Making Piles, Telling Tales—an apocalypse playlist, compiled by Tymon Smith

The JRB presents tunes and accompanying editorial from our EAP member Tymon Smith.

And so here we still are. Mostly locked down, masked up like anarchists at a WTO protest, sanitised to the point where our hands are so dry we can actually scratch the word ‘dry’ onto them. Waiting for vaccines, herd immunity, the end of the world, the beginning of another we never thought we’d see in our lifetimes, the continuation of the status quo in spite of the flickers of hope tantalisingly presented on television, computer and smartphone screens—ANYTHING BUT THIS! 

At least we are no longer sober and paying exorbitant prices for cigarette brands we’ve never heard of.

But the apocalypse can be met with some sort of hope if it’s well-soundtracked. That’s where I modestly step in, with the help of my still-growing-in-spite-of-everything record collection, to share selections of recent acquisitions, steadfastly overplayed favourites, and overlooked curiosities in some sort of coherent aural journey, which in this case runs from Richard Pryor to James Phillips and takes 369 minutes to complete. 

After all, what’s the point of accumulating and curating music if you can’t share it? 

Six hours-plus may initially seem long but it isn’t really, given that many of us still have nothing but time and sanitiser on our hands. 

This is the first in a series of playlists for the JRB and, like 2020, it started with a carefully worked out plan and then quickly ended up becoming something more chaotic, uncertain and intuitive. I’ve made a pile and tried to take from it songs that work together to tell a tale—although I’m still not exactly sure what that tale is. 

There are certainly some heavy of-the-moment influences, because Black lives and voices always matter, Covid-19 is still with us, people are dying here, there and everywhere. And, as a South African, I have a keen interest in the music of my homeland and the continent, which features prominently on this playlist. It’s also jazz heavy, and that’s simply because jazz is a beautifully multi-mutational form of expression that absorbs what’s going on around it like a sponge and spits it back into the ether in new, surprising aurally twisting shouts and whispers that capture some sort of ethereal essence of the zeitgeist … and also I just happened to buy a lot of new jazz records over the last few months. 

I’ve stuck to the rules of not repeating artists—although I have taken the liberty of including multiple artists from the same compilation albums—and I have not included any artists who were included on the previous JRB playlist

Other than that, if anything this playlist is a celebration of the sounds of freedom, hope, love, loss, fear and celebration that we can all relate to in this moment—expressed by the living, the dead, the forgotten and the legendary, and humbly organised by a neurotic, feline-friendly fool with an undiagnosed attention deficit disorder, for your listening enjoyment. 

Until next time, please enjoy—and tune in next month for more ramblings and aural fixations here on JRB Radio—Covid-19 on your dial, 20/20 for the smile. 


  • Tymon Smith is a member of The JRB Editorial Advisory Panel, and a freelance journalist who writes about the arts and South African history. Previously the literary editor of the Sunday Times, he is the recipient of a silver Standard Banks Arts Journalist of the Year Award for feature writing. He was the head researcher for the interactive DVD Between Life and Death: Stories from John Vorster Square, and is working on a book about the Johannesburg police station.

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