I love the rain. I remember the El Niño years of the 1980s, when I had a leaky roof in my apartment. As the American Catholic writer and mystic, Thomas Merton wrote in his ode, “Rain and the Rhinoceros,” I loved hearing its pitter-patter, the swoosh of cars passing over wet streets, the beautiful play of colors on the ground, and the way it always cleans our L.A. city. Nowadays, though, it seems as though we can never get enough rain here in California.
Everyone knows Ann Peebles’s hit song from 1974, titled, “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” It was later covered by Tina Turner, reggae singer Hortense Ellis, Albert King, the U.K. band, Humble Pie, Cassandra Wilson, and even Michael Bolton. With its catchy groove, this song has obvious staying power, but I don’t want to hear about it. California needs more rain!
Lately, the national headlines have all been ablaze with stories of Californians, in our fourth year of severe drought, struggling to conserve water. It feels like a far-off hope that the rain gods will soon shower us with more downpour than just the teeny sprinkle we had on Saturday (remember?). Short of performing a ritual dance, I thought I’d send out my request out to the cosmos by sharing two African rain songs that are joyful affirmations of how critical water is to our very survival:
South African Letta Mbulu recorded “Maru a Pula” (Clouds of Rain) for A&M Records back in 1976. It’s a song that I used to play a lot when I was on Morning Becomes Eclectic.
Fellow South African, Hugh Masakela, wrote his own rain-appreciation song, “Pula Ea Na” (It’s Raining), in 1984.
We get yet another rain song from another South African group, the a cappella Zulu choir, Ladysmith Black Mambazo: “Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain” from their 1990 album, Shaka Zulu.
We Southern Californians aren’t exactly used to inclement weather and rain. We forget our umbrellas, and traffic backs up citywide as drivers proceed with more caution than the rain usually warrants. LA drivers, whether in all-wheel drive Range Rovers or Hyundais, especially don’t manage well. But at this point, I think we’d put up with the minor inconveniences and happily run down the street braving the rain with newspapers spread over our heads.
Letta Mbulu’s “Malu a Pula” (1976).
Hugh Masakela’s “It’s Raining” (1984).
Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s “Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain” (1990).
And of course, Ann Peebles’s funky classic, “I Can’t Stand the Rain” (1974).