As most people in South Africa who fell in love with the genre are reminiscing and asking what happened to the beloved music we know as Kwaito, I , an American who has been listening to this proudly South African genre for about a decade and has been asking the same question for the past 4 years.
My experience began back in 1999, when I was starting my first year in High School. During that time, I was a massive underground and international Hip Hop fan. Most of the foreign Hip Hop that I listened to at the time came from Europe, Latin America, and Asia, but I was regularly interested in African Hip Hop, possibly due to my ethnicity. Prior to High School, I used to listen to Soukous, Juju, Reggae, Salsa, Merenge, Jazz, and at an earlier stage, house music.
I frequently went on a site called Rumba-Kali (known today as Africanhiphop.com) and the CDs that were sold on the site were Hip Hop artists from African countries such as Senegal, Algeria, Congo, and South Africa.
“…not exactly Hip Hop, but a pop influenced style mixed with local music”
One of the South African groups called TKZee caught my attention when the description of the group read as “not exactly Hip Hop, but a pop influenced style mixed with local music”. Curious about the “pop influenced local music” I searched the name of the group and found the name of the music style to be “Kwaito”. I was led to a website that had a more in-depth and locally illustrated description and reports about the music style. Not only did I get to know about the music but I also understood the “urban” perspective of its diverse lifestyle.
What made it easy to understand, was that the lifestyle emulated African American culture. Not only did Kwaito have a Hip Hop sound, it had the fashion to go with it. You had South Africans wearing FUBU, Ecko, and South Pole, but more popular where Dickies and Converse, which were also popular in western US Hip Hop culture.
The music, on the other hand, was diverse because it was a mix between House, Dancehall Reggae, and Hip Hop. The House music aspect reminded me of the times when I was around 7 or 8 years old listening to the old US Garage (Soulful House) with divas like Tara Kemp, Crystal Waters, CeCe Penniston, Robin S and their tunes produced by Masters At Work, Tony Humphries, Frankie Knucles and Todd Terry.
Kwaito introduced me to their South African counterparts such as Brothers of Peace, Trompies, M’du, and Arthur Mafokate with groups and artists such as Boom Shaka, Chiskop, Mouze, Funny Carp, and Abashante. Oddly but proudly enough, Kwaito music gave me an identity. Not only was it the music of choice, it was a style I wanted to adapt to. I still listen to Kwaito from those times, but somewhere around College, Kwaito seemed to disappear when Mzekezeke, Brown Dash, Brickz, and Mshoza entered the scene. There were less Kwaito websites and more South African Rock websites. I started to ask myself “What happened to Kwaito?” There was less Kwaito on stations like YFM and South African House took over the airwaves.
Fast forward to 2011, I’m at the mall and I ran into a guy wearing a “Durban Rocks!” t- shirt. I ran up to the guy and said “Hey wena, where did you get that shirt?.” He replied “Oh, I got this shirt at home”. I asked if he was from Durban and he said he was. I let him know that I was familiar with the Durban House Music scene but that I really missed the old school Kwaito. When I mentioned Kwaito, his face blew up with amazement. He was shocked that someone in America, an African-American listens to Kwaito!! I also had the same reaction back in College when I was talking to a Nigerian student who lived in South Africa.
From the time when I first listened on the web, played it on my College radio shows, and now collecting CDs, I ask myself “When will that Kwaito sound return?”. Durban House/Kwaito is ok but in my opinion, African flavored House Music has already been done.
Kwaito had that mix of a different sound and style that made it unique. Until this day, that question still remains…
- Matthew “M-Point” Key is an aspiring freelance journalist as well as a music historian and former host of the music show “The Basement Mix” on WNEC radio in New Hampshire, USA. He now resides in Connecticut, USA where he currently lives and enjoys World Music.