Five awesome 90’s South African songs you forgot existed

photo by from pexels
Photo by from Pexels

Imagine you’re listening to the radio and a song comes on that teleports you back to a specific moment in your life.  You can remember exactly what you were doing, who you were with and how you were feeling, and it makes you all warm and fuzzy inside.  You’ve just experienced Music Nostalgia.

Without getting too technical (read this or this for that), roughly between the ages of 12 and 22, as your brain is developing it is forging a large amount of emotional connections.  When it comes to music, this usually results in a strong chance that a specific song, band or even genre will be linked to an event, person or feeling that was being experienced while hearing the music.

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
― Bob Marley

In 1990’s South Africa, we’d just emerged from the 80’s which sported great bands such as Mango Groove and Johnny Clegg & Savuka.  We had yet to be introduced to our post-2000 exports – the likes of Seether and Prime Circle.  Wedged between these eras was an amazing decade of South African rock music. It was during this period that a lot of my Music Nostalgia moments took place.

While bands such as Springbok Nude Girls, Just Jinjer and Wonderboom still receive substantial airplay, tour every now and then and are firmly established in many people’s memories, the list below contains songs from bands which were pretty big at the time but have been somewhat forgotten by the masses over time.  These songs trigger  some rather specific memories for me.

Squeal – Runners 

photo by markus spiske from pexels
Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Being a high school student in the 90’s meant you probably couldn’t afford to buy loads of CD’s (if you could even find the SA stuff in the first place), so you resorted to the tried-and-true method of recording songs off the radio – an activity which usually took several attempts because if the DJ’s weren’t talking over the intros and endings of the music (a most undesired effect), the tape would in all likelihood run out before the end of the song – most infuriating.  Runners formed part of one such mixtape and it remains one of my all time favourite SA rock tunes.

Henry Ate – Just 

grandstand lunch
Break-time on the grandstand

There were comparatively few female-led acts in the 1990’s SA music scene.  Henry Ate was perhaps the exception to the rule. Just was receiving a lot of airplay and between it and it’s twin single Hey Mister it takes me back to sitting on the grandstand with friends during break.  Incidentally, Just was one of only two SA songs I could play on guitar during my “I want to be in a band” phase.

Amersham – Monkey 

photo by tom pumford on unsplash
Just Jinjer fans learning about the Amersham concert – Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

Amersham was formed in my first year of high school – around the same time as another, probably more well-known band – Just Jinjer.  Strangely, my friends at the time seemed to fall into either one fan-base or the other. There was much excitement when it was announced that our school hall was going to be used as the venue to an “up-and-coming rock band”.  Being a Just Jinjer fan, Monkey always reminds me of the collective disappointment that Amersham was the act that would be performing – an event that is remembered as “that one time Just Jinjer didn’t play at our school”.  

The Usual – The Shape That I’m In 

standard 6 pic
The “Shape That I’m In” indeed…  Happy despite this haircut

A simple and straightforward pop-rock ballad, I think these heartfelt lyrics and catchy melody are still as strong as it was the day I first heard it 23 years ago.  Reminding me of nothing in particular other than just being a teenager in the late 90’s. This song always made me happy – and still does in the form of this super chilled acoustic version (link above).

Sugardrive – Disco Lazarus

*Note that the entire internet fail to provide a decent album-quality version of this song – the link above is the best I could do…

photo by eric nopanen on unsplash
Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

By the end of high school I was, thankfully, growing out of the obligatory boy-band phase, leaning more towards music requiring actual instruments and zero choreographed dancing.  Sugardrive’s electro-infused rock produced something quite unique to SA music at the time.  Perhaps their biggest hit came in the form of Disco Lazarus and makes me think of my radio’s speakers distorting as I blasted this with the bass setting turned to “max”.  Another Sugardrive favourite was the somewhat milder-in-decibels Ten Feet High.

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

I hope you enjoyed the little foray into 1990 SA music – perhaps it invoked a little Music Nostalgia in you?  If you’d like some more, I’ve created a playlist on Spotify with a collection of great SA tunes, starting from the 90’s and including some newer offerings too (it’s a pretty eclectic mix, so consider yourself warned).

Do you have a favourite track from the 90’s?  Or even song that reminds you of something specific?  Share in the comments below!

3 thoughts on “Five awesome 90’s South African songs you forgot existed

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