This morning’s music is a bit of a wandering train of thought. It began when I heard a song from a Yogscast video dating back to 2011.
On February 3rd, 2011, YouTubers Yogscast Simon and Lewis posted a video titled, “Minecraft – ‘Shadow of Israphel’ Part 8: Diggy Diggy Hole,” the eighth part of their Minecraft Let’s Play series. At around 10 minutes in, Lewis asks Simon to sing a song about being a dwarf digging a hole. At timestamp 10:07 in the video, Simon sings the song in a “dwarvish accent”. The video gained over 4 million views in 10 years.
The original video was one person trying to sing (and not very well), but the song took off and developed a life of its own. The Yogscast team “went with the flow” and produced this more professional video, retaining the original song title. I think it’s a lot of fun. (If you need the lyrics, click through to the song’s YouTube page, where they’re provided beneath the video.)
The Minecraft gaming team picked up on the song, and included it in a compilation of Minecraft songs, thereby making it even more popular. This led to Italian power metal group Wind Rose, whose music follows Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” themes and who refer to their musical style as “dwarven metal”, to produce a power metal version of the comic song in 2019. It, too, became immensely popular, not only with their fans but in the wider Minecraft universe. It makes me smile.
I find both versions of the song amusing because of growing up in South Africa, where mining was one of the principal industrial activities (and still is). A great deal of traditional tribal music grew up around the mines, including the world-famous rhythmic work song “Shosholoza“, which has become almost a second national anthem in that country. I tried to find an authentic mining version of the song, sung by workers rather than a formal choir and with the full-throated roar of strong men chanting, the way I remember it. Sadly, I can’t find anything like that on YouTube. The closest I could come in an hour’s searching was this version.
There are many other traditional African songs from the mines. Sadly, few have been translated into English, so they’d be lost on an American audience. One of the few African songs that mentions the mines as part of the overall African experience is by the late Johnny Clegg and his group Juluka. It dates back to 1981 and their album “African Litany“. It’s called “African Sky Blue”, and the third verse deals with the mines.
Johnny Clegg became captivated by the rhythms and deep cultural roots of African traditional music, and formed his first group, Juluka, in partnership with a Zulu musician, Sipho Mchunu. They sang of his attachment to traditional music in their song “Kwela Man”, from the album “Scatterlings“, released in 1982. The title refers to a style of music from the 1950’s, fusing African tribal rhythms with marabi and jazz influences. It remains one of my favorite Juluka songs.
Johnny Clegg died a few years ago, at the age of 66, after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. He died too young. I felt a personal sense of loss when he left us, as I’m sure did many others who’d grown up with his music. He was my “Kwela Man”, in that sense, and for much of South Africa, which went into national mourning when he died.
Rest in peace, Johnny.