While there are many thoughts and wishes going through our minds at the moment, one that has often been mentioned in conversations and articles is the feeling of wanderlust. ‘The strong desire to travel’ leads us to wonder about all of the places we wish to travel to, as well as those that we’ve visited before and have fond memories of.

When thinking of South Africa endless images come to mind. From its unique wildlife, safaris and the Savannah to incredible cities with buzzing energy and the quiet hidden gems on the coast.

But what about its music? South African music has historically reflected social and political issues and was often used as a form of protest against the apartheid system. Music has also often been the medium through which the country could seek and participate in solidarity throughout its history.

Today, the country hosts multiple musical festivals across the year which display the best of local talent. From the internationally acclaimed Cape Town Jazz Festival to more boutique festivals such as Splashy Fen, both local and international visitors are spoilt for choice.

With most of the world isolated at home, we thought we’d transport you from your couch in your living room to vibrant South Africa through its toe-tapping beats and sweet, soulful melodies.

Listen to the full playlist here:


1. Weekend Special – Brenda Fassie

Brenda Fassie was the first-ever South African to make the Billboard ‘s Top 100 and with this iconic song. The success of ‘Weekend Special’ led to a world tour for the singer, making her one of the first South African artists to make the leap across the Atlantic.

2. Africa – Toto

Although not a South African song, one cannot help but immediately be transported to the African continent. Surprisingly, keyboard player, David Pache, had never even been to Africa when he wrote the song. Nonetheless, he captured its beauty and the song has become an all-time favourite all over the world.

3. Special Star – Mango Groove

Special Star is a South African classic and a popular choice in music line ups for celebratory occasions in the Rainbow Nation.  Known for its unique style, it beautifully fuses township and pop music. Mango Groove performed this song at the Freddie Mercury tribute in London (via satellite) to an estimated audience of a billion people in 1992.

4. Wamkelekile – Hot Water

Performed by the energetic South Africa group, Hot Water, Wamkelekile was included in the soundtrack for the movie Blended, featuring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Wamkelekile is a Xhosa word, one of the twelve official South African languages, and means ‘Receive my welcome’.

5. Waka Waka – Shakira

How can one listen to this song and not reminisce back to the festive 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted in South Africa? It’s also the most-streamed World Cup song of all time. The song was recorded with the Cape Town-based band Freshly Ground and was No. 1 in 15 countries with over 15 million downloads worldwide.

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6. Jabulani – PJ Powers

PJ Powers has a special place in the heart of South Africans. In 1994, she performed at the landmark inauguration of Nelson Mandela, and in 1995, her song with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, World in Union, reached number 47 in the UK singles chart – an unforgettable moment in South African music history.

7. Doo Be Doo – Freshly Ground

The band Freshly Ground is a South African Afro-fusion group who came together in Cape Town in 2002. With members from all over the continent (South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe), Freshly Ground’s musical style blends elements of traditional South African music (such as kwela and African folk music) with blues, jazz, and features of indie rock.

8. Scatterlings of Africa – Johnny Clegg

Considered to be a ‘national treasure’ in South Africa, the late Johnny Clegg (White Zulu) was known to fight the apartheid system with his music. In its essence, the song implies that the entire human species originated in Africa, from where the different races of man evolved and spread around the world. The song was used in the 1988 movie Rain Man, which won the Oscar for Best Picture.

9. Pata Pata – Miriam Makeba

Not only was Miriam Makeba (affectionately nicknamed ‘Mama Africa’) the queen of early Afro-Pop, she was also a United Nations goodwill ambassador and civil rights activist.  Pata Pata was originally sung in the Xhosa language and it means “touch touch”.  Pata Pata was also a style of dance that was popular in the shebeens (an informal licensed drinking place in a township) of the townships in the city of Johannesburg in the mid-1950s.

10. Down South – Jeremy Loops

A firm favourite for many South Africans, Down South is the perfect song for any occasion in South Africa whether it be a braai (South African barbecue) or a road trip on a weekend. A born-and-bred Capetonian, Jeremy Loops wrote the song about “that feeling of leaving what you know behind, including your comfort zone, friends and family”.

Jeremy Loops performing live south african music
Image credit: Jeremy Loops via Facebook

11. Umoya – Caiphus Semenya

Formerly self-exiled from South Africa in the 1960s, Caiphus Semenya has built a solid reputation as a musical director and composer.  He’s known for having worked with a variety of other exiled and semi-exiled African artists, such as Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba.

12. Thuma Mina – Hugh Masekela

A leading, international voice in the fight against apartheid, the late Hugh Masekela had a legendary musical career. He collaborated with an astonishing array of musicians, including Harry Belafonte, Herb Alpert, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Paul Simon and his ex-wife, Miriam Makeba. For almost 30 years, “Bra Hugh,” as he was fondly known, was exiled from his native country.   The song Thuma Mina regained popularity when quoted by president Cyril Ramaphosa in his inaugural address to the nation.

13. Shosholoza – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Shosholoza is a song which is often referred to as the second national anthem in South Africa. The song was originally sung in a call-and-response style by all-male African workers that were working in South African mines. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a South African male choral group, reached international fame after singing with Paul Simon (1986 album Graceland) and went on to win five Grammy Awards with their fifth win dedicated to former president and icon Nelson Mandela.

14. My African Dream – Ndlovu Youth Choir

The youngest members of this list, the Ndlovu Youth Choir gained international attention whilst participating in the 2019 edition of ‘America’s Got Talent’. The choir was established in Moutse Valley in rural Limpopo in 2009. Formed by the Ndlovu Care Group’s child care community, the programme is aimed at giving children from disadvantaged backgrounds the same opportunities as their more advantaged counterparts.

15. Mannenberg – Abdullah Ibrahim

This Cape Town jazz classic by Abdullah Ibrahim encompasses parts of other typical African musical styles, including marabi, ticky-draai, and langarm, and became a reference for the genre of Cape jazz. Ibrahim still performs at many jazz festivals around the world.

These songs are a dazzling reflection of the beauty and poetry that resonates throughout this wonderful country. Visitors to South Africa’s shores often comment on the energy that they feel – from the people they meet to the places they visit.  

Now that you’ve escaped to South Africa, why not start planning and researching for your next trip? Get in touch with our team of experts who can tailor your stay in Cape Town and Johannesburg and let the real exploring begin. 

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