Mission To Mars
to end this terribly unexpected bad year 2020 -annus horribilis- I chose a topic that will seem strange to some readers. The music of Durban, South Africa. Why Durban?
Especially important to me since Durban was my very first encounter with South Africa when I visited the country in 1996. It was also the first time ever to play in South Africa as a DJ at “Mission To Mars”. A big rave held in the Sugar Terminal, in the port of Durban, organised by Dutch and local promoters. Date; November 30th 1996. Location; Sugar Terminal, Maydon Wharf, Durban.
The line-up featured many local DJs like Tich, Mataz from Durban Radio 5FM a.o. Together with other Dutch DJs Remy and Martinez we played for thousands of ravers all night long. To see the sunrise through the doors in the majestic Sugar Terminal, surrounded by thousands of happy smiling dancers, was an incredibly positive experience.
After the change of power in 1994, it was possible in 1996 again to party on such a large scale and to receive foreigners safely in the country, years ahead of major electronic dance festivals such as Ultra today.
The egg shaped building of the enormous Sugar Terminal and the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city were magic. The crowd of all colors and races, the peaceful atmosphere, a receptive party audience and DJs getting to know each other’s music, the positive impact, have made me fall in love with Durban and South Africa ever since.
Since then I have dived deeply into South African music. I even started this blog to try and understand the unexplored history of South African music. I clearly say try, because there is still so much to discover. Also in the modern contemporary music of the southern part of Africa.
The history of music from Durban, Kwazulu Natal is quite complex to say the least. The city is not only one of the popular seaside resorts and the largest port in South Africa, Durban is best known as the birthplace of Rock in South Africa. Rock music in many guises, from 60s beat, to the hybrid forms in which Indian, English and African musicians created the music that shaped the sound of Durban up until now.
There is so much to report after an enormous amount of research on the music of the past that I decided to make a series of it. Which will appear as five episodes to complete the story. Not a definitive story for sure, but my own interpretation of a unique and little-known sound.
For this series I based my information mainly on the thesis of South African born and Durbanite Lindy van der Meulen. I have also used parts of previously published articles and photos from various websites that are experts in the genre. A lot of information came from the liner notes of records and collected news papers as well. See the sources and notes
All music files come from my own collection of the original released vinyl.
A thesis by Lindy van der Meulen in fulfilment of the degree of Master of Music at the University of Natal. Writer and the only woman in a Durban rock band (The Remnant) for a four year period (1989-1992). Lindy van der Meulen currently lives in Durban.
FROM ROCK ‘N ‘ROLL TO HARD CORE PUNK:
AN INTRODUCTION TO ROCK MUSIC IN DURBAN 1963 – 1985
This study is broadly situated within an historical framework. From the outset, however, I have endeavored to look further than the purely musical aspects of the topic and to attempt to contextualize the music within a broader socio-political framework. Therefore, this thesis examines rock music in Durban within its social, political and cultural context. It also attempts to provide reasons for the changes evident by considering the historical setting which provided the backdrop for life, as well as rock music, in and around the city. Issues such as the effect of apartheid on the local rock scene, the militarization of South African society (the conscription of white males in particular), as well as the transfer of popular subcultures (such as the hippy and punk subcultures) to Durban are specific examples. The musical encoding of these concerns as they are represented in the rock music of the period was also one of the aims of my research.
This thesis has been submitted in fulfilment of the degree of Master of Music at the Universityof Natal. It does not pretend to be a comprehensive study of rock music in Durban. It is merely a start
an introduction to rock music in durban 1963 – 1985
G. Chilvers and T. Jasiukowicz, History of Contemporary Music of South Africa (Braamfontein’ Toga Publishing) 1994.
Durban is South Africa’s biggest port and a famous holiday resort since the early 50s. This gives the city a cosmopolitan flavor. In a sense, Durban embraces foreign cultures and people on a daily basis, especially considering that in the 1960s, passenger liners were still popular as transport between continents. In those days Durban was considered a fairly liberal city which, without the influence of national television, still remained relatively unpolluted by a wide scale acceptance of apartheid policies.
finding an own identity
The transfer of the Hippy subculture to South Africa was also most enthusiastically embraced by the youth of Durban. This again points to the overwhelming influence of ‘overseas’ movements/subcultures on South African youngsters, and their desire to be identified with the youth in Britain. Its message of peace, love and human rights were especially pertinent to a militarised, segregated and undemocratic South African society, and the 1969 Woodstock festival inspired local music organisers to set up similiar events.
The Hippy scene in Durban occurred on a fairly large scale. One of my informants can remember the existence of a shop which sold Hippy memorabilia, and which was the central meeting point for the ‘flower children’, who lined the passage from wall to wall in various degrees of drug-induced states. According to Syd Kitchen, a prominent Durban songwriter and guitarist who was a teenager in Durban in the 1960s, the shop was located in Murchies Passage, an arcade in the center of Durban. In the early 60s 28 venues opened up in Durban which allowed the buying, selling and taking of drugs. An example of such a venue was “Mumbles”. Many band members can recall taking drugs at one stage or another, but admit that it was more to create a certain image than anything else.
This driving desire to present an image which coincided with the ‘overseas’ scene is another example of how important it was to Durban youngsters to look and feel part of a worldwide movement, even when South Africa had been isolated from the world. It is painfully obvious that the youth of Durban (at this stage) did not want to find their own identity or create their own ‘scene’. They wanted to be accepted by the world and appropriating the Hippy movement was one way of showing solidarity with youth all over the world, and particularly, with British youth.
the Durban Rock Scene 1965-1970
Perhaps one of the biggest indications of the growth of rock music in the city was the mushrooming of new venues to cater for the bands and audiences which played and supported rock music. Venues such as Journey’s End (in Durban North), Tiles, and Scene 70 opened up, and ‘sessions ‘held at these venues are fondly remembered by fans and band members alike as the highlight of their youth.
There were, in fact, more clubs flourishing in Durban from 1965 to 1972 than there are at present. Furthermore, live (as opposed to recorded) music was the order of the day. It has been reported that it was not unusual for as many as a thousand young Durbanites to pack into a venue for a ‘session’ which would feature only local bands.
Durban has been the center of rock music in South Africa at various stages in the time period 1963 – 1975. Many famous rock bands and musicians emerged from Durban especially in the mid 1960s and the early 1970s. The chosen time period to consider is another issue which is necessary to discuss. The starting point, 1963, was the year in which important early Durban rock bands began to come to prominence – bands like The Flames, The Gonks, The Third Eye, and The Mods, The Wild Things. Most of these bands formed in the early and mid-1960s and were well-known on the local scene. Here are a few of the most famous and influential that managed to release records on local and major labels.
The Raiders were a very popular local band, hired for private functions in the Indian, Colored and African communities of Durban. Their music was mainly guitar-led instrumental pop in the style of The Shadows with some Bollywood type influences. The band released 3 known LP’s and a few singles on the RAJ label between 1967-1969
The Third Eye was a psychedelic rock band that released few albums between 1968-1970 and a handful singles. Produced by Billy Forrest
The Mods -not much is known about this obscure band, other then their only released single in 1967 on the South African Parlophone label.
The Wild Things was a popular South African rock/soul/rhythm & blues group performing mainly in the Durban area. The group consisted of Lincoln (Ballie) Abrahams, Rudy Johnson, Peter (Pluto) Davids, Tony Joseph (Joe) Fynn and Edwin (Tich) Jean-Pierre. Blondie Chaplin performed with the group before joining The Flames. The Wild Things recorded two albums “Soul” and “Suddenly” in 1968 and 1969
See also The Flames – Soulfire!! South Africa’s soul super group
In episode 2 of this series I will focus on more local bands and the political and social consequences of the Apartheid system that dominated the music scene in the early 1960s.
Merry Christmas to all readers!