As owner of the AfroSynth blog and record store in Johannesburg, DJ Okapi is an unquestionable authority on South African music. His latest handiwork, Boogie Breakdown, is a compilation of synth-disco from the Rainbow Nation covering the early 80s and is one of our standouts of the year. Before his UK debut in London next month, Okapi has chosen ten tracks on a theme that forms part of the musical fabric of South Africa.
“South Africa’s music industry thrived during the 1980s, yet only a small number of music videos were made. The country at the time was ruled by an authoritarian regime that used its control of the media to promote apartheid. TV was only allowed into the country in 1976 and throughout the 80s was restricted to what the state broadcaster deemed acceptable. Music videos were therefore reserved to only the biggest artists of the day. Here are ten of the best of them.”
Brenda & The Big Dudes – ‘Weekend Special’ (1983)
One can’t talk of bubblegum without mentioning this song. It was penned by Melvyn Matthews who lifted some funky chunks straight from American acts Sharon Redd and BB&Q Band, kick-starting the bubblegum era in SA. Three years later the song charted in the US.
Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse – ‘Burnout’ (1984)
After ‘Weekend Special’ the next biggest hit of the era was by former Harari frontman Sipho Mabuse, who launched his solo career with ‘Burnout’, a song that can still be heard daily on South African radio and TV. This one features falsetto vocals by Steve Kekana.
Chicco – ‘I Need Some Money’ (1986)
One of the most influential producers of the 80s and 90s, Sello ‘Chicco’ Twala put out a string of killer albums as a solo artist. This was his breakthrough hit.
Condry Ziqubu – ‘Skorokoro’ (1986)
This ode to old cars was a hit and soon became the artist’s nickname, appearing on the cover of his 1986 album Gorilla Man. One of Condry’s signatures was elaborate song intros, perfectly suited to music video treatment.
Splash – ‘Potilo’ (198?)
Bubblegum is synonymous not only with solo stars but also bands armed with an arsenal of keyboards. Perhaps the biggest were Splash, with their distinctive sci-fi synths and elaborate call-and-response vocals under frontman Dan Tshanda.
Stimela – ‘Unfinished Story’ (1987)
No one would dare call Stimela a bubblegum band but they were probably the most loved of all SA acts during the era, mastering all genres from funk and afrobeat to local traditional grooves and fusing their own sound.
Richie S – ‘African Dance’ (1985)
Although better known as the cousin and manager of reggae star Lucky Dube, Richard Siluma also scored a solo hit in the mid-80s with ‘African Dance’, a synth-fuelled tribute to South Africa’s homegrown mbaqanga sound.
Monwa & Sun – ‘Orlando Hangover’ (1988)
Today Monwa & Sun’s anthem ‘Orlando Hangover’ remains one of the most loved South African songs of all time, a synth-heavy slice of Soweto soul, accompanied by a video offering some sound advice to soothe the morning after the night before.
Steve Kekana ft. Nana Coyote – ‘Take Your Love and Keep It’ (1986)
Another classic slow jam, this one featuring two of South Africa’s greatest male voices side by side. Pity the no-budget video does little justice to this timeless reggae-tinged tearjerker.
Via Afrika – ‘Hey Boy’ (1984)
South Africa is a diverse society and during the 80s there were some great white bands who embraced local influences, one of the best being Via Afrika, although they sadly split after their next album.