Top 6 albums of the last 60 years
Chris Roper on six top albums of the past six decades
The Jazz Epistles — Jazz Epistle Verse 1
The first album recorded by a black SA band, and with a lineup — including Kippie Moeketsi; Dollar Brand, now better known as Abdullah Ibrahim; Jonas Gwangwa; and Hugh Masekela — that, with the hindsight of history, qualifies as a super-group. Recorded a couple of months before the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, it imbued American bebop with a local sensibility. Noted jazz writer Gwen Ansell described it as a statement of modernity, staking black jazz musicians’ claim to the cities of SA. It was the only recording by the Epistles, before most of them fled into exile and carved out international solo careers.
Dollar Brand — Mannenberg – Is Where It’s Happening
It’s impossible to hear the lilting, evocative opening of Mannenberg, the title track of the 1974 album by Abdullah Ibrahim (released under his old name) without a pang of nostalgia. For some, it’s a sound that marks one of the moments when Cape jazz invented itself as distinct from its international brethren, underscored by the shouted words "Oh Mannenberg! Jy kan na New York gaan, maar ons bly hier in Mannenberg", that close out the largely instrumental opening track. For others, it’s the soundtrack to the political struggles of the 1980s, when Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen (who both played on the album) used the song at political rallies.
Brenda and the Big Dudes — Weekend Special
You can’t overstate the love SA fans have for Brenda Fassie, and especially for the extended single mix of Weekend Special. A song about being a married man’s part-time lover, it strikes a forlorn chord, while at the same time giving you the all-important groove to fight the melancholy. But the whole album is a fabulous amalgam of soul, disco and the huge personality of Fassie, underpinned by the slick power of the Big Dudes, up to then the backing band for Blondie & Pappa. Above all, Weekend Special is a warm, encompassing album, and it gave us our own "Madonna of the townships".
TKZee — Halloween
When TKZee released the single Shibobo just before the 1998 Soccer World Cup, featuring a collaboration with Bafana Bafana’s Benni McCarthy, it became one of the fastest-selling singles in SA history, and made TKZee famous across Africa. Halloween itself is generally lauded as one of the great SA and kwaito albums, and earned Zwai Bala, Tokollo Tshabalala and Kabelo Mabalane four SA Music Awards. It’s an album bursting with passion and joy, credited with rejuvenating kwaito. The smash hits like Dlala Mapantsula and Mambotjie are still hauled out at parties today, and We Love This Place is probably the most hopeful SA song you’ll ever hear.
BLK JKS — After Robots
On their debut album, Joburg band BLK JKS burst out with a heady, confusing mash-up of styles including, but never limited to, jazz, prog-rock, kwaito, dub and mbaqanga. It’s the sound of unfettered indulgence and fearless experimentation, and isn’t shy to incorporate and mutate a host of international rock references. There’s a wild playfulness to guitarists Lindani Buthelezi and Mpumi Mcata, and the songs career from chugging rhythm to crazed solos in a way that screams freedom. It might be too simple to see After Robots as a case of the empire sings back, but it is an album that transforms the alt-rock of the West in the same way that Zambian Zamrock changed 1970s rock.
Derek Gripper — One Night on Earth
A lot of SA music is about reworking the traditions of the West and making them locally relevant. But there’s another strand which speaks to the music of our fellow Africans, and Gripper is a master of this. One Night on Earth pays homage to Malian masters such as Toumani Diabaté and Ballaké Sissoko, with their songs, originally played on the kora, a fiendishly complex 21-string instrument, rewritten for six-string guitar. The result is both hauntingly beautiful and culturally energising, and has led Gripper to share famous stages such as Carnegie Hall with greats like Diabaté and guitar legend John Williams, who said he thought it was "absolutely impossible until I heard Derek Gripper do it".
• Roper is a director of Code for Africa, and former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian