|Cover versions of international songs have long thrived in South Africa’s music industry. Often unable to license the original tracks (until the early 90s the result of an international boycott of the country) labels instead hired producers and session artists to re-record them for the local market. Early house music in SA was no different.
When Ron ‘Robot’ Friedman, former bass player for local rockers Rabbitt, was winding down his label On Records in the early 90s, he reached out for new inspiration as the popularity of ‘bubblegum’ disco waned. For one of the label’s final releases he hired young DJ/producer Quentin Foster, obsessed with the new soulful house sound coming out of the US, to take the reins on a studio project dubbed Citi Express.
On Robot’s insistence it included a cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living for the City’ (from 1973’s Innervisions) as the title track. Foster set to work in his home studio, dubbed Tone Def, selecting and re-working other US and UK tracks — ‘It’s Too Late’ (originally released in 1989 by Kelli Sae), ‘Love is the Message’ (influenced by the 70s soul anthem and credited to Gamble & Huff but bearing a closer resemblance to Better Days’ 1990 release written by Steve Proctor), ‘People of The World’ (recorded by Sorell Johnson in the UK in 1990) and ‘Victim of Your Love’ (released in 1990 by Gary Vonqwest as ‘Victim of Love’) — adding some signature South African touches in the process that foreshadow the imminent rise of kwaito. One original composition was added for good measure, ‘Open Invitation’.
The result offers a glimpse into those early days of house, a uniquely South African take on a global sound that still resonates today — reissued for the first time on Afrosynth Records.