South Africa in 1989: CD album banned for offending Christians

27 February 2012


Because of its title, the album ‘Bigger than Jesus’ by Kalahari Surfers was banned in 1989 for blasphemy and for the offending of Christians. The music was later re-released with a new album title, ‘Beach Bomb’.

By Michael Drewett

The Kalahari Surfers were a South African studio group led by Warrick Sony – who eventually became the sole member of the band, using backing musicians for recordings and live performances. Warrick Sony remarked that “the inequalities here were so massive and so embarrassing and so damning, that it was obviously impossible to align one’s self with what was going on or to keep quiet. In those days – in the 1980s – I found so much stuff that was being broadcast so ridiculous and just laced with all sorts of entendres and bizarre comedy”.

Tapes of political speeches and other found voices were spliced and set to rock beats to create subversively analytical songs. ‘Bigger than Jesus’ was the 4th Kalahari Surfers album and the first released locally, on Shifty Records. The title track was about John Lennon’s statement that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ and how his statement led to acts of censorship against the Beatles’ music.

When she saw the album in a shop, Mevrou Mulder of Cape Town gathered signatures of fellow protesters and submitted the album to the Directorate of Publications. In her accompanying letter she complained: “The name alone is enough to make any Christian furious, not to mention the words. We as reborn Christians object to the publication of this record and also the distribution of it. You will find more 600 signatures which I gathered very quickly, I can assure you, however that we are hundreds of thousands that object to this record. We call upon you, as a respected organisation, to prohibit these records and tapes, which slanders our King and Saviour.”

The album was found undesirable on the grounds that the cover of the record, with the title ‘Bigger than Jesus’ in large letters, was blasphemous and would be offensive to most Christians.

Shifty Records appealed against the ban but the Appeal Board nevertheless found the words ‘BIGGER THAN JESUS’ in large print on the outside cover offensive. Professor Van Rooyen, Chairman of the Appeal Board noted that this “could be easily seen by members of the public and this Board believes that a Christian would be offended by those words when quoted out of context such as in the present matter. For the Christian viewer Jesus, as Saviour, is degraded by these words.” The album could therefore be re-released with a new cover. Shifty made no attempt to obscure the censorship process which had occurred. They printed a new title – ‘Beach Bomb’ – on an appropriately sized sticker and stuck this over the original title on the album and re-released the album.

Michael Drewett is currently researching on a book about South African music



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