Music

John Kongos – “Kongos”

It’s great to discover “new” music, especially when that music is over 40 years old; it’s even more special when one discovers it via a 20 year old song. Recently I was listening to the Happy Mondays’ song, “Step On,” which was released in 1990.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Manchester group of the late-1980s and early-‘90s, their album, “Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches” is the greatest record of the 1990s, period. The Mondays are credited with spreading the vibe of Ecstasy-fueled raves at the Hacienda all over Europe and the world. Front man Shaun Ryder was called a “great poet” by none other than Sir Paul McCartney and the former Beatle couldn’t be more accurate. Happy Mondays split in the mid-‘90s, then reformed in the early in the new century. Their most recent album was released in 2007.

Yet, it’s the Mondays’ song, “Step On,” that I’m here to talk about. While searching the Web for lyrics, I discovered that this was, in fact, a remake of a 1971 song called, “He’s Gonna Step On You Again,” by a South African named John Kongos. I’d never heard of the man, so I Wiki’d him. Kongos was born in 1945 and was SA’s first “rock star.” Yet, I still hadn’t heard his original version of the song. A quick trip to iTunes cured that and I was surprised. The “original” was a lush, beat-filled song, complete with fuzzy electric guitars. It’s also important to note that “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” is considered to be the first-ever song using a “sample” of another song—it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for this very reason. In this ditty, the drum beat is sampled from traditional African musicians.

I thought of what life must have been like in South Africa, over 40 years ago and Kongos’ “mixing” of African music with Western rock n’ roll seems like a risky and possibly dangerous undertaking. With an overwhelming anti-black attitude in that nation and the Boers’ steadfast resistance to racial “intermingling,” it must’ve been the most rebellious thing that a bespeckled white guy could’ve done at the time.

Perhaps, then, a rebellious thing to do nowadays is to discover 40 year old music that simply makes the listener feel good.

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