The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


From New York to London: South African Music in Exile

Toward the end of, “From Music to Madiba: A History of U.S. Relations with South Africa,” Brian Balogh speaks with Louis Meintjes about the links between South African and American music and the political influence of music during apartheid. Meintjes describes how some musicians performed within the confines of the state-owned system of censored radio. Many of these artists found ways to resist apartheid by speaking to everyday struggles, or by forging a unified, cosmopolitan identity through sound.

But many artists chose exile instead. In doing so, they brought South African music to an international audience. “During the apartheid era, there were a lot of musicians who were either exiled or chose self-imposed exile, who are absolutely crucial to the exposure of South African culture, and with that culture as a kind of political voice internationally, ” Meintjes said. “These are musicians like Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and others. And the key kind of places that these musicians went to were London or New York.”

Balogh and Meintjes went on to discuss Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, the South African cultural boycott, and more. But we couldn’t stop thinking about the musicians who left for London and New York to become influential musical and political voices. So we’ve compiled a list of musicians who left South Africa, with links to well-known examples of their work. It’s an incomplete list, but we hope it can be a jumping-off point for discovering some of the most exciting music of the late 20th century.

Let us know what you think, or who we forgot to include, in the comments!

Abdullah Ibrahim

“Cape Town Fringe” – 1977

Miriam Makeba

“Pata Pata” – 1967

Hugh Masekela

“Grazing in the Grass” – 1968

Jonas Gwangwa

“Morwa” – 2001

Sathima Bea Benjamin

“Solitude” – 1963

Letta Mbulu

“Down By The River” – 1985

Caiphus Semenya

“Matswale” – 1996