28th October 2020:
I’m visiting South African entertainment history today with some of the classic TV theme songs and the programs they were written for. This has been a lot of fun to research and compile and brought back a load of memories.
Some of you may remember the excellent SATV travel documentary Going Nowhere Slowly, and its theme song written and recorded by Cape Town muso Mike Naranjo by his band Alma Rose. It was in those long-lost days of good programming on national television, and although the series had a huge following, it was scrapped after seven seasons and 176 episodes. What made the program such fun is that it was unscripted and the off-beat cast visited the least travelled spots in the country. That and, of course, the theme song.
Naranjo had already released two albums when he formed ‘Alma Rose’ who later became ‘Seven Day Story’. While touring they were approached to write a song for a proposed TV show scheduled for SABC3. The song was accepted and ‘Going Nowhere Slowly’ soon became a welcome part of viewer’s lives.
Many years have passed since then and Mike Naranjo has had an active career including a three-year Middle-Eastern tour with the band Axent and three years as the Rock outfit ‘One Day Remains’. In 2010 a life-changing event happened. He was shot three times in a failed hijacking attempt but miraculously recovered. It took a while but he returned to his music career with a new resolve.
He launched himself into work mode and in addition to his normal touring and recording, he formed a side project called The Angels Unaware project, a recording initiative taking on and developing 15 unsigned, unknown artists to encourage Artist Development in South Africa.
Mike Naranjo has gone on to write numerous soundtracks from film to TV and international ad campaigns. Although his name might not be the most familiar, there is a strong chance that you know his work quite well. Here’s a promo clip that is going to bring back lots of memories – ‘Going Nowhere Slowly’
For the second TV theme song we head back to 1982 and the Afrikaans drama series Vyfster (Five Star), a tale set against prison life directed by Regardt Van den Bergh. The two seasons were followed by a full-length movie in 1985. The series was incredibly popular and fans were incensed when the series abruptly ended. For me, one of the highlights of the show was the theme song, written and recorded by Lloyd Ross.
Lloyd Ross is the man behind the Shifty Records label, but also has a musical history stretching back to being a member of The Radio Rats and the founder/instigator of the disparate group of musicians (including Kalahari Surfer, Warrick Sony) called Happy Ships in the early ‘80s.
Rumour is that Ross made a financial killing from the Vyfster theme making Shifty Records’ growth possible. Lloyd admits that he did make a fair amount, but it took a lot more to build his business. He worked in the film industry to raise additional finance and eventually received Swedish funding allowing him to concentrate on his passion without working for others.
He doesn’t regard receiving a Sarie Award (the old form of the SAMA Awards) for Vyvster a major achievement in his career, however, when it comes to Shifty Records, he revels in their maverick compilation release, ‘Voelvry – Afrikaanse musiek vir vandag’‘ that caused a huge controversy and was banned from Afrikaans university campuses countrywide. In his words “we made lekker kak”.
Lloyd Ross is also an acclaimed film and documentary producer and is noted for his full-length feature film ‘The Silver Fez’. Shifty Records have taken on the responsibility of digitally archiving much of the South African musical heritage thanks to partial funding from the SA History Archive. This is to preserve a body of music that couldn’t and didn’t receive enough exposure due to the political climate of the time.
Lloyd Ross is another one of those names that, unless you are in the music industry, you won’t recognise, but has produced some of the biggest names in the country on Shifty Records. Here’s Vyfster.
For the last theme-song from a local TV series we head to 1985 and the adaptation of Joshua Sinclair’s novel, Shaka Zulu. Strangely, the series was funded by the Harmony Gold USA foundation despite the economic and artistic sanctions of the time. The 10-part series was directed by William Faure and the theme song ‘We Are Growing’ was beautifully sung by Margaret Singana.
I couldn’t possibly give Margaret Singana the space she deserves in this one section but promise to put her on my ever-growing mini-feature list. The song was written by KZN born Dave Pollecutt, who also scored the series’ soundtrack. He worked within music business for 40 years writing award-winning advertising campaign soundtracks as well as the score and libretto for the stage show African Footprint.
When the series was released in the USA the critics were at odds. Whereas the New York Times gushed eloquently about the “sweeping vistas and authenticity”, the LA Times were less complimentary calling it ‘apartheid art’ in the following article.
“Shaka Zulu is a gory, foolish and demeaning 10-hour miniseries. Shot in South Africa, it seems to shape history to fit a contemporary political theme. Yesteryear’s supposedly blood-lusting Zulus fill nearly every frame of “Shaka Zulu,” becoming a negative metaphor for today’s black South Africans, reinforcing a wild tribal image in contrast to “civilized” whites.”
In retrospect, I think both opinions contain elements of truth, but you can’t please everyone. Dave Pollecutt is sadly no longer with us, but his beautifully composed theme song has earned him a place in local music and entertainment history. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip into vintage South African TV. How times have changed! Here’s ‘We Are Growing’.
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that do do more than just share a song.
The Author owns no copyright on the images or videos in this article. All images and links sourced from YouTube and Google and within the public domain.
Words © Andrew Knapp 2020