Tuesday, May 18, 2010

South Africa No Free Neither Are We

"A.F.R.I.C.A." is a classic Stetsasonic single that was surprisingly left off any of their albums. This was a pretty big release at the time (1989), and went a long way to putting a pre-"Talking All That Jazz" Stetsasonic on the map. It was a side project of the Artists United Against Apartheid's Sun City release - not included on the album (because that came out four years earlier), but single is marked with their logo and says it's "endorsed" by the Sun City album.

You surely remember the video, if you were around back then, with Stet superimposed over South African news footage. The song has a very rudimentary, old school feel to it. It's that low tech sound you either reminisce fondly of, or you're embarrassed to death to listen to today. But there's no denying the funky percussion... probably because it's provided by Olatunji and the Drums of Passion. And the hook to this song is one of the best geography lessons I ever had in life. How many cities countries (whoops! fixed - see comments section) in South Africa can you name? I can name "Angoloa, Soweto, Zimbabwe... Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana!" The picture cover[upper left] also says it's featuring The Reverend Jesse Jackson, but that's a little disingenuous. They sample a speech he made when he made about South Africa... but how many tons of rap songs sampled speeches? They didn't claim them as featured guest stars! Still... the CD single[which I don't have, but I stole the scan from discogs... right] features a photo of Jackson posing with the band, so he must have at least signed off on this record.

And speaking of the picture cover, it's a pretty neat one! The inner sleeve also includes the lyrics, production notes, an essay on the problems of apartheid (an excerpt: "After a network TV report on [Jackon's] trip appeared on ABC's 20/20, Stetsasonic checked out the situation. They wrote A.F.R.I.C.A. to get more people interested in finding out about apartheid and the Frontline states") and a detailed map. Seriously, there's a lot to read with this record.

There's a couple mixes here... the regular version, a slightly shorter Radio Version and The Stetsafied Mix. The Stetsafied Mix isn't too different from the other two; but it does feature a lot more beat-boxing from Wise, some deeper drum machine notes and a few other odds and ends thrown into the mix.

Finally, there's "Free South Africa" by Tack Head. Tack Head is actually an alias of The Sugar Hill Band, a.k.a. Fats Comet. I assume the change in name is so people wouldn't expect the softer disco sound of the early Sugar Hill Days... this features hip-hop drums, electric guitars and a lot of vocal samples from news programs laid over them. It's kinda dated, but in some ways sounds even more dated than "A.F.R.I.C.A."

It's worth noting that Stetsasonic's third and final album in 1991, Blood, Sweat & No Tears featured alternate bonus tracks on its CD and cassette versions. One of those tracks was a new remix of "A.F.R.I.C.A." (curiously titled as "Free South Africa (Remix)"... but it's a remix of "A.F.R.I.C.A.," not the Tack Head song); and this might be a bit controversial to say, but I prefer it to any of the original mixes. It's a whole new instrumental, with a cool, rolling bassline, funk guitars, and girls (sampled?) singing along to the hook. What's really impressive about it is that it takes the same vocals as the original but manages not to sound dated at all. Seriously; it's like... how'd they pull that off? The remix is fresh and timeless.

But don't let my preference for the remix dissuade you from the original. Like I said, the percussion's ill; and this 12" is an important piece of hip-hop history. And before anybody asks, yes, they freed South Africa. In 1994, South Africa held their democratic election, voting in the African National Congress and their democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela. 8)


  1. Back to school Werner: "How many cities in South Africa can you name? I can name "Angoloa, Soweto, Zimbabwe... Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana!"
    These are african countries, not s.a. cities. So as JustIce was sayin: Put that record back on...

  2. The AFRICA remixes featured on Blood, Sweat and No Tears, were remixed by Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) and were released as a 12" in the UK, which coincided with Stets appearance at the Nelson Mandella concert at Wembley Stadium.

  3. @discoscratch LOL You're right of course. I fixed it. ;)

    @Matt - Norman Cook, really? Wow, score one for him.