On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Miriam Makeba – The Click Song (Qongqothwane) (1960)
From Jamaica yesterday, we’re really getting some air miles in as we fly back across the Atlantic and all the way down to South Africa. We’re indulging in a spot of Xhosa music today and our host is Miriam Makeba, also known as Mama Africa. Makeba was of Xhosa background herself and helped to introduce this music to the rest of the world. Her most famous song is the one that made this list and is entitled Qongqothwane, better known as The Click Song.
Qongqothwane is a song of Xhosa origin that is sung at weddings and designed to bring good luck. The title translates as the “knock-knock beetle”, another name for darkling beetles that make a click sound with their abdomens. Makeba’s song is limited in its lyrics with a translation talking of an individual, a doctor or diviner depending on the translation, and they are the knock-knock beetle. They climb past you and up a hill and we hear once more that they are the knock-knock beetle. That is all there is in terms of lyrics but as with other songs on this list thus far, you don’t necessarily need a lot of words to produce something great.
Miriam Makeba sings this one in the original Xhosa language and it sounds better than an English translation would have, it has more passion and purpose behind it. The clicking sound is there in the background too as Makeba takes us through Qongqothwane. It never feels repetitive though and it’s not hard to see how Western audiences were dazzled by this when Makeba first introduced it outside South Africa. Makeba’s 50+ year career ended in 2008 with her death at the age of 73 and a tribute from the late great Nelson Mandela would follow. What more could you ask for?
Favourite songs so far:
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel (1956)
Fats Domino – Blueberry Hill (1956)
Johnny Cash – I Walk the Line (1956)
Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode (1958)
Cliff Richard & The Drifters – Move It (1958)
Ritchie Valens – La Bamba (1958)
Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues (1958)
Peggy Lee – Fever (1958)
The Everly Brothers – All I Have to Do Is Dream (1958)
Esma Redžepova – Chaje shukarije (1960)