Over the past couple of months, something has emerged within the South African music scene, especially in the “urban” genres. House has dominated the airwaves and record sales, South African Hip-Hop has had more of a commercial appeal with the likes of AKA and Khuli Chana, R&B has been in its own lane , but what happened to KWAITO? Oh yeah, that’s right, the media has been trying to force it out of the airwave and record stores, therefore trying to eliminate the proudly South African genre. I even found it hypocritical that some of the major radio stations have been trying to celebrate 20 years of Kwaito’s popularity when they have tried to wipe it off! An example of evidence would be the dominance of Deep and Durban House music being overplayed and labeled as Kwaito, therefore confusing the masses.
Fortunately, there have been sites such as Kwaito Kulcha, Kwaito.com, Kwaai Kwai Magazine, and Kasimp3 that have not only showcased but introduced new Kwaito artists as well as keeping the culture alive. I have been introduced to artists such as Tyson Kwaito General, Voro da Viruz, Ceety Msayi, and Sponche Makhekhe. Though Kwaito has been driven underground and the classic artist such as the Trompies, Arthur, TKZee, Mandoza, and Zola have strived to rejuvenate their sound and fanbases, I had a feeling that Kwaito was not yet dead, but something else was starting to emerge and rile my hopes for Kwaito’s resurrection.
When I was listening to Tru FM one day, I heard a Hip-Pop song sampling the Doc Shebeleza song “Getsa Getsa”. Not too long after that, I was on YouTube listening to an upcoming artist named Casper Nyovest. Ironically enough, his song (not the same song I heard on Tru FM) was called “Doc Shebeleza”. A month later, I hear a song from an upcoming artist named Duncan titled “Tsiki Tsiki”. To my prediction, it sampled M’du’s 1994 classic of the same title and I was not too impressed. As more as I heard these Hip-Pop artists sample Kwaito tunes and pioneers such as Spikiri and Tokollo appear in these videos I didn’t mind it as much until I head the dreaded phrase “New Age Kwaito”.
I couldn’t comprehend why the media would coin that phrase because it did not really sound like Kwaito to me. Yes, it sampled Kwaito music at best but it had Hip-Pop artists such as AKA, Caper Nyovest, and Duncan rapping over these songs therefore confusing the audience. I really wouldn’t have cared if people said that it was a mix between Hip-Hop and Kwaito as the Pro-Kid and Brickz track “Umfutho” or Kabelo, H2O, and Lira’s “Thina Kayi One”, which as a good mix between Hip-Hop, Kwaito, and R&B. Don’t get me wrong, there has been plenty of good Hip-Hop and Kwaito collaborations but to call it “New Age Kwaito” would be a an oxymoron. I remember researching about the history of the two genres and the producers of the genres weren’t really fond of each other’s music at the beginning.
South African Hip-Hop was viewed as another fad from America when Black Noise, the first group to come of out the country, started the national scene and began to rhyme against apartheid during the late 1980s. Prophets of the City was the apartheid regime’s worst nightmare when they emerged as the first multi-racial Hip-Hop group, along with their anti-apartheid messages. Meanwhile, Kwaito was born out of the studio by former Township music producer M’du and then back up dancer Spikiri. It had a Township Pop sound at the time but also fused early House music and there was minimal Hip-Hop influence, especially with former Hip-Hop turned Kwaito artist Senyaka, until the late 1990s.
During the early ‘90s, as Kwaito started to emerge from the underground, Hip-Hop artist and people involved with the genre felt threatened and vice versa. Lance Stehr, the CEO of Ghetto Ruff (now Muthaland Records) which focused on Hip-Hop at the time, admitted in a documentary called “After Robot: Kwaito in Johannesburg” that he disliked the production of Kwaito music at first. I also heard in a radio interview that Oskido was urged by Speedy from Boom Shaka to include Hip-Hop acts to Kalawa Jazmee, which was then a developing record label that focused on Kwaito and House Music. Unfortunately, it seemed as if Oskido rejected the idea at the time, until later in the decade. During the late ’90s there were a few Hip-Hop acts around Johannesburg that were trying to seek fortunes with the big record companies. On the contrary, the same international labels took note as Kwaito became a strong force in the music industry. To compete with the independent labels and to gain Black audiences, they had to urge the new acts to do Kwaito music.
Groups and acts such as Karamo, Chiskop, Mshoza, Msawawa, TRO, Mzambiya, Brickz, TKZee, and others have been said to been Hip-Hop or have been influenced by Hip-Hop but were pressured by the record companies to peruse a career with Kwaito. The TKZee story happens to be an interesting one because I have heard from many people that two of the members, Tokollo and S’bu were in the Kwaito group Mashamplani (produced by M’du). After their falling out with M’du, Tokollo teamed up with Kabelo and Zwai to create TKZee. It has been said that the group wanted to create the genre of “Guz”, a mix between Hip-Hop and Kwaito, because they wanted to distance themselves from the genre to add more of a Hip-Hop flavor.
“Though I half-heartedly appreciate the homage that the Hip-Pop artists are giving Kwaito,…”
Unfortunately, Guz was just viewed as another subgenre of Kwaito as TKZee reached national and international stardom. Meanwhile, a similar subgenre was born in northern South Africa. Motswako, what I consider as Guz music in Tswana was created by the Crowed Crew and other artists such as Baphixile, Hip-Hop Pantsula (HHP), and Khuli Chana expanded the new sound, mixing Hip-Hop and Kwaito in the Tswana language. Towards the late ‘90s and early 2000s, the industry started to change for the best. Pioneers of the two genres, South African
Hip-Hop and Kwaito were starting to ease tensions despite some snaps from Hip Hop artist such as KGB, a local group from Cape Town and Amu and Selwyn from Ghetto Ruff. Ironically Amu would end up working with Kwaito artists and Oskido, the South African House music and Kwaito pioneer who seemed to ignore the presence of homemade Hip-Hop signed Motswako artists Baxphile and Hip- Hop artist, Milazi. Also around that same time, Oskido hosted the “Rap Activity Jam” sessions to promote local Hip-Hop talent on “Oskido Church Grooves” radio program on YFM, a radio station that was developed to support the country’s Hip-Hop, R&B, Reggae, House, and Kwaito scene.
Fast forward to today, “Rap Activity Jam” is now on Metro FM (SABC owned station) as Oskido has moved from his show from YFM (which rarely supports Kwaito now) to the national network. South African Hip-Hop has been having a better reception than it did a decade ago though some if the acts are following the same blueprint from US Hip-Pop artists such as Drake, Lil’ Wayne, and Big Sean. Meanwhile, Kwaito has been pushed underground as Durban House music invaded the industry during the late 2000s. Though it seems as Kwaito’s 25 year reign has come to an end, it may be an honor that people such as Casper Nyovest and Duncan are sampling Kwaito tunes and Khuli Chana and Da L.E.S. are collaborating with Kwaito artists such as Tokollo (Magesh) from TKZee.
I remember watching a documentary about West African Hip-Hop during the documentary, Awadi from the Senegalese group Positive Black Soul mentioned that DJs and producers from different regions in the US have sampled many genres of different music to create their own regional sound. In the East Coast ( New York, Philidelphia, Boston, Washington D.C.) people have sampled Jazz music, while in the West Coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle) Funk music was sampled to transform “Gangsta Rap” into “G-Funk”. In Senegal, as Awadi explained, they used samples of famous Mbalax (Traditional influenced Pop) musicians such as Youssou N’dour, Baba Maal, and Cheik Lo. After recollecting about that documentary, I started to think “If the SA Hip-Pop artists grew up on these Kwaito tunes, why shouldn’t they sample them?”
Though I half-heartedly appreciate the homage that the Hip-Pop artists are giving Kwaito, I still thought that the “New Age Kwaito” label was still an improper term. I would’ve thought that “New Age Guz” could be the appropriate title as TKZee would’ve probably imagined. From my perspective “New Age Kwaito” is the Kwaito that is still being made from artists today but has rarely been played on the radio. Unfortunately, I viewed this as another tactic by the media to drown out real Kwaito from the airwaves to support Hip-Pop music. It’s sad that the same radio stations that I listened to for Kwaito are now playing the same watered down version of Hip-Hop that radio stations are playing here in the States. It’s worse enough that Durban House, which gets overplayed by these stations has been labeled as Kwaito by the media but for them to label Kwaito sampled Hip-Pop as “New Age Kwaito” can be an insult to the artists as well as the fans!
- 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 currently lives and enjoys World Music.