The six best (least known) songs of all time

Ages back, Femina magazine asked me to give them the five best South African songs ever. Which is a weird kind of question, I think. But it seems to be what people want to read. Of course, I “interpreted” it: Femina was asking celebrities for lists too, so they’d get the obvious songs. A music journalist should devise a list of the six least-known best songs…

Not Even the TV. Image of this East London band courtesy NEtTV.

Not Even the TV. Image of this East London band courtesy NEtTV.

So here they are.

The top five South African songs of all time? Of course there will be suggestions of “Weeping” and “Vulindlela” and “Paradise Road” and “Blue Eyes” and “Burn Out” and any number of Johnny Clegg or Abdullah Ibrahim or Ladysmith Black Mambazo or Hugh Masekela or David Kramer or Miriam Makeba tunes, not to mention more recent hits by Freshlyground or Bongo Maffin or Mandoza or Ntando or Seether or 340ml or Simphiwe Dana, or more less frequently aired gems by Tananas, Blk Jks, Carlo Mombelli, Brotherhood of Breath, Moses Mololekwa, James Phillips, Zim Ngqawana and the like. So it should be, because those all deserve the accolades. Here are five songs, though, that are, perhaps, a little left of the evident No.1 hits because, to be truly great, a song should do more than just sell – it must nudge the listener towards some sort of transcendence.

This article by Evan Milton first appeared in Femina Magazine.

  • Gone

Marcus Wyatt and Language12, featuring Siya Makuzeni & Carlo Mombelli (from “Language 12“)

Gestures at the future of contemporary South African composition – it shows how music really should be Mzansi’s twelfth official language.

Marcus Wyatt - Language 12 - CD cover slice

Marcus Wyatt – Language 12 – CD cover slice

  • She’s Watching The Spaces

Not Even The TV (from “Not Even The TV“)

South Africa’s answer to “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, if anyone was asking, from a band with a coelacanth as a mascot – and it was written in East London. Now all it needs is to be re-released on CD. Since there’s very little chance you’ll track down the album, or a re-issue, take a listen here.

Not Even The TV

Not Even The TV

  • Abangoma

Madala Kunene, featuring Busi Mhlongo (from “Kon’ko Man”)

Two words: ancestors now. From the brilliant album, “Kon’ko Man”, and packing as much power as Miles Davis in his “Voodoo” phase, but with an unutterably beautiful South African edge.

Madala Kunenen - "Konko Man"

Madala Kunenen – “Konko Man”


  • Manenberg (Is Where It’s Happening)

Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand), featuring Basil Coetzee & Robbie Jansen (from “Manenberg (Is Where It’s Happening)“)

Hardly “least known”, but it was the de facto national anthem before liberation in 1994 – and is still a defiantly uplifting melody and arrangement. Also impossible to listen to without wanting to know more about its players.

'Manenberg' public art piece  outside the old Valley Studios at 21 Bloem Street - Cape Town

The ‘Manenberg’ public art sculpture by Mark O’Donovan and Francois Venter outside the old Valley Studios at 21 Bloem Street in Cape Town


  • Dowwe Bloue Beeld

Foto Na Dans (from “Pantomime Op Herwinbare Klanke“)

It could never have existed without the Springbok Nude Girls‘ “Blue Eyes” and Fokofpolisiekar‘s “Hemel Op Die Platteland“, but is derived from either. It proves irrevocably that the best South African rock can stand proudly with the international greats, ignoring your ears to directly melt your body’s molecules.

Foto Na Dans

Foto Na Dans

  • Tribe

Simphiwe Dana featuring Greg Georgiades & Ashish Joshi (from “Zandisile“)

An existentialist love song that’s as much a paean to our fleeting moment in the sun as it is a whisper to a lover – sublime moments from a fresh talent who raised the bar for South African urban-meets-traditional creativity and production when she swept the South African Music Awards as a newcomer.

Simphiwe Dana - Zandisile, 2004

Simphiwe Dana – Zandisile, 2004


This article by Evan Milton first appeared in Femina Magazine.

Right, now it’s your turn. What are South Africa’s best ever songs?


4 responses to “The six best (least known) songs of all time

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