Sonic South Africa

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Live R&B at the Blues Room in Johannesburg during my study abroad trip, Dec. 2009

Music has always been a very important influence in my life.  In fact, it’s rare to find me without headphones or delving into new music.  One of my side hobbies since I’ve come to South Africa has been to learn more about the South African music scene and listen to local music.  However, there is a lot of American music presence here, from Rihanna and Beyonce playing in the taxi to Dolly Parton in the background at petrol (gas) stations to an African MTV channel.  It’s made finding South African music somewhat more challenging, but luckily public radio has made that a bit easier.

A bit of background on local music in South Africa: In May 2016, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) declared its commitment to playing 90% local music on its 18 South African public radio stations (SABC 2016).  This decision has been controversial, as some stations experienced a significant drop in listeners and revenue.  One station, Lotus FM, cited that while the decision to promote local content was good, the increase to 90% should have been gradual instead (Business Live 2017).  SABC is now considering reversing that decision, to the consternation of local artists (News24 2017).

Music played an important role in the resistance against apartheid, and traditional songs and dances are still prevalent in my village.  South African musicians span all genres, including rap, hip-hop, gospel, house, jazz, rock, and more.  Prior to coming to South Africa, I had no idea that there was such a strong jazz culture here.  Jazz was incorporated as part of anti-apartheid movements in similar ways to its role in the civil rights movement in the US (Wikipedia).

Kwaito is a uniquely South African genre that emerged in the townships in the 1990s–it “is a distinctly home-grown style of popular dance music that is rooted in Johannesburg urban culture and features rhythmically recited vocals over an instrumental backing with strong bass lines” (Kwaito Music).  Another genre, Maskanda or maskandi, is a “kind of Zulu folk music that is evolving with South African society” (Wikipedia).  I’m very glad to be in a country where music is so omnipresent and important.  I’ve really enjoyed exploring South Africa’s unique and talented music scene so far, including getting to go to a house concert in my area and seeing several top DJs!

Here are a few examples of some different music that’s currently popular in SA:

  • Kwaito- “Wololo” by Babes Wodumo ft. Mampintsha.  This was one of the top-played songs in 2016 and is still all over South Africa.  It’s almost impossible to sit still when it’s playing!
  • Hip Hop- “Don’t Forget to Pray” by AKA and Anatii, the current top song.  AKA is a well-known South African rapper with several hit singles.
  • R&B/Soul- “Amazulu” by Amanda Black, who won South African Music Awards (SAMA) Best Female Artist of the Year.
  • Rap- “Ngud’” by Kwesta ft. Cassper Nyovest.  Kwesta dominated the charts at SAMA, winning Best Male Artist, Best Album, and Best Rap Album among other awards.  This particular song had the highest airplay over the past year in all of South Africa.
  • Maskandi- “Iso Lami” by Khuzani, who won this year’s SAMA for Best Maskandi album.
  • Jazz- “Mayine” by Simphiwe Dana, a very talented jazz artist.

These are just a few examples from a vibrant and diverse musical culture, but hopefully I’ve managed to whet your appetite for more South African music- I know I’m looking forward to diving deeper into the sonic scene here!  Have any suggestions for other South African artists?  Let me know in the comments!

Also, wishing a happy Memorial Day to my American readers, a slightly belated Ramadan mubarak to my Muslim readers, and a very special wedding day to two of my close friends (Emily & Steve) who tied the knot this past weekend!

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4 thoughts on “Sonic South Africa

  1. Hugh Masekela was a big US hit when I was in HS, Lindsay. But other than a few exceptions like that, African music rarely breaks thru in the US. We’ve enjoyed learning more about it too. Got hooked on high life music in Ghana. Malian musicians also. Keep sharing current hits. That’s fun.
    Kathryn

    Liked by 1 person

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