November Playlist: South African Sounds

We’ve been doing a lot of writing about South African wine and food. If you’re tired of hearing about it, we have a solution for you. (We actually think you should see a doctor and have him/her figure out what’s wrong with you. But if you’re not willing to admit you have a problem, there’s an easier fix.)

Clear your mind and start focusing on South African music. It will make you want to drink the wine, and the wine will make you want to eat the food!

In all seriousness, there’s an amazing music scene over there, from traditional and folk music to jazz and up-and-coming indie bands.

We’ve assembled some tunes to try and give you an idea of what South Africa sounds like. And, we believe some of these songs are also the perfect aural pairings for your beloved new box of South African wines (if you were wise enough to sign up for our monthly Box of Awesomeness, that is).

For your listening pleasure, we present you with South African music to drink to. Make sure to check out WA Juice Jams on Spotify, a playlist made up of every month of musical awesomeness we’ve assembled.


1) Miriam Makeba- Pata Pata

To quote Miriam herself: “‘Pata Pata’ is the name of a dance we do down Johannesburg way. And everybody starts to move as soon as ‘Pata Pata’ starts to play.”

It’s true, you should not play this somewhere you’re uncomfortable dancing. It’s a song that will make you move. This song made it out of the dancehalls of Johannesburg in 1957 and introduced South African music to the world.

Remember folks, “every Friday and Saturday night it’s ‘Pata Pata’ time.” And crucially, “the dance keeps going all night long till the morning sun begins to shine.” We hope you’re ready.


2) Hugh Masekela- Grazing in the Grass

Hugh is another South African legend, and this was the tune that put him on the map. Mix jazz, funk, and bright African timbres with a lazy groove and you’ve got “Grazing in the Grass.” If this song played in the background every time you walked into a room, you’d be the coolest cat of them all. (Tip: You can simulate this experience with headphones.)

Sip this song away in sweet delight with a glass of the 2012 Balance Shiraz. You’ll like what happens.


3) Paul Simon- Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

Okay, Paul Simon is not South African, but there’s a good reason this song makes the list. You may notice that there is a chorus sung in Zulu to open the song up. That’s because Simon and Garfunkel’s better half recorded much of his landmark album “Graceland” in South Africa. There he collaborated with tons of South African musicians (Ladysmith Black Mombazo sings on this track) and soaked up the sound of the country. In many ways, we have South Africa to thank for “Graceland,” and this tune in particular. This song is a lovely match for the 2014 Balance Chenin Blanc, but don’t take our word for it, give it a try.


4) Dollar Brand/Abdullah Ibrahim- Cape Town Fringe

Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand) was purported to be Nelson Mandela’s favorite musician. His unique brand of jazz came to be known as “Cape Jazz,” making him the founder of the sub-genre. This song in particular was at the center of the anti-apartheid struggle, and has come to represent it. Ibrahim is often thought of as the African counterpart of groundbreaking jazzers like Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.

“Cape Town Fringe” has a groove you can ride for miles… do so with some 2012 Eikendal Cuvée Rouge by your side and the journey will be all the more rewarding.


5) Die Antwoord- I Fink U Freeky

Now for something completely different… Die Antwoord is South Africa’s most popular rap-rave group, an institution and a genre all on their own. For better or worse, no list of South African music would be complete without them. Rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er gained international acclaim when their high octane music and their jarring image and artistic vision surprised listeners around the world. They rap in Afrikaans, Xhosa and English and pose a stark contrast to the music that has grown out of South Africa’s earlier, jazz influenced traditions.

Let’s not mince words, this shit is crazy- and sometimes crazy is just what you need. Up to you to decide when and where, though.


6) Mafikizolo- Kwela Kwela

“Kwela” is a style of South African street music that blends elements of jazz and skiffle and normally features pennywhistles and fiddles. It’s a form of music that encapsulated life in South Africa for some time, and that brought South African music prominence in the early 1950’s. Though it pays  homage to kwela, this song includes no pennywhistles (thank god). This Mafikizolo tune is a guitar and sax-based jam with a bouncy bassline and a chorus you’re not likely to forget. The bright, bubbly nature of the tune reminds us a lot of the Balance Sparkling Boldly Brut NV. Try them together.


7) Miriam Makeba- Orlando  

We admit it, we can’t get enough of Miriam… her nickname is “Mama Africa” after all. ‘Orlando’ displays a unique (prohibition-era sounding) side of South African music. This tune is lush, laid back and swanky, but still infectious. For those of you who received November’s Box of Awesomeness, we recommend sipping on the 2013 No. 1 Willow Way Shiraz/Mourvèdre while this gem spins. You’ll feel mighty sophisticated, for good reason.


8) Toto- Africa

We all know it, we all love it. Yeah, it’s not South African. It’s not even remotely African. (The boys in Toto did make sure to include some marimba and kalimba, though.)

It was only picked because it’s called “Africa.” We know you know that. Why come up with an excuse when none is necessary? It’s Toto’s Africa. Just put it on. Drink some 2013 Eikendal “Janina” Unwooded Chardonnay too.


9) The Elite Swingsters- Dinokza

The Elite Swingsters were South Africa’s premier jazz group in the 1950’s. Their tune “Dinokza” is a prime example of “township swing.” It’s a real toe-tapper, and it marks an interesting period in the development of South African music. Swanky American jazz was all the rage and local musicians’ attempts to emulate the brand ended up creating something new and unique. This is a deep cut, but a fun one too. For those of you looking to start a band, sorry… “The Elite Swingsters” is already taken.


10) Johnny Clegg & Savuka- Cruel Crazy Beautiful World

Johnny Clegg is another important figure in South Africa’s musical and political history. Often called “The White Zulu,” Clegg is known for mixing English and Zulu lyrics, as well as African musical motifs and textures with western musical elements. His groups (which were illegal under apartheid) were the first prominent mixed-race bands in South Africa, a statement that echoed Clegg’s commitment to fighting apartheid. Cruel Crazy Beautiful World is a song with a healthy dose of that 80’s sound, hopping bass, African textures, great synth melodies and a message of hope in the face of adversity. What more could you need?
So many jams, so little time. Folks, we could spend all day picking out South African music for you (actually we just did).

If you’ve been sucked in by cape jazz, kwela and township swing (or if you want to get freeky with Die Antwoord) then this list is a great place to start, but is by no means exhaustive.

We’re starting to get thirsty (and hungry) so we’ll leave it there for now. Plus, don’t you have a dance party to get ready for?

Make sure to keep the volume up, and your glasses full.


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