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Classic SA Opening Lines

2009-04-21 08:49

1. "Baas, say 'nee', baas, don't call me a kaffir"
Arthur "Kaffir" (off Kaffir)
Is there a more righteous opening salvo in the entire history of recorded music? Way before he resorted to 'cake cutting' (remember "Sika Lekheke"?), kwaito's King Arthur kickstarted the kwaito revolution with these 9 words and an hypnotic township house groove. Listen here

2. "Die Blou Bul Eet Nie Van Die Vloer Af Nie"
Steve Hofmeyr "Die Blobul"
Sidestepping the temptation to pen some cheesy 'go team' style cheerleading lyrics, Steve starts rucking and mauling straight from the afskop on this genre-defining SA sports anthem.
Watch the video:

3. "Ek haat sommige ou tannies"
Koos Kombuis
"Sommige Ou Tannies Blues" (off Elke Boemelaar se Droom)
The line between hatespeech and hilarity is razor-thin. Koos' tirade against "sommige ou tannies" is one that, probably, most of us can sympathise with on some extremely misanthropic level. Listen here.

4. "There is a train that comes from Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, from Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and the whole hinterland of South Africa".
Hugh Masekela "Stimela (Coal Train)" (off Still Grazing)
So begins the legendary trumpeter's signature song whose locomotive rhythms and ambulatory verse catalogue apartheid's brutally repressive migrant labour system that "brings old and young African men to work on conscription in the gold mines of Johannesburg, sixteen hours a day for almost no pay." Listen here.

5. "You don't come around to see me in the week"
Brenda Fassie "Weekend Special" (off Greatest Hits)
Forget Madonna and her skanky "Like A Virgin" sales pitch. With this opening line Ma Brrr launched a 1000 ladies nights at sheebeens and ladies bars across the continent. Watch Brenda work it in this classic video:

6. "Sy dra te veel eyeshadow"
Valiant Swart "Eyeshadow" (off Roekeloos EP)
If you want scathing portraits of SA stereotypes, laced with equal parts affection and nastiness, Valiant is your man. Listen here.

7. "Ag pleez daddy won't you take us to the drive in?"
Jeremy Taylor "The Ballad Of The Southern Suburbs (Ag Pleez Deddy)"
What happens when an unplugged British expat takes the piss out of 'quaint' Safrican accents during the dark old days? A chours that boasts lyrics like "Popcorn, chewing gum, peanuts and bubble gum/Ice cream, candy floss and Eskimo Pie/Ag deddy how we miss/Nigger balls and liquorice/Pepsi Cola, ginger beer and Canada Dry" gets banned by the SABC? Listen here. Watch Taylor explain the song's genesis in this March 2005 performance:

8. "How do I live in this strange place?"
Bernoldus Niemand "Reggae Vibes is Cool" (off Wie is Bernoldus Niemand?)
How indeed. James Philips' alternative Afrikaans alter ego ask the only question that mattered way back when.

9. "If we could reach beyond the bounds of blame/And make history blind"
Mango Groove "Another Country" (off Another Country )
Mango Groove wrote this song in 1993 after the killings at Boipatong, and the assassination of SACP leader Chris Hani. A call to remember the people that hurt, not the politics that hate, by a band who’s lyrics are vastly underrated. Watch the classic William Kentridge produced and directed video here

10. "Johnny calls the chemist, but the chemist doesn't come/Her mind is in the twilight and Johnny hears the hum"
Falling Mirror "Johnny calls the Chemist"
The doors of psyche-folk rock perception are flung wide open on this psychologically disturbing confessional about lead singer Nielen Mirror's obsession with a pretty girl working in a Wynberg pharmacy. Listen here.

11. "Did you hear the news on the radio today? People have agreed to give their love away I can't wait to be there in line!"
Freshlyground "Doo be doo" (off Nomvula)
To me I feel it’s something everyone can relate too, any race and ethnicity and when it came out it symbolized exactly what democracy is all about i.e. unity and standing as a nation. Listen here.

12. "Igqira lendlela nguqo ngqotwane, ubeqabe legqithapho ahi uqo ngqotwane"
Miriam Makeba "The Click Song (Qongqothwane)"
The Xhosa lyric translate (loosely) as: "The Witchdoctor, who is a black beetle is coming to be in our village". Okay, so this may have some exotic appeal for Western ears, but it's Mama Afrika's vocal class that makes a simple repeated two line lyric bewitching for an entire song. Listen here.

13. "Al die f*cked up kinders rook"
And before you know it, you’re back in high school, the (non-)smell of the suburbs thick in the air. Fokof’s teen anthem needed a strong opening line, and this was it. Watch this classic live version.

14. "All you need in life is a soul and I lost mine today at the supermarket as I was reaching for a six pack of yoghurt in the frozen food alley."
Buckfever Underground "All You Need in Life is a Soul"
The metaphysics of consumerism unmapped through a signature stream of consiousness slice surreal dose of South African Beat poetry from Toast Coetzer. Listen to - and download - full track here

15. "Hoe lyk it met 'n klein tjoppie daar? Met ‘n hoender tjop? Kluck! Kluck!"
Radio Kalahari Orkes Stoom Radio "Hoender is eintlik ‘n vegetable" (off Stoom Radio)
Possibly the greatest anti-vegetarian song I've ever heard. Possibly the only one. Listen here

16. "We're gonna grow you up slowly"
Springbok Nude Girls "Blue Eyes" (off Surpass the Powers)
The most menacing song about growing up ever? Well, with stuff like blue eyes and Daddies coming for you and general fear. You'll grow up fast. Listen here

17. "I feel so close to you/only a million miles away"
Matthew van der Want "Turn On You"
Existential angst, irony and the pain of love, by one of SA’s greatest singer/songwriters. Listen here

18. "Impi! wo 'nans' impi iyeza Obani bengathinta amabhubesi?"
Juluka "Impi" (off African Litany)

A song of war, by a band that's done a lot to reconcile the traditional enemies the song is about. Listen here

19. "Slow thighs, walking on water"
Urban Creep, "Slow Thighs" (off Tightroper)

It's Durban in one line, but it’s also a vivid opener to a song that combines political critique with love story. Listen here

20. "Vergeet Van My"
Foto Na Dans "Vergeet Van My" (off Intervensie)
Dramatic, isn’t it? And, ironically, impossible to forget. Listen to - and download - full track here

21. "My name is ZX Dan/And I am a spaceman. My galaxy is doomed, so I moved to your moon."
Radio Rats "ZX Dan"(off Into the Night We Slide)
Well, just listen to it, won’t you? It got pretty trippy out there on the East Rand back in the 70s and 80s, my China!
Listen to - and download - full track here

22. "Life’s a melodrama/a tragedy deluxe Some people think it’s karma/some people think it sucks"
Blues Broers, "Life’s a melodrama"
The most succinct distillation of the blues philosophy, by a band that can get you to do the very South African thing of laughing at pain. Listen here

23. "If you say black, you know they’ll say white/ You keep to the left, and they stay on the right/but it’s a long way back home."
No Friends of Harry "A Long Way Home" (off Fly By Night)

Gothic rockers with a message, NFOH summed up the political situation in apartheid SA with a Manichaean simplicity. Listen here

24. "When he walked out of the locker room, all the boys laughed at him. He didn’t care though, he was there to swim."
Desmond and the Tutus "Saggy bottom Speedo swimmer"
A fantastic and simply-told tale of a boy overcoming the social shame of wearing a Speedo instead of baggies, and how he triumphed and got the girl. Listen here

What's the best opening line in South African pop history? We selected 24 of the most magical, metaphorical, moving and sometimes simply plain mad opening lyrics ever penned. From Fab faves courtesy of Arthur, Freshlyground and the Nude Girls to forgotten nuggets by Bernoldus Niemand, Jeremy Taylor and many more.

Robert 2009-03-11 10:24 AM
Bernoldus brings back memories: "Hou My Vas Korporaal!"
Barend 2009-03-11 10:26 AM
Die bloubul!!?
Mitch 2009-03-11 10:50 AM
Great stuff! The old Blue Eyes line gives me the chills - "We're gonna grow you up slowly, we're gonna chain you to steel, sand in the hand, we'll love you in the end...". What about Bright Blue and Weeping, surely one of the saddest and greatest SA songs and lyrics ever - "I knew a man who lived in fear it was huge it was angry it was drawing near Behind his house a secret place was the shadow of the demon he could never face. He built a wall of steel and flame and men with guns to keep it tame Then standing back he made it plain that the nightmare would never ever rise again But the fear and the fire and the guns remain. It doesn't matter now it's over anyhow He tells the world that it's sleeping But as the night came round I heard it slowly sound it wasn't roaring it was weeping it wasn't roaring it was weeping. And then one day the neighbours came they were curious to know about the smoke and flame They stood around outside the wall but of course there was nothing to be heard at all "My friends", he said, "we've reached our goal the threat is under firm control As long as peace and order reign I'll be damned if I can see a reason to explain Why the fear and the fire and the guns remain". It doesn't matter now it's over anyhow He tells the world that it's sleeping But as the night came round I heard it slowly sound it wasn't roaring it was weeping it wasn't roaring it was weeping. It doesn't matter now it's over anyhow He tells the world that it's sleeping But as the night came round I heard it slowly sound it wasn't roaring it was weeping it wasn't roaring it was weeping."
Lebo 2009-03-11 10:52 AM
Brenda we miss you and your wonderful music.
Matthew Bossenger 2009-03-11 11:31 AM
What about Sugardrive - White Guys Don't Drive By: Clamp a pistol to your mouth, call in the decorators
Dave 2009-03-11 11:46 AM
I'd like to add the lines "Loving you is easy, such a beautiful thing to do.." from Rabbit's "Charlie". Great line from a great song
Mack 2009-03-11 11:57 AM
ZX DAN , is always a firm favourite, and then ,the first that came to mind , " Loving you is easy ,such a beautiful thing to do" - Charlie , by Rabbit ,T Rabin around 1975/76-I love it !
MACK 2009-03-11 12:15 PM
Dave , all I can say is "SNAP CHINA ! SNAP !".and MItch ,you know youre stuff !
Peter 2009-03-11 12:29 PM
Surely "Me and my dog Malcolm aren't so welcome down in Welkom, anymore", is one of the defining lines in South African music and deserves a place near the top of this list?
Jean 2009-03-11 12:40 PM
Mitch, you're right. Bright Blue "Weeping"... that's one that made us all go "oh, ya, Damn!" here in the office. Thanks for adding it.
Big Bad Bob 2009-03-11 12:43 PM
Ag Pleez man! Surely it has to be "Hou My Vas Korporaal, ek's 'n kind skoon verdwaal." James Phillips was so... so... South African. And there was an opening line (and an opening couplet) to catch the attention and, just by the way, to substantially change the language of SA pop music.
Dieter 2009-03-11 12:49 PM
"Bad wind breathing in the streets tonight, a gun shot rhythm to a decomposing lullaby" - aKing - Decomposing lullaby
mp 2009-03-11 12:58 PM
so me knows seether's all washed out and gay at the moment....but who can forget the first time they heard 69Tea spine chilling intro begging you to turn up the volume......"Lonely in this white room, there are pads everwhere..."
Michael 2009-03-11 01:10 PM
I would have included Super Model from Cutting Jade's new album... "I want a super model just once, a general's daughter just once, magic potion and a genie in a bottle just once!"
Mandy 2009-03-11 01:16 PM
I'm with you mp! Seether have some intense lyrics.
Blou Bul 2009-03-11 01:18 PM
I believe Steve Hofmeyr's song now starts with "Die Blou Bul snuif nie van 'n hoer af nie".
Jean 2009-03-11 01:38 PM
Hou my vas, korporaal! Another one... Peter can you tell us where "Me and my dog Malcolm aren't so welcome down in Welkom, anymore" is from? Much as we hate to admit there's something we don't know, this is one of those times when we're forced to do so.
SA Fan 2009-03-11 02:09 PM
Fantastic idea guys! @Mitch - Weeping is such a classic. What about Stimela's Whispers in the Deep? Not the opening line, but "We're all tributaries of that great river of pain" - brilliant.
Marius 2009-03-11 02:42 PM
John Ireland's "I Like,hmm,hmm,hmm,hmm,hmm- with you." sexy stuff.
Goda 2009-03-11 03:11 PM
@blou bull. Ha ha ha! That's hilarious.

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