Why kwaito isn’t dead


Over the past few years, a lot of people have been voicing different opinions on whether kwaito is dead or not. While some do agree that the genre has lost its way, very few people still believe that the sound that once made ghetto young minds proud is still breathing.

This home-brewed genre can be traced back to the early 1990s when the popularity of bubblegum music started to decline. Young township music lovers increasingly tuned in to the sounds of foreign house music. This happened during the time when clubs like Razzmatazz in Johannesburg’s Hillbrow were happening. During this chapter, revolutionary DJs, Christos Katsaitis and Oscar ‘Oskido’ Mdlongwa were getting the crowds going to a uniquely South African slowed-down house vibe.

“Certainly, today’s kwaito uses a tempo that is normally used for house music, but this does not in any way mean…”

While house music was being played all over, Oscar Mdlongwa, Mduduzi Masilela and Arthur Mafokate started to mix up hip-hop, R&B and Ragga, with heavy doses of overseas house beats while spicing it with some African melody and percussion. This was the beginning of a new genre called Kwaito.

Looking at its origin, it is believed that the influences of Kwaito also stemmed from suppression of freedom of speech under Apartheid, and the genre became a means of expressing youth issues and culture. Kwaito became the music that represented South African township youth. It was the music and culture of the township, the voice and language of the ghetto.

During this era, the likes of Mafokate released a follow up solo album – Kaffir which further marked the beginning of kwaito. This project gained lot of popularity and SA youth; mainly blacks appreciated it, and wanted more of its kind.

While Kwaito was growing, acts like, Boom Shaka, TKZee, Mashamplani, Mawillies, Skeem, Bongo Maffin, New School, Doc Shebeleza and Trompies were established, keeping the mid tempo kwaito culture alive.

Come the Millennium, the beats, the lyrics and how the artists carried themselves reached another level. Marking a new era in the kwaito game was the arrival of Mandoza. Not only did his project, ‘NKalakatha’ sell multi-platinum, the project didn’t sound like any kwaito project that anyone had heard before. Mandoza’s album became a genuine crossover, topping the charts on both traditionally black and white radio stations. The tempo on most of the songs was a little faster compared to that of traditional kwaito and the beats were now accompanied by rave sounds. Mandoza and other artists, stopped singing about poverty, struggle and anger as a matter of subject like the kwaito founders. They started to tackle social issues that youth face in their day to day lives.

“Even though kwaito had its loyal supporters, bit by bit, artists started upping the kwaito tempo,…”

Ever since this move, the original kwaito started fading out and the likes of Zola, Mapaputsi and others started spicing their music with a bit of almost every sound that could compliment their songs. Even though most artists stick to the reasonably same tempo of the makoya kwaito, artists such as Mzekezeke started penning down fun and happy lyrics. At the same time, labels such as KalawaJazzme didn’t shy away from the tradition of the genre – they continued putting together beats that kwaito has been known for.

As years went by, house music started dominating the scene. Even though kwaito had its loyal supporters, bit by bit, artists started upping the kwaito tempo, matching it to that of house. Brown Dash, Brickz and others didn’t really run away from the original kwaito. Even though their sound didn’t match up the old generation tunes, what they did was to mix old school sounds with a bit of faster more house music orientated vibe.

At this time, kwaito’s popularity was not being threatened by the rise of house music. At the same time artists singing styles took a different turn, which marked a fresh beginning for the locally brewed genre. A number of new artists started following the trend, which completely threw the old kwaito sound into the bin. On the front line of this new kwaito sound were the Durbanites, T’zozo En Professor, L’vovo Derrango and others.

“If you ask me whether kwaito is dead or not? Well, my answer is simply…”

Durban musicians have been breathing life into the kwaito style called Durban Kwaito Music or DKM. A few Durban based producer combined forces with ambitious young artists like T’zozo En Professor and Thokozani ‘L’vovo Derrango’ Ndlovu, and have given new life to kwaito.
According to those in the know, DKM is a mixture of house beats blended with kwaito lyrics – which is something that has never been offered to the fans in the past. The DKM sound is an opportunity that will eventually unlock doors for many artists across the country. If one has to describe today’s kwaito, I’d say it is simply house instrumentals mixed with pertinent lyrics that have sing-along hooks.

Certainly, today’s kwaito uses a tempo that is normally used for house music, but this does not in any way mean that we have reached the end of kwaito. Like everything in life, somehow, there is always change. The very same change we are talking about does not mean that it is meant to crush what has been built before.

Over the years, kwaito has moved from one stage to another, until it ended up being where it is today. If you ask me whether kwaito is dead or not? Well, my answer is simply no. The genre has not given up, but rather moved on with time and re-invented itself.

    Words by Phathu Ratshilumela
    Reprinted courtesy of Music Industry Online www.mio.co.za