Music and South Africa

When I arrived in South Africa, I had just spent several years steeped in the punk and new wave of the late 70s and early 80s, and with sufficient money to build up a sizeable record collection. I think this period also saw the start of the music CD, but at the time this was seen as a niche for artists that shift large numbers of records.

The transition to the situation in Vanderbijlpark couldn’t have been more stark. From being surrounded and immersed in large quantities of modern music, I was relegated to what felt like a backwater. One of the last records I had bought was the latest one by Eurhythmics, a record that took about six months before it made the shelves in South Africa. Clearly a different world from the present-day music scene where downloads are available at practically the same instant across the world.

At the time, the only local music I was aware of was the Afrikaner boeremuziek, which seemed to be somewhat related to the German oumpah music. Most of the time I did not have to suffer it, although at one time some students next door came home on a Saturday night, and decided to continue their night out with some of their preferred boeremuziek tunes. Revenge was sweet when early on Sunday morning I retaliated with “Never made no the bollocks, here’s the Sex Pistols”.

Still, in the more than five years I lived in Vanderbijlpark I probably bought something like between five and ten records. It was not until towards the end of my stay there that I became aware that there was a worthwhile black music scene to be enjoyed, first through a concert from Johnny Clegg & Juluka, and later on from Paul Simon’s Graceland album. Maybe if I had heard of this type of township music I might have sampled some of the local bands – provided that they were available in the white music shops.

When I started to get ready to leave South Africa, I had trouble finding new boxes to pack my albums in, presumably because by then CDs had taken off and were rapidly replacing vinyl – something that had totally passed me by during my time in Vanderbijlpark. I made up for this oversight in subsequent years, but my music collection still doesn’t contain much in the way of South African music, with only the already mentioned Paul Simon album, a Juluka compilation, and an album by Ladysmith Black Mambazo bought after I had seen them perform in the UK.

That’s probably more of a sign of how I had become less involved with the current music scene, and the fact that the transition happened during my time in South Africa my have been purely accidental.


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