Born in the R of SA: An Introduction to South African Country Music

So … you might have noticed something different about us on Twitter. Temporarily (unless I can convince CJ otherwise), our handle has been changed in recognition of the Springbok’s brilliant victory over the English on Saturday securing South Africa the William Webb Ellis trophy and title of world champions!

Looking a bit different there @britsinboots

Under this new name, it seemed an excellent opportunity to introduce you to the South African country music scene. However, as I started to think through who I could tell you about, I quickly realised this may not be as easy as I initially thought for a couple of reasons …

Firstly, our best country music isn’t in English. Afrikaans (one of the 11 official languages and my mother tongue) is a story-telling language and therefore we have an incredibly rich abundance of singer-songwriters. Afrikaans country music can be described as similar to Americana with the same themes and sounds. Having done no research into the topic, I would guess this stems from from having similar histories of gold rushes, pioneers (known as Voortrekkers) and settling prairies. Unfortunately, this means while I could suggest you listen to some of the names that immediately spring to mind, like Koos du Plessis, Bok van Blerk and Theuns Jordaan, I’m not sure it would have the same impact.

Secondly, while country music is big in South Africa, particularly old-school country, given the small music buying market, this means covers, lots of covers. Every artist, almost regardless of genre, will have a cover of ‘The Gambler’, ‘Coward of the County’ or ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ tucked away somewhere in their repertoire for the right stage or album.

But I’ve picked a few artists that hopefully represent the spectrum of South African country music.

The Legend: Clive Bruce

There are so many artists I could pick here who were (and are still) our George Straits and Loretta Lynns but I went for the sentimental choice as he was the first country singer I knew about (to the best of my recollection). In the late eighties, he also hosted a TV programme called Sing Country broadcast late on Sunday nights (with repeats in the morning which I was allowed to watch) that earned him the nickname the ‘Midnight Cowboy’.

The Queen of Hearts: Juanita du Plessis

Juanita du Plessis can only be described as a superstar and South Africa’s very own Reba. Everybody knows Juanita du Plessis’ songs. Her career spans more than twenty years and each of her albums has gone platinum, including the album entitledNashville’ recorded in Music City. And much like Rayna James (without all the personal drama) she’s gone on to establish her own record label and musical family dynasty.

The Cheese: Die Campbells

(That’s ‘The Campbells’ and not me having murderous intentions towards the poor Campbells…)
I feel a bit bad calling them cheesy but they are – in the best possible way; they exude joy and fun. These brothers – in their respective black and white Stetsons – sing both in Afrikaans and English and their own songs as well as country covers. If you want to get folks up to dance, they are guaranteed to provide boot scootin’ fun.

The Unexpected: Refentse

Not to put too fine a point on it but you just don’t expect a 21-year old black man to be singing in Afrikaans but Refentse Morake doesn’t let that stop him from using music to break down racial boundaries. Though he is more often described as a pop singer, I wanted to include him for the song below … proving country works even in isiZulu …

The Next Big (International) Thing: Roan Ash

I have to confess that until yesterday I had never heard of Roan Ash. He has clearly come onto the scene since I’ve moved to the United Kingdom and it was only because of spotting his song ‘Whiskey to My Soul’ … yeah, yeah … that I gave his music a listen. My immediate thought was why the heck isn’t this guy way bigger than he is? He could perform in any Nashville bar and you would never know he wasn’t homegrown American country. (The video for ‘Whiskey to My Soul’ is a real tear-jerker so I’ve gone with a video that shows we have trucks too …)

That’s my whistle stop tour of the South African country music scene for you! All I have left to say is … Go Bokke!!!


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