The INDIE Channel’s Top 50 South African Music Videos Ever
There are only a few weeks left to get your proposals in for the Jameson INDIE Channel grant, and add your vision to the pantheon of South African music videos. So, in order to give you some inspiration we’ve compiled a list of South Africa’s best music videos, from ‘73 until the present.
Of course, no such list could ever be entirely definitive. This is a subjective collection based on memory, some Facebook polling, and water cooler conversations at the office. If you think we’ve made any notable omissions, we’d love to see some of your suggestions in the comments section at the end.
So without any further ado (and in no particular order), here are the Jameson INDIE Channel’s Top 50 SA music videos of all time:
Spoek Mathambo – Control
This one probably came up as a suggestion more than any other video on the list. For starters, you have Spoek Mathambo absolutely killing it with this unique rendition of the Joy Division classic, but Pieter Hugo’s monochromatic vision for the video is just so damn elegant and powerful it takes the whole thing to a new level. It’s pure brilliance by two of South Africa’s favourite sons.
K.O feat KiD X – Caracara
This song and its accompanying video earned K.O no less than five nominations at the 2014 Channel O Africa Music Awards. I think I like it so much because it’s just so quintessentially South African. I hope Volkswagen compensated K.O for what has to be the best tribute to the humble Microbus since that David Kramer ad in the eighties.
Mafikizolo – Khona
Traditional never looked this contemporary in this relentlessly vibrant and dynamic video for Mafikizolo’s 2013 smash hit off the ‘Reunited’ album. It’s a riot of dance, fashion, colour and design in the distinctive Ndebele mode, and I’ve already watched it three times since starting to write this paragraph. The scenes with those smiling ladies in blankets beside the horse have a lot to do with that.
Christian Tiger School – Chorisolo
This is the kind of video that makes you want to adopt a dog, buy a bakkie and move to a farm. Mesmerising moving shots of man’s best friend running alongside the car on dusty roads at sunset… I’m smiling just reading that sentence.
Fantasma – Eye of the Sun
I had to hold myself back from turning this list into the Travys Owen show. The Cape Town-based director’s work is really in a class of its own, AND he just happens to be working with some of the coolest artists of our time. This video really exemplifies his paradoxical aesthetic of using natural landscapes and digital effects in equal measure to produce work that is raw, contemporary, and always a feast for the eyes. The track is just plain old incredible too.
Thor Rixon – Fuk Bread
When Thor Rixon decided to alter his identity from dreadlocked bohemian muso to shaved-headed bohemian muso, he cleverly capitalised on the transition in the video for Banting anthem ‘Fuk Bread’. It was definitely one of the most popular music videos of 2015, attaining global virality, and goes to show that truly great videos can be accomplished in a single take in an alleyway with some androgynous dancers and a Wahl clipper. And a nude suit – you must have a nude suit.
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb
Skrillex might not be South African, but the video for his massively popular single ‘Ragga Bomb’ was shot in South Africa, by South Africans, hence its spot on the list. And there’s no mistaking the local context, albeit a tad on the “what Americans think Africa is like” side of things. Who would’ve thought dub-step and pantsula work so well together? There’s also a light saber fight scene towards the end that more than makes up for the stereotyping. Oh, and did I mention it has a whopping 70 million views?
Khuli Chana – 9 Shots
The cool thing about this video is how Khuli Chana took the clay of a real life experience and sculpted it into a narrative. I guess you could call it a form of therapy, but I suppose the truth is closer to brilliant marketing strategy, seeing as the whole ‘high-speed-mistaken-identity-police-shooting’ incident made national headlines at the time. Great song, great video.
Mr. Cat and the Jackal – Bad Man Coming
The staccato movement, crudely hewn puppets, sun-scorched landscape and gruesome narrative is a pretty apt combination for Mr. Cat and the Jackal’s snarling, clanging, drunken sinaglong. Knowing what’s involved in stop-motion animation, I shudder to think how much work went into this and can only take my hat off to Yesterfang Puppetry and Flyinghose Photography for a job well done.
Taxi Violence – Devil ‘n Pistol
Phwoarr, what a song! Definitely one of my favourite rock recordings of all time. Much like the Kongos video for ‘I’m Only Joking’, this video really just captures the mood of the song so perfectly. Deep-fried, gritty southern rock with a Baptist choir and a bar-counter guitar solo thrown in for good measure. It’s likely to induce the whiskey sweats.
Bittereinder – Skerm
Bittereinder are one of those really progressive bands whose line-up includes a dedicated ‘visuals’ man. In this case, the man in question is Louis Minnaar, whose capacity for rendering immersive, psychedelic, digital environments makes him one of the most prolific and highly regarded auteurs in the South African filmmaking scene.
Dear Reader – Great White Bear
A simple, beautifully animated tale about a disillusioned shoe salesman who falls in love with a spider, and then has to flee from a society antagonistic towards inter-species relationships. It sounds ripe for a feature film extension if you ask me.
Qkumba Zoo – Child Inside
I remember first seeing these guys emerge when I was in high school, simultaneously attracted to the weirdness and repelled by the hippiness (I think the one guy’s name was Owl for crying in a bucket). Nevertheless, this video got a ton of airplay back then, and for the mid-nineties you have to admit that it’s a top quality production. This was at the time that MTV first appeared in South Africa, and ‘Child Inside’ was one of the first videos that made me think we’re not actually too far away from the US gold standard. I wonder whatever happened to Qkumba Zoo. My guess would be that they’re selling dreamcatchers at a market in Nature’s Valley.
Petite Noir – Best
Petite Noir (aka Yannik Ilunga) has to be the most noteworthy musical export from South Africa since Die Antwoord. His unique noir wave sound has been nothing short of a sensation in Europe, with his debut album ‘La Vie Est Belle’ featuring on a number of reputable ‘Best of 2015’ lists. Travys Owen’s vision for ‘Best’ contributes to a distinct noir wave aesthetic: stormy skies, ebony skin, malachite stone, the sea at night.
Cashless Society – Hottentot Hop
I never caught this track when it first came out. Truth be told, I wasn’t really aware of Cashless Society at all until a friend recommended this song for the list. Opening up with a Khoisan man shredding the electric guitar in the middle of a dry river bed, I was always going to love this video. And then when the dude starts rapping to the camera crouched down all super low like a spider? Come on! It just so happens that the track is really dope too, with an unmistakeable 90s hip-hop flavour. I want more Cashless Society. Where is Cashless Society right now?
PHFat – House of Clashes
A video as weird and unsettling as PHFat themselves, ‘House of Clashes’ showcases the characteristically expressive performance of rappers Mike and Narch, grimacing in the rain to the staccato accompaniment of a demonic digital symphony.
The Genuines – Die Struggle
There’s a dark irony at play on this classic video from The Genuines, one of the better known proponents of the characteristically Cape Town ‘Goema’ sound. Newsreel footage of Ratels running rampant in the townships is interspersed with a bizarre parody of an Apartheid policeman chasing members of the band. It’s a sober reminder of our country’s traumatic past, set to the beat of a crazily infectious pop-song.
Dirty Paraffin – Drip Dry
So this might not win any craft awards for world-class video production, but it got me excited when it came out because it started to feel like South African directors were starting to discover our own visual identity to pair with the distinctive sound of artists like Okmalumkoolkat and Dirty Paraffin. It’s low-def, low-budget, and a bit rough around the edges, but it’s really fun to watch. And it’s ours.
Riky Rick – Nafukwa
The City of Johannesburg makes strong supporting performance in this killer production by the We Are Awesome collective. The video is as flawlessly slick as Riky Rick’s rhymes, a true testament to the ferocity of the hip-hop movement up north. Veering between colour and monochrome, the general and the particular, contemporary and traditional, this visual dramatisation of Nafukwa is as good as it gets IMHO.
Strident – Power Metal From Space
Strident didn’t really stick around for too long, but ‘Power Metal From Space’ exists as their magnus opus in a dusty corner of YouTube. Those rinky-dink space flare effects almost make you think the band is really jamming on an asteroid plummeting at light-speed through the Horsehead Nebula.
Umlilo – Reciprocity
Umlilo is one of those musicians who confounds classification and always enthrals. Director Odendaal Esterhuyse clearly gets that, and harnesses Umlilo’s inherent artistry in this mesmerisingly choreographed video. Combining dance, still-life and portraiture, the video itself is a work of art. It’s criminal that it only has around 3000 views.
K.O.B.U.S – Tiener Angs
K.O.B.U.S, in this writer’s humble opinion, are one of the most underrated bands in South African rock history. Tiener Angs is a brilliant track with brilliant lyrics (translated: “Wear reproach like a crown, write a ballad of despair about your teenage angst and say f**k you”), and this video just works so well. I have no idea where the original footage of teenagers dancing in some sort of Soul Train scenario originated from, but it works so well set to rousing Afrikaans speed metal. The irony, the aptness, the clash, the harmony… gets me every time.
Die Antwoord – Enter The Ninja
So you either love or hate Die Antwoord, but regardless of your assessment of their music or problematic personas, this video really set the stage for them to blow up in the way that they have. Directed by Ninja (and Rob Malpaige, who I suspect may have been sidelined a little), it became the template for the group’s visual identity – one that, for better or worse, remains largely unchanged. It also introduced Die Antwoord’s obsession for the scrawls of Roger Ballen, culminating in ongoing collaborations between the two artists. All that aside, it’s just a really tight, visually cohesive video. ‘Enter The Ninja’ is still their best song too.
Dookoom – Larney Jou Poes
It’s not every day that hardcore grime makes it to the entertainment section of conservative Afrikaans newspapers, nevermind the front page. ‘Larney Jou Poes’ had everything to do with that, sparking national debate and even a Constitutional Court lawsuit for hate speech against Dookom. Though some people took offence to the lyrics (“Farmer Abraham had many farms/ And many farms had Farmer Abraham/ I work on one of them and so do you/ So let’s go burn ‘em down”), Dookoom were contributing to a very difficult, yet very necessary conversation in South Africa. There’s also no doubt that Dane Dodd’s video made the sentiment more visceral, and certainly amplified the track’s message.
Lark – Moonlight
I remember vividly when this music video first came out. It was on a new level, technologically and narratively, offering one of the first glimpses into the true potential of local directors in this realm. I think Lark had it done for next to nothing (this was at the time of their apex), though it should’ve cost more than a million, if rumours were to be believed. It still holds up for the most part, though I’d love to see a full HD version if it still exists on a hard drive in some cardboard box in a basement somewhere.
Aking – Man Unkind
Another example of a video that really complements the sonic quality of the song. Embracing emptiness, the video plays out as a sequence of surreal still-life images – potted palms, an albino Great Dane, soap bubbles, firecrackers, a Nissan Skyline, and even a sneaky bum or two – seemingly unrelated on paper, but oddly cohesive in this atmospheric piece of filmmaking by Xander Van der Westhuizen.
Howard Roark – You Got The Moves
This is the only Howard Roark track I remember, and was was probably bundled on an SL magazine compilation at some point. These hip shoegazers only existed for about five minutes around the turn of the century, so I guess this video is their legacy. Nothing too flashy here, just a really well-produced video with a fun concept. Nevertheless, it’s stuck in my memory all this time.
Johnny Clegg – Cruel Crazy Beautiful World
The real reason kids in the eighties became Johnny Clegg fans was probably because of this music video. It must’ve been one of the first animated music videos in South Africa. There’s a cat sucking a dummy, some vultures in British barrister wigs, penguins being churned out of a machine and straight into a well, a mad (dog?) scientist. It’s still as surreal as I remember and I actually have no idea what’s going on. I suppose the lesson we learn is that it really is a cruel crazy beautiful world after all. That hasn’t changed.
The Plastics – Stereo Kids
A really good example of a simple concept that plays out with excellent film-making. A dance proposal at a high school social is dramatised through superb choreography and cinematography, resulting in something that really feels like the climactic scene of a teenage rom-com.
Yvonne Chaka Chaka – Umqombothi
It’s odd watching one of the most powerful women in South African music history delivering homemade sorghum beer on her head to men awaiting their umqombothi fix. That said, this is such a timeless tribute to South Africa’s traditional tipple. At this distance from the original recording in 1988, the video offers a glimpse into the past, and serves as an anthropological document of an important cultural practice. Also, it’s catchy as influenza.
Broken Mirror – Johnny Calls The Chemist
Broken Mirror were something of an anomaly in the mid-eighties, with their dark, transgressive brand of pop-rock. ‘Johnny Calls the Chemist’, thematically reminiscent of Rodriguez’s ‘Sugarman’, was a big hit for the band in 1986, after which they melted into obscurity for the next few decades. In 2014 the band made something of a comeback, and I was lucky enough to see them perform live. Lead singer Nielen Marais remains one of the nuttiest frontmen I’ve ever seen in action, while guitarist Allan Faul was a true master of his instrument. Tragically Allan passed away in the same year, just as the Falling Mirror reunion was beginning to gain momentum.
Zaki Ibrahim – Draw the Line
An intimate portrait of a young girl in Cape Town that plays out like a documentary with no real destination in mind. The images and the editing are nonetheless extremely powerful in this video by Jenna Bass, and leave a lingering sense of a lived experience beyond the familiar.
Doodvenootskap – Protein Shake
This selection might well draw a few detractors, but there’s something so fresh, electrfying, and authentic to this epilepsy-inducing rollercoaster ride through a galaxy of stock images set against a makeshift green-screen in some Bonteheuwel backyard. The unashamedly awful aesthetic is hardly an accident, seeing as the video was directed as a colaboration between visual artist Sebastian Borckenhagen, and DIFF 2014 ‘Director of the Year’ Jenna Bass. It probably didn’t cost much (if anything) to make, but it definitely demands attention.
The Wild Eyes – Breakdown
This ought to be a vivid throwback to anybody who was partying in Cape Town about a decade ago. The Wild Eyes, fronted by the fantastically weird Nikhil Singh, were supremely popular on the live music circuit and this was the track that got the people going. The video is a real gem too, a lo-fi monochromatic mash-up of Salvador Dali, Nosferatu and Orson Welles.
Haezer feat. Tumi – Troublemaker
Another video of such epic proportions I’m waiting for the blockbuster feature film. The video, directed by Kyle Lewis, takes the form of an ‘Afro-Thriller’ set in the townships of South Africa where four young children with destructive super powers wreak havoc on their town. Too damn cool.
Okmalumkoolkat – Holy Oxygen
Director Wim Steytler creates a mesmerising visual accompaniment to this massive hit by Okmalumkoolkat, who parades a dystopian landscape in hazmat-couture. The visual paradox of symmetrical flames is the defining image of this video, and comes to mind every time I hear this track at a club.
Wawungakanani – Msawawa
Mzansi’s own kwaito kid, Msawawa, reminds us of a pre-pubescent Michael Jackson in this classic video from the nineties. He may have faded from the limelight in recent years (he was rumoured to be homeless last year), but this track will live on in perpetuity as archaeological evidence of the Kwaito Age.
Fokofpolisiekar – Brand Suid Afrika
The significance of Fokofpolisiekar in the evolution of South African music simply cannot be denied, and this video takes us back the supercharged heyday of these punk-rock messiahs, back when Francois still sported a lekker boep.
Yesterday’s Pupil – Down The Line
With less than 3000 views on YouTube, I’m going to go ahead and call this one an undiscovered gem, and definitely one of my favourite videos by Louis Minnaar. More subtle and intimate than a lot of his other music videos, ‘Down the Line’ shows off his deft edting talent more than anything else. Peach van Pletzen also delivers a superb performance.
Goldfish – We Come Together
This world-class animated video makes it quite apparent that the popularity of your band is directly proportional to the quality of music video you’re capable of producing. Goldfish are swimming in the big bowl these days, and this 8-bit epic for ‘We Come Together’ looks good enough to spawn its own TV series. More power to them.
Sons of Kemet – In The Castle of My Skin
Another track for a non-South African band, but seeing as it was directed by Lebogang Rasethaba, shot in Tembisa and, most importantly, uses pantsula as its primary means of expression, this video makes my list safely. This infinitely watchable music video features the Indigenous Dance Academy’s pantsula dancers as a black-tie orchestra, conducted by choreographer Jarrel Mathebula. It’s a study in contrasts: a convergence of the chaotic energy of pantsula with the controlled sophistication of an orchestra.
Mahotella Quens – Umculo Kawupheli
Another glimpse through the looking glass at South Africa in the early seventies, when I suppose music videos were less of an art form and more of a documentary. Those sweaty, bearded guys smoking cigarettes as they jam away on those Gibson SG’s in the studio? That’s some vintage video treasure right there. The Mahotella Queens are pretty damn cool, it has to be said. They’ve been at it since the seventies, and as recently as late last year are still collaborating with new artists like Nonku Phiri. Umculo Kawupheli means “Our music never dies”. Truth.
Aking – Safe As Houses
Perhaps I’m biased on this one because friends of mine were involved in creating this video, but it’s a beautifully constructed idea executed with the bare minimum of resources. I think I like the fact that the concept is effectively an art project by director Bryan Little, who oversaw the hasty construction of a cardboard house on the Sea Point promenade, which in turn became the location for this surreal narrative to play itself out. A big idea on a tiny budget.
Kongos – I’m Only Joking
So I guess this isn’t a strictly local video since the band is based in Phoenix, Arizona, but all four Kongos brothers hail from Johannesburg so I’m keeping them on my list. It’s a really great track, and I love how the video seems to correspond so well to the atmosphere created by the song; the lighting and editing rambling along with the rousing percussion. You almost feel drunk by the end of it. In short, a superb audio-visual pairing.
The Sleepers – Mine
Another dark horse that I hadn’t picked up on at the time, this is really just a beautiful video to watch. The Sleepers are renowned for having really great taste in the realm of design and imagery, and this is no exception. Shot, edited and directed by Craig Ferguson, ‘Mine’ is as dark, moody and lethargic as your 17 year-old Goth cousin.
Sedge Warbler – Basil Pesto
Another Travys Owen jam, this fairly straightforward video is nonetheless visually mesmerising and, well, a little freaky. Distorted facial proportions, a panther’s gaze, and some subtle digital interventions take this darkly minimalist piece into the realm of evocative art.
Die Antwoord – Ugly Boy
As a counterpoint to ‘Enter The Ninja’, the video for ‘Ugly Boy’ follows a similar format (rapping to camera in a surreal scenario), but is indicative of the group at their pinnacle. Aside from the lusciously slick cinematography and art direction, the video features A-list cameos from Marilyn Manson, Dita Von Teese, Jack Black, The ATL Twins, Cara Delevingne, and Flea. With 45 million+ views on YouTube, it also ranks amongst the most popular South African videos of all time.
Tumi feat. Reason & Ziyon – In Defence of My Art
Not that Tumi needs to defend his art, but this is a pretty artistic way to do so. Director Kyle Lewis works in a photographic mode, assembling a range of minimalist post-colonial and tribal tableaus in dreamy black-and-white. It’s beautiful to watch, and a fittingly stylised accompaniment to Tumi’s statement.
New Loud Rockets – Bleeding In A Cab
Oh what the hell, I might as well add one of my own music videos to this list seeing as I’m the boss of this game. This was the first video I ever shot, a huge plunge in the deep end that somehow worked out thanks to a great team. Using 16mm film, ink in a fish tank, and a whole lot of black bags, I’m not sure how we managed to pull this off for the budget we had (or rather, didn’t have). It might be the first video I ever shot, but it’s still probably my favourite. Must be the nostalgia factor.