Sjambok Music : This is a store front for various ,eclectic, difficult to find , not very commercial South African recordings. We specialize in 80’s Agit , AfroRock, Zulu Trad and Jive , AfrikaansPunkblues, Farty ArtRock and punk wave , new Dubstep right thru to Cape Flats hip hop and Kwaito . No specific genres or age groups. All are legit downloads. The artists get the cash straight away. We have the shit.
The Shifty Records catalogue has fallen into our laps and will take some time to put up.
There is some exiting new Kwaito and Glitch/Dubstep which are still coming up as well as some great new Psychedelic Rock , shoegaze & Folktronic music (acoustic) –
All tracks are listenable in their entirety and in hi fidelity sound (for free) should you want to just listen through. Keep it Unreal: Lester Gabang
Warrick’s Blog: Random Body Counts
here is Warrick Sony’s piece on the history:
WEAPON OF CHOICE – Warrick Sony
WEAPON OF CHOICE
Working in music and politics during the South African 80’s
“Many-stringed, curiously-tuned instruments even aulos-makers and aulos players, are to be excluded from the state.” Plato’s “The Republic.”
“Never listen to electric guitar….it is a crime against the state. “David Byrne
During the middle of February 1987 the Kalahari Surfers were asked to play at the 17th Festival of Political Song in East Berlin. “Rote Liede” was the title of that years’ effort and the line up included artists from all over the world. These were the times when politics was fashionable in western popular music. It had been 10 years since punk. Reagan, Thatcher, Gorbachev and P. W. Botha were in power and many songwriters worked social comment and political satire into their lyrics. In England left wing pop stars had formed a movement called the “Red Wedge” which included people like Billy Bragg and the Communards. Communist Chic was in. I came from a country where a man had gone to prison for having an ANC flag on his beer mug, where the state employed its “Iron Fist” against any form of criticism regularly banning and detaining activists and artists. My passport had to have a special removable page when I traveled to the East Bloc so that the South African authorities woul
d not be tempted to enquire about my goings on behind the iron curtain.
The Kalahari Surfers then was a virtual band, a studio project revolving around access to a 16 track recording studio. Any live work I did had to be done with session musicians. The band I’d formed in London was with British musicians from Recommended Records (the ultra left wing UK record company who released five of my albums between 1984 and 1989). I had traveled there in September 1986 to release and promote my third album, “Sleep Armed”, and to take a break from the intensity of the Botha regime. South Africa was looking bleak. Johannesburg was exhausting. The State seemed rock solid and able to bat away any obstacle thrown in its path. Violence and brutality were the order of the day.
I had recently played a concert for the End Conscription Campaign (ECC ), during which the police rolled a canister of teargas into the hall creating pandemonium. That same evening I laid down the vocal line for a track that featured a distorted voice shouting “Teargas! Teargas”, over and over and coughing and choking. It was a performance piece in the studio. Tragic comic … that was South Africa in the 80s. I was working then as a film sound recordist to pay off the 16 track tape recorder I had bought for the studio that I shared with Lloyd Ross.
Lloyd was the producer and founder of Shifty Records, the only record company in South Africa at that time releasing music that was of a highly contentious or political nature – music that would never be played by the SABC. It was my intention to release my own work through Shifty on my label, Gross National Products, but I was thwarted by the refusal of EMI to press my first album “Own Affairs”. Recommended Records in London put it out and I developed a relationship with them that lasts to this day. Just as an aside, towards the end of 2003, Lloyd made a documentary on SA cult rocker, James Phillips. While he was in the SABC archive shooting a scene, he found vinyl records with gouge marks on them. Someone had the job of carefully dragging a sharp object across the offending track to make sure no-one could ever play it. Low tech, but highly effective censorship!
The do-it-yourself-ethic of Punk propelled many of us in the 80’s to forge ahea
d and write songs about the world we knew. A small club scene developed and spread to the major cities. Bands sprang up in the major centres, Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg with names like: The Safari Suits, Corporal Punishment, National Wake (the first and only black punk/reggae band in the country), and Permanent Force. All felt a need to reflect a South Africanness, to sing with South African accents and be true to our experiences. Songs about the army, or girls from Boksburg, or about police stupidity or general white fears were what it was about. Punk was great because it was liberating and it was fun … everyone was in a band – you didn’t need to know how to play music. In fact that was where some of the best music came from: the non-musicians angle on music. Techno in the 90s was similar in its freshness and new energy that springs out of new technologies. Today everyone is a DJ. In the 60’s everyone wanted to be a hair dresser. So it goes. Punk came and went with few bands ever making it onto vinyl. But the idea that we could just take our master tapes and R200 deposit and get vinyl pressed lingered on. It was this ethos that inspired the indie record company that became known as Shifty Records.
My personal weapon of choice was irony, however, it was often lost on South African audiences, for example: Esme Everaad, on her Springbok Radio programme for the boys in the army, “Forces Favourites”, regularly played I Love a man in a Uniform by Gang of Four. It had the line: “the girls they love to see you shoot” which was much appreciated by our boys in the armed forces. This was an embarrassing hit for a group who made no secret of their sympathies for the ANC and other (then) left wing organizations.
Sampling voices and using bits of speech in music was not commonplace during the early 80’s, the way it is now. I’d been very influenced by classical composers of the 60’s and 70’s who worked with sound as a collage medium. People like Pierre Schaffer, Trevor Wishart and Stockhausen had broken new ground in the way tape could be manipulated and electronic devices used to alter sounds. Holger Czukay of CAN had done a wonderful album titled “Movies” which spliced in bits of Hollywood voice tracks to dreamy rhythms which also made an impression on me. I spent hours recording bits and pieces from radio and television. The state media machine was like a theatre of the absurd. I used bits of propaganda films in my music: P. W. Botha’s State of Emergency speech, news broadcasts
and quiz shows. I’d intercut material that I’d recorded in the field as a documentary sound recordist for the BBC or Channel4. William Burroughs was the guiding light in splice and paste word/content experiments and I’d devour anything that spoke to me in the ironic voice.
A piece I did called Play it Backwards on my second album used voices from Radio Today (a morning news broadcast of the 80’s) discussing the hidden messages in rock music which are found by playing records backwards. I was intrigued, so I ordered the tape from a guy who made a living out of preaching this stuff. He’d even written a book, assembling hundreds of examples of these ridiculous messages that he’d discovered by playing his record collection backwards! He later charged that these secret messages could be found on some of Shifty’s releases. We challenged him on this, and by using his same technique I proved that even Christian songs had demonic undertones when I demonstrated that the line “God is in all of our aims” turned into “Satan is in all of our aims” when it was played backwards. He settled out of court.
In 1989 the Kalahari Surfers were invited to play at a festival in Moscow. “Afri Fest” was put together by the Committee of Youth Organisations (KOMSOMOL) and was held
at the “Palace of Youth”. Gorbachev was making massive reforms then and the place was in as much a state of flux as South Africa. In the same way that you can’t find anyone who supported apartheid in South Africa, I never met a communist in Russia, even though I was staying in the Communist Youth Leagues fanciest hotel. It made me feel acutely the distance between foreigners and locals, the haves and have-nots, in the socialist dream. The place was awash with Americans. Perestroika and Glasnost were the buzzwords. I could get three times the official rate on the black market, but money is worthless when there is nothing to buy. Luckily I found Melodia (the only Soviet record company) made good vinyl so I stocked up on hundreds of fantastic classical records.
I was amazed at the extraordinary experiments humanity has attempted. The break up of the Soviet Union was beginning, which was the exact opposite to what was happening in South Africa. We were trying to bring all the former homelands under one united South Africa, separate development was a bad idea for us. I had many arguments with Russians over this. Here were a people moving toward democracy, away from Socialism, whereas we still had the overtures of Socialism, in fact one could have died for being a communist in South Africa at that time. To be a rebellious youth in Russia you’d become a Christian and wear a pendant with a picture of the last Czar around your neck. To be a rebellious youth in South Africa you’d be anti-Christian and wear a lapel badge sporting hammer and sickle. The Russians never got their democracy and we never got our socialism. Another of God’s curved balls.
South Africa does not have a culture of political song. We have radical poets. We have radical theatre. We do not have a rich history of political songwriting. Foreign documentary makers have on occasion hired me to research music for them, always hoping to be presented with a huge compendium of struggle songs. We are not a songwriter culture. The songs of the struggle were for the most part public domain Freedom Songs sung at rallies and performed by the masses. The kind of sharp political satire and wit that existed in the music from Haiti for example, simply did not exist in South Africa at that time. There were the numerous well meaning jazz musicians who would title an instrumental piece ‘Song for Winnie” or something, but one would have to look hard to find the Bob Dylans, or Joni Mitchells (Vusi Mahlasela and Jennifer Ferguson were exceptions to the rule).
Most musicians were content to aim for the riches derived from a radio hit, like Supa Afrika with the banal “Lets Go Shopping”. The radical stuff was in theatre and poetry.
Matthew Krause was someone whose work I’d always admired. His “Famous Dead Man”, with Robert Coleman, was one of the most brilliant pieces of 80’s theatre. Matthew urged me to do something with his fellow COSAW poet Lesego Rampolokeng. Lesego fused free form 60’s beat and protest poetry with the power of traditional African praise poetry and created this crazed prophetic vision of a twisted planet. His work was dark and painful, spliced up images and juxtapositions that he performed with a sharp menacing attitude. Here was a man who had been brutalized by the system and had risen to express it in a unique kind of African angst. We recorded “End Beginnings”, a Surfers and Lesego Rampolokeng collaboration in 1990, although most of the work was done in 89. It was released in London through Recommended and is difficult to get in South Africa.
The album led to us being invited to a festival of poetry and music in Belo Horizonte in Brazil during the early 90’s. It was the dawn of the new South Africa and the two of us had diametrically opposite views on the Rainbow Nation, which dumbfounded Brazilian journalists. I was of the opinion that Hunt Lascaris had done well in selling the idea of a New SA to the people and that the new flag and reconciliation was a good thing. Lesego had many reservations about the ruling elite and their motives and took a dim view of it all. I think he’d have preferred a bloody coup in which the old guard was dragged from their offices screaming as they were nailed to the rugby posts.
Once when I was visiting Lesego in Diepkloof, I bumped into his stepfather who was emerging from a marijuana smoke filled car interior. He told me that he had put “this man” through university by selling dagga, only to have him become a poet. “What for?” he asked, “of what use is a poet”, he wanted to know.
One only needed to look at the youths in that area and see the awe with which they viewed Lesego to realize how important the culture of the intellect is, and how vital it is that there are some among us who have turned their backs on financial gain for their principles. Intellectual property over self enrichment. Education is liberation.
On the great things to emerge in South Africa from this energy of the 80’s was the whole Afrikaans resistance (boere-punk ) culture which sprang from Bernoldus Niemaand though to the Springbok Nude Girls and Karen Zoid . These artists owe, whether they know it or not, a debt to the energy of the 77 punk phenomenon. The 80’s was a decade of content above form (or at least on a parallel. The nineties saw content slip off the map as ecstacy and the culture of “Me” and my pleasure kicked in.
The 80’s closed off resoundingly with the collapse of communism, (and the consequent rise of rampant materialism )
Tiananmen Square (I watched on Russian TV in my hotel room in Moscow) and a great double album by Prince called “Sign of the Times” – the title hit summing the end of the decade up artfully.
“Communism is not going to work because the people want stuff” Frank Zappa
South African musical underground legends
by Richard Haslop
Curious as it may seem, the fact that the first release by Shifty Records, a South African record company whose significance far outweighs its fame, was by not by a South African artist at all, or even recorded in South Africa, somehow typifying the Shifty method. It was the self-titled debut by Lesotho band Sankomota, and was recorded by the label in the group’s homeland, where Shifty’s Lloyd Ross temporarily parked the caravan that housed its mobile studio. Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, and Sankomota was not allowed across the border on account of the political nature of its output, which featured several languages, including English, and embraced several musical styles, including rock.
Ross, previously a member of highly regarded local rock band the Radio Rats, had formed Shifty to give independent, politically orientated South Africans a voice in an era when independent, politically orientated South African voices were stilled by the censorship not only of the government and its heavily controlled airwaves – radio employees would physically gouge certain LP tracks so they couldn’t be played – but also of the mainstream record companies. There was, they say, even a cutting engineer at the country’s only record pressing plant who would refuse to cut records which he didn’t approveof, and get away with it.
Ross claims not to have been particularly politically inclined. In fact, his original idea was to provide unsigned rock bands in the style of punk and new wave with a relatively cheap recording facility. The orthodox industry usually wouldn’t sign anybody even vaguely controversial, and frowned upon any even vaguely controversial material that sometimes snuck out from a few brave souls. But it was virtually impossible to avoid having a political opinion in 1980s South Africa and Ross’s recognition of the need to expose the music and musicians that Shifty did certainly had political consequences.
He named the fledgling label after the mobility that the caravan studio provided, rather than the crafty, sly or furtive nature of the business, although those were certainly useful characteristics for anybody hoping to operate in opposition to the oppressive South African regime. The year, appropriately enough, was 1984 and meaningful political discourse seemed far away, with the most significant political opposition in jail or exile. Towards the end of that year, troops comprising mainly young white men serving an initial period of two years of compulsory military conscription were sent into the local townships to quell any hint of unrest by their black countrymen.
But a groundswell of resistance was beginning to take hold. The trade union movement was starting to flex its muscles, the United Democratic Front had been formed the previous year, and the End Conscription Campaign, dedicated to achieve what its name suggested, would be launched in October. In many ways, Shifty Records represented the musical face of this surge of defiance.
Ross’s original partner in the Shifty enterprise was Ivan Kadey, the guitarist in National Wake, highly unusual if not unique in South Africa in that it was a punk-infused mixed-race rock band, but Kadey soon emigrated to the USA. Warrick Sony, a soundscape artist and experimental composer who continues to release albums under the name of the Kalahari Surfers, bought his way into the business by providing it with a 16-track tape recorder, and the Surfers’ strongly political Own Affairs was its second release. Sony’s method included cutting, pasting and juxtaposing the recorded voices of local political and other authority figures over a musical sensibility informed by Robert Wyatt, Krautrock and others not generally heard in a South African context. Several of the Surfers’ recordings, whose provocative titles included Sleep Armed and Living In The Heart Of The Beast, had to be pressed in the UK by Recommended Records, run by Henry Cow’s Chris Cutler, and then clandestinely imported back into South Africa.
James Phillips, whose music was an interesting combination of punk attitude, Dylanesque and Randy Newman like songwriting and the slightly eccentric roots rock of Little Feat, was arguably the leading figure on the punk and new wave inclined scene that gave birth to the Shifty idea in the first place. He remains, a decade and a half after his death as the result of a car crash, a cult figure among South Africans of his musical generation. His bands included in your face East Randers Corporal Punishment, the short lived Illegal Gathering and the much loved Cherry Faced Lurchers, all of which feature in the Shifty catalogue. However, his most important effect on local music may have been under the name of his Afrikaans alter ego Bernoldus Niemand, whose 1985 release proved vastly influential on an increasingly large body of disaffected Afrikaner youth. Their own disenchantment then expressed itself on Shifty through songwriters like Koos Kombuis and Johannes Kerkorrel – and his Gereformeerde Blues Band (the word means ‘reformed,’ but refers to the overarching and overbearing influence on traditional Afrikaans culture of the Dutch Reformed Church) – and then turned itself into a South African rock subgenre of its own. Phillips/Niemand’s song “Hou My Vas Korporaal” (“Hold Me Tight, Corporal”) became an anthem of the End Conscription Campaign and among local draft dodgers and even those who, in order to avoid arrest or exile, reluctantly answered the Defence Force’s call to protect South Africa’s borders (and townships) from an alleged Communist-led invasion.
Needless to say, none of these records gained any airplay on the formal stations, they received almost no mainstream press, and even finding them in conventional record stores was little short of a shopping miracle. Yet the company kept going thanks to word of mouth inside South Africa and sponsorship received from outside and, during the second half of the decade, it had what was, by its standards, a hit record.
Mzwakhe Mbuli was a poet whose vehemently anti-government recitals, delivered in a deep and ringing baritone, were often heard at resistance rallies. He was recorded by the label over musical backing, and Change Is Pain (released 1986), which sounded a bit like an African version of a highly politicized Prince Far I, was released. It was immediately banned, but underground copies sold and otherwise changed hands in surprisingly large numbers and the album remains iconic even today. Mbuli released further albums and performed at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as State President, but the advent of democracy did not prevent him from speaking out as vociferously against what he still believed to be wrong. Jailed for armed robbery in 1999, he spent four and a half years in prison. He has always claimed his innocence, and his supporters believe that he was set up.
Another African artist initially on Shifty who has gone on to international acclaim is Vusi Mahlasela, often known simply as “The Voice.” Though his subsequent output has drifted inexorably towards the middle of the road, the quiet political strength of his early ’90′s When You Come Back debut remains impressive.
Shifty continued to release albums relatively regularly until the mid ’90′s and its catalogue is now around 70 strong, if you include a handful of albums that it licensed by artists from elsewhere in Africa, that introduced local audiences to the wonders of Salif Keita and a few others. Shifty features recordings of political speeches, trade union choirs, intrinsically South African acoustic guitar instrumentalists, English and Afrikaans language rock from the fringes and the barricades, township jive irrepressible and updated for the ’80′s and ’90′s, a rocked up version of the high spirited goema music of the Western Cape’s Coloured communities and more.
The Shifty release schedule slowed considerably after the birth of South African democracy in 1994, with internationally recognized author Rian Malan’s 2005 Alien Inboorling (“alien native”), a typically sardonically honest reflection on contemporary Afrikaner issues, its first album for several years and its latest except for the excellent Shot Down, a compilation of “resistance music from apartheid South Africa” drawn from the Shifty archive.
Indeed, the best way into the Shifty legacy is probably through this, or one of three older compilation albums that may constitute the label’s most important contribution to the South African musical landscape. A Naartjie In Our Sosatie (literally “a tangerine in our kebab”, but a play, partly in a South African accent, on “anarchy in our society”) was the earliest, followed by Forces Favourites, an ironic reference to state radio’s armed forces request programme that played music which could not have been further removed from Shifty in spirit or intent, and then Voëlvry, which documented the incipient Afrikaans music revolution. These collections were, for much of the label’s audience, its introduction to a range of artists of relative degrees of obscurity, including one, Timothy, and who recorded one song and was never heard of again, who represented an essential slice of South African cultural territory that might otherwise have been completely ignored
What a fantastic piece of SA musical history! I really enjoyed reading this and it took me back to Joburg in the mid 80’s hanging around with my chommies in The Genuines. I even got to hangout at Shifty a few times with them too while they were laying down some tracks. That certainly for me was a great time to be in and around Joburg. Hanging out at Jamesons dancing to The Genuines “goema” sounds, to the Cherryfaced Lurchers, The Kerels “jol”, Jennifer Furgeson and many more. Being at the first “Voelvry” concert was a bit of a shock to the senses. I mean nobody up to that point really even heard of Afrikaans rock music!! But what a time we had and how the youth of different cultures were so hungery to assimilate with each other and learn from one another!! Then there was also Kippies and the Yard of Ale at the Market Theatre that also put on great music too. I am so greatfull for finding this site and the access to the Shifty catalog that I now have to buy quite a bit of the music that formed me in the 80’s including the Kalahari Surfers!
thanks for writing – really appreciate it.