Alan Eisenstock’s Playlist: South African Artists and Songs

(Editor’s note: Palisadian Alan Eisenstock’s 19th book “Redeeming Justice” co-written with Jarrett Adams, came out on September 14 and was named the Best Book of September by Amazon. “A consuming tale of a broken legal system, its trail of ruin and the fortitude needed to overcome its scarring.”

When Eisenstock is not writing, he pursues what he calls “a crazy labor of love side project” that he started in March 2020: sending a weekly Covid-themed playlist of songs to his family and friends. These playlists (which can be downloaded on Spotify, click here) span rock ‘n’ roll and pop music from the 1950s to 2020, and Eisenstock adds one or two lines of commentary about each song that is clever, amusing and informative. He took a few weeks off after Thanksgiving and we’re happy he’s back!)

Hi, Everyone,

Covid cases are surging again as a result of Thanksgiving gatherings, the Delta variant, and the emergence of a new variant, Omicron. Omicron (catchy name) might be even more contagious than Delta. Where did it come from? South Africa. What to do? Idea. Here are 16 songs about Africa or by South African artists. Listen up!

  1. “Grazing in The Grass” Hugh Masekela. We start with a lively instrumental. Trumpeter Hugh Ramapolo Masekela recorded this smash in 1968. Back in the day, folks called him the “father of South African jazz.”
  2. “Under African Skies” Paul Simon. Dealing with personal issues–both his partner Art Garfunkel and his wife Carrie Fisher left him–Paul escaped to South Africa and fell under the spell of the music. The result was his stunning 1986 album Gracelandperformed with African musicians. On this song, Linda Ronstadt sings backup.
  3. “Buffalo Soldier” Bob Marley & The Wailers. Buffalo soldiers: fierce fighters “stolen from Africa, brought to America.” Heavily political, infinitely rhythmical, this song from 1986 and the album Confrontation is one of my favorites. LOVE.
  4. “The Mighty Quinn” Manfred Mann. South African-born, London-raised keyboardist Manfred Sepse Lubowitz did two things that guaranteed him success. First, he recorded a Bob Dylan song. Second: he changed his name. Huge hit from 1968.
  5. “Pata Pata” Miriam Makeba. South African singer, songwriter, and activist Zenzile Miriam Makeba co-wrote this big hit in 1967 with Jerry Ragovoy. Often called “Mama Africa” Makeba went on to have international fame as a result of this dance tune.
  6. “Africa” TOTO. L.A. band formed from session musicians in the late seventies. This 1982 hit was written by band members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, a song imagining life in Africa.
  7. “And It Spread” The Avett Brothers. One of two songs on this list not directly about Africa. This song, written and recorded by the harmonic North Carolinian brothers Seth and Scott, reflects the dangerous spread of Omicron. Be careful this holiday season, folks. Stay home, listen to a playlist.
  8. “Flying High” Angelique Kidjo. Singer-songwriter, called “Africa’s Premier Diva.” Kidjo speaks five languages and brings style and sass to everything she sings. This song is her latest release.
  9. “This Must Be the Place” Talking Heads. 1982 hit from their album Speaking In Tongues.David Bryne wrote the lyrics, the rest of the band is credited with writing the music. This new wave-funk-rock band is steeped in the roots of African music.
  10. “The Crossing” Johnny Clegg, Savuka. South African singer-songwriter-activist-anthropologist, Clegg has been called, affectionately, “The White Zulu.” Known for being outspoken and often performing with artists of color, Clegg wrote this moving 1993 song about the murder of a dancer he’d known. Savuka is his band.
  11. “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This all-male choral group was formed in 1960 by Joseph Shabalala. Paul Simon included them on his album Graceland. That propelled them to fame. The group has since won five Grammys. This song is based on an 1897 Christian hymn.
  12. “Sugar Man” Rodriguez. Sixto Diaz Rodriguez performed in obscurity in Detroit and then found success in South Africa in the 1990s. In South Africa, he sold more records than Elvis Presley, begging the question, “How many records did Elvis sell?” Rodriguez is the subject of the 2012 Academy Award-winning documentary Searching For Sugar Man.
  13. “Surfin’ Safari” The Beach Boys. Creators of the “California Sound,” The Beach Boys sing the title song of their first album. The song was written by Brian Wilson and his cousin, Mike Love. African connection? It’s “Surfin’ Safari.”
  14. “A Swinging Safari” Bert Kaempfert. Another safari song. German bandleader and songwriter, Bert wrote this 1962 hit using an alias, Sid Schnitzel. Using his real name, he wrote several other jazzy hits, including “Strangers In The Night.”
  15. “Ants Marching” Dave Matthews Band. Although he became part of the music scene in Charlottesville, VA where he formed the Dave Matthews Band, Dave was born in Johannesburg. He’s had bigger hits, but I like this catchy 1995 song best.
  16. “Quattro (World Drifts In)” Robert Plant, Alison Krauss. It took 14 years, but Plant and Krauss finally reunited to record a second studio album after Raising Sand, this one called Raise the Roof. I cannot stop listening to their stunning cover of this Calexico song written by Joey Burns and John Convertino. “The world drifts in and the world is a stranger…” LOVE.

And there we are… 16 swinging African/Omicron songs and a playlist I love. Some advice:


Don’t Forget To Disinfect and… PLAY IT LOUD!


The link again: click here

Fact Check

Paul Simon and Carrie Fisher were married… for eleven months. In her memoir, she said she knew the marriage was in trouble on their honeymoon night.

Bert Kaempfert did use an alias on “Swinging Safari”–Bern Bertie, not Sid Schnitzel. I like mine better.



In the battle of girl groups, The Toys and “Lover’s Concerto” edged out “Quicksand” and “Chapel Of Love.”



Two great songs: Paul Simon “Under African Skies” or Bob Marley & The Wailers “Buffalo Soldier.” Who you got?


And there we have it.

Alan Eisenstock

Until next week,

Stay safe, everybody,




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