The 1980 song that prophesied the end of apartheid

The song begins with Marion’s breezy soprano, inviting the listener to “come with me, down Paradise Road”. As she extends her bewitching offer, Malebo and Ndlozi enter the mix, cooing softly in the background. Malebo takes the reins at the anthemic chorus, belting triumphantly that “there are better days before us and a burning bridge behind us”. The song’s stirring lyric is buoyed by lavish, shimmering orchestration. “I said to Fransua, ‘the song is just screaming for strings, for brass, especially French horns and harps,'” Van Blerk recalls, “and he just said: ‘Cool. Well, let’s do it!'” Marion remembers performing the song in a community hall on an unassuming Tuesday night in “either Sharpeville or Soshanguve” to an all-black crowd, before its official release. “As the song started, the crowd went mad,” she says. “Something just sent them into a frenzy.”

Yet the song almost flopped. “For the first four weeks, I could not get the record played in South Africa. Impossible!” Van Blerk says. He remembers a famous South African producer even telling him: “This is the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard… you cannot use strings and brass and French horns and harps [on a black South African record]. It’s unheard of.”

But Van Blerk persisted. He presented the song to industry rival and radio personality David Gresham, who hosted a daily programme on the South African Broadcasting Corporation. “I thought it was the best song I’d heard in the whole year. I couldn’t believe that such a great song had been turned down,” Gresham tells the BBC, suggesting that commercial radio discriminated against the song on racial grounds. “I think they were anti-supporting South African music, maybe because [Joy] were not white artists”, he says. Gresham proceeded to go “hell bent for leather” in playing Paradise Road relentlessly.

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