Dancing to kwaito or house? As an avid foreign fan of Kwaito music, I have noticed the lack of Kwaito music played on South African radio over the past decade, punctuated by the recent end of YFM’s kwaito – hot99 with Stapura. I started to listen to this genre during the late 90s when it blew up in South Africa and was starting to become familiar in Europe. I learnt about Kwaito music from a website that showcased African Hip-Hop and others like Kwaito.co.za (now inactive).I liked it more than Hip-Hop and Dancehall Reggae, because it had distinct elements of house music.
Five years later, I’m in college listening to YFM online and not only do I hear Kwaito but slow House music as well. I was beginning to think, “Was local and foreign House music going to take over Kwaito and local Hip-Hop?, Nah. ” Two years later, I would be proven wrong, because I would tune into stations such as Metro, YFM, and Bush Radio in Cape Town and I would rarely hear Kwaito music. During this time, Kwaito websites have disappeared and there where not that many to start with.
“…but prefer the original funky basslines and mid tempo beats of old school Kwaito.”
Out of nowhere, came Durban Kwaito, later known as Durban House (Music). The beats were a little faster than the regular Kwaito tunes. Although it kept most of the African kwaito like sound, I felt this had been done by American DJs such as Masters at Work, Frankie Knucles, and plenty of others who have experimented with African
Kwaito was the next best thing! As Durban Kwaito became Durban House, I grew more and more tired of it because radio stations were overhyping it. Some of the people who used to do Kwaito such as DJ Cleo, DJ Sbu (Mzekezeke), L’vovo, and Arthur were all doing House music. As frustrated as I was, sick and tired of the “Durban Poison”, I had to think, I couldn’t hate on Durban House. It seemed as if that these DJs were some of the only people on the continent making House music and also, if there was no House
music, then Kwaito, very likely, wouldn’t have exist. Some of the Kwaito artists like Oskido and Brother of Peace started out doing House music.
House music was one of the very first influences of Kwaito music along with Township Pop (Bubblegum). It all dates back to the late 1980, during the final years of Apartheid, when Hip Hop and Reggae music where popular.Though both genres were underground at the time, a new sound from the US
and Europe would hit the South African clubs and airwaves. House and Techno music made its way as the new innovative music for the nation. Some of the very first South African House DJs such as DJ Ganyani, Christos, Vinni da Vinci, and a young Oscar Mdlongwa (Oskido) embraced this sound. While I would have expected House music to target a White audience; it seemed to gain more Black audiences.
Around this time, a young aspiring producer named Mduduzi (M’du) Masilela teamed up with a young dancer named Mandla “Spikiri” Mofokeng to create MM Deluxe. They
created a new sound which was a mix between Township Pop and House music, which they labeled, “Township House”. When I heard their songs “Hurry up” from their debut
album of the same title, it sounded very much like Township Pop with a little bit of 80s House music.
As the Apartheid regime was beginning to end, society as well as politics was starting to change. Blacks would no longer be oppressed and would be able to express themselves,especially through music. House music was still popular among most people but a new style of House music called “mid-tempo”, which was house music with a slower rhythm (usually 95-120BPM). These mid-tempo songs were usually slowed American and European house songs mixed by Oskido, Christos, Tim White, Gabi LeRoux, and a young Arthur Mafokate .
M’du and an upcoming singer named Joe Nina also released a mid tempo tape called LA Beat with a hit called “Boss of the road”. This is considered one of the first hits of what we know now as Kwaito music.Then came the politically social songs “Kaffir” from Arthur and “Mkwerekwere” from Boom Shaka which reflected the expressions of an oppressed society and societal ills. A year later, as the nation emerges from decades of racial segregation and political oppression, a Black and mixed South Africa was offered the opportunity to succeed in the economy and society. Kwaito music was able to excel with record labels owned by Black CEOs giving opportunities to many people to market the music. Soon a genre that was once doubted by international record companies was later welcomed to attract diverse audience.
Still to this day, when I hear a Durban House tune, it becomes more of a Love and Hate relationship. There are some Durban House songs I do like but prefer the original funky basslines and mid tempo beats of old school Kwaito. I also reflect on the progresses of Kwaito music, not only would I also think of the influences of Hip-Hop,
Reggae, Township Pop, but also the big impact House music played in the proudly modern South African genre.
- 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.