Begin Here: Classic Rock/Oldies and Africa

Let’s start in the continent where human life began – Africa. Blues, Jazz, and Gospel music (which Rock and Roll had influences from) had African influences like call and response and influences from Yoruba drumming. Let’s go year by year to see what impact African musicians had on music in the 60s and 70s. I’ll even include some video clips of essential songs by these musicians. Did you get that reference to the 1965 Zombies debut album?

Prologue: In 1939, Solomon Linda from South Africa wrote and recorded “Mbube.” Now I’m sure you’re wondering, what is that song? What does that have to do with classic rock? The song was originally in Zulu. Twenty-two years later, that song was translated to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” In 1994, The Lion King used that song. Speaking of 90s movies, Ace Ventura (the video is mildly NSFW by the way) even had the song in the soundtrack. The song sold well in South Africa after it was released. He probably had no idea that this song would make it that big and make millions in royalties. Unfortunately, he and his family were ripped off and they had to sue to get royalties. How did the song get to America and the rest of the world in the first place? Alan Lomax told Pete Seeger about the song and then The Weavers covered it in the 50s as Wimoweh. What amazing things word of mouth does!

Here is the original Mbube:

As well in 1958, the group Lord Rockingham’s XI were founded. They were the house band for British TV series Oh Boy! This show was very important in British rock and roll history because it had big acts of the late 50s perform on the show like Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Billy Fury, Tony Sheridan, and Lonnie Donegan. These musicians influenced the 60s generation of British musicians, who would create music of The British Invasion and psychedelic sub-genres. One of the long-term members of the band is organist Cherry Wainer, who was born in South Africa. The band had a #1 in the UK in 1958 with “Hoots Mon”. This means that Cherry Wainer is very likely the first African rock star, since rock and roll was relatively new in 1958. She is described in a BBC special called 50s Brittania as The First Lady of British Rock and Roll. She died on 14 November 2014 at the age of 79.

Cherry Wainer remained popular in the 60s and here are a couple of videos that highlight her talents on organ.

1960: Hugh Masekela leaves South Africa after the Sharpeville Massacre. Miriam Makeba covered Mbube in 1960. In fact, for a short time Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba were married.

1961: The Tokens covered Mbube as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” This version went to number one on the US Billboard Top 100. Solomon Linda passed away the following year.

That same year, keyboard player Manfred Mann and double bassist Harry Miller left their birth country of South Africa for the UK. It would take a few years before they both got famous so in the meantime Manfred worked as a teacher and wrote for Jazz News as well as working for various jazz bands.


Greek-South African John Kongos released his first album with his band Johnny and The G Men, On Tour With The G Men, while still living in South Africa. He didn’t leave for England until the late 60s. The band were influenced by The Shadows and even covered their song “Apache”. As well, their cover of Bill Justis’s 1957 instrumental “Raunchy”, remade as “Raunchy Twist” is even better than the original! For a more sombre, yet beautiful, sounding song I recommend “Sad in the Saddle”.

Dickie Loader & The Blue Jeans released their first album My Babe. Dickie Loader was from Durban, South Africa. The album is a nice listen, has nice covers like “Let’s Twist Again”, “Summertime”, and “On The Rebound”. Their sound is very surf rock/beat.

The Invaders formed in Port Elizabeth. The band were inspired by the sound of Cliff Richard and the Shadows. Members of the band saw them a few times when the band toured South Africa.


The Flames were formed. Their sound was blues rock, soul, and beat influenced. Future members of The Beach Boys, Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin got their start in this band. Ricky Fataar joined the band at a young age, showing his drumming prowess. Before entering his teen years he won the title of Best Drummer in South Africa. The band released their first album in 1965 called Ummm! Ummm! Oh Yeah!!! They continued to release albums throughout the rest of the 60s. Their last album, The Flame, was released on The Beach Boys record label, Brother Records. This was the only album released by the label that was not by The Beach Boys. The album has a Roy Orbison cover, “Pretty Woman” and a couple of Beatles covers – “No Reply” and “Eight Days A Week”.

Bill Kimber & The Couriers released their first single, a cover of Chan Romero’s “Hippy Hippy Shake”. This is an excellent cover of the song. For a couple of years they released a bunch of songs. The band were originally from England, but they were popular in South Africa and appeared in Africa Shakes. Some other songs of theirs worth listening are “When You Gonna Say” and “Life Without You”. If you like the British Invasion sound, this band are worth checking out if you want to hear some obscurities.

Dickie Loader & The Blue Jeans released their follow up album Exclusively Yours. The song below is a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”. For the most part, the songs on this album are covers.

Kenyan musician Fadhili William recorded “Malaika” by Tanzanian Adam Salim. It was one of the most famous Swahili love songs. Not only that, but it is one of the most well-known Swahili songs internationally. Malaika has two meanings, angel or beautiful girl. The song was covered in the 70s by Miriam Makeba and  in the early 80s by disco group Boney M.


You may know this band thanks to Mean Girls, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Heck, they even mention that they were referenced on Mean Girls on their website. They were formed that year by Joseph Shabalala in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

That same year, Manfred Mann isn’t just a name anymore, they’re a band and they’ve made the big time (Note: Most of the band members are British, the only foreign born members of the band are Manfred Mann, who was born in South Africa and Klaus Voormann, who is from Germany). They had multiple hits that year – “5-4-3-2-1” – The theme song for Ready Steady Go, a show that had music performances from various popular bands of the time; “Do Wah Diddy” – Everyone knows this one. You may not know who Manfred Mann are but, it’s a recognisable song; “Sha La La” – went to number 3 in the UK.

That same year, Fela Kuti from Nigeria started getting more famous doing jazz and high life music.

Here’s a picture of the “5-4-3-2-1” 45rpm single I bought while I was in London:

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 14.01.02

1965: The Shake Spears from Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) release their first singles. One of their best known ones is called “Shake it Over”.

Here is another single they released that year, “Give it to Me”.

South African-born Sharon Tandy released her first single, “Now That You’ve Gone”. Sharon Tandy was born into a Jewish family in Johannesburg and She was known for her blue eyed soul music. She worked with R&B musicians Booker T. & The MG’s and Isaac Hayes. She also contributed vocals to some Les Fleur de Lys songs. If you like Dusty Springfield and Julie Driscoll, you’ll like Sharon Tandy. She returned to South Africa in 1970 after she broke up with Frank Fenter. She never had much chart success, but she is very well-remembered and liked after the fact.


South Africa’s first rock movie, Africa Shakes, came out. Unfortunately, I cannot find so much as a trailer for it. This website talks a bit about it and has some stills from the movie. Many famous names South African and international were in this movie including: Bill Kimber & The Couriers, Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, The Settlers, Dana Valery, Sharon Tandy, and Una Valli.

Dickie Loader & The Blue Jeans scored a #1 hit in South Africa and #3 hit in Rhodesia with their cover of “Sea of Heartbreak”.


Pata Pata by Miriam Makeba went to number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100

Nigerian jazz musician Ginger Johnson records the album African Party. He was a part of the Swinging London music scene. He moved to the UK after WWII and in the 50s he did one of the first African music recordings in Britain. In the 60s and 70s he performed with musicians like Georgie Fame, Brian Auger, Long John Baldry, Hawkwind, Genesis, Elton John, and The Rolling Stones. He supported The Rolling Stones at the Stones in the Park performance in Hyde Park in 1969. He died in 1975 of a heart attack.

The Invaders reached the top 10 in their home country of South Africa with the song “Shock Wave”.

Dana Valery recorded “You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies”, a song written by Paul Simon. The song became a Northern Soul favourite in the 70s. Dana Valery was born in Italy as Fausta Dana Galli, but moved to South Africa as a child. She left South Africa to pursue a music career.

Chubby and the Turnpikes release their first single, “I Know The Inside Story”. This group may sound familiar if you know your 70s disco, because they would go on to become Tavares. The Tavares Brothers were born and raised in Rhode Island to a Cape Verdean-American family. Their father, Feliciano Vierra Tavares, was born in Providence and he shared his love of Cape Verdean music with his sons, keeping the music alive. This song, “I Know The Inside Story” is a nice song, perfect for a Northern Soul club.


Jazz instrumental “Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela goes to number 1 in the US. Masekela was nominated for a Grammy for that song for Best Contemporary Pop Performance.

That same year, Manfred Mann got a number one with “The Mighty Quinn,” a Bob Dylan cover.

Here is Grazing in the Grass

“Master Jack” is a hit for South African band Four Jacks and a Jill. The song reached #18 on the Billboard charts in the US, and was a #1 in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia. The band were mentioned in the movie This is Spinal Tap.

South African heavy prog rock band Freedom’s Children release their first album, Battle Hymn of the Broken Hearted Horde. If you like The Doors, Aphrodite’s Child, The Moody Blues, and Procol Harum, you’ll like this band. This album is one of those that is worth listening to from start to finish. In 1970 the band released Astra, which has a different sound, a more space rock, futuristic sound. If you like Hammond organs, you’ll love this album. This album seems like a combination of Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Jethro Tull,and Traffic. But really, Freedom’s Children are so good that comparisons aren’t fair. They are in a league of their own, just as legendary as the better known classic rock bands. There’s a reason they were described by Nick Warburton as “one of the best live bands the world never heard”. If you need another reason to listen to this band, check out their third and final album, Galactic Vibes.

The Flames peaked at #1 with the song “For Your Precious Love”

Una Valli released an album called Soul Meeting!! with The Flames and The Peanut Butter Conspiracy as backing bands. The album is a great listen and has a very funky sound to it. I like the cover of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and this other song “You Are My Sunshine”.


Santana release their debut album. Now I’m sure you’re all like, wait a minute… Carlos Santana is Mexican and most of the band members are from California. What does that have to do with Africa? One of the songs on that album was, Jingo, a cover of “Jin-Go-Lo-Ba” by Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji. It’s a favourite at many of their concerts in the 60s and 70s. It was played at Woodstock along with other hit “Soul Sacrifice.” The drumming is incredible!

That same year Osibisa formed in London. They were made up of a mix of Caribbean and Ghanaian musicians. Their music is a combination of high life, rock music, and soul with some Latin influences.

This is an audio video of Jingo and Persuasion at Woodstock:

South Africans Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu form the band Juluka. They were a multiracial band. In apartheid South Africa it was very difficult for a multiracial band to find a place to play. They had to go to unofficial venues. They released their first single in 1976, “Woza Friday.”

The Staccatos topped the charts in their home country of South Africa with “Cry To Me”.

1970: Ginger Baker, known for his drumming in Cream and Blind Faith moves to Nigeria. He lived there for 6 years. He later on moved to South Africa and lived there for a time. He even worked with Nigerian Afrobeat musician, Fela Kuti.

South African hard rock band Suck form. They were a short lived band and only were together for less than a year. They were made up of two South Africans – Andrew Ioannides and Louis Forer, a Briton – Stephen Gilroy, and an Italian – Saverio Grande. They released one album in their time together called Time to Suck. It is a very rare album and copies of this album on vinyl go for at least $100. Almost all of the songs on the album are covers. Of all of the tracks, there is only one original: “The Whip”. A wide range of bands songs were covered like Grand Funk Railroad, King Crimson, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Free, and Donovan. This album is a very good listen and it is very ahead of its time with its metal sound. Great for fans of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. My favourite tracks are their covers of “21st Century Schizoid Man”, “Season of the Witch” (Their version is over 9 minutes long. If you like rock songs with long jams, then you’ll like this – it really is a nice twist on the 60s pop song), “I’ll Be Creeping”,  “Into The Fire”, and “War Pigs”. Strengths of this album include the blues-influenced vocals of Andrew Ioannides, which remind me a bit of Paul Jones and Robert Plant, and the bass playing by Louis Forer.

1971: Osibisa release two albums, a self titled debut and Woyaya. Both album covers were designed by Roger Dean, who famously did album covers for Yes.

That same year South African musician John Kongos, released two hit songs that each made it to number 4 in the UK, “He’s Gonna Step On You Again,” which was famously covered in the 90s by Happy Mondays. That song was credited as the first to use a sample. It features African drumming in the beginning. The other song was “Tokoloshe Man.” A Tokoloshe is a water sprite from Zulu mythology.

Ghanaian drummer Rebop Kwaku Baah joins Traffic, a band that was formed by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, and Dave Mason in England in 1967. In the late 70s he joined Can, a German prog rock band.

That same year, King Crimson release Islands. Harry Miller was a guest musician on the album, contributing on double bass on a couple of tracks.

Here are a couple of videos, the first is John Kongos and the second is Traffic with Rebop Kwaku Baah drumming.


Cameroonian Manu Dibango records and releases Soul Makossa. This song was highly influential, with Michael Jackson doing “mamase mamasa mamakusa” in “Wanna Be Starting Something.” It was likely one of the first disco songs. Not sure which got popular first between that and “Love Train.”

Meanwhile in South Africa, Trevor Rabin forms the band Rabbitt with Duncan Faure (who joined the Bay City Rollers in the late 70s), Neil Cloud, and Ronnie Robot (Friedman). That year they did a cover of “Locomotive Breath” by Jethro Tull. They were successful in South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and they had many fangirls. In 1978, he left for England and then America due to a world tour not materialising because of a sanction against South African bands due to Apartheid. There were even bands refusing to play in South Africa from the 60s-80s (“I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” comes to mind).

Bob Calvert (South African-born, raised in the UK) joins space rock band, Hawkwind. He was notable for co-writing “Silver Machine,” which peaked at #3 in the UK.

South Africans Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar join The Beach Boys. The band’s sound changed. They played on the 1972 album Carl and the Passions – So Tough. They wrote and sang the lead vocals on the song “Here She Comes”. Fataar and Chaplin wrote “Hold On Dear Brother” with Blondie Chaplin singing lead vocals.

Sharon Tandy reached #5 in South Africa with the song “Hello-A”.


Paul McCartney and Wings go to Lagos, Nigeria to record Band on The Run. It’s my personal favourite Wings album. However, the process of recording the album didn’t come without difficulties. They were robbed and Fela Kuti criticised the band because he believed they were there to take advantage of and rip off African music and musicians.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo release their first album, Amabutho on Gallo Records. They released 3 albums that year.

Osibisa did the soundtrack for the sequel to Superfly, Superfly TNT.

Here’s a picture of my copy of Band On The Run:


Nigerian rock band Ofege release their first album, Try and Love. The band were made up of secondary school friends from Lagos. This album was recorded when they were still in school. Their biggest inspirations were Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, and Osibisa. Their Nigerian contemporaries were BLO and The Funkees. They beautifully combined rock with highlife and funk. Unfortunately, the band never achieved success internationally while they were still together, but thanks to the internet, they have been rediscovered by people around the world. “It’s Not Easy” is their best known song, with over 1 million listens on Spotify, and it reminds me a bit of Traffic. Other songs on the album worth listening to are “Whizzy Llabo”, “Gbe Mi Lo”, “Ofege”, and “Lead Me On”.

BLO release their debut album, Chapter One. They are considered the first African psychedelic rock band. Before they were known as BLO (which is the initials for three of the band members: Berkley Jones, Laolu Akintobi, and Mike Odumosu), they were the backing band for Sierra Leone musician Geraldo Pino. Some members of the band even collaborated with Ginger Baker on a short lived project called Salt. Some highlights from this album include “Preacher Man” (which has some prog and jazz elements), “Beware”, “Chant to Mother Earth”, and the upbeat “We’re Out Together”.

1974: BLO follow up with the album Phase II. This is another excellent album and you can find some of the songs on Spotify. I like the songs “Don’t Take Her Away From Me” and “It’s Gonna be a Good Day”

Nigerian born Sierra Leone musician Geraldo Pino releases the album Let’s Have A Party. He was a veteran of the music scene since the 60s, when he released singles like “Maria Lef For Waka” and “More Time, Baby” with his band The Heartbeats. He is considered one of the most influential and popular African musicians, inspiring Fela Kuti. His sound can be described as James Brown mixed with African influences. Songs like “Africans Must Unite” and “Shake Hands” are black power anthems, much like James Brown’s “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” or Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black”. A compilation album called Heavy Heavy Heavy can be found on Spotify and it has his 1974 album in its entirety and more. All the songs are worth listening to. If you aren’t listening to Geraldo Pino, you’re missing out!

1975: Amanaz, a rock band from Zambia release the album Africa. The album sounds very psychedelic. If you’re interested in reading about Zamrock, check out this website!

Ofege release their sophomore album, The Last of the Origins. Like the last one, it’s got a nice mix of sounds. The songs “Amayo” and “Evil Child” have a nice disco sound. “Tomorrow” and “Got a Lot to Give” have a more funk-inspired sound. Overall, I’d have to pick “Everybody Feels the Same” and “Adio” as my favourite songs on the album.

Blo follow up with the album Step III. I can totally picture this playing on Soul Train, love it! Some highlights from the album are “Rhythm of Love”, “Hypocrisy”, and “Hot Chase”.

Rabbitt release their debut album, Boys Will Be Boys, and from there, they were launched into stardom with fans chasing them and going crazy at their concerts. Some highlights from the album include the opening track “Something’s Going Wrong With My Baby” (reminds me a lot of Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Junior’s Farm”), the hard rocking “Savage” with that cool wah-wah guitar solo, the Pink Floyd influenced “Lifeline”, and the symphonic/hard rock song “Hard Ride” featuring awesome violin work by Trevor Rabin’s father. “Looking For The Man” is a nice pop-rock song and “Death of Tulio” shows that Trevor Rabin can actually do prog rock, don’t write him off as the guy who turned Yes poppy. The biggest hit of all was “Charlie”, but it was not representative of their rock sound. The song is about producer Patric Van Blerk’s boyfriend, Charles Van Coetzee.

Tavares top the US R&B charts with “It Only Takes a Minute”. This is one of their best known songs.

1976: BLO release their fourth album, Phase IV. My favourite song on the album is “Trace of Suicide”.

Tavares’ “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” is a chart success not only in the US and Canada, but also in the UK, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

1977: South African all-girl group Clout form. Their biggest hit was “Substitute,” which went to number 2 in the UK. Interestingly enough, they did perform on TV in the Netherlands.

Nigerian funk musician William Onyeabor releases first album, Crashes in Love. “Something That You’ll Never Forget,” the first track truly lives up to its title and the percussion and keyboards make this a funky track. Other tracks I like are “Ride On Baby” and “Jungle Gods”. Very little is known about his life, but there is a film by Noisey/Vice that talks about his music, that I have linked to below. He followed up in in 1978 and 1979 with the albums Atomic Bomb and Tomorrow. These albums have more of a disco sound to it than the debut album. Tomorrow is a great album and I love the tracks “Why Go To War”, “Love Me Now”, and “Fantastic Man. These albums are very difficult to find, but luckily you can find re-pressings released by world music label Luaka Bop last year.

Ofege release their third album, Higher Plane Breeze. This album is another strong one and has even more funk and disco influences combined with Afrobeat. You can still hear some rock guitar in this so rock and roll has not been abandoned. My favourite songs on this album are: the funky and kind of electronic “Contraband” and the disco-friendly “HPB”.

Rabbitt release their sophomore album A Croak and a Grunt in the Night. This would be the last album they release with Trevor Rabin, since the next year he would leave for England. The album art is total fan service, with all the band members posing nude. They were teen idols, but don’t write them off because there are some serious rock songs that take influences from classical music, funk, and glam rock. “Sugar Pie” is my favourite on this album.

1979: Duncan Faure (formerly of the band Rabbitt) leaves South Africa and joins The Bay City Rollers as the lead singer, replacing Les McKeown. The band changed their name to The Rollers. They released the album Elevator that year. With the name change, came a change in sound. Their sound reminds me a bit of Rabbitt. The albums they released from 1979-1981 were not very successful. My favourite songs from Elevator are “Turn on the Radio” and “Elevator”.

Unknown (but some time in the 70s): Arthur Brown lived in Burundi. While there, he directed the Burundi National Orchestra. You probably know him for the song, “Fire”. Below is Todd in the Shadows’ video about the song. In this video he profiles Arthur Brown.

Epilogue: The 80s and beyond

What happened after the 70s? The music of the 60s and 70s surely shaped the 80s, and many consider the 80s classic rock now since it’s 3 decades ago (can you believe it?).

  • Trevor Rabin joined Yes and was credited as co-writing “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” It went to number 1 in the US in 1983.
  • Manfred Mann’s Earth Band released an album called Somewhere in Afrika in 1983, some of the songs had samples of music from South Africa – like the traditional song, “Shosholoza” in the song “Africa Suite.” At this time, Manfred himself was banned from entering his birthplace of South Africa because of his anti-Apartheid views.
  • William Onyeabor releases albums from 1980-1985. In 2013, a compilation album called Who is William Onyeabor was released.
  • Paul Simon wasn’t the only classic rock star to have interest in world music with the release of Graceland in 1986. Graceland also featured Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
  • Brian Eno, David Byrne, and Peter Gabriel were really interested in world music as well. In 1981, Edikanfo released The Pace Setters, produced by Brian Eno. Edikanfo were made up of Ghanaian musicians. In 1988, David Byrne started a record label called Luaka Bop, which features music from around the world, including African music. Afro Celt Sound System combine traditional Irish music with West African music – they are signed to Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records label, which was founded in 1989.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on The Diversity of Classic Rock! Check out the others! 😃