#TBT: Hugh Masekela – “Stimela”

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Hugh Masekela (born April 4, 1939) is a South African trumpeter, trombonist, flugelhornist, cornetist, composer, and singer and legend. His career spans almost 60 years and he has performed with everyone from U2, The Rolling Stones, Miriam Makeba and Herby Hancock.

“Stimela” was on the album titled Hope, released in 1994, around the time when South Africa was coming out of the Apartheid era and becoming a democracy. It was a pivotal time in South African history and “Stimela” served as part of the narrative of the changing times. This is why it’s such an important song for Hugh Masekela and the country at large.

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“The coal train is a motherfucker,” says Hugh Masekela in his play Songs of Migration, in his build up to performing the classic song “Stimela”.

“There are no happy songs about trains in Africa.” The train is a symbol of dislocation, forced removals, the leaving of loved ones, insecurity and upheaval. The song spoke of African men who came from far places to work in the mines in Johannesburg for measly pay and had poor quality of life with no alternatives because of the consequences of apartheid.

Hugh Masekela sings this song with a tangible passion and vigour, his anger and emotion pours out from his raspy, gravel-tinged voice and his golden trumpet. He moved an entire nation with this one song. Anyone who has heard “Stimela” can’t help but be moved by it even if they don’t understand the language he sings it in. This is the power of music and the power that resides in Hugh Masekela.

Watch him perform “Stimela” live at The Afrika Festival in Netherlands and watch him talk about the inspiration behind the song in an excerpt from a documentary called Amandla.

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#TBT: Prince and The Revolution – “Purple Rain”

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Prince Rogers Nelson, known by his mononym Prince, is a singer, songwriter, composer, music arranger, record producer, multi-instrumentalist, actor and dancer. Basically, there’s nothing that Prince does not do in terms of music and entertainment – he is a living legend !

In his 38-year career as a musician, Prince has left no stone unturned in terms of musical genres. His music contains influences of R&B, Rock, Funk, Pop and New Wave and he plays over ten musical instruments.

He has released over thirty albums in his career, his most successful record being Purple Rain featuring his band, The Revolution.

Purple Rain was released in 1984 as the soundtrack album to the film of the same name. It featured massive records like ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the title track which reached #2 on the same chart.

The album sold 1.5 million units in its debut week, over 13 million units in total in the USA alone and spent 24 consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard Album Chart. It also went on to win two Grammys and an Academy Award for Best Original Score.

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It is with no doubt the album that really made Prince into an icon and is credited as the album which helped Prince dethrone Michael Jackson as the King of the 80’s. By the end of that decade he had recorded 28 Top 20 singles and released five #1 albums.

38 years into his career, Prince is still one of the best musicians, most legendary and famous artists of all time yet he still keeps that mystique which keeps the world hanging on his every word and move.

Watch the original music video of ‘When Doves Cry’ and get into the live performance of ‘Purple Rain’ with Beyoncé at the Grammys in 2004.

#TBT: Lonehill Estate – “Gangstar” | Video

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Lonehill Estate find their “gangster” in Soweto.

The term ‘gangster’ is bandied around today in a more positive connotation than its etymology pertains to. It’s become synonymous with cool, dope and the trill life. South African rockers, Lonehill Estate, seem to have no inkling though. Their new single, “Gangstar” talks about a girl who calls you ‘gangster’ and ‘rockstar’ but what the hell does that even mean? To find out, they journey south of Johannesburg only to wake up in Soweto. The barbers on the side of the road, the mamas selling amagwinya, some youths hanging out on the street, some poor person’s house’s rooftop and even Mr Selwyn are all assigned the roll of educator of the idea of gangster and rockstar. It doesn’t get triller than this.

#TBT: Busi Mhlongo – ‘Urban Zulu’

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Busi Mhlongo was born in 1947 in Inanda, a rural village in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Her sound was influenced by her being initiated as a sangoma and it also drew a lot from Maskanda, Mbaqanga, Worldbeat and traditional Zulu music. She was a legend in South Africa in her later years but was more popular in the European market as she spent a lot more time there because of the economic climate in South Africa at the time.

Urban Zulu was released in 1999, at a time when Maskanda and traditional Zulu music had never really been heard being sung by a woman in the international market. On Urban Zulu, Busi wrote about struggling to find ones identity, violence and unrest in the country, destruction of traditions in post-apartheid South Africa and the need to re-invent those traditions in order to keep them alive.

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At the 2000 SAMA Awards Busi won awards for Best Female Artist, Best Adult Contemporary Album (African) and Best African Pop Album. Urban Zulu became the most successful album of her career and solidified her position in the music industry.

She sang about the human condition and social consciousness and her music had no bounds and no borders of language, she simply just drew you in and made you feel and that is what lay in the crux of her success as an artist. Her stage presence was unmatched: she took her audience into a trance because of the sheer power and conviction she conveyed through her voice and her body.

Mam’ Busi pushed the envelope in the South African music industry and influenced a generation of musicians. Artists like Thandiswa Mazwai and Simphiwe Dana speak of how she inspired them not just as musicians but as women of Africa as well. Even though she is not with us anymore her music and legacy will never be forgotten.

Watch her live performances of Urban Zulu album records ‘We Baba Omncane’ and ‘Yehlisani Umoya Ma-Afrika (African Nation – Calm)’ at the Rocskilde Festival in Denmark in 1999 below.

#TBT: Alanis Morissette – ‘Jagged Little Pill’

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When I think of female rock artists who ruled the charts and changed the scope of music in the nineties one name comes to mind: Alanis Morissette. Canadian-American, Alternative Rock musician, Alanis Morissette, released her critically acclaimed third studio album titled Jagged Little Pill in 1995. It was her first international release after releasing two albums in her native country of Canada.

The success of the album catapulted her into the record books and into the hearts of music lovers all over the world and her distinctive voice and talent for story-telling through music turned her into an iconic figure. Six singles were released from the album including hit records, ‘Ironic’ and ‘You Oughta Know’, the latter earning her Grammy awards for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song.

In 1996 the album won a Grammy award for Album of the Year and made Alanis the youngest winner of the award in history until her record was broken by Taylor Swift in 2010. It also won the Grammy for Best Rock Album.

Jagged Little Pill went on to become the best-selling album of the nineties in the USA and sold 33 million units worldwide. It solidified her as an iconic figure in the music industry and will continue to inspire generations of musicians long after she stops making music.

Watch the videos for ‘Ironic’ and ‘You Oughta Know’ below and a live performance of ‘Ironic’ filmed in 2012.

#TBT: Toni Braxton – “Un-Break My Heart”

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“Un-Break My Heart” was the second single off Toni Braxton’s multi-platinum album Secrets – released in 1996. It was created by legendary songwriter, Diane Warren and produced by equally prolific producer, David Foster.

In her VH1 Behind The Music special she expressed her dislike for the song when it was presented to her. She was ultimately convinced by LA Reid, co-owner of LaFace Records, to record it. It went on to be a worldwide smash hit and seventeen years later it remains Toni’s signature song. It spent 11 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and it earned her a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
It’s one of those classic R&B ballads that has stood the test of time and always will be remembered as part of the soundtrack of the 90’s.

Watch the video below starring Toni and male supermodel, Tyson Beckford as her love interest and watch her perform it live at Arista Records 25th Anniversary Celebration.

#TBT: The Rolling Stones – “Start Me Up” LIVE 1990 | Steel Wheels Tour

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The Rolling Stones get the Tokyo Dome started up!

1989 saw The Rolling Stones embarking on a North American tour of their album Steel Wheels. The tour eventually led them to Japan in February of 1990 and the later to Europe under new poster and name, Urban Jungle Tour. This week, on this Rolling Stones Throwback, we take you back 23 years to the Tokyo Dome where an electric rock and roll band rocked out a packed stadium of some the most ardent fans!

A #2 Billboard Hot 100 single and your favourite song, here’s The Rolling Stones now with, “Start Me Up” live.

As an added treat, check out the official music video, released nine years before this performance.

#TBT: Lucky Dube LIVE in Switzerland 2005 | Full Video

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For this week’s Throwback Thursday we thought it appropriate to honour a legend who we still miss and will never forget: Lucky Dube. Spawning an unmatched 25-year music career, he achieved the unachievable. SAMA awards, a Motown Records contract and millions of records sold are just a few of the accomplishments that compliment titles he holds like South Africa’s Best Selling Reggae Artist and Best Selling African Recording Artist (1996).

In this #TBT Lucky Dube Special, we bring you a complete hour of the incomparable Lucky Dube live in concert with his full band. Whether you were old enough to have watched his rise to fame, grown up with his music or too young to have heard a single song of his, you won’t want to miss this set. It’s moments like these where you realise the legend that was Lucky Dube. His infectious energy, larger than life stage presence and a groove and vibe between he and his band that will keep you wanting for more. This performance may be eight years old but it certainly does not feel that way, as Lucky Dube’s spirit lives on through it.

Lucky Dube met his untimely death in Rosettenville, Johannesburg while being hijacked for his luxury Chrysler sedan, shortly after dropping his two of seven children off at their uncle’s house. May his soul rest in perfect peace.

We will always love you.

#TBT: Brenda Fassie Music Video Marathon

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Without a doubt one of South Africa’s all time greats, the legendary Brenda Fassie is a musical spirit that we will carry in our hearts always. Now, as a tribute on this Throwback Thursday, we feature four of her hit videos. “Wedding Day”, “Nakupenda”, “Wewe” and “Ngiyakusaba” have in total amassed over two and a half million views on YouTube. Lord knows I was hardly a twinkle in my parents eyes when these videos dropped but there’s something there that even I can appreciate. We will always love MaBrr and in honour of her being and her legacy, we bring you this four part video marathon:

Michael Jackson – Off the Wall

Off The Wall is cited by many artists and industry professionals alike as the perfect ten-track album. It was Michael Jackson’s first album since officially disbanding from The Jacksons. Right from its infectious up-tempo opener, ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’, to the closing boogie beat, ‘Burn This Disco Out’, this album has all the guts to have made it and to keep it one of the most iconic albums of all time.

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

Kabasa, a cowbell and a glass bottle. These ring any bells? Well if you’ve ever asked yourself what those strange, sharp, clanging noises are in MJ’s first single, there’s your answer. In the original demo for the song, Randy and Janet help Michael out to cut the proverbial first draft for Quincy Jones. Quincy, being the music maestro that he is, kept most, if not all, of Michael’s proposals and added horns, bass guitar and bass drums. The up-tempo flirtatious pop killa tempts its receiver by claiming she could never get enough of the fire that makes it happen without asking any questions.

Rock with You

The second track on the tracklist is one of three written for the album by world famous composer Rod Temperton, who rose to fame after penning the global smash hit ‘Thriller’. It’s a mid-tempo ballad that continues the ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ theme over a laid back drumline, guitars, bass guitar, strings and keys. One of Rod’s favourite things to write for Michael in his songs for him is harmonies. ‘Rock with You’ is perhaps the best example of this. Michael’s harmonies are as smooth and soothing on this record as they were on his previous ones with Jackson 5. This song was made to take you to a place where souls meet to fall in love.

Working Day and Night

The last song Michael brought in for the Off The Wall sessions and one of two that he wrote entirely on his own (‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ is the other). The cowbell makes its return in this one as well at the bass and keys. This is the first time we hear Michael experiment with vocal techniques to enhance the vocal soundscape of a song and what better song than this to try it? The song talks about a lazy lover who insists on Michael working all day and night in order to keep her while also revealing Michael’s thoughts on this. The vocal graphics of the song around the actual singing add to the exhaustion of the constant labour that he is forced into to prove his love. The bass solo builds it all to a climax which leads to a cathartic vocal scale release. Genius at its purest.

Get on the Floor

Its first greeting is a bold horn intro followed by an infectious bass riff that makes the foundation for the rest of the song. The song’s boldness is just as well as this next mid-tempo is a call to the dance floor in the most assertive of manners. But then again, who would be brave enough to join MJ on the dance floor? ‘Get on the Floor’ is also where we see the first development phases of Michael’s iconic vocal hiccup a la ‘Billie Jean’. You ready to get on the floor?

Off the Wall

‘Off the Wall’ is the next song written by Temperton and probably the closest pre-Thriller reference you will find on the album. Its eerie heckling as an intro arouses a cautiousness. The bass’ repetitive nature almost lulls you into zombie-mode much like Joe So’s 9 to 5 has done to him. If you have any inhibitions, you’ll need to shake them off for MJ and his party people. This is a call to let go of the things that weigh us down so heavily in this fast-paced life; to let go; to enjoy. Live life off of the wall. The harmonies in the song are some of Michael’s most sincere and purest and almost serve a Michael’s chorus of party people, convincing the hard headed, conditioned and machine-minded to let go and live a little.

Girlfriend

Paul McCartney’s first interest in and effort for Michael resulted in arguably the cutest song you’ll ever hear: ‘Girlfriend’. The song talks about being a secret lover who’s had just about enough of hiding and is ready to claim his girl as his own. So he threatens to tell his lover’s first boyfriend that she’ll only be seeing one man now. The shortest song on the album but by no means the least of the record.

She’s Out of My Life

Loss is a difficult thing to accept. It becomes incredibly difficult to accept when it’s the loss of someone you loved. ‘She’s Out of My Life’ is arguably Michael’s strongest performance on this album. No niceties or special effects. Michael’s voice. Piano. Strings. Add these elements into one and your result is perfection. It’s the kind of song that nullifies the naysayers’ claims that Michael was not a good vocalist, only a good performer. It reminds us of the legendary vocalist that is (no typo) Michael Jackson. Quincy speaks of a young 21-year-old Michael and how he wasn’t sure if Michael had experienced anything as intense as the Tom Bahler’s song describes but he cried after every take. About 11 takes of the song were done and Michael teared up each time. Quincy made the call to keep MJ’s sobbing on the record and looking back 34 years later, what a genius decision it was!

I Can’t Help It

Love him or mock him, Stevie Wonder is a name music will never forget. In the first song he co-pens for Michael, Michael delivers a sensuous performance in what comes together to be a coming-clean-about-your-feelings song over psychedelic instrumentals. Michael pursues his lover and lays every last one of his cards on the table admitting that he’s as helpless as a baby when it comes to loving her. What more can a guy say? What more could a girl possibly want or need to hear? This song has Stevie written all over it and he would no doubt do an incredible job at it. But this is what sets Michael apart and is, in my belief, the reason why Stevie approached him with it in the first place: Michael was able to make it entirely his own just like a musical ‘angel in disguise’. I couldn’t help that last one.

It’s the Falling in Love

In case you missed the first four fifths of the album, this song will some it up for you: love is a complex, convoluted game. We all have an innate craving for that high of falling in love but none of us want to ever deal with the crying that more often than not comes with being in love. It comes down to whether you can or can’t live without it and the reality is most of us can’t. The excitable horns might trick you into believing this to be a happy-clappy song and perhaps even the bass guitar’s intro. However, it’s that very same bass guitar that adds the sombre undertone that song speaks of. I guess it comes down to damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Burn this Disco Out

What better way to end the record than by a party courtesy of Mr Rod Temperton himself. Imagine: disco, your favourite DJ, smoke, dim lights and a disco ball. What more can you ask for? Whether you end up with the girl, decide it’s best to be apart or are still as confused as most of us live our lives, hit the club and dance it off is exactly what Michael’s about in his closing boogy record. The chorus of party people are back and they’re accompanied by those excitable horns that simply will not let you stay in your seat. So go on and dance and shout and burn that disco out.

Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall is available now on iTunes or any good music store.