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Born, 10 February 1926, in Cape Town of Dutch parents, Carstens got his first accordion at the age of 13 and won an adult music competition six months later. He composed his first music piece at the age of 17 and has written approximately 1200 songs.
His most famous song "Zambezi" became a world hit and was recorded by artists such as Eddie Calvert, Acker Bilk, Bert Kaempfert, The Shadows, James Last, Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer and Johnny Dankworth. Other compositions were recorded by Horst Wende, Henri René, Geoff Love and bands in Australia, Italy and Poland.
Nico writes and performs music which spans the various cultures of South Africa. He draws inspiration from various sources, including Cape Malay, Black Township and indigenous South African sounds and combines them to form a unique Carstens sound.
Songs from his hand are:
Aap Setties, Boerenooi, Boma Boma; Kombuis Kwela, Brakpan Kwela, Brakpan Setties, Casablanca, Die Ou Kalahari, Die Springbok Kwela, Die Wolf Kwela, Geenfonteinse Vastrap, Gertjie Wintervoël, Goue Tango, Goue Vingers, Grandma Dooley, Hasie, Helena Cha-Cha, Helena Tango, Herd Boy/ Veewagter, Mpi Zulu, Jampot Polka, Jazz-A-Roo, Jy's My Hart, Kariba, Katjiepieringwals, Kersfees Wals, Klokkiewals, Lente In Switzerland, Luanda, Meadowlands, Meerkat Samba, Mimosa Cha-Cha, Nader Aan Jou, Net Jy Alleen, Nico Se Wysie, Outa In Die Langpad, Pasop Vir Die Maan, Pondoland, Quietude, Ressano Garcia, Riksja Booi, Shirley Wals, Skoppelmaai, Skuus Bietjie Hier, Soetpatatta, Umfaan, Vaalpens Polka, Voom-Ba-Voom, Wag ´n Bietjie, Warm Patat, Zambezi.
Since forming his own band at age 24, Nico has recorded over 90 albums which have sold over 2 million copies in South Africa. He has performed all over South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana as well as at the Nantes Festival in France and he appeared on Musikantenstadl for ORF in 1997.
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Nico Carstens has been a prolific composer. A significant number of his compositions were done with the help of his longtime business associate Anton de Waal (a.k.a. George Charles Gunn).
- Heartbreaking Waltz - words & music by Anton de Waal & Nico Carstens
- Hasie - words & music by Nico Carstens & Anton de Waal
- Kiewiet - words & music by Nico Carstens & Anton de Waal
- Kwela-Kwela - by Nico Carstens, Charles Segal, Viv Styger & Anton de Waal, English lyrics by Geoffrey North
- Little Bell - words & music by Nico Carstens & Anton de Waal
- Ring on Little Bell - words and music by Anton de Waal & Nico Carstens
- Rosie (must you wear your skirts so short?) - music by Anton de Waal & Nico Carstens, words by Ben Raleigh & Guy Wood**
- Strike it Rich (from the film, Kimberly Jim) - words & music by Nico Carstens & Anton de Waal
- Wha Chi Bam Ba - music by Nico Carstens & Anton de Waal
- Wilde Klein Bokkie (a.k.a. Cruising) - words and music by Nico Carstens, Louis Combrinck & Anton de Waal
- Zambezi - instrumental by Nico Carstens & Anton de Waal, words added later by Bob Hilliard