A Closer Look At Kwaito

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A Closer Look At Kwaito

A few weeks ago I was watching the 17th annual South African Music Awards. To say they were badly organized would be an understatement. People were still trickling in after the show had started and at some point a recipient of an award didn’t have a microphone to say his acceptance speech. Another notable thing on the night was musicians, namely Kwela Tebza and dj Cleo, chanting “Viva ANC Youth League Viva” and asking “What would the SAMAs be without dj Cleo; what would elections be without the ANC; what would soccer be without Orlando Pirates(who had just been crowned champions earlier in the day)?” respectively. The promulgation of the aforementioned artists’ political positions wasn’t expected, to some degree. I say this because they, Kwela Tebza and dj Cleo, are closely associated with kwaito, a (black) youth-centric genre of music which is sometimes, rightly or wrongly, punted as South Africa’s version of (mainstream) American hip hop. Kwaito, since its emerged in the late 80s and early 90s, has largely chosen project itself as apolitical. So, would the chanting of the governing party’s youth wing at an awards ceremony be a breaking away from the ‘traditions’ of kwaito? The answer is a simple no. Well, at least not anymore.

Today, it’s not unusual to see the likes of Chomme dancing with president Zuma at the governing party’s rallies and victory parties. Didn’t the Durban Kwaito Music outfit, Big Nuz, meet the president at the ANC head quarters after winning “Song of The Year” last year? The very association with any political party, in this case the governing party, discredits kwaito’s ‘apolitical’ stance of old. Sharlene Swartz, in a 2003 paper titled “Is Kwaito South African Hip Hop? Why the answers matters and who it matters to” writes as follows: “Unlike some genres of hip hop rap music, kwaito claims to be apolitical and young South Africans say they like it that way. They are tired of politics, the beat is what it’s all about. But there are many ways in which Kwaito is in fact an act of politics. South African youth from the 1970s to the 1990s have been at the forefront of the political struggle to topple apartheid. After the South African democratic elections in 1994, kwaito emerged in welcome relief and with it a drive for economic prosperity…” Swartz argues that kwaito, as an entrepreneurial tool that has been used to eke out a living far detached from the poverty caused by the previous regime, is a political act. That makes a lot of sense when it, kwaito, is viewed in that manner. But there’s another school of thought whose rebuttal is to the effect that kwaito, with its association with the governing party, inevitably swallows its ‘tongue’ of criticism and therefore can’t be the voice of the frustrated young people without jobs in the townships.

I came across an article published on an online magazine, Presh, and part of its criticism of kwaito reads thus: “Here( in the article) I make the argument that the mass popularisation of kwaito provided and still provides a crowding out scenario for Hip Hop and thus for consciousness and critical thinking. My point is that this anti-Black system( Google Andile Mngxitama’s work) would never allow Hip Hop to thrive until it waters itself down because in its “unwatered down” state it provokes thought and thought is a basis for rebellion; a threat to the system. When Andries Tatane was shot while protesting one would have expected that the next day Ben Sharpa’s Hegemony would have received record breaking radio air play and downloads but alas we continued singing imot’ etshontsh’ imali.” It’s true that much of the content of kwaito concerns itself with the partying and all things jolly but we all know that that’s a far cry from the daily township experience. So, that leads to the question, can we continue to refer to kwaito as the artist authority of young black people’s experience even when there’s little artistic content serving as the soundtrack to youth that are at the forefront of what has come to known as ‘service delivery’ protests?

In a country were the majority of people are black, young and live in the townships, one would expect that a kwaito artist not to celebrate an album selling ten thousand copies. Should they not be able to move more units? That’s perhaps another reason for the ‘apolitical’ stance of kwaito. Is there isn’t a guarantee that a politically ‘conscious’ kwaito album will sell when the ‘apolitical’ barely lives the shelves? The bread and butter issues can’t be divorced from the debate of whether or not music ought to take a critical stance on our body politic. It also has to be mentioned that kwaito isn’t the only genre that is ‘apolitical’. The reason one chose it specifically is because of its historic appeal to the youth.  It’s also for the same reasons that the governing party has been increasing the number of kwaito musicians on its recent election campaign trails. They, the artists, have an influential appeal to the young vote which the governing party needs in order to rejuvenate its ranks. Which political party wouldn’t want the youth vote? Even in the American presidential election of 2008, we saw the likes of Will-Iam  of the Black Eyed Peas throwing his weight behind president Obama and with Will-I am’s backing came a lot of his followers, I’d like to think.  If kwaito consciously chooses to remain indifferent to pressing issues that face a large constituency of its market, does it not risk being irrelevant and tacitly digging its own grave? That which is irrelevant eventually ceases to be.  It can’t be that music that arises out of the experience of the (previously and, to some extent, currently) neglected surroundings that are the townships acts likes all is well in the republic.

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A Closer Look At Kwaito, 10.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
  • Rigoberto Pinney

    For added advice fun newspaper assimilate our openness to change new Gucci. rhythmic results reportage.

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  • Jaqcrohl

    I hear you guys and you have valid points bt i feel kwaito died with the struggle.i also think that kwaito is RSA’s very own hip pop from dont call me a k… To sister bethina the same as Mc act like they dont to soulja boy tel em.i think ppl are in it for the money(if there is any) and the tenders from the gvmnt.

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  • Matt

    Unfortunately.. The same fate awaits Poetry and other artforms.. Man is… a troubled ppl. Was good 2 hear Don, Romeo and Mutlhe at bassline though… But i’m afraid beyond eloquence, wat man needs is an adjustment of attitude.. The gifted are boastful, even the humble r bigheaded.. I get what Moemise meant K, but there’s more

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  • Donald The Neosapien

    Truely potent work my man!!! I love the bic pen description…epic!! Just the mere mention of artists like Bongo Muffin got me nostalgic. Ya ne kwaito, I agree with Tuelo in that “relevance” in this context depends what you relate to the word. The modern day kwaito is very indicative of the screwed up youth that places great significance on parties and wealth, the modern day Sodom & Gomorra. Content that is apolitical would not stand a chance against songs like “jezebel”…we are seriously living in the last days.

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  • Khaya

    Philosopher,Bongo Maffin,Skeem,Boom Shaka came with refreshing afrocentric lyrics.More so Bongo Maffin.they continue to speak from greater Africa in their kwaito.We,young black people of the 90s,experienced a different type of kwaito and it was a remarkable soundtrack to those days bic pens used as rewinding mechanism.the marrying of the current crop of kwaito artists with the governing party isnt illegal but is it sustainable,if so,to which extent?criticism isnt ought to not be taken as being anti anc.it is indicative of concern.it is usually said that to understand any society,one need look no further that its arts-literature,paintings and music amongst others.now,if a foreign national were to listen to kwaito in its current state,they would probably conclude that there arent any problems affecting young people in the main.as an entrepreneural project kwaito has gets full marks.the blurring lines between house and kwaito has also compounded the headaches of the genre that was once the undisputed authority on daily experiences of the black youth.

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  • Tuelo A Sense

    But then again, we cud look at wat the word “relevance”, maybe kwaito IS relevant to the current situation in SA. It all depends on wat u relate the word “relevance” to. And judging by the current headspace that our youth is at, then kwaito is “relevant” to the youth. I mean, look at us… We are exactly wat kwaito portrays!

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  • Tuelo A sense

    As a young boy growing up in the dusty townships of mothibistad in the nothern cape, i remember wen we used to buy cassette tapes of Bongo Maffin, Crowded crew, tkzee, skeem, even Thebe was relevant back then. We wud rewind it with a bic pen, lol, and somehow we knew where each song was by just looking at the tape. A friend of mine used to host parties with those cassettes, he was a dj and collected a whole lot of cassettes. Kwaito had a voice, i remember wen i heard the remake of “hotel california” by bongo maffin, oh man, i still listen to it today. 🙂 how it got to its current state, i really dont kno. Not to sound controversial or anything, i think Durban kwaito killed that voice in kwaito. Back in those days, kwaito was about parties, fine, but there were more relevant than irrelevant songs on the mainstream. There were positive uplifting messages. Kwaito is not like American hip hop, not at all, american hip hop is flooded by cormercial music about cars, money, and booze, but they hav a big underground market. They hav musicians that are unknown to tv and radio listeners, but well known to those that are wat are called “heads”. Kwaito has lost its relevance, maybe i dnt kno much about the kwaito industry, sure, they make a lot of money, and it’s nice music that people love, it makes them happy and everybody deserves to be happy, but wen it comes to relevance, kwaito has lost it. Im not saying kwaito is wack or bad, (if u like it, then knock urself out), but u cant mention kwaito and relevance in the same line without the two words repelling each other. I may sound like an old man that cannot accept change, but truth be told, i miss those olden days and i wish i cud listen to kwaito again. Evolution is good, but wat is evolution? Has it really evolved? I think it just mutated, not evolved. And as for the public humiliation by our ruling party, wat can i say, we’ve
    Really lost it, we need a mental assylum. We’re like kids fighting for a sweet, we need to grow up!!!

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About Author

Khaya Sibeko

Football.Bookworm.Cinematic Music. "The greatest contribution from Africans will be to give the world a more human face" Bantu S. Biko,

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  • Rigoberto Pinney

    For added advice fun newspaper assimilate our openness to change new Gucci. rhythmic results reportage.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • Jaqcrohl

    I hear you guys and you have valid points bt i feel kwaito died with the struggle.i also think that kwaito is RSA’s very own hip pop from dont call me a k… To sister bethina the same as Mc act like they dont to soulja boy tel em.i think ppl are in it for the money(if there is any) and the tenders from the gvmnt.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • Matt

    Unfortunately.. The same fate awaits Poetry and other artforms.. Man is… a troubled ppl. Was good 2 hear Don, Romeo and Mutlhe at bassline though… But i’m afraid beyond eloquence, wat man needs is an adjustment of attitude.. The gifted are boastful, even the humble r bigheaded.. I get what Moemise meant K, but there’s more

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • Donald The Neosapien

    Truely potent work my man!!! I love the bic pen description…epic!! Just the mere mention of artists like Bongo Muffin got me nostalgic. Ya ne kwaito, I agree with Tuelo in that “relevance” in this context depends what you relate to the word. The modern day kwaito is very indicative of the screwed up youth that places great significance on parties and wealth, the modern day Sodom & Gomorra. Content that is apolitical would not stand a chance against songs like “jezebel”…we are seriously living in the last days.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  • Khaya

    Philosopher,Bongo Maffin,Skeem,Boom Shaka came with refreshing afrocentric lyrics.More so Bongo Maffin.they continue to speak from greater Africa in their kwaito.We,young black people of the 90s,experienced a different type of kwaito and it was a remarkable soundtrack to those days bic pens used as rewinding mechanism.the marrying of the current crop of kwaito artists with the governing party isnt illegal but is it sustainable,if so,to which extent?criticism isnt ought to not be taken as being anti anc.it is indicative of concern.it is usually said that to understand any society,one need look no further that its arts-literature,paintings and music amongst others.now,if a foreign national were to listen to kwaito in its current state,they would probably conclude that there arent any problems affecting young people in the main.as an entrepreneural project kwaito has gets full marks.the blurring lines between house and kwaito has also compounded the headaches of the genre that was once the undisputed authority on daily experiences of the black youth.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • Tuelo A Sense

    But then again, we cud look at wat the word “relevance”, maybe kwaito IS relevant to the current situation in SA. It all depends on wat u relate the word “relevance” to. And judging by the current headspace that our youth is at, then kwaito is “relevant” to the youth. I mean, look at us… We are exactly wat kwaito portrays!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • Tuelo A sense

    As a young boy growing up in the dusty townships of mothibistad in the nothern cape, i remember wen we used to buy cassette tapes of Bongo Maffin, Crowded crew, tkzee, skeem, even Thebe was relevant back then. We wud rewind it with a bic pen, lol, and somehow we knew where each song was by just looking at the tape. A friend of mine used to host parties with those cassettes, he was a dj and collected a whole lot of cassettes. Kwaito had a voice, i remember wen i heard the remake of “hotel california” by bongo maffin, oh man, i still listen to it today. 🙂 how it got to its current state, i really dont kno. Not to sound controversial or anything, i think Durban kwaito killed that voice in kwaito. Back in those days, kwaito was about parties, fine, but there were more relevant than irrelevant songs on the mainstream. There were positive uplifting messages. Kwaito is not like American hip hop, not at all, american hip hop is flooded by cormercial music about cars, money, and booze, but they hav a big underground market. They hav musicians that are unknown to tv and radio listeners, but well known to those that are wat are called “heads”. Kwaito has lost its relevance, maybe i dnt kno much about the kwaito industry, sure, they make a lot of money, and it’s nice music that people love, it makes them happy and everybody deserves to be happy, but wen it comes to relevance, kwaito has lost it. Im not saying kwaito is wack or bad, (if u like it, then knock urself out), but u cant mention kwaito and relevance in the same line without the two words repelling each other. I may sound like an old man that cannot accept change, but truth be told, i miss those olden days and i wish i cud listen to kwaito again. Evolution is good, but wat is evolution? Has it really evolved? I think it just mutated, not evolved. And as for the public humiliation by our ruling party, wat can i say, we’ve
    Really lost it, we need a mental assylum. We’re like kids fighting for a sweet, we need to grow up!!!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
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