped bring down Apartheid.

The “Cause” scene is one of the Oscar-winning film’s most lasting moments: Rowland, sitting in his home in Palm Springs, California, plays the song for filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul. Rodriguez’s opening line – Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas – visibly stuns Rowland as though hearing the song for the first time. He manages only to shake his head and say, “Oh, man…”.

After collecting himself, he explains that Rodriguez was dropped from his record label shortly after Coming from Reality was released in 1971 – “as if premonition,” Rowland says, two weeks before Christmas.

A song that is held between happenstance and genius, “Cause” has become the five-and-a-half-minute, 239-word anthem for the improbable, almost impossible story of Sixto Diaz Rodriguez.

Setting Sail into a Teardrop

The 10 tracks on Coming from Reality were recorded in the fall of 1970 at London’s Lansdowne Studios, which has also hosted the likes of John Lennon, Maynard Ferguson, Rod Stewart, Sex Pistols and Rowland’s own band, Family Dogg. The studios had been installed inside a former underground squash court with thick walls 20 feet high.

“When the studio was built they didn’t tear those walls down, so the sound in that studio was completely original. You would get a sound that nobody else had. Lansdowne was known for that,” says Rowland. “It provided the overall ambience of the whole album, and you can hear it especially on ‘Cause’. There’s a majestic quality to it, and it comes from that studio.

“I suppose today, with all the digital stuff, you could probably re-create the sound. But nothing is as good as natural.”

Lansdowne, since closed, wasn’t far from Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles recorded their final album track a year earlier. “The End” evokes emotion with hope: And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. “Cause” does it with despair:

Cause they told me everybody’s got to pay their dues

And I explained that I had overpaid them…

So I set sail in a teardrop and escaped beneath the doorsill

Cause the smell of her perfume echoes in my head still

It was lyrics like this that moved Rowland to produce “Cause” and the rest of Coming from Reality in a way that completely went against the grain during that era.

With the advent of concept albums and new technologies – not to mention lavish studio budgets – many bands would spend months or even years working on a record. Instrumental tracks were obsessively laid over each other to the point that the instruments drowned out the vocals. An experienced actor who placed a high value on the spoken word, Rowland made sure Rodriguez’s lyrics stood out from the music – so that every word was discernable.

“We tried to get a dramatic effect without overpowering the vocal. That’s so important. Because for my money, good production is: less is more.”

The only music that can be heard on “Cause,” in fact, are Rodriguez’s gentle picking and strumming on his converted, hollow-sounding classical guitar, and a simple, undulating string arrangement composed by a young violinist named Jimmy Horowitz.

“We worked a long time on ‘Cause’. The strings were written and recorded to match Rodriguez’s vocal,” Rowland said. “He seemed to be completely thrilled with what was coming out. He loved those arrangements.”

The strings are orchestrated to coincide so closely with Rodriguez’s lyrics that they can actually influence how you hear the song. Horowitz’s arrangement begins to soar lightly just as Rodriguez sings the line, And give a medal to replace the son of Mrs. Annie Johnson. The gently rising strings conjure the first glimpse of a sunrise, so subconsciously you may hear sun instead of son. The orchestration and melody reach a calming resolution, as though the sun has finally climbed above the horizon.

After this moment passes, you realize what Rodriguez is saying. The government gave Mrs. Johnson a medal because her son had been killed in the Vietnam War.

“Rodriguez is saying it in a sardonic tone, but it’s a front for how he really feels. He’s being very sardonic and cynical. Yeah, give a medal to a mother for the son she lost in Vietnam,” says Rowland. “What he’s really feeling is: how can a country do something like that? The country had no feeling for the actual person himself.”

The juxtaposition of the music and the message brings more power to both. “The arrangement is the complete opposite of the lyrics, and that’s how we looked at it,” Rowland said. “Rodriguez loved it, and it worked.”

Drowning the Sun

The son of a film director and great-nephew of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, Rowland was a teen star during the 1950s, appearing in TV’s Bonanza and The Rifleman, and a number films including Battle of the Bulge and the original The Thin Red Line.

After crossing over into music in the ’60s, he went on to produce a string of hit acts including Jerry Lee Lewis, The Pretty Things, P.J. Proby and the British pop band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, which charted 13 Top 10 hits. Rowland discovered Peter Frampton and The Cure, worked with Elton John when he was a young session pianist named Reggie Dwight, and had a hit single with his band Family Dogg – the choralized, minimalist “Sympathy.”

It would take an effort on the scale of producing Coming from Reality to overshadow what Rowland achieved at Olympic Studios in London the previous year. In September 1969 he was producing Proby’s album Three Week Hero when Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham played on the psychedelic-tinged “Jim’s Blues.” It was the first occasion all four members of Led Zeppelin, then known as the New Yardbirds and barely into their 20s, performed together in the studio. Days later, they began recording their eponymous first album.

Though he had worked with many musical greats and was himself a top-selling performer, Rowland was aware that the unknown but sheerly gifted Rodriguez would present him with a new set of creative openings and tests.

Rodriguez arrived in London with his manager/girlfriend at the time, Rainy Moore. (The story goes that the album was named spontaneously when Moore was asked where Rodriguez was coming from.) At that first meeting, Rowland remembers, both he and Rodriguez were on guard.

“I was apprehensive about the whole thing because I wanted to do the album so badly. I wanted to make sure that he believed in me as a producer. But when we started to talk, he was very shy, quiet, very introspective. He’s an intellectual. He thinks before he speaks. He’s not a guy who is outgoing. I guess he was trying to suss me out as well.”

Despite having worked and crossed paths with Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Fonda, James Dean and many other legendary figures, Rowland confesses he was star-struck by Rodriguez.

“We as artists and creators have our heroes, too. And we get just as awe-inspired by our heroes as people who aren’t in the business get inspired by big movie stars or rock stars or sports stars,” says Rowland. “And when you meet them, you know, it’s always overwhelming. Well, that’s how it was for me with Rodriguez, because I really, really was into the way he was writing. I was into the way he thought.”

Within a day or two, when Rowland and Rodriguez began going through the songs together, the barriers fell and the two began an intense collaboration. “I said when we were in the studio, let us – in music – show the guy’s soul. Let’s show what this man really is,” says Rowland. “How can I make this guy felt in the music? That was my main objective. How can I get people to feel him?”

In “Cause,” Rodriguez reveals his soul through wrenching lyrics about lost loves, despondent friends, resignation and drugs:

While the rain drank champagne / My Estonian Archangel came and got me wasted
Cause the sweetest kiss I ever got is the one I’ve never tasted…

Cause I see my people trying to drown the sun in weekends of whiskey sours
Cause how many times can you wake up in this comic book and plant flowers?

Rowland, in a way few others have, came know and understand the aloof Rodriguez, the son of Mexican immigrants who earned most of his living demolishing buildings and who reportedly lives in the same broken-down house he bought in the 1970s for $50.

“Sadness can be contained within a whole life of a person, and even some of the happiness that a person remembers in that life makes them sad as well, because it’s no longer there for them,” Rowland said. “This is how I approached Rodriguez. Because I felt, you know, here’s a guy, he lives in Detroit, which is not what you would call a paradise of the world. It’s a hard life in Detroit, and he’s lived in the same house since he was a young guy. He’s seen lots of ups and downs – probably mostly downs.”

Take Rodriguez’s lyrics, which alternate from rebellious to playful to despondent to romantic. Lay on top of this a life story that embodies these lyrics. Now, form all this into songs with melodies and structures that don’t cheapen any of it. For Rowland, producing Coming from Reality was more than a creative exercise. This became a personal responsibility – even a duty to the artist known as Rodriguez.

“I did put a lot of myself into it because I was really knocked out by what he was talking about. I believed in it that much. But actually,” says Rowland, “because I believed in him so much, nothing we did was challenging. It just flowed. I could hear it in my head.”

Perhaps because Rowland could visualize the sound and feel of the album, no song needed more than two takes to get right. The entire album was recorded in about 10 days.

It was 10 days that pushed Rowland to create something that lived up to his image, his idealized portrait, of Rodriguez.

“I wanted to make sure…,” said Rowland, pausing, “It was very important to me that I did the best I could with this man, and that I brought out everything that I saw and felt in the way he writes and sings – that I could bring that out in the record. Each one of those songs was made to give a feeling to Rodriguez. It had to be real, and I would do it again today the same way.”

Mark Worth is an American journalist and public interest activist living in Berlin. His family roots are in Detroit.

Singing the praises of South African popular-music legends | South African Post Office Stamp Programme 2014

From South African Post Office

South African Music Legends

“Music can change the world because it can change people,”said well-know Irish singer-songwriter and musician, Bono. This is especially true in Africa, where music is an integral part of everyday life. South Africa with its melting pot of cultures has produced a rich crop of highly talented popular-music legends, whose music has changed people’s perceptions. In honour of some of these musicians, the South African Post Office will issue a set 10 self-adhesive stamps and two commemorative envelopes on 3 July, featuring artwork by Vumile Mavumengwana.

Other famous people have also sung the praises of the power of music, notably Shakespeare who wrote: “If music be the food of love, play on…”. But more applicable in the South African context, are the words of Hans Christian Andersen: “Where words fail, music speaks.” The music of South African musicians have indeed spoken to scores of people across the board – our cities, townships, rural areas, sports stadiums and marketplaces are infused and alive with music.

The popular-music legends featured on these stamps were chosen for their innovative music, which brought fundamental change to the perceptions of South Africans and was instrumental in uniting societies. Criteria used in choosing them also included factors such as whether they introduced a completely new, original and distinctively South African style of music.

The musicians are as representative as possible of our society, covering the most important or best-known musical genres, which achieved international success.

James Phillips: 1959-1995

Also known as Bernoldus Niemand. In the musical genre Counter Cultural, Phillips represents a leading influence on the Voëlvry alternative, Afrikaans rock renaissance movement and its impact on South African anti-apartheid protest music. Alongside Koos Kombuis, Valiant Swart, Willem Möller and Johannes Kerkorrel, he was a “cultural icon, voice and conscience to a generation of apartheid-era white South Africans.”

Brenda Fassie: 1964-2004

In the musical genre Afropop, Fassie was one of the most popular urban African musicians of the 1980s and 1990s. She has been described as the “Queen of African Pop” and her bold stage antics earned her a reputation for “outrageousness”. Affectionately called Mabrr by her fans, she was voted 17th on the list of Top 100 Great South Africans.

Johannes Kerkorrel: 1960-2002

Born Ralph Rabie, Kerkorrel was a prolific singer-songwriter in the musical genre Alternative Afrikaans/Voëlvry movement. Described as “one of the leading lights of the rebel Voëlvry movement that blew a new wind across the Afrikaans music scene in the early 1980s”, he exposed a new generation of Afrikaners to political views resisting apartheid. Several artists have recorded tribute songs to his life and work.

Lucky Dube: 1963-2007

As an icon of South African Reggae, Dube pioneered and popularised this genre, which conveyed the Rastafarian philosophy, among township youth. He still influences younger musicians pursuing this style. Dube recorded 22 albums in Zulu, English and Afrikaans in a 25-year period and was South Africa’s biggest-selling Reggae artist. He earned over 20 awards – locally and internationally.

Miriam Makeba: 1932-2008

Makeba, a legend in the musical genre World Music and Mbaqanga, is the most famous South African musician both locally and internationally. Nicknamed Mama Africa, Makeba is a Grammy Award-winner, a civil rights activist and a global icon for women. In the 1960s, she was the first artist from Africa to popularise African music worldwide. In 1987, she performed with Paul Simon in his famous Graceland tour.

Solomon Linda: 1909-1962

Linda, was a musician, singer, composer and innovator of note regarding developing the Isicathimiya musical genre and is credited with a number of musical innovations that came to dominate the Isicathamiya style. He wrote the song Mbube, which later became popular as The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and gave its name to the Mbube style of Isicathamiya a cappella popularised later by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Spokes Mashiyane: 1933-1972

Johannes Spokes Mashiyane was regarded as one of the greatest pennywhistle artists who graced the South African Kwêla music scene in the 1950s and 1960s, at a time when that genre was one of the defining styles and the dominant dance music in the country. He later switched to saxophone and was instrumental in Kwêla’s evolution into township jive. He has a strong following to this day.

Simon Nkabinde: 1935-1999

Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde is a legendary Mbaqanga singer, a genre of indigenous music that continues to influence musicians worldwide today. Known as the “Lion of Soweto”, Nkabinde is the acknowledged exponent of the deep-voiced, basso profundo style that came to symbolise Mbaqanga music from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. He collaborated on Paul Simon’s groundbreaking Graceland album and tour.

Kippie Moeketsi: 1925-1983

One of South Africa’s greatest Jazz musicians, Moeketsi first played the clarinet, but soon moved on to the saxophone. Influenced by his pianist brother Jacob Moeketsi, Kippie’s career started in shebeens with Band in Blue. He was the driving force in the Jazz Epistles alongside Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and Makhaya Ntshoko who recorded the first authentic South African Jazz album.

Taliep Petersen: 1950-2006

Taliep Petersen, was a legendary singer, composer and director, who popularised the so-called Cape Ghoema sound together with David Kramer. In a tribute after his death, he was credited with “rewriting the musical landscape of the Western Cape and enriching the culture of this country.”  He has been awarded  a Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as a Naledi for Best Musical Director/Score/Arrangement for Ghoema.

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