CITI EXPRESS – Living for the City


Cover versions of international songs have long thrived in South Africa’s music industry. Often unable to license the original tracks (until the early 90s the result of an international boycott of the country) labels instead hired producers and session artists to re-record them for the local market. Early house music in SA was no different. 

When Ron ‘Robot’ Friedman, former bass player for local rockers Rabbitt, was winding down his label On Records in the early 90s, he reached out for new inspiration as the popularity of ‘bubblegum’ disco waned. For one of the label’s final releases he hired young DJ/producer Quentin Foster, obsessed with the new soulful house sound coming out of the US, to take the reins on a studio project dubbed Citi Express. 

On Robot’s insistence it included a cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living for the City’ (from 1973’s Innervisions) as the title track.


Foster set to work in his home studio, dubbed Tone Def, selecting and re-working other US and UK tracks — ‘It’s Too Late’ (originally released in 1989 by Kelli Sae), ‘Love is the Message’ (influenced by the 70s soul anthem and credited to Gamble & Huff but bearing a closer resemblance to Better Days’ 1990 release written by Steve Proctor), ‘People of The World’ (recorded by Sorell Johnson in the UK in 1990) and ‘Victim of Your Love’ (released in 1990 by Gary Vonqwest as ‘Victim of Love’) — adding some signature South African touches in the process that foreshadow the imminent rise of kwaito. One original composition was added for good measure, ‘Open Invitation’. 

The result offers a glimpse into those early days of house, a uniquely South African take on a global sound that still resonates today.

Pre-order AFS055 here.


John Galanakis

John Galanakis was a hugely influential South African label head, producer (of the soon-to-be reissued Starlight with the late Emil Zoghby, among many others) and musician. The following is a transcription of an interview with him at his home studio in Greenside, Johannesburg, in December 2009. Galanakis passed away in August 2018 (four years after Zoghby, RIP). This interview has been edited for clarity.

(How and when did you get started in music?)

Late 60s. I played piano, keyboards. I first started doing sort of ‘continental’ music in nightclubs, and things like that — Latin, Italian, Spanish, I played in a Greek band. It used to be a big thing, especially (in) nightclubs — start at 9 and finish at 4 in the morning, and on weekends at like 6 in the morning. We used to get tips. I used to play the bouzouki. Your tips ended up being much more than your salary. A lot of these guys came from out of town, café owners or … and they’d never been exposed to the Greek culture, so they went mad when (we played).

I got into rock bands, jazz bands as a keyboard player. And I’d say in the 70s, I started doing studio work as well. I was completely self-taught. I never took piano lessons or anything like that. I had an ear, from a youngster. I was sort of at a disadvantage because I never bothered to kind of get down to reading and studying. Later on, when I started doing studio work, I had to do that. Then of course, some of these gigs, I did some cabaret, so every week we used to have a different cabaret artist who’d come with a pile of music, so you’d (only) have a couple of rehearsals and you’d have to (be able to) play his stuff.

Late ‘70s, I played in some very good rock fusion and jazz bands. DICKORY was probably the main one. And ‘78 I went to London for 3 years, to get into the music scene, and production, which I started doing, and arranging. 

(Why — to be in a bigger pond or to leave South Africa?) 

Both. Well, TREVOR RABIN was there at the time, and (we) got into a band together, we formed a band. With the bass player who was with us in DICKORY, LES GOODE (later an) engineer, and a great bass player, and businessman. We toured Britain and that tour actually got him a deal to go to America. And he left us behind! I think we were a bit too old, ‘cos his image was more teeny-bopper. And we were like 30 at the time, (which was) much too old (for that). This was ‘79. Sort of pop-rock — a very good band, I must say. Just (touring) the UK (not Europe), we didn’t record. He’d sort of recorded an album on his own, which he played live. We got it down exactly the same as the record. 

And then I was also doing some productions with EMIL ZOGHBY – lots of stuff, from porn sci-fi movies [probably alluding to 1979’s Spaced Out, aka Outer Touch], to (the) brother of NAT KING COLE, FREDDY COLE – we did an album for him, sort of big band style, orchestral, and all that kind of thing [1980’s Right from the Heart, where he is credited as John Gally]. He (Zoghby) was mainly producing, I was the engineer, arranger, and musical director. (I) wrote out all the parts, and things like that.

And in 1980, we got a call from that same bass player, Les, to come back, because they were starting this ‘supergroup’ – MOROCKO, based in Joburg. But there was some management with money, that wanted to take us to the States and record, which we did. And we came back (to SA) and we rehearsed for about 3 months. We went to California – just outside San Francisco, Modesto, and we recorded an album there. The management were so - not together – it was an American and a Canadian, and they employed a South African manager to sort of coordinate the stuff. (But) they were more into the jol [party] that the actual (music). This was actually a very good album, although we had to remix it when we came back here, because the studio wasn’t equipped for mixing, basically. The band only lasted about another 6 months or so, here. There was always the chance that we were going to go (back) to the States and do a tour there, but I don’t know, egos got in the way, or something.

(What was it like to be an SA muso in the States then? How were you received?) 

Well, we didn’t really … we were in the studio the whole time, we never really did tours or anything like that. The people who were involved were thrilled to have some people from Africa — “How can they play like this?!”, you know, ‘cos we sounded just like an American band. Which was probably the downfall of the band, it wasn’t too different enough from the mainstream American sound at the time. Although for South Africa it was like exceptional, because there was nothing like that happening here. 

And after that, I got a bit fed up with musicians and egos and that, and I just got into the studio, producing and arranging. And EMIL ZOGHBY came back here (to SA). We worked together for about 3 or 4 years, doing production … STIMELA was one of the groups .., (working with) not so many black (artists), a lot of white artists. MARA LOUW was another one we recorded. 

And then ’85, I started my own record company, with a guy called BLONDIE MAKHENE — Hit City. And we had three labels: one was Leopard Records which did our traditional stuff – it was black music. We had the White Dove label, which was mainly the gospel stuff, and then the Hit City label was the pop stuff, the disco stuff and that kind of thing. Even there (Hit City) there were very few white artists involved in the thing. A couple of ‘coloured’ [mixed race] groups – called ZIPP, which was phenomenal, but they got nowhere. I think in Cape Town it’s (the coloured music scene) bigger. In the old days I worked with guys like RONNIE JOYCE and the guitarist JONATHAN BUTLER. And there was another guy, LIONEL PETERSON. (I working as an) arranger/producer, not so much (in) the songwriting with those guys — the arrangements, and getting the musicians, and rehearsing them, and recording, helping with the production in the studio.

(Was it a healthy time in the music industry, with the emerging ‘bubblegum’ scene?) 

Yes, I think so. It was kind of slated later, in fact it caused our demise in the early ‘90s, because the DJs just decided we’re not gonna play any more bubblegum music, and they switched completely to playing overseas house and rap music, so they actually dropped us in the lurch. The actually built us up originally. But our most successful stuff was the traditional and gospel stuff. This group PURE GOLD went on to sell a couple hundred thousand albums. (and) they did get a name overseas. It’s faded now, but they were a big name in the gospel department. And on the traditional side as well, we had guys like DAN NKOSI, ZIZI KONGO, things like the AFRICAN YOUTH BAND. 

(What did you make of the ‘bubblegum’ label?)

I think it was like the dance music of the time. We used to call it disco at the time — it wasn’t really American disco, it was South African disco … dance music – bass drum type … predecessor of kwaito, basically. I think later, people started calling it bubblegum (in a derogatory sense), especially the radio DJs and that kind of thing. And a lot of the records were starting to sound the same, copying the same style and the same beat, and the same rhythm, and the three-chord sequence that everybody was using.

I think it was thriving from about ‘86, ‘87, it started fading I think around ‘92. I think it still had legs to go, I mean with a style like kwaito – how long has kwaito lasted? It’s still there, they’re still making kwaito records, 20 years later. But they killed it, basically, they stopped playing it completely on radio. 

(Was this related to political change at the time?) 

I think so. There was a lot of American influence in that kind of music, together with local sounds and rhythms, but American production techniques and instrumentation – synthesizers of course, which have such a bad name.

(Was there competition/rivalry between producers?) 

No, it was more (about making) slight changes to what was established, basically, and getting the synth to sound just as close to acoustic instruments as you could, or making it so outlandish that you could hear that it was a synth — so from the one extreme to the other.

(Was there a strong American influence on SA music then, or more African?)

The pop stuff, the sort of black American rhythm and blues type music. (African influence was) mainly on the rhythm side of things, maybe the drum beats and the percussion and the basslines, and that kinda thing. And the guitar riffs – melodic-type African guitar riffs and rhythms and things like that. (We were) mixing a little bit of traditional into like rhythm and blues and pop. 

And also at the time – it’s changed a lot now – there was a tendency to make black music with English lyrics, maybe have a catch phrase with an African saying – or something that’s happening in the townships, (but mostly English). I don’t know (why), I think it was just a fad. Of course the American records were so popular at the time, (people thought) ‘let’s combine American style with African rhythms and see’. Like BRENDA FASSIE and that kind of thing, which was a whole style on its own. Can you believe somebody like ZIZI KONGO was competing with BRENDA FASSIE, didn’t make a tenth of the money, but she’s still around.  And we also did some albums with BLONDIE as well.

(What labels did you work with?)

EMI was distributing our stuff (but) it was our own label. (EMI handled) distribution to the shops and things like that. We were still responsible for all the marketing and production. (ZIZI KONGO and others) they were on the Leopard label. ‘Cos even though a lot of their songs were in English, they had a more traditional feel to them, a heavier African rhythm.

(Was there competition between different labels/stables?) 

Ja very much so, it was very competitive. We were across the road from Gallo, we’d try and spit at them (laughs) because they were big and powerful and (would try to poach their artists) absolutely, and sort of stop you from getting publicity, and giving deals to dealers that you couldn’t actually match, and things like that. And of course, it still is (like that) ... We were always independent. 

(How did labels and musicians make money?) 

Record sales were probably the only way to make money (for the label). There were shows that the artists, once they got big enough, they could command quite high salary, high fees, but we never took anything from their live performances. They did their own – although we helped promote their shows and things like that.

(What about live shows, festivals in townships etc?) 

We put on a couple of shows (but) it wasn’t our main thing. And mainly out of town, in places like Swaziland, and Lydenburg and…quite a few tours we did of smaller towns and halls and things like that, a couple of festivals in Swaziland and Lesotho, and in the Cape, near King William’s Town. 

(What was it like as a white guy involved in predominantly black music back then?)

People were very welcoming. I used to go into Soweto and do promotions on a regular basis, maybe twice a week, go to shebeens and pubs and that kind of thing. It was calm. But it started getting a bit hot towards the end of the 80s. They told me ‘don’t go there anymore’, the black guys said that, ‘it’s not safe to go there’. So I stopped going. At these festivals, I was the only white face, sometimes, amongst 20,000 black people. It was cool, and they were actually excited to see a white face. Some of them had never seen a white face, in that kind of setting. They’d always wanna talk to me and shake my hand and that kinda thing. It was really cool.

(Were there crossover acts, eg. black artists who sold to white audience?)

There was hardly any of that, that I was involved with anyway. The tastes were completely different. White people didn’t really seem to like the black music, or the traditional, or the gospel stuff. So there was like a chasm between the two kinds of music. The closest we got to bridging that was the [group ZIPP that we recorded. It was basically a rhythm and blues, popish, with a slight African influence in it. The main guy, Ziggy (Adolph), he’s up here now — no, they’re from here, from East Rand, but I think Ziggy was born in Cape Town, and I think Paul (Green), the singer, was originally from Cape Town. But they’d been here for most of their lives. 

(Did labels have deliberate racial target markets?)

Ja, and very little (crossover). Sometimes you hoped it would cross over, but white radio stations would never play that kind of stuff. So there was never a chance for whites to even hear it, and appreciate it.

(Was this official government policy via the SABC?) 

Ja I think they wanted to keep it separate. In fact we used to have to be so careful with our lyrics, ‘cos (the lyrics of) every record had to be submitted to the radio station. On one occasion, they were convinced one of our artists was actually singing completely different lyrics to what we’d given him and they said they were trying to pull the wool over their eyes, but they were actually hearing things. They were imagining that they were hearing something that wasn’t there! We had to actually change the lyrics. We had to re-record the record, after it was released and everything, they wouldn’t play it. You’d give them a released (printed) record (not the masters before release). They wanted a record. 

(Then there was) Self-censorship – you’d censor it yourself. You’d be so careful. And this goes back to when I first started. Radio 5 and those guys used to only played a certain formula that was acceptable to the format of the station, and nothing that even smelled of political or anti-government (sentiment). (There was self-censorship) because you know they’re gonna ban it if they hear anything that they don’t agree with. And it was very difficult, even in the white market, before I started the black label, to get anything played locally, because they had about a 10% quota for local stuff. Everything else was American or British. And that 10% had to be exactly like the American stuff, to fit to their format. It couldn’t jar or be too different.

(Who was pushing the envelope? Was this pop or political music?)

Well, I had a group of my own. Well, it was a studio group, we never really toured or anything, called BANJO. And we did a quite a few records where the lyrics were on the verge – they had a double meaning, a lot of them. One was called ‘No No No, No More’, which was supposed to be a fight between a man and a woman, but it was actually trying to say to the government, no more. It actually made it past the censors. So you had to be subtle. It was possible to do, in a subtle way, but whether the crowd got it, you don’t know.

(So you’d say the industry was healthier in the '80s compared to now [2009]?)

I think so. I think it was probably in its heyday in the '80s … and (in terms of) establishing artists. I mean there were a handful of black artists (before the 80s) that were household names among the black population, but I think in the 80s that blossomed out and you got hundreds of artists that became household names … But it wasn’t just automatic, it had to have something that the market wanted, like catchy or memorable.

(Why the change — was it politics, technology, international trends?)

I think it became … I don’t know. Politically, I think, after the ‘90s, it became a lot easier to have a black and white band, for instance. Before that, it was almost impossible. And (it was easier) for blacks to start appearing at white venues, and the other way round. You started getting blacks appreciated jazz, and even rock, and putting those kind of influences into their music. 

(Wouldn’t that make things better though? Or the opposite?) 

Well I think a lot of things happened at the time. I don’t know if they were political or not. But it probably changed people’s perception of what was…. and I think the (radio) DJs played a big part in that kind of thing. They actually changed what people were listening to. Radio DJs started really promoting American rap and R&B, and things like that, (in the) early ‘90s. 

(Where did kwaito come from?) 

I think bubblegum influenced kwaito, and also the American rap influenced it quite heavily, because its based on that rap. 

It’s still big today, but bribery (payola) was actually the big thing that influenced the DJs and the record companies ... and the big record companies could bribe the DJs much more than the small record companies, the independents. So they obviously got more favour. And they were flown from Durban to Joburg for soccer matches (for example). It still happens today. And some of the notorious ones used to actually pay them something to play their record, and pay them something extra not to pay your record.

(How was it working with French singer Lizzy Mercier Descloux on her 1984 album Zulu Rock?)

Not so good memories. Cos I did my best there. She was a complete — worse than a snob. But I don’t know if this record was successful. I did all the arrangements and the musical direction. And in the end I didn’t get paid for it. That was the management. I hardly had anything to do with her. She hardly said five words to me. Even though I was in the studio every day with her, she almost ignored me. She liked the black guys, I think that’s what she came here for! (laughs) but that management was really — they didn’t know what they were doing. She was quite good, quite good, but I think we had as good singers that are performers here in South Africa. She wasn’t exceptional.

It was quite interesting for me too, because it was like a gelling of local and European influences, and the music sort of had an African feel, but with European singing, and chords, and things like that. And the final product, I don’t know if it was that exciting for me, as well. I think the idea was more exciting that the actual finished product.

Not that they weren’t musical or anything like that, they just had fixed ideas of what should happen. They basically wanted to use the African for the rhythm, and then their polish, or something, on top of that. But they weren’t musicians at all themselves, they were more managers, business guys. And they seemed to know what the market would take in France, or Europe, or wherever it was they were look to sell it. Well, I can understand… I don’t think what happens locally can make it overseas as it is. It needs – not polish as much as sounds that they’re used to, and melodies that they’re used to, something that they’re familiar with and they can understand. I think the rhythm part, which is African, is exciting for them. But if you had to put African lyrics, it would throw them completely, far away. 

(Did this project have political intentions or was it purely commercial?)

I didn’t understand the lyrics, because they were all in French, but I don’t think it was supposed to be political or anything like that. It was just supposed to be pop — and actually the French have got a very big scene going now, with African music, mainly from northern African countries. And I supposed it started there, and they were trying to do something with the South African sound, trying to incorporate it.

I never heard anything. They promised to send me an album when it was finished, but they didn’t even send me anything. I think the musicians got a session fee, normal for three-hour sessions, but they didn’t give me royalties or anything. I didn’t get any royalties.

(Did you sign a contract?) 

No, I’m very bad with that kind of thing. I take people on their word.

(Were any black SA acts making waves overseas?)

Gee, I don’t think I know of any black artists who were actually making it (overseas).

(What about elsewhere in Africa?) 

There was very little of that (too), up till the late ‘90s, mid-‘90s.

(Was SA scene very isolated?) 

Ja it was, very closed. The South African, African sound. Even though a very of our groups did perform in Zimbabwe, even in Kenya. Like PURE GOLD actually did some very good tours…

(And in Europe?) 

I think they did one or two shows there, but nothing you’d call a tour … We tried to get them released, but their music was so different to what was going on, on the scene.

I think in a way the PAUL SIMON idea was the right one, and even this French (Descloux’s) idea – take something from it (here), but not completely, not like a whole package. Take what’s palatable for them, and mix it with their kind of style. PAUL SIMON sounded different enough for it to become a big hit. (but) It was still a pop record.

Even JOHNNY CLEGG had the right idea. I’m not particularly a fan of folk-type music, which was his bag at the moment. That’s what he mixed with African influences. But still, that kind of idea could’ve worked if it was like developed properly. And it can still work, take the best of African rhythms and melodies and things like that, and mix them with pop.

(In SA, was there cooperation between black and white?) 

In the studio, yes. A lot of black producers used to work with white engineers. 

(No black engineers?) 

There weren’t. 

(Why not?) 

I dunno, they were never trained, they were never given opportunities, I think. As producer, they actually made their mark. And I think from there, they went into engineering.

(Any other stories, perhaps about repression back in the day?)

Repression ... for instance, we had this group called the VENDA KIDS, youngsters, about 15 to 18. And they came from Venda. Mainly a traditional style of music, but also in a kind of disco/kwaito type of beat. And it was the time of the troubles — ’88, somewhere there. After a recording session they were gonna catch a taxi and go home. And as they were going to the taxi, police raided them and started beating them up, in the taxi. And I had to come and explain, ‘No, they’re not terrorists or anything like that, they’re kids!” 

They (the musicians) weren’t supposed to (be out) — it was quite late at night, 9 o’clock, after we’d finished recording, and I think there was a curfew or whatever, and you weren’t supposed to be walking around the centre of town at that time. And I had to go and explain to the cops: ‘These guys are musicians and they’re just going home’. (the cops were) ‘OK, fine,’ after I talked to them. But they were really heavy, beating them up with batons and things like that.

Another time, we did a tour, and we went to the Free State. Coming back, we were stopped at a roadblock. There were blacks and me in the car. And of course, that’s very suspicious, you know (laughs). PURE GOLD were there, and BLONDIE was there. And they made us get out the car. The blacks had to lie face down on the ground, while I opened the boot, (with) two guys pointing guns at me, in case I had a machine gun or something in the boot. We had a few records and cassettes, and clothes and things. Every time I took something out, they were watching me and pointing the gun at me … after they saw that we didn’t have (anything dangerous), then it was fine, they’d let us go.

Another time, we had a tour, we went through the Transkei. Those days if you went from Durban to East London, which we did, you had a border post going into the Transkei, and border post going out of the Transkei into South Africa, for about 10km, and then another border post going into Ciskei, and then another border post going out of Ciskei into South Africa. (Cops were) all over the place, so you had to produce your passport. Now we’d discover, as we’re going to the Transkei, half the guys didn’t bring their passports, and they wouldn’t let us through. So what we did, we performed for the border guards. We gave them a whole show for about half an hour, and they said, ‘just go through!’

The funny thing to see is at Durban airport, it used to say ‘International flights: Umtata' [now Mthatha]. Local flights, Joburg this way, and ‘international flights’, that way!

(So it was possible to relate to cops sometimes?)

Ja, they were doing their job. They were hardegat [hard-ass], but with a bit of a smile and a song, you get (through) — (like) bribery and corruption, same thing as today! So we did about 4 performances to get through. We were in two minibuses, so we had the whole of PURE GOLD, which is like 11 people, in the one and a couple of other acts in the other bus.

(Was police intimidation a common occurrence on the road?)

Ja, it was part of the (deal). The stories I used to hear from the musicians themselves … DAN NKOSI used to stay in Ermelo, which is a real centre of conservatism. And he used to go and visit a coloured musician and spend a few hours with him, practising and playing and doing some songs. And then because it wasn’t (in) a black area, he would have to walk – it wasn’t far, but he would have to walk through his area. And it was like, after 8 o’clock at night, they’d catch him and beat him up. So he became quite blasé and used to it. He’d say, ‘Ah, it’s late, so I’m going to get beat up again tonight!”

(What was it like for you to go into Soweto back then, for example?)

You were supposed to apply for permission, but I never did. And I never got stopped. Maybe I was just lucky. I heard other guys got stopped. And very few whites actually used to go there. Some engineers used to get permits and permission, because there were no black engineers. So if you were doing a show in Soweto, you’d have to get white engineers, that kinda thing. The big record companies used to have black promoters and managers who used to travel with the groups into townships, so they didn’t have problems.

(Did you ever live overseas?) 


(Weren’t you ever tempted to move overseas?)

Ja I was tempted, many a time, even before as a pure musician. And a couple of my friends actually went there. I got married quite young, so I had a family and everything, I couldn’t just up and go. It was also very difficult to get in, those days. Especially without money. So I could just go and work there, and try and make ... although, in hindsight, it’s what I should’ve done.

(Was it a choice between making money overseas or pursuing your love for SA music?) 

Well, I like money too! And we were successful for about three or four years. Everything went down after then. And even now, I’m battling.

(Who are you working with now [2009]?)

Mainly I’m doing black music, I’m still involved with a couple of guys. One guy, MBUSO KHOZA, he produced some gospel stuff with me. I’ve got CDs in the house… I did an album for a religious group called the Shembes, it’s actually the second-biggest church in South Africa, based in Natal, sort of old-testament type church, very traditional. We had a couple of singers, but he recorded all the harmonies himself, quadruple tracks, every harmony. 

(Where have you been based over the years?)

In the '80s we were in town (Johannesburg CBD), in Pritchard Street, just behind Gallo. Then about ‘98, I went to Greenside, in the shopping centre. And then we decided to bring it here (home), because we were mugged over there and they raised the price, the rental – they doubled the rent and halved our space! So it’s small, but it’s (got) a very good sound. And I can come to work in my pyjamas!

© 2023 Afrosynth

STARLIGHT - Starlight


In the early 1980s two South African producers teamed up for a project catering for disco dancefloors. Emil Zoghby was by then already well established, first as a solo crooner in SA in the 60s before moving and finding success in the UK. The younger of the two, John Galanakis was a top session musician, also touring the UK with TREVOR RABIN and recording in the US with MOROCKO, now delving into production under Zoghby. 

Their relationship had started a few years earlier in the UK, Galanakis recalled in a 2009 interview: “I was also doing some productions with Emil Zoghby, lots of stuff — from porn sci-fi movies [probably alluding to 1979’s Spaced Out, aka Outer Touch] to the brother of Nat ‘King’ Cole, FREDDY COLE – we did an album for him, sort of big-band style, orchestral, and all that kind of thing [1980’s Right from the Heart, where he is credited as John Gally]. He was mainly producing, I was the engineer, arranger and musical director — wrote out all the parts, and things like that.”

Upon Zoghby’s return to South Africa in the early ‘80s, he set up Heads Music and produced some of the the country’s top acts, including THANDI ZULU (aka TZ JUNIOR), MARA LOUW, Shangaan disco originator OBED NGOBENI & THE KURHULA SISTERS and the early STIMELA side-project ADAYE, as well as popular soft rockers BALLYHOO’s 1982 album Ballyhoo Too. 

As in-house engineer for Heads, Galanakis honed his production skills under Zoghby’s tutelage. “After Morocko, I got a bit fed up with musicians and egos and that, and I just got into the studio, producing and arranging. Emil came back here [to SA]. We worked together for about 3 or 4 years, doing production.”

While not working with other artists, as a production duo intent on feeding a young and increasingly hungry disco market, Zoghby and Galanakis released a string of 12” singles as STARLIGHT in 1983: typically cover versions of international hits —  Sly & the Family Stone’s ‘Family Affair’, David Joseph’s Joseph’s ‘You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)’ and Klein & MBO’s ‘The Big Apple’ — backed with their own compositions on the B-side. 

When the time was deemed right for a full album, it featured only one cover: the recently released local track ‘Picnic’, composed by Sello Mmutung and Keith Hutchinson and originally released as ‘Picnic (Moger)’, and also covered by Stimela side project Kumasi around the same time.  

Besides ‘Picnic’ the album contains five of the duo’s original compositions, including their similarly styled response, ‘Picnicing’, which replaces the original’s sax with spaced-out synth stabs. Then there’s ‘Jah Jah Love’, an ecstatic disco sermon of dancefloor dynamite weighing in at over eight and a half minutes. 

Other tracks on this landmark album — ‘Let’s Go Dancing (Boogie Boogie)’, ‘Keep On Moving’ and an eponymous instrumental — offer a similar fusion of classic disco with newer Italo and proto-house influences: machine music with a human touch!

Laying the groundwork of much of what would follow, Starlight showed how it was possible for forward-thinking South African producers to defy the status quo and make music for a multiracial, ‘crossover’ market united by their love of disco. Underlining Starlight’s appeal, the cover artwork for the album was done by Zulu Bidi, best known as a musician and artist for BATSUMI.

Galanakis would soon become one of the key behind-the-scenes figures in South Africa’s bubblegum scene as head of the Hit City and Leopard imprints, while Zoghby too remained active after Heads with other labels such as Smash, Local, Third World and Midnight Beat. Sadly both are no longer with us — Zoghby passed away in 2014 and Galanakis in 2018 (RIP). But their music lives on: remastered from the original master tapes and reissued for the first time, Starlight will be available on vinyl and digital platforms from early 2023 (40 years after its initial release) via Afrosynth Records.

Pre-order here.


"I used to sing at nightclubs to survive, those years in the 80s" - Sox

Daniel Phakoe, better known as ‘Sox’, passed away on April 28 2022 after a long illness. Sox started his music career as a drummer for a group called Joyco from Maokeng in Kroonstad, where he grew up. He later performed with the Hot Soul Singers and Public Affairs. As a solo artist he is best known for his 1988 hit ‘Don’t Call me Le Ja Pere’ ('Don’t Call me a Horse Eater'), a plea to avoid racial stereotypes. The following is a transcription of an interview with him at his home in Thembisa, east of Johannesburg, on 15 November 2009. It has been edited for clarity.

(When did you get into music?)

Recording professionally, it was 1987. With a group called Public Affairs. Our first album was Master, with Eric Frisch (Productions). That was me, people thought it was CJB, the voice. Because I used to sing at nightclubs to survive, those years in the 80s. I used to play in the nightclubs a lot, in Johannesburg. You know, the nightclubs in town then, there was a time when they would book you for about two months or three months. I was doing cover versions — I didn’t have my own songs by then — international stuff. Remember, in the 80s, every Christmas time, there was this thing of waiting to hear the latest album from Lionel Richie, Kool & the Gang. People they didn’t buy local music then, until Brenda [Fassie] comes along in 1983. Then Brenda changed the whole complexion of this music industry. It was ‘Weekend Special’, which people thought it was Diana Ross! Only to discover that it was a local girl.

And then all these musicians who were hiding, didn’t even want to compose their own songs, then after Brenda, 'Weekend Special', then CJB comes along, Phumi MadunaCheek To Cheek came after Brenda was going to have a baby in Cape Town - Bongani, her first-born. Then Brenda came back and did the full album of Weekend Special. Those LPs were called maxi singles back then. it was only two tracks. It was ‘Weekend Special’ first. It wasn’t an LP, and on it was written ‘not for sale’. There were record companies who were selling them (but it was meant to be) for radio stations and record bars to make people aware so-and-so is coming with a new album.

Tsokotla (1995)

(What does the label ‘bubblegum’ mean to you?) 

Bubblegum, it was irritating at first. But if Brenda didn’t mind, who are we to mind? Because she’s the one who started the whole thing. She didn’t (mind). 

These kwaito guys, they didn’t want to call us bubblegum musicians, they wanted to call it ‘oldskool’ musicians. (journalists, DJs..). there are some, from Y(fm). I listen to them sometimes. They still call us bubblegum musicians, we don’t mind about that. I mean that’s what we created in the 80s, and if it wasn’t (for) us, they wouldn’t be here today. And they must thank Brenda for that. Because if it wasn’t (for) Brenda, I’m telling you, even now, people would still be listening to international music by now. Not even having trust for their own people. Only Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Soul Brothers would have been surviving by now. 

(What was your experience of censorship at the SABC, particularly when trying to mix different languages?)

Back then it was difficult because we didn’t understand why. I remember my album was banned by the SABC. That album was called Shame Boksburg [1989]. You remember in the 80s in Boksburg whereby those guys, these conservative people, they didn’t want black people to stay in those parks there. But those guys were the ones who were cleaning those parks. And my uncle was working there too. And then the SABC didn’t want to play it. And then they sent people to come and break my windows. They were even looking for me at each and every record bar. They were even paying people – they wanted to see, who is this Sox? Then I met them in Johannesburg. They said, ‘Guys, this is Sox.’ And they look at me, and they look at the cover of this album. They said ‘No, this is not the same Sox’ (laughs). Because I look different from the album, different haircut. So they said, ‘No, this is not him.’ I don’t know what they wanted. 

But the SABC, then, it was difficult for those DJs then. They didn’t know what to do. I was not even allowed to sing a Zulu song, because I’m a Sotho. And Lesedi FM didn’t play it. They wanted you to play your own music. Either it’s English mixed with Sotho, then it's good. And then, those guys at Natal, if they want to play my song, and its written in Sotho, they can’t even pronounce it, they won’t play it. Because they don’t know what does that mean. 

But things have changed now. They’re playing everything. 

Come Back Home (1988)

(Your 1988 debut album Come Back Home - did the SABC play it or was it censored?)

One, this one, ‘Siyafana’ - it was English and Zulu, it was only played on Ukhozi FM.  It was called Radio Zulu then. 

Those (radio stations) who are playing Sesotho music, and Tswana, they will play it for those (audiences), when I sing English mixed with Sotho. If it’s Zulu, the big radio stations, Ukhozi FM, they will play it. They will choose from the album, they will listen to it first. You know, Radio Zulu have never played ’Le Ja Pere’. Do you know why? Because they didn’t know how to (pronounce) it. Instead, they were playing this song, ‘Come Back Home’, it’s English-only — and ‘Siyafana’, because it’s Zulu.

That’s where that (sleeve) picture comes in. The person who came up with the concept of this cover was an engineer, Simon Higgins. He was the one. He bought me this jacket at Park Station there. This suitcase was carried by someone else, and then he gave that guy R100 so that he must have this thing. It was empty, and that guy was very happy. This photo was taken here in Thembisa. It’s next to the cemetery, but its not like this anymore, because there are RDP houses there now. 

Even Chicco, you know, ‘We miss you Manelow’ - Manelow was supposed to be Mandela anyway, but the SABC said, ‘No, we can’t play this tune.’ He said ‘Manelow’ and then it was a different story, they said ‘fine, this is good’. But he knew what he was singing about. 

(Didn’t censors realise?) 

Some of them did know, but the rhythm of the song was good, so all the DJs were excited about the song. But when you mentioned the name Mandela, then they freaked out! They said, ‘No, we can’t play it! We can’t play this, you have to change this.’ Then Phil Hollis called Chicco and said, ‘Chicco, look, you have to change this Mandela thing to something else’. And Phil Hollis is very creative. He said, ‘Look, why can’t you call this Manelow?’ It was Phil Hollis’s idea.

(What was it like working with Phil Hollis?)

Phil Hollis was good. He’s like a black man in a white skin. Phil Hollis can hear a hit when somebody just brings a demo tape there and he listens to it. You know what he did, with ‘Manelow’? He took that album, he went to a shebeen in Soweto, he bought people beers, these pantsula guys. He said dance for this song and I’ll buy you beers. And those guys, they danced. He said, ‘No, this song must be a bit slow’. He phoned Chicco and said, ‘Chicco, make these pantsulas dance. That means you have to up the tempo. This song, it’s a bit slow. If these pantsula boys can’t dance, then this song is not going anywhere.’ He knew!

Rapellang Kgotso (1991)

(Would you say white people played a positive role in the music industry, or not?)

Some did contribute. Some were exploiting people.

(Why do think most engineers back then were white, not black?)

I mean I can’t blame anybody for that. Our black brothers were not exposed to being engineers. Because they thought if you go to school for that it takes a long time. Just like doctors, you know, you go, you qualify after seven years, or something like that. … Some of those white engineers, they did help us a lot in the past. They used to show us how it’s done, like Ian Osrin. 

(Was there a lot of exploitation?)

All of them (other labels), they were doing the same thing. Musicians used to come and go out from Gallo to go to EMI, EMI was doing the same thing to others, then others joined the other companies…

(Was it racial exploitation of just part of the business?) 

It was business. They’re ripping musicians off.  Those black guys, when they became executives, they were worse than those white people!

(Were any white artists popular among black audiences?)

It was only PJ Powers. White people did like PJ Powers, but she was liked the most by black people. Because she used to sing a little bit of Zulu there, even if it was not perfect. Zulus were crazy about her. They even gave her the name Thandeka.

Mango Groove. Juluka … can you imagine the first time I watched Juluka? Seeing Jonathan Clegg on stage. Here in Thembisa. I remember looking at that group playing there. There was a lot of people in the stadium, if only 5 or 6 white people. And when Jonathan Clegg did that dance… he did it more than Sipho Mchunu… and people like him more than (their) own — Sipho Mchunu, the Zulu guy, who had heads of cattle in his hometown and everything.  People said that white guy, he can do this better than Sipho! Sipho used to take Jonathan Clegg to Mai-Mai, there in Jeppestown, to go and see those Zulu people dance. And you can even see, when Jonathan Clegg walks, he’s like a white Zulu mamba! (laughs)

Lesilo (1994)

They were calling Mike Fuller the police of the music industry. He was the only white guy who can go around all these townships. That time it was only white policemen who were coming. They knew who he was, (but) they portrayed him as that (laughs) - as the police of the music industry. He’s the guy who discovered Rebecca Malope.. I remember the stable was in Bree Street or something. Ali Katt was in their stable - ‘Let the Good Times Roll’. That guy who was singing just like Teddy Pendergrass - he had a beard, they called him Ali Katt. And then Hotline was in their stable. And there was this group called Casino, who was at Mike Fuller Music. And there was Zone 3 that was in the same stable. That was MFM stable.

(Have you toured/performed in other parts of Africa?)

Many times. I know Botswana like the palm of my hands. Lesotho, Swaziland. I’ve been to Kenya, Tanzania. I’ve never been to Zimbabwe and Maputo (Mozambique). Those are the only two countries that I’ve never been to.

(Did journalists ask about apartheid?)

They did, but the promoters sometimes they told us not to speak to those guys. Especially if they (want to) talk about South Africa during the 80s, especially politics. Sometimes I didn’t have to say anything. Because I don’t know, sometimes you find that you are in a hotel, and those guys from Umkhonto we Sizwe, they were there. And they know who I am, and I don’t know them. Some of them, we only find them on stage, operating those lights for us, then they tell us after where they are from.

(Were there difficulties returning to SA afterwards?)

We were scared at first. I remember one time when we crossed the Botswana border post, Tlokweng, (to) come (back) to South Africa. I remember they stripped our Kombi there. I don’t know what they were looking for … maybe (they thought) we were using explosives in Botswana, or whatever the case is …Ei, it took about 3 hours there … they were searching everything. But they didn’t find anything. They just said ‘OK, now you can go.’ (it happened) especially if we come from Botswana, coming to South Africa, at the border post of South Africa. 

It was just like in Angola. (Sox performed in Angola too) Ja I did, with Sidney, that guy who was singing ‘Mama’s Baby’. And Johnny Mokhali, who was the Michael Jackson of Botswana … He’s staying in Mafikeng, as I understand, now. 

And then we went to Namibia. They said there was a big festival there. We went to Namibia - Ondangwa. When we arrived there, I was surprised because instead of going from OR Tambo (airport in Johannesburg), they said ‘you’re going to take a flight here in Lanseria to Namibia.’ And we were surprised to see the (plane) in camouflage. I said, ‘Why is this flight like we are going to a war zone or something?’ William Mthethwa said to me, ‘You talk to much!’ (laughs). 

It was us, Yvonne [Chaka Chaka] and everybody, We went there and when we arrived, only to find that there was elections in Namibia. The first election. I don’t remember the year, but it was the first election of Namibia… and then the festival was organised by this party called Turnhalle (DTA) - it was South African soliders, mixed with some white people from South Africa, wanting to take over from Sam Nujoma, which was SWAPO. We didn’t know anything by then. Only to find out that we are wearing T-shirts, written ‘Vote for Turnhalle’. I said to William, ‘Look at this, are we going to vote there or what? We have never even voted in our own country!’

We did the concert, only to find out on the radio after the election, on the radio on our way to Windhoek, they said ‘Sox and William and Yvonne, they were performing for a party called Turnhalle, in Ondangwa. That means they voted for that party’. We have to go straight to the station and tell them, ‘We were just organised (hired), they said there was a festival but we were surprised, it was just a plain field there. People were not paying anything there, it was just (the) election, which we didn’t know. We have never experienced that before.’ Dang!

Then I remember what happened in the 80s, when there was this song called ‘The Peace Song’ (‘Together we will Build a Brighter Future’, 1986), that was played here in the 80s. Lazarus Kgagudi, Blondie Makhene. Yvonne Chaka Chaka sang on that song, but Phil Hollis said, ‘No, Yvonne didn’t sing’ (to protect her reputation). That song was about peace, but … then AZAPO saw that firsthand. You know how they burnt the houses of those guys. Steve Kekana’s brother was killed, because of that. Blondie had to run away. William Mthethwa was singing there. Suddenly, after, people houses were burning. Nobody wanted to say, ‘I wrote that song’. 

It was playing on all these radio stations ... and then AZAPO says, ‘Fuck, this is a shit song. Who is singing here? This song is promoting National Party.’ They said that song was promoting the ruling government. I don’t know … We never had a chance to listen to that song, and suddenly people’s houses were burning. Nobody wanted to hear that song any more.

Don’t Call Me Sejabana (1993)

You must ask Blondie about that song. Maybe he’s scared to talk about it now. He (had to) seek refuge in Lesotho. And then he had to come back and have a meeting with AZAPO to solve the problem. Blondie had to go to Lesotho, he had to leave the country. I remember when I met him (recently) in Macufe, I asked him about the same song, he said ‘Sox, you know you’ve got a very good memory for a lot of shit things!’ (laughs)

(Did apartheid close SA artists/audiences from other African sounds?)

How long have I know Oliver Mtukudzi? I knew him from 1980, when I joined Hot Soul Singers. They [Hot Soul Singers] were playing this kind of  mbaqanga music then, they were competing with Mahlathini … I was just a member of the band, a backing singer for the Hot Soul Singers. Then we went to Zimbabwe, it was Independence Day. Bob Marley was playing there. (I was there) with Hot Soul Singers. I was not even… nobody knew who Sox was then. I remember seeing Thomas Mapfumo, who was a hit in Zimbabwe then. Devera Ngwena. And then Oliver Mtukudzi. Bob Marley, for the first time. Imagine – it was like I was dreaming or something. 

And for the first time, seeing Robert Mugabe, being sworn in there in Salisbury Stadium, Harare. Dang! I was just from school, in the Free State. Coming here in Thembisa, and then the next thing, I’m in Zimbabwe, seeing all those things. Bob Marley – I never thought I would see that man. Robert Mugabe, Kenneth Kaunda. All those people we were taught about at school, seeing them there. Dang! 

I listened to Thomas Mapfumo, he was a superstar there. But when Oliver Mtukudzi, the youth of Zimbabwe there, they knew, this man is going to be big one day … And now he’s staying here [in SA]! Somewhere in Midrand.

(Back then, could one hear Tuku in SA, eg on the radio?)

No, no, no – we knew American stuff. South Africans always liked American music. 

(Here in SA, when did you get a sense things were changing politically?)

After Mandela was released [1990], the music industry changed. Then it affects us, from the bubblegum music. every DJ didn’t want to play that kind of music anymore. They wanted to play the genre music of kwaito. And more international, house music, hip-hop. Even if you want to make an album now, you’re asking yourself, are they going to play it there (radio) or not? There was this kind of quota and all these things. All the radio stations started to listen to the music and (ask) ‘is it fit to play it on this radio station, is it fit or not?’ making people to phone in – ‘is it a miss, or is it on?’, those kinds of things. You can imagine how embarrassing it is for some people to be in the studio there, people telling you your song doesn’t fit to play in that station. It was the end of it. 

The changes came in the ‘90s, when people like Spokes H comes along. And then these kwaito guys come along. Then everything changes… Kwaito music has changed the complexion of the music industry completely …

The guys, these kwaito boys. They have their publishing, everything. That’s how they’re making money. Even if they go to SAMRO, SAMRO gives them 100%. But I have to share that 100% with Eric Frisch. I get 50 from SAMRO, the other they give it to Eric Frisch.

Codesa Jive (1992)

My music is only played on one radio station – Thobela FM. All the other radio stations don’t even bother to play our music. It’s only that station that plays. Now. Even our brothers in the SABC, here at Lesedi FM … they don’t even bother to have a programme that can play oldskool music. That’s why the record companies have realized this now, that’s why they’re making The Best of Sox, The Best of Chicco. These guys from the taxis, they miss that kind of music of the past. It’s 20 years later and now it’s back in business.

Bubblegum (also) ended when Brenda died [in 2004], anyway. She was the only one who was sticking to that kind of music. She was the one who started that kind of music … Brenda from ‘83, she was ruling the music industry, until she died. 

(Are sales low these days because of piracy?) 

They use that as an excuse. They talk about piracy. They (record companies) are the ones who are pirating music too! That’s what they do!

(What are you up to these days?)

Right now, after February [2010], I’m going to (work) with Dan Tshanda of Splash. All of us we started in the 80s, as bubblegum musicians. We still tour Botswana and Namibia and whatever. I’m doing to do an album with him. He read about my story and he wanted me to come back to the music industry. He said ‘look, people in Botswana, they still want to know what happened to you. You still have a name, as (far as) we know. so we can make an album there, and you promote it’. Together we are going to mix Venda and Sotho music together… I think it’ll take us maybe 2 to 3 months. Because he wants to use some live instrumentation. And then he said I must bring along the guy who was producing my songs, the second assistant producer, Malcolm X. So I’m going to bring him along. Then we’ll mix that old stuff with Dan. It’ll be a different sound, but … I wait for them to make the music, then I write (lyrics). Even if they can make one song there that can make me sing the very same day, I will do it.

© Afrosynth