/ 19 April 2022

The A to Z of South African music books

Hugh Masekela.
Hugh Masekela appears in several books, including Still Grazing


Allan, Jani: Face Value.  Longstreet Publishers (1983). The former Sunday Times columnist does interviews with local celebrities, including Sonja Heroldt, Richard Loring and Alvon Collinson.

Alter, Cindy: No Substitute.  Self-published (2020). A very brave tale of survival by the former lead vocalist and  songwriter of Clout and Zia, and her international success. 

Anderson, Muff: Music in the mix: The story of South African Popular Music. Ravan Press (1981). One of the best books out there about our top musicians.

Ansell, Gwen: Soweto Blues. Continuum (2004). The remarkable story of how jazz became a key part of South Africa’s struggle, and the ongoing links between African and American styles of music.

Auld, Robin: Tight Lines. Compress Publishers (2001). An amusing tale of a school drop-out, avid fisherman and  musician. 


Ballantine, Christopher John: Marabi Nights: Early South African Jazz and Vaudeville. Ravan Press (1994). An in-depth review of the development of urban black music prior to World War Two. 

Banches, Edward: Heavy Metal Africa: Life, Passion, and Heavy Metal in the Forgotten Continent. Word Association Publishers (2106). The author explores this genre and its musicians in Southern Africa.

Binckes, Robin: What A Boykie – The John Berks Story. 30 Degrees South Publishers (2019).  The story of the renowned DJ John Berks, who was on all the radio stations: LM Radio, Capital Radio, 702, English Service, etc.  https://www.loot.co.za/product/robin-binckes-what-a-boykie/rcwr-3452-g870

Beukes, Lauren: Femme Magnifique: 50 Magnificent Women Who Changed The World. Black Crown (2018). Illustrated by Anja Venter, this graphic novel tells the story of singer/songwriter Brenda Fassie, among many others.

Books LLC: Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens – Albums. General Books  (2010). The group’s best albums.

Books LLC: South African Jazz Guitarists – Jonathan Butler, Johnny Fourie, Ray Phiri, Nataniel. (2010). The low-down on some of SA’s top musos.

Singer/songwriter Dax Butler is still going strong 40 years after he played at the Market Theatre Cafe. (Jonathon Rees)
Singer/songwriter Dax Butler is featured in Muff Anderson’s book Music in the mix: The story of South African Popular Music. Photo: Jonathon Rees

Brilleaux, Lee: Lee Brilleaux: Rock”n”Roll Gentleman: The Adventures of Dr Feelgood’s Iconic Frontman. Polygon (2015). About South African-born frontman for UK blues rock band Dr Feelgood. 

Brummel, Beau: In Full Colour. Republican Press (1966). A photo comic on the 60s South African pop idol, who also acted in many other photo comics, including Beau Die Ontembare.


Calvert, Robert: Hype. Gonzo Multimedia (2013). An amphetamine-inspired tale of the South African-born singer/author, who was vocalist for UK space-rock band Hawkwind.

Calvert, Robert: Centigrade 232. Quasar Publications (1977). A book of Calvert’s poems that includes a CD. 

Carstens, Nico, De Waal Anton and Hillard, Bob: Zambezi  (Sweet Africa): Popular Standard; Single Songbook. Roba Digital Sheets (1954). Music notes for score sheet music. 

Chislett, David: One, Two, One, Two : A Step By Step Guide To The South African Music Industry. Self-published (2013). The former top DJ wrote this for musicians and producers, to get a basic idea of how the music industry works. Free download.

Chilvers, Garth & Jasiukowiez, Tom: History of Contemporary Music of  South Africa. Toga Publishers (1994). Essential book that lists most South African musicians and their discographies. 

Clegg, Johnny: Scatterling of Africa: My Early Years. Pan Macmillan (2021). This autobiography is about Johnny Clegg’s life, Zulu culture and his music. https://www.exclusivebooks.co.za/product/9781770107588

Clingman, Paul: A State of Symmetry. Penguin South Africa (1996). Novel about the apartheid era by South African folk musician.

Cohn, Ronald & Russel, Jesse: Sonja Herholdt. Bookvika Publishing (2013). South Africa’s darling Afrikaans singer from the early 70s. https://www.loot.co.za/product/jesse-russell-sonja-herholdt/snmh-2300-g340

Coplan, David: In Township Tonight – South Africa’s Black City Music and Theatre. Addison Wesley Longman Ltd (1985). Coplan delves into the roots of black South African music.

Cronje, Carel: Meisie van Nigel: Die Lewensverhaal van Sonja Herholdt. Global Creative Studios (2007). An Afrikaans biography on singer Sonja Herholdt. https://www.abebooks.co.uk/9780620380591/Meisie-Nigel-Lewensverhaal-Sonja-Heroldt-0620380594/plp?fbclid=IwAR3vTukFhP7GkS1T_q3So7ktP80W6Ixi_mzZ8iuKMFIWeFK2qlZxzKUh-Ag


Daubeney, James: The Story of Rock and Roll. Kindle (2016). Written by a former metalhead and radio DJ, this is a hilarious and irreverent book about South African music in the 70s.

Davey, Derek: Three Foot Tiger: A Musical Memoir. Self-published (2020). Highly entertaining biography of this alternative percussionist, who played with Live Jimi Presley and many other bands.

De Vries, Fred: Club Risiko. Nijgh & Van Ditmar (2006). Dutch book about the underground music scenes in Johannesburg, London, New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris in the 80s. Interviews with Marcel van Heerden of Koos, Blixa Bargeld of Einsturzende Neubauten & Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth. Afrikaans readers will understand most of it.

De Vries, Fred: Interviews From Abdullah to Zille. Wits University Press (2008). Features interviews with a host of local musicians and other celebrities.  https://witspress.co.za/catalogue/the-fred-de-vries-interviews/

De Vries, Fred: Blues for the White Man: Hearing Black Voices in South Africa and the Deep South. Penguin Books (2021). All about the blues and racism in South Africa, and the Deep South of the US.

Douglas, Struan: The Story of South African Jazz – Vols I & II. Afribeat (2020). A tumultuous journey into villages, mine compounds, performance halls and distant lands. Watch out for Douglas’s other books, too.

De Wet, Danny: Sex, Drums and Rock ‘n Roll in Africa. Top Reads (2022).  Sprawling book by the legendary drummer of eVoid, The Electric Petals,  Petit Cheval, Wonderboom and many more. 


Erskine, Kathryn: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song. Ethnikids (2022). Illustrated biography of how Mama Africa raised her voice to help combat apartheid. 


Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge:  FAK Sangbundel. Protea Boekehuis (2016). Several books of sheet music of Afrikaans songs, from Ge Korsten to Chris Chameleon.

Forrest, Billy: Always Swimming Upstream: The Life and Times of Music Legend Billy Forrest. Kindle (2021). Autobiography of one of South Africa’s most popular country singer/songwriters.


Gaulier, Armelle  & Constant Martin, Denise: Cape Town Harmonies – Memory, Humour and Resilience. African Minds (2013). Book about Cape Town’s music cultures.


Her Majesty’s Theatre, London: Ipi-Tombi,  Zulu Musical. (1975). The story of this iconic musical, featuring the renowned Margaret Singana.

Hofmeyer, Steve: 50. Penguin Random House (2014). The singer has written a few books, including the novel Die Kwesbares – ‘n Sluiper-Roman.

Hopkins, Pat – Voelvry – The Movement That Rocked South Africa. Zebra Press (2006). A document of the whole Afrikaans movement that created a change of heart in the apartheid regime.  


Ibrahim, Abdullah: African Songs : 15 Piano Pieces. Schott Musik International GmbH & Co KG (2016). The first songbook by Ibrahim contains atmospheric songs for piano. There’s more music books by him in the Book Depository.

Composer Abdullah Ibrahim


Joubert, Gari: Uptown Saturday Night Downtown Sunday Morning.  Createspace Independent Publishing Platform (2015). Set in the 80s Durban alternative club scene and the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll of that era. https://www.loot.co.za/product/uptown-saturday-night-downtown-sunday-morning/jrlk-3297-g610


Klopper, Annie: Biografie Van ‘n Bende: Die Storie Van Fokofpolisiekar. Protea Boekehuis (2016). All about a band that just cannot be ignored.

Knight, Bill: Harbour and Other Stories. A book of poetry by Cape Town’s beloved folk troubadour, available from  the man himself on his Facebook page.  https://www.facebook.com/billknightsongwriter

Kombuis, Koos: Short Drive To Freedom. Human & Rousseau (2009). This poet/musician has written many novels and poetry books. This one is about the Voelvry movement and his life beyond it.

Kramer, David: David Kramer, A Biography.  Tafelberg Publishers (2011). Great biography about one of the most iconic musicians in South  Africa. You may also want to read Short Back and Sides, which has some of his songs and illustrations.

Kramer, Eddie, and McDermott, John: Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight. Grand Central Publishing (1992). South African-born producer/engineer who produced Hendrix and helped build the Electric Ladyland studios in New York. 


Lambrechts, Lizabe: For future generations: Hugh Tracey and the International Library of African Music. Edited by Diane Thram. Rhodes University: ILAM (2010). Essays both by and about Hugh Tracey, with a disc of traditional African folk music.

Geoff and Andrew Tracey, descendants of ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey. Photo: Jonathon Rees

Lee, Donvé: Syd Kitchen – Scars That Shine.  Tracey McDonald Publishers (2017). Lee wrote this great retrospective from interviews with Syd and people who knew one of South Africa’s favourite troubadours. 

Levine, Laurie: The Drum Café’s Traditional Music of South Africa. Jacana Media (2005). The  traditional music of black South Africa, and particularly its presence  in ceremonies and rituals, is explored in this work.

Lilley, Andrew: The Artistry of Bheki Mseleku. African Minds (2020). An in-depth study of this accomplished jazz musician, with annotated transcriptions and analysis of some compositions.

Lindberg, Des & Dawn: Every Day is an Opening Night – Our Journey Together Burnett Media (2021). Mammoth book by South Africa’s favourite folk music couple.  https://www.loot.co.za/product/every-day-is-an-opening-night/vdmp-7280-g980

Lovejoy, Al: Acid Alex. Booksurge Publishing (2009). Lovejoy mentions the alternative Cape Town music scene and the Playground and Purple Turtle clubs in this hard-hitting autobiography.

Lucey, Roger: Back in from the Anger. Jacana Media (2013). Must-read from one of South Africa’s greatest protest singers about how the apartheid regime set out to destroy his career. 


Maas, Deon: Witboy in Afrika. Tafelberg Publishers Ltd (2010). An Afrikaans music producer details his African travels and the music he found in the places he visited. https://www.loot.co.za/product/deon-maas-witboy-in-afrika/xjdw-1117-g810

Madondo, Bongani: I’m Not Your Weekend Special. Picador Africa (2014). Fascinating story about singer Brenda Fassie, with a  foreword by Hugh Masekela.  https://www.panmacmillan.co.za/authors/bongani-madondo/im-not-your-weekend-special/9781770103665

Brenda Fassie’s Weekend Special eventually sold more than 200 000 copies, announcing the arrival of the so-called township pop, soon to be illegitimately christened “bubblegum”. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times /Joe Sefale)

Mackay, Ramsay: Last Letters from the Wilderness. Joburg Records (1978). Highly collectable book featuring poetry and tales by Mackay, former songwriter, bassist of Freedom’s Children and Hawk, with artwork by renowned artist Norman Catherine.

Malan, Rian: The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Other Stories of Africa. Grove Press (2008) How the family of songwriter Solomon Linda were eventually compensated for his global hit Mbube, and a number of other stories. It’s worth looking up Malan’s other books, too.

Maluleke, Sydney: Steve Kekana – The I in Me (2020). Autobiography of popular South African musician Steve Kekana, who became blind at the age of five. https://www.loot.co.za/product/sydney-fetsie-maluleke-steve-kekana-the-i-in-me/yptw-6483-g920?fbclid=IwAR2bXqM7BbCb9MW2HhLCZU22WmvM6Xg8aszxwqeEYxHF1e0Z2nIPfnKvjLc

Martin, Denis-Constant: Sounding the Cape: Music, Identity and Politics in South Africa. African Minds (2013). The author demonstrates that musical creation in the Mother City has always been nurtured by contacts, exchanges and innovations.

Masekela, Hugh, & Cheers, D Michael: Still Grazing. There are a couple of books on Bra Hugh, but the definitive one has to be this detailed autobiography.

Mathe, Sam: From Kippie to Kippies and Beyond. Independently published (2021). Group portraits of South African jazz, folk and pop artists. Available on Kindle. https://www.amazon.com/Kippie-Kippies-Beyond-Sam-Mathe/dp/B09F166VHM?fbclid=IwAR11WOLi3kZGcR7FAul_Z83UN5FFpA_N5ouKS0PIusR8r8M8DNn8gvQPOFg

Matthews, Mick: I Started out to Write a Song. AbeBooks (2004). As told to Adrian English, this is the story  of Mick Matthews, guitarist and vocalist from Ballyhoo.

Meintjes, Louise: Sound of Africa! Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio. Duke University Press (2003). An ethnography of recording mbaqanga music, which examines its relation to issues of identity, South African politics, and the global political economy. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9780822384632/html?fbclid=IwAR2qqmwcxBe7pf0W11BDiXzL0q40PVQLdL5ahu2-Hc5onjAD2w9dJhwowUI

Michelle, Lindsay: The Spirit of Resistance in Music and Spoken Word of South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Lexington Books (2021). Includes prominent activists such as Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko and performers such as Johnny Dyani and Samuel  Mqhayi.

Miller, Collins: South African Jazz Collection (Download). PR/NS and RMB. This electronic 168-page PDF book includes 68 renowned vocal and instrumental compositions.

Mojapelo, Max: Beyond Memory: Recording the History, Moments and Memories of South African Music. African Minds (2009). An exploration of local music genres, from marabi to mbaqanga, boeremusiek to bubblegum, kwela to kwaito.  https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Memory…/dp/1920299289

Kwaito star Brown Dash (real name Siphiwe Mpamile) from the group Puff ‘n Pass

Mochoele, Lenah: Walking a Mile in Your Shoes: My Spiritual Journey with Lucky Dube. NLSA (2015). The story of South Africa’s late reggae great.

Mofokeng, Phehello: Sankomota: An Ode in One Album.  Gecko Publishing (2019). A reflective essay of one man’s obsession with this iconic band from Lesotho. https://www.amazon.com/Sankomota-Ode-Album-Reflective-Essay-ebook/dp/B07ZHBXQVW

Monsoon, Jon: Stars, Bars & Guitars. Struik (2008). Interviews and experiences with the Springbok Nude Girls, Battery 9, Sugardrive, Squeal, Fokofpoliesiekar and more. 

Muller, Carol: Focus: Music of South Africa. Routledge (2008). Examines South African music,  and its ethnic, religious, linguistic, class and gender diversity.

Muller, Carol: South  African Music: A Century of Traditions in Transformation (World Music  Series). ABC-CLIO (2004). This authoritative handbook provides an in-depth survey of the full spectrum of black and white South African music.


Naude, Churchill: Drol Innie Drinkwater. Naledi Publishers (2020). Cape Town hip-hop artist Churchill Naude has written a hard-hitting selection of Afrikaans poems. http://obzbooks.co.za/bib-obz/5017074-drol-innie-drinkwater.html?fbclid=IwAR3-4Jug3mAaNhwWtoCBTJhBkPPFMtE7YPR7v0zk44BC7jnLDAPPyVii_i4

Ndabeni, Esinako & Mthembu, Sihle: Born To Kwaito: Reflections on the kwaito Generation. Blackbird Books (2018). Considers the meaning of kwaito music now. https://www.amazon.com/Born-Kwaito…/dp/B08DL1JSZP

Nel, Gert Vlok: Om Beaufort Wes se Beautiful Woorde te Verlaat. Queillerie Publishers (1999). Lovely book by this beloved singer/songwriter from the Karoo. He also wrote Om te Lewe

Noone, Shiloh: Seeker’s Guide to the Rhythm of Yesteryear. Self-published (2014). Brilliant book on prog rock by this renowned South African Radio DJ/journalist. https://www.amazon.com/Seeker…/dp/B00JJ3UCD4/ref=sr_1_2…


Olwage, Grant: Composing Apartheid. Wits University Press (2008). Essays about music for and against apartheid. 


Parow,  Jack: Die ou met die snor by die bar. Penguin Books (2015). Wild tales about trance parties and jacuzzis from this Afrikaans rapper.  Watch out for his comic too.

Powell, Ivor: Roger Ballen: Die Antwoord – I Fink You Freeky. Prestel (2013). A behind-the-scenes look at the making of a hugely successful music video.

A scene from 'Cookie Thumper'.
A scene from Die Antwoord’s ‘Cookie Thumper’ video

Powers, PJ: Here I Am. Penguin Books (2014). The politically charged story of the singer of Hotline who later went solo, co-written by Marianne Thamm. https://www.amazon.com/PJ-Powers-Here-I-Am-ebook/dp/B06XDKMH46

Pretorius, Willem: Kerkorrel. Tafelberg (2004). The story of Ralph Rabie, aka Johannes Kerkorrel, the Afrikaans rebel journalist who helped form the Afrikaans Voelvry movement.

Price, Vincent: Manfred Mann – Golden Anniversary. Blurb (2019). The tale of  the South African-born keyboard player who Manfred Mann’s Earth Band was named after.


Rasch, Carsten: Between Rock & A Hard Place – A Memoir. MF Books (2019). Highly entertaining read by this avid club owner about the alternative, mostly Cape Town music scene of the 80s. 

Rasmussen, Lars: Cape Town Jazz 1959-1963 – The Photographs of Hardy Stockmann. Booktrader (2001). This Danish archivist published a number of books on South African jazz musicians such as Samantha Bea Benjamin.

Retief, Hanlie: Anton Goosen, Liedjieboer. Tafelberg (2020). The story of the “father” of Afrikaans music. 

Russo, Greg: Mannerisms: The Five Phases of Manfred Mann.  Crossfire Publications (2011). The “only authorised” biography of the man and the group. https://www.amazon.com/Mannerisms-Five-Phases-Manfred-Mann/dp/0979184525


Schlesinger, Minky: Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Princess of Africa – Viva Books (2002). A biography about the princess of African music.

‘I live and breathe music’: Yvonne Chaka Chaka is still collaborating with contemporary artists

Shaw, Jonathan: The South African Music Business (3rd Edition).  Ada Enup (2017). An indispensable, holistic guide for everyone working in or wanting to get into the South African music industry. Lots of great reviews.  https://www.makro.co.za/books/non-fiction/personal-development-self-help/careers-success/the-south-african-music-business-paperback-softback-/p/8070a825-6a92-4c2b-b3c9-26da05d5d8a9?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIyt_R-4qA9wIVh-_tCh1EBw4ZEAQYASABEgJWHPD_BwE&fbclid=IwAR2G5HnhIANMKH61KRcaNNmuPnU6bpc6uoqgmiN-TEddby2PQ39tym1UHBg

Strydom, Craig Bartholomew & Segarman, Stephen: Sugar Man. Penguin Random House (2016). Details the life, death and resurrection of Sixto Rodriguez; how the singer was found by the authors living in seclusion in Detroit.

Swart, Valiant: Trouens en Terloops. LAPA Uitgewers (2012). Afrikaans book featuring collected articles by singer/songwriter Valiant Swart. Look out for Veertig, too, which has 40 songs and a fantastic little story about each one.


Taylor, Jeremy: Ag Pleez Deddy – Songs and Reflections. J Taylor Publisher (1992). Delightful little read about the “Song from the Southern suburbs”. https://www.amazon.com/Ag-pleez-deddy-Songs-reflections/dp/0620171421

Thembela, AJ: The life and works of Bhekizizwe Joseph Shabalala and the Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Reach Out Publishers (1993). A tribute to this great band leader. https://www.amazon.com/Bhekizizwe-Joseph-Shabalala-Ladysmith-Mambazo/dp/094745764X?fbclid=IwAR0vj5Wj85gMHdUCaZWB98C3wPuDyEcnbqvaC7EeRDNvnwcfLSYs-pJU5Ug

U, V, W

Various artists: The South African Jazz Real Book Vol.1: “Jika”. South African Jazz Real Book. Contains 116 lead sheets with melody and chords, of tunes by South African jazz composers from the 1940s onwards.

Van der Merwe, SD: On Record – Popular Afrikaans Music & Society. Fascinating history of Afrikaans music from 1900 to 2017. Also available from Makro and in PDF download.

Van der Merwe, Peter: Origins of the Popular Style. Clarendon Press, Oxford (1989). A musicological look at the origins of jazz, blues and rock ’n roll. 

Van Noy, Nikki: So Much to Say: Dave Matthews Band – 20 Years on the Road.  Touchstone (2011). How the South African-born singer/songwriter became a huge international star. 

William, Pat: King Kong – Our Knot of Time and Music. Granta (2017). A  behind-the-scenes account of the famous South African musical and its ongoing legacy. https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/other-books/King-Kong—Our-Knot-of-Time-and-Music-Pat-Williams-9781846276538

X, Y, Z

Zef, Rasta: Die Antwoord Calm Coloring Book. Independently published (2019). Black and white photographs that can be filled with colour.


Music magazines and miscellaneous musical sites

There have been many great South African music magazines. Scope magazine had some wonderful record reviews by Richard Haslop and Ian Kerkhof (Aryan Kaganof) and Drum magazine often had features on local music. Other magazines include Teenage Personality, In, Music Maker, Top 40 Magazine, Vula,  Vuka, Blitz, Bits, SL Magazine, Collapse, SMG – Your Music Guide, Rolling Stone South Africa, Blunt and @Home. Jonathan Handley of The Radio Rats produced many versions of his Palladium fanzine, and hopefully one day he will publish these in book form.

Boyd, Allan and Linnet, Mark: Endless Summer Quarterly – Interviews with Mike Love & Blondie Chaplin. (2013). This issue of the American magazine features interviews with Mike Love and our very own Blondie Chaplin of the Beach Boys. Available online.

Currin, Brian & Segerman, Stephen: South African Rock Digest. This kept everyone up to date on the local scene from 1999 to 2004. All the issues of their monthly magazine can be read and downloaded online: http://www.rock.co.za/sarockdigest/archives/index.html

Lizabe, Lambrechts: The Woodstock Sound System and South African sound reinforcement (2021). This article outlines how David Marks used the Woodstock bins for, among others, the Free Peoples Concerts. Lots of great links. https://herri.org.za/4/lizabe-lambrechts/

The Development of Music in South Africa 1600 – 2004. A very brief timeline about music in South Africa.

The Music of the People: Africans in South Africa and Their Musical Sound Systems. If you’re looking for images and album covers, this is the site:

The South African Rock Encyclopedia is a good source of local music news: http://rock.co.za/

Robb, Robbie: The Art of the Jam Band. Very cool little booklet by Robbie on jamming music, available from Robbie (Khamush Shemesh) from his Facebook page. 

Ross, Lloyd: A Shifty Story. (2006). A brief outline on the Shifty site about how Ross set up a studio to record South Africa’s most interesting acts of the era.

— Edited by Derek Davey