We know there’s music that makes you desperate to travel; tunes that inspire wanderlust and have you recklessly searching for a flight somewhere. Anywhere. Anywhere but here.
And yet when home is so often the road, music can have the power to send you dreaming of a familiar time, a familiar place. Whether it’s a person, a building, an era, a space, something, someone, somewhere, will always be home.
We asked five South African travel writers what songs have the power to make them homesick.
Home – Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros
I’ve been on the road for almost a year and I don’t really miss home as a place, but I do miss friends and family a lot. The song that makes my heart feel a bit sore for the place where the people I love are, is “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. From a lyrics point of view, it’s pretty obvious: “Home, let me come home/ Home is where I’m with you”. It’s a song my friends and I have listened to a lot together: the most memorable occasion was at AfrikaBurn one year, when it was playing from a small art car while we danced and sang in a massive group hug. Whenever I listen to it now I go straight back to that beautiful moment.
Back Down South – Kings of Leon
I’m prone to suffering minor bouts of homesickness when staring out of windows of buses or trains. And when this happens, “Back Down South” by Kings Of Leon worms its way into my head and plays on repeat. It’s a combination of Caleb Followill’s lazy drawl, the almost-schmaltzy strings swaying in the background, and the fact that I have to head back down south to reach home – and it always manages to get me tipsy on nostalgia. And then I always wonder which songs will take me back to the places that I am travelling through at that moment.
On the Beach – Chris Rea
I was born in Durban, but we left to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands when I was three. Still, we returned to my grandparents and family every holiday, and over some weekends. The quintessential Durban track for me, will always be Chris Rea’s “On the Beach” – just the faintest hint of it reminds me of those windless, wet-hot nights, braais and cold Creras cool drinks. Another one that takes me back home is Junior Tucker’s “She’s Just Sixteen Years Old”. I was 11 or 12 at the time and rolled about the lyrics in my mind like walnuts, hoping they’d crack to reveal teenage-worthy secrets, noting the ambiguity too. Reminds me of roaming The Wheel shopping centre with friends and walking on the Durban esplanade.
Paradiso – Konono N°1
Konono N°1’s song “Paradiso”, from their first album Congotronics, reminds me of home, and bleeding fingers. I grew up in Zimbabwe and would often listen to people playing the thumb piano or mbira dzavadzimu – meaning ‘voice of the ancestors’ in Shona. It’s an ancient instrument comprising a wooden board with a range of metal keys of different lengths. The most rudimentary mbiras used flattened nails that cut unseasoned fingers, but in the hands of a skilled player, the sound is magic. You’ll find them all over Africa. Konono N°1 are Congolese and they play a range of mbiras hooked up to electric amplifiers. It cuts right to my core.
Paradise – Coldplay
Coldplay’s “Paradise” does it for me. Every time. Perhaps it’s that evocative intro, or the lingering memory of the music video, which makes my body ache for the smell of Africa’s rich soil. Perhaps, too, it’s the memory of that elephant roaming London and searching, longing, not belonging. That displaced confusion of wandering and wondering just where does she – where do I – belong. Somewhere else. And then the video cuts to Cape Town, my home for 10 years, and I want to burst with pride. And I remember that beautiful freedom of riding a bicycle on late-afternoon roads. And how pre-sunset the landscape oozes warmth. And most of all, it reminds me that while for now I choose to be elsewhere, I am – and always will be – African.