Music is the connective tissue that holds our memories suspended in time. We all hold a library of music and memories within us. If you trace the albums that define your moments across a lifetime, you’ll have a time capsule. This exercise is part Trip Down Memory Lane, part Artist Spotlight (full-time absurdly abstract). Enjoy!
In this post I am mining gems, memories and spotlighting artists. If you find it has an abstract/disjointed quality, I encourage you to lean into the music and the madness of it. And Even if you never share it with the world, please compile your own Memory Jukebox! It was a wonderful wholesome experience.
Musical Memories: Personal Eras
My earliest music memories are Lesedi FM. My mom would listen to Ntate Thuso Motaung on Sundays (she still does). I fondly associate it with heavy organ-music punctuated sermons and the musical stylings of (another living legend) one Ntate Tshepo Tshola. It took ages to find Thwasa, who had the more contemporary South African music on her weekday show. I then found Mr Ed Zondi on Metro FM (Sundays) and my classic RnB education began. Deep House had its moment in the sun and I cherish those Definition of House/Glenzito days. Remember songbooks? What a time. Stay Real, Sobabili, anything by DJ Sbu or HHP, Changes (in my life) and singing “oh, What A Love We Have” evokes images of sunny days, little ‘Miss Party’s’ breaking down dance floors at family gatherings, dance lines and walking the tightrope of trying to eat braai meat fresh after having my braces tightened.
If Kwaito isn’t the most beautiful artform. It was entirely homegrown, a cultural tour fe force of fashion, dance and music. Arthur Mafokate was the man. Guys we lived through tsipa, twalatsa, kwasa kwasa and mnige. We saw living legends loom large and go solo. I used to call wrapping my hair in a towel on washday (and keeping it on for the rest of the day) my “Boom Shaka Hair”. I would’ve given my left arm for a pair of Dickies overalls (for some reason my mother was staunchly against me looking like a member of Trompies) and wanted wooden jewelry so I could be like Thandiswa from Bongo Maffin (but that Stoned Cherry look was not within the budget). Throw in some penny whistles with Kwela Tebza and later, the rise of Mafikizolo and Malaika and you have yourself a childhood. I don’t know why SABC had to enforce the local talent ratio: before I knew Biggie I knew Skwatta Kamp. It makes you appreciate the Caiphus Semenya’s and Stimelas, Miriam Makebas’ and Hugh Masekela’s that came before (I can’t believe my first time voluntarily listening to Miriam Makeba was that Bicc advert + The Click Song. At the time I had never met a Xhosa human in my life before). South African music is so beautiful guys. I think our wedding Playlists are unrivalled. I love that I can Pata Pata with my grandmother no questions asked and that Mafikizolo have dibs on any and all future weddings. The influences and layers are so rich.
Brenda Fassie’s Memeza and Luther Vandross’s I Know shared the cassette drawer of my mom’s car. Cassette tapes were cool: you had to work for the music (manually winding, flipping from A to B-side and recording diligently from the radio having to click stop record before the dj started talking) but they rewarded you with the lyrics in book form and the list of producers and artists that collaborated with your fav. A whole entire musical bibliography. Before reading the tape books it never occurred to me that there was a whole village that lived behind the music. And once I knew that, it was hard not to come across Chico Twala’s name (A Lot). Usher’s 8701 was my first cassette and the rest were bootlegs bought from any human at school who was enterprising enough to make mixtapes (and later burrn CDs) of the popular songs of the day before NOW [That’s What I Call Music] was a thing.
Family Roadtrips to Lesotho were an exercise is compromise: I endured (and eventually adored) Bhudaza’s jazz and in return my family silently tolerated Avril Lavigne circa Let Go and Under My Skin (I blush just thinking about it). This Friendship love letter [throwback edition] doubles as a capsule of my music tastes in early adolescence.
I discovered contemporary Hip Hop completely by accident. My only in at the time was Bow Wow (I regret nothing). What actually happened was: my primary school crush was deeply invested in the G-Unit/D12 vs Murda Inc beef. Nerd that I am, I did some deep diving into both camps so that on the off chance that he asked me for my opinion I could be well informed. Song lyrics and all (“I think the rain is calling murder”). To understand the extent to which this crush formed my early Hip Hop foundation: His ring tone was Kanye West’s Diamonds of Sierra Leone. His [my crush] best friend, a scrawny but popular white boy who was my fond acquaintance, firmly believed that Diddy knew who murdered Tupac (so naturally I had to know all about that and the music was a happy side effect). I didn’t expect to find Eminem’s music moving (he had a sincerity and vivid and visceral storytelling style that I didn’t see coming). I didn’t know Outkast were Hip Hop royalty. At the time Jay Z was just a Vibe magazine cover who had the coolest music video girls; until one of the artsy boys (you know, the ones who sat in the back of class drawing Amine and wore cool pants before it was cool to be well-groomed) told me about the “I’m a Business. Man” quote and I was sold. Maybe these guys were the poets of our age I thought. Dear Hip hop: my love, my happy musical accident. It’s not the relationship I thought I wanted to get out of that crush but I’m happy things worked out the way they did.
Addendum: the naked song: for as long as rappers have been in my life I’ve always been hooked by their Naked Song. It’s what I call the song where a rapper reveals who they are. What drives them what happened to them and why they belive we should listen to their story. It’s pretty subjective but I think, with this definition in mind, we can all agree that the following qualify as naked songs of note:
TI: Live in The Sky
Drake: the whole of Thank Me Later
HHP: Bokone Bophirima/See
Nicki: Dear Old Nicki/Moment For Life
Cardi: Come Up 10
J Cole Lost One’s (a case can be made later for Love Yours)
My late primary school early high school transition period was thick with Bow Wow (he’d just dropped Let Me Hold You guys!) and Missy Elliot (also: remember J-Squad?!). I was leaving behind singing Aaliyah, TLC, Brandy, Maya, Tamia and Destiny’s Child in hostel showers to uhm, singing all of the above and Beyonce in… Hostel showers. I’d like to send a personal shout out to the following epic TV theme songs: Taina, Half&Half, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Sister Sister, Moesha and Kim Possible. Bops I tell you. Whenever I’m sad I watch 90s music videos. The RnB girls were serving us midriff, attitude and choreography. The RnB boys were serving us storylines, begging women on their knees and dancing in the rain. The boy bands were alive and well (the Jagged Edges coexisted with The Backstreet Boys) and it was the era of the pop princess: Britney and Christina cleared a path. I’ve never been more invested in pop.
Editors note: the exclusion of my personal mini-British invasion is a gross oversight. Between the Sugababes, Blue, Craig David and SClub 7, there is a lot of embarrassing choreography that can be traced back to this sub-era. What a time!
It was at this time that I’d just discovered female rappers and it was amazing. Eve’s Love is Blind is still one of the coolest songs I’ve ener heard and I will forever cherish the day someone yelled “Ayo, I don’t even know you but I hate you!” and in unison we collectively sang the entire song from start to finish (until the teacher returned). Nicki Minaj was just starting to make a mainstream splash and she was very clearly the heir apparent to one Miss Lik’Kim. I admit I didn’t like her aesthetic at first, the multi-colored wigs and cartoonish sets made her difficult to conceptualise from a purely rap standpoint for me (being so different from all the rappers that came before her) but the older I get the more I realise: that’s exactly what she wanted and we sat up and took note. It was at this time that early Cole and Kendrick were appearing on the scene. While the heavy synth pop (LMFAO, late Black Eyed Peas and Early Gaga) dominated this era, those three artists budding is the personal soundtrack I remember.
I spent a lot of my formative years adjacent to or amongst Tsawna people. It was wildly frustrating that we couldn’t agree to disagree that our languages were different and that, no, the SeSotho pronunciation of words was not incorrect just different. I feel like I got in on the ground floor of the Motsawko movement. I spent many evenings dreaming about Maftown (fun fact: I’ve been to Rustenburg several times, high-schooled in Potchefstroom and practically lived in Klerksdorp but, despite knowing a crazy number of people who live there, I’ve never once visited Mafikeng). And the FOMO was strong. To me, it was a cultural hub of poetry, music and dance. They called groove chillas and nothing could’ve been more attractive to me, the mediocre dancer with no desire to sweat for anyone else’s enjoyment. We had up-and-coming artists demos on our phones. We knew about Cassper before there was a Nyovest when he was still rapping with KT. The North West birthed gems. It was the home of Tuks Senganga and HHP. YBA 2 NW and Mafoko A Me are modern classics. Go argue with anybody you want as long as it isn’t me. It represents that adjacent marginalised alienation that comes with adolescence for me, when the pieces are starting to fall into place and you are just starting to take pride in your culture, the places you’re from and the people you represent and I’m grateful. A group of Tswana people made me love myself (and my home) more.
The Script: I got my first job in order to see them live in concert (The first time). To date I call them my favourite band even though I haven’t listened to any of their newer albums. Because of them I know that I like an artist if I like 3 of their songs independently without having ever seen said artist. Breakeven, The Man Who Can’t Be Moved and For the First Time showed me that. I discovered my love for live music because of them. I learned that you can fall in love with and enjoy songs you’ve never heard before the concert because, theoretically, live music is what music is for. Nothing plays live like a band and no one runs with a metaphor quite like The Script. No one❤️.
Hillsong beneath the waters and oceans covers an era of terrifyingly beautiful gospel from Hillsong, trips to Colour (#FlourishBabyFlourish) and figuring out how to drive my car to Century City without GPS. An era.
Turn Blue: I don’t know why I decided to listen to The Black Keys but they were not in my radar and it was late. The weight of Love blew me away because it signified that this album was a personal work of art made for the artist themselves and we were all just lucky to be listening in. A 4 minute guitar solo opens the album with so much talent and emotion I thought by heart would burst. It then did when I found myself crying alone at night with earphones because I’m Our Prime is an almost savagely raw beauty. I found myself googling the actual band members to see what they’d been going through because the emotion was too real and vulnerable to be fiction. I’m still haunted by the lines: “the house it burned but nothing there was mine, we made our mark when we were in our prime” and the description of divorce as feeling like “10 different lovers died”. And somehow, even if you couldn’t hear the lyrics, the music takes you there. I have never been so taken aback or moved by a music album. Inevaesperedit.
Janelle Monae’s Yoga. I know where I was the night I first saw that video. Equal. Parts perplexed and empowered and oddly liberated: Janelle had stripped off her black & white uniform. It felt like we’d been seeing her in a tuxedo-shaped cocoon all these years and she’d finally emerged, artistically untestrained and audacious in full technicolour. Bending never breaking. There are musical moments that define you, that was one of mine. She became my favourite artist that day and I’ve never been the same. I gave birth to this blog listening to (and watching the Emotion Picture) Janelle on repeat. Her music holds my hand when I want to be artistic and brave. She’s my first Artist Spotlight.
Thanks you Zininzi for introducing me alt RnB. I found experimental SZA, FKA Twigs, Jesse Boykins III and Sasha Keable that special June we spent being driven around on a bus through the Italian countryside (and flinching whenever cars approached because they were coming from the ‘wrong side’) wit your headphones on and being introduced to these magical humans. The Summer of 2014 will forever be your soundtrack, Gelato, carbohydrates and new things.
If ASAP Rocky’s Fashion Killa and Chance the Rapper (when he was still on drugs) sounds like Chiko & I’s late night Cape Town drives and beachadventures (an era and Playlist unto itself) that “represented Flat number 4!”, Brasstracks smells like Chiko’s house in Kenilworth. Kickboxing and girls nights/sleepovers. It represents freedom, anticipation and unbridled joy. The first time I heard Say U Won’t, I made the poor girl put the song on repeat and danced around her kitchen like a crazy person. It was a steady victory lap towards graduation and any time I wanted to feel a crazy amount of joy, I played that track.
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Elle Varner: her very existence was magic to me. She was just this breath of fresh air. I enjoyed her very existence. Runaway was my ringtone for whopping 3 years. Listening to Elle Varner evokes Sunday afternoon trips on the train on Sundays to get piano lessons from a fellow classmate in my 4th year of medschool. I had the times down to a science. I saw the coastline up close, watched live music, got roped into a dance or 2 and developed my personal happy place ritual in the form of train rides to Kalk Bay. To date, I can never visit Cape Town without taking a Sunday morning train trip to Kalk Bay. It’s always magical and will always be the hidden gem of a place where I held my perfect 21st birthday celebrations.
Corinne Bailey Rae: Stop Where You Are is a sweet memory, it feels like George, road trips and Easter. It also sounds like my first real night out in George to a local bar to bond with the boys of the house. A bar that tolerated our presence better than we’d anticipated. I came back to a ransacked room, a broken window, missing jewelery box and a stolen laptop. In medical school the laptop meant that all of my clinical case write ups across disciplines (Internal Medicine, Paeds, Family Medicine etc) that I’d been working on steadily for 6 months in preparation for our end of semester exams in Cape Town were now all gone. Word to the wise: asking someone repeatedly why they don’t have more backups in a crisis IS NOT HELPFUL. And we were 3 weeks away from end of semester exams at this time. Anything backed up was woefully outdated so to say this left me screwed was an understatement. This album feels like late night computer typing catch up and the immediate aftermath of this trauma: the acute awareness ghat your safe space is an illusion and anyone can barrel in at any moment and take what they want, including your sense of safety. I spent that weekend in my pyjamas on the couch drinking vodka (my least favourite alcohol) and orange juice (my least favourite juice) while rewatching the entire MCU Avengers catalogue (I think at that point it was Guardians or Civil War). My housemates let me wallow in peace and only mild concern. Corinne was my soundtrack of hope, of how I put myself back together again after such a psychological and professional blow at such a critical time. It also represented the return of corinne who had found happiness and love after the incredibly sad album that preceeded it.
Adele sounds like living in Oudsthoorn, family medicine write ups, cheap ostrich meat, strange bridges on jogging routes and illegal trips to waterfalls with Sethu. Rihanna sounds like road trips to Sedgefield market (home of the 3rd best burger in the world) and Kynsa. It’s initially laughing at, then suddenly loving, the song Higher. It’s Nicholas singing “work work work work work” all over the house. The end of my roommates era. Lemonade was, well: Lemonade.
Channel Orange after Strawberry Swing made me love Lauren more, I found Pyramids helped me more as an adult than when I first heard it. My go-to heartbreak album featuring Andre 3000’s iconic: “if models were made for modelling, thick girls were made for cuddling” and some of Frank’s finest work before he went on an indefinite hiatus that had us as a fan base harrasing him for years on end (that harrasment led us to to Self Control, my undefeated heartbreak anthem, so it was totally warranted). I associate Frank with the transition from University to “adulthood” + my first serious adult relationship (beginning middle and end).
To this day I maintain that my time at Bara is dominated by three movie soundtracks: Disney’s Moana and Damien Chazelle’s La Land. I swear humming the songs from both albums strategically for me through those first few months of internship. It was a bad sign when I stopped singing: the canary in the gold mine. The first sign of return was Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. I became known, much to my teammates amusement, as the guy who raps Hamilton post call: the more intricate the rap the more severe the post call psychosis. I was singing again and that’s all that mattered. I still sing post call. If I’m singing it’s still OK, if I’m rapping it’s time to warp it up and go home. If I don’t sing, it’s very bad.
The Screen Era of music
Glee (seasons 1 & 2 especially) was a musical education for me. An introduction to show tunes, musicals and classic rock. It did for classic musicals what Ed Zondi had done for my classic RnB tastes. A musical education (before the pop covers). I’d literally never heard Don’t Stop Believing before, and while it will never get the Sister Bethina response from me, I see it’s value now. Speaking of TV shows: thanks to Greys Anatomy there was a whole era where Ingrid Michaelson had me by the balls.
Insecure soundtrack one & three: three revolution between these 2 albums. Went from recommendations to jukebox of my favs. I can’t tm how proud I was when I already knew the music from season 3. Google music actually recommended RADIANT children album Poke Bowl to me as a new release. *Kelly voice* You know what we call that? Growth.
NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts have since taken over in terms of my musical education. They serve as introduction to new artists, reintroduction to old favourites and background music to my #InternAdult life. Anybody who’s ever been over for dinner knows they’ll be playing in the background I found Amine because of them. I’ve cried from exhaustion to Tiny Desk Concerts, I’ve been frustrated by the original song because the TDC’s were better, I’ve waited for my favs to feature and discovered new favs altogether. I’ve slowdanced to Daniel Caesar and HER in my living room. It’s been the background music to my life thus far. Jorja Smith’s vocals are the background of the only video “house tour” I ever made. I encourage anyone who hasn’t discovered them already to please check them out. Because it’s live and intimate and on their own terms, I feel like artists flourish in this setting; revealing and reimagining their personal favourite songs for us.
Timeline of personal theme songs:
I judge these by songs I obsessively played on repeat ad nauseum and whose lyrics I scrawled all over every blank piece of paper (or back of test papers) that came my way or just the song that played in my head at critical moments. Usually for the period of a year plus.
Ntoetse’s personal anthems (theme songs for extended periods of time) in chronological order:
Avril Lavigne-Anything But Ordinary
Dj Fresh-Stay Real
TI ft Rihanna Live Your Life (particularly Rihanna’s reprise in the extended version: “till the game end till the clock stop we gone post up till the clock stop”)
Emeli Sande-Read All About It Part II
Elle Varner-So Fly
Corinne Bailey Rae-Stop Where You Are/Skies Will Break
Post Malone- Sunflower
Please share your personal theme songs, favourite rapper Naked Songgs and Jukebox memories with me!