3rd Ear Music 3rd Ear Music
Hidden Years ArchivesHidden Years ReiussesNews ForumLyricsProjectsGallery - Musicians & EventsAbout 3rd Ear MusicOrder PageLinks
 Mountains of Men & Cowboy Songs

Mountains of Men & Cowboy Songs on Robben Island - 1967

Arne Lietz is a young East German student who has been researching censorship at the Robben Island Museum - prisoners letters etc. He spoke to David Marks in March 2002. Here is a draft from the HY Book that relates:

In 1967 - at the very same time that we were battling with egos & recordings, gold mining, folk clubs, rock festivals & theatre - a mind-field battle for our collective souls & future was being waged & played out on Robben Island - in another world at the Southern most tip of Africa.

Just a few months ago, while compiling this (Hidden Years) book, Mountains of Men was cited on an obscene but extremely popular market-driven TV series - Big Brother - for being colonial & anti-African. (If anything is colonial & anti-African, then those corporate European imports such as Big Brother or Pop Idols are it!) Considering that Mountains of Men was once declared anti-Afrikaner (& even anti-white at some Free State concerts in 1966) long before the kids in the TV cast were born - this was worth looking into. However, while re-writing this chapter, Arne Lietz called. He was doing research into censorship of detainee's music & literature on Robben Island in the 60's. He'd come across the 3rd Ear Music / Hidden Years Website - by accident (see footnote below) - & needed help to identify some banned music recently uncovered on the Island. They had a library for the warders & some detainees had ordered certain records. It's interesting to note - contrary to current mainstream PC thinking - that many of our detained leaders loved country music. Then & now! (Out of the closet & into the Country? - See BW Stevenson & Elvis in Zimbabwe. Did anybody know - or does anybody really want to know - that Don Williams is Mugabe's favourite singer; that Country Don has done a series of C&W albums with the Bundu Boys? The Bundu Boys we hear, are not welcome back home in Zim because of their anti-ZANU PF songs. Don Williams was personally invited to play for Mugabe in Harare about 3 years ago. Without the Bundu Boys. Go figure!)

In a letter dated 8th April 1967, & addressed to Comrade Robert Sobukwe on the Island from G. C. Senn of the International Red Cross in Geneva - in which Mr. Sobukwe's treatment & cultural well-being is discussed among other issues - mention is made of a Gramophone Disc that was withheld (banned?) - Carl Sendberg's Cowboy Songs & Spirituals. (I can't wait to hear what in heavens name the white Nationalists found subversive in Carl Sendberg's Cowboy Songs!) But more was to come.

Arne discovered 3 Long Playing vinyl records where tracks had been physically scratched out (with a nail-file perhaps?) & he was puzzled as to why anybody would do such a thing? How bad / subversive were these songs? He had to hear them. Arne's idea is to preserve these subversive relics as examples of what the Government of the day deemed subversive & dangerous. Visitors to the Robben Island Museum would press a button on the affected recordings (the albums stored in a glass case like a dead Juke Box) & out would pop the affected songs.

Did you have the catalogue numbers and titles of these banned & scratched recordings I asked? A few moments later he gave me the breathtaking news: Trini Lopez's version of If I had a Hammer, Johnny Rivers Secret Agent Man & off an album titled Shinny Shiny Fairygold a song by what looked like a white SAfrican folk singer, Nick Taylor singing Mountains of Men! What could I say? Funny enough I said, both Fairygold & Mountains were written underground in the Gold Mines - by myself - & that's the part of the book that I'm busy with as we speak. He couldn't believe the coincidence of finding the composer 36 years later; I went cold & Arne said that he would call me back.

With respect to our new Big Brothers - the Corporates who so desperately follow our every move to target the market - nothing but the colour (& the timing) seems to have changed. The same blind mind-set prevails...none so blind or deaf as those who will not see hear.

It is a great pity, but no surprise, that the young Arne - an archivist / student & researcher - knew nothing about the Hidden Years Archive Project or 3rd Ear Music. It is not as if we are totally unknown.

Without a profile - and for that we need funds - the HYMAProject faces a new generation of enthusiasts whose only source of reference is supplied by the very institutions that they are researching - The SABC, The Record Industry & the odd isolated University archives etc. These institutions provide the researchers with the information that they themselves would have often censored at the root.... all very confusing. But those who can afford to keep the truth hidden will do so. History is not kind because it does not always pay the rent and it doesn't make economic sense, seldom fitting into our preconceived & carefully calculated bottom-lines.

In the search for our hidden history, researchers have to trip & stumble over these roots in the dark, by accident. Shifty Records, 3rd Ear, The ILAM etc will remain a mystery to anybody who doesn't already know, for as long as the Apartheid established industries can keep them hidden! It only hurts when I laugh. What a shame!

If you have any comments about this article, please drop us a line.

back to top
This Web Site is designed and maintained by Art Arena