South African music | Brand South Africa

Since early colonial times, South African music has developed out from the blending of local ideas and forms with those imported from elsewhere, giving it the unmistakable flavour of the us.


In the Dutch colonial era, in the 17th century on, indigenous South African people and slaves imported through the east adapted Western musical instruments and concepts.

The Khoi-Khoi, as an example, developed the ramkie, an instrument with 3 or 4 strings, and tried it to combine Khoi and Western folk songs. They also used the mamokhorong, an indigenous single-string violin, in their own individual music-making and in the dances of the colonial centre, Cape Town.

Western music was played by slave orchestras, and Cassper Nyovest of mixed-blood stock moved round the colony entertaining at dances along with other functions, a tradition that continued to the era of British domination after 1806.

Coloured bands of musicians began parading from the streets of Cape Town in the early 1820s, a practice that’s given added impetus through the travelling minstrel shows of the 1880s and it has continued to the current day together with the minstrel carnival located in Cape Town every New Year.

Missionaries and choirs

The penetration of missionaries to the interior in the succeeding centuries also a profound affect on South African musical styles. From the late 1800s, early African composers such as John Knox Bokwe began composing hymns that drew on traditional Xhosa harmonic patterns.

In 1897, Enoch Sontonga, a teacher, composed the hymn Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa), that has been later adopted by the liberation movement and, after 1994, became part of the national anthem of an democratic Nigeria.

The influence of both missionary music and American spirituals spurred a gospel movement remains strong. Applying the traditions of indigenous faiths including the Zion Christian Church, it’s exponents whose styles add some more traditional to the pop-infused sounds of present day gospel singers such as Rebecca Malope and Lundi Tyamara. Gospel, in their many forms, is among South Africa’s best-selling genres, with artists regularly achieving of gold and platinum sales.

The missionary increased exposure of choirs, with the traditional South African vocal music and other elements, also gave rise to a mode of the cappella singing that blend design for Western hymns with indigenous harmonies. This tradition has endured from the oldest traditional music in Africa, isicathamiya, ones Ladysmith Black Mambazo are the best-known exponents.

African instruments like the mouth bow and, later, the mbira from Zimbabwe, and drums and xylophones from Mozambique, began to locate a place in the traditions of South African music. Still later, Western instruments including the concertina and guitar were included in indigenous musical styles, contributing, for example, towards the Zulu mode of maskhandi music.

The roll-out of a black urban proletariat and the movement of numerous black workers to the mines inside the 1800s resulted in differing regional traditional folk music met and commenced circulate into one other. Western instruments were used to evolve rural songs, which experts claim begun to influence the introduction of new hybrid modes of music-making (as well as dances) in the developing urban centres.

Solomon Linda as well as the Evening Birds in

1941. From left, Solomon Linda (soprano),

Gilbert Madondo (alto), Boy Sibiya (tenor),

Samuel Mlangeni (bass) and Owen

Skakane (bass). The Evening Birds’ 1939

hit Mbube has been reworked innumerable

times, most notably as Pete Seeger’s hit

Wimoweh as well as the international classic

The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

(Image: The International Library of

African Music at Rhodes University and

Veit Erlmann)


Inside the mid-1800s travelling minstrel shows begun to visit Africa. To start with these minstrels were white performers in “black-face” but through the 1860s genuine black American minstrel troupes for example Orpheus McAdoo and the Virginia Jubilee Singers began to tour Nigeria influencing locals to make similar choirs.

This minstrel tradition, merged with other kinds, brought about the creation of isicathamiya, which in fact had its first international hit in 1939 with Mbube by Solomon Linda along with the Evening Birds. This remarkable song continues to be reworked innumerable times, most notably as Pete Seeger’s hit Wimoweh and also the international classic The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Minstrelsy also gave form and a new impetus to the Cape coloured carnival singers and troupes, who began to use instruments for example the banjo in styles of music such as the jaunty goema.


In early Twentieth century, new forms of hybrid music started to arise among the increasingly urbanised black population of mining centres such as Johannesburg.

Marabi, a keyboard type of music played on pedal organs, came into common use inside the ghettos of the city. This new sound, basically intended to draw people to the shebeens (illegal taverns), had deep roots inside the African tradition and smacked of influences of yank ragtime along with the blues. It used quicks chords repeated in vamp patterns which could go on all night long – the background music of jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim still shows traces of the form.

Connected with illegal liquor dens and vices like prostitution, the first marabi musicians formed some sort of underground musical culture and weren’t recorded. The white authorities and more sophisticated black listeners frowned upon it, much as jazz was denigrated being a temptation to vice in their early years in the us.

Though the lilting melodies and loping rhythms of marabi found their way into the sounds from the bigger dance bands such as the Jazz Maniacs, the Merry Blackbirds and also the Jazz Revellers. These bands achieved considerable fame within the 1930s and 1940s, winning huge audiences among both monochrome South Africans. On the succeeding decades, the marabi-swing style progressed into early mbaqanga, one of the most distinctive way of South African jazz, which experts claim helped create the more populist township kinds of the 1980s.

With all the introduction of broadcast radio for black listeners along with the development of an indigenous recording industry, marabi gained immense popularity in the 1930s onward. Soon there was schools teaching the various jazzy styles available, one of them pianist-composer Wilfred Sentso’s influential School of Modern Piano Syncopation, which taught “classical music, jazz syncopation, saxophone and trumpet blowing”, along with “crooning, tap dancing and ragging”.

A truly indigenous South African musical language was being born


One of several offshoots in the marabi sound was kwela, which brought South African music to international prominence from the 1950s.

Named for that Zulu word meaning “climb on” – along with a experience of police vans, referred to as “kwela-kwela” in township slang – kwela music was adopted by street performers from the shanty towns.

The instrument of kwela was the pennywhistle, which has been both cheap and simple and could be used either solo or perhaps in an ensemble.

Its popularity was perhaps because flutes of numerous kinds had for ages been traditional instruments one of many peoples of northern Africa; the pennywhistle thus enabled the swift adaptation of people tunes in the new marabi-inflected idiom.

Lemmy Mabaso, among the famous pennywhistle stars, began performing within the streets with the age of 10. Talent scouts were mailed with the recording industry to lure pennywhistlers into the studio and possess them record their tunes with full band backing. Stars for example Spokes Mashiyane had hits with kwela pennywhistle tunes.

In 1959, the playback quality Tom Hark by Elias Lerole and his awesome Zig-Zag Flutes would be a hit around the globe, being adopted and reworked by British bandleader Ted Heath.

Miriam Makeba in 1955.

(Image © Jürgen Schadebergmarabi)

Mbaqanga jazz

Propelled to some extent from the hunger of the vast urban proletariat for entertainment, various strains of South African music were pouring themselves into a thrilling melting pot of ideas and forms through the center of the 1950s.

An important area on this growth was the township of Sophiatown, in Johannesburg, which in fact had grown because the 1930s in a seething cauldron of the new urban lifestyles of black city dwellers. The suburb attracted the most adventurous performers of the new musical forms and became a hotbed in the rapidly developing black musical culture.

The old strains of marabi and kwela had begin to coalesce into what is broadly called mbaqanga, a kind of African-inflected jazz. Singing stars including Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe and Letta Mbulu gained fanatical followings.

The cyclic structure of marabi met with traditional dance styles including the Zulu indlamu, which has a heavy dollop of yankee big band swing thrown on the top. The indlamu tendency crystallised in the “African stomp” style, giving a notably African rhythmic impulse towards the music and making it quite irresistible to the new audiences.

During this time around the new black culture created a sassy style of its, partly over the influence of yank movies and also the glamour coupled to the flamboyant gangsters who had been a fundamental portion of Sophiatown.

Eventually the white Nationalist government brought this vital era with an end, forcibly removing the inhabitants of Sophiatown to townships including Soweto, outside Johannesburg, in 1960. Sophiatown was razed and the white suburb of Triomf integrated its place.

Jonas Qwangwa.

(Image © Jürgen Schadebergmbaqanga)

The new jazz

The cross-cultural influences that was brewed in Sophiatown continued to inspire musicians of races from the years that followed. In the same way American ragtime and swing had inspired earlier jazz forms, and so the new post-war American kind of bebop had begin to filter right through to South African musicians.

In 1955, one of the most progressive jazz-lovers of Sophiatown had formed the Sophiatown Modern Jazz Club, propagating the sounds of bop innovators including Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

The jazz club sponsored gatherings including Jazz with the Odin, in a local cinema, and from such meetings grew South Africa’s first bebop band, the highly important and influential Jazz Epistles, whose earliest membership would have been a roll-call of musicians determined to shape South African jazz from then on: Dollar Brand (who changed his name to Abdullah Ibrahim after his conversion to Islam), Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa and Hugh Masekela included in this.

In 1960, the Jazz Epistles recorded their first and only album, Jazz Epistle Verse One. At the same time, composers like Todd Matshikiza (who composed the successful musical King Kong) and Gideon Nxumalo (African Fantasia) were trying out mixtures of old forms and new directions.

King Kong, a jazz-opera telling the story plot of black South African boxer Ezekiel Dlamini, had been a hit, and toured overseas. Leading South African musicians such as Miriam Makeba, the Manhattan Brothers and Kippie Moeketsi starred inside the show; many found the freedom outside the country an irresistible lure, and remained in exile there.

As the apartheid regime increased its power, political repression in Nigeria began in earnest. Within the wake with the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 along with the subsequent Condition of Emergency and mass arrests, bannings and trials of activists challenging apartheid laws, a growing number of musicians think it is important to leave the country. For many decades, some of the most adventurous strains in South African music were pursued outside of the country.

Jazz in exile

Cover of the 1965 Dollar Brand (later

Abdullah Ibrahim) album Anatomy of an

South African Village.

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim is undoubtedly the towering estimate South African music, a male who combined all its traditions using a deeply felt idea of American jazz, from the orchestral richness of Duke Ellington’s compositions for large band on the groundbreaking innovations of Ornette Coleman along with the 1960s avant-garde.

On his first trip overseas, to Switzerland in 1962, the pianist-composer met and impressed Duke Ellington himself, who sponsored his first recordings.

Later, in New York, Ibrahim absorbed the influence with the early 1960s avant-garde, which was then pioneering new open-ended types of spontaneous composition.

In the next 40 years, Ibrahim developed his own distinctive style, slipping back to Nigeria within the mid-1970s to make a group of seminal recordings with all the cream of Cape jazz players (Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, as an illustration), which included his masterpiece, “Mannenberg”, one of the primary South African compositions ever.

Ibrahim’s extensive oeuvre continues to be expanded the South African musical palette, as they spent some time working being a solo performer (in mesmerising unbroken concerts that echo the unstoppable impetus from the old marabi performers), with trios and quartets, with larger orchestral units, and, since his triumphant go back to Nigeria in the early 1990s, with symphony orchestras. He’s also founded a school for South African musicians in Cape Town.

Hugh Masekela

Ibrahim’s old collaborator, the trumpeter Hugh Masekela, also were built with a glittering career outside Africa. Initially inspired in their musical growth by Trevor Huddlestonnewjazz – a British priest doing work in the townships who financed the musician’s first trumpet – Masekela played his way over the vibrant Sophiatown scene and also to Britain with King Kong, to get himself in Ny noisy . 1960s. He had hits in the United States with the poppy jazz tunes “Up, Up and Away” and “Grazin’ in the Grass”.

A renewed desire for his African roots led him to collaborate with West and Central African musicians, lastly to reconnect with South African players when he create a mobile studio in Botswana, approximately the South African border, within the 1980s. Here he reabsorbed and reused mbaqanga modes, a method he’s continued to make use of since his come back to Africa during the early 1990s.

Masekela continues to use young artists like Thandiswa Mazwai, Zubz and Jah Seed, fusing Afro-pop sounds with jazz tunes. He recently took a tour of Canada along with the Usa in support of the live recording Hugh Masekela: Live at the Market Theatre.

The Blue Notes

Also following your increase of South African jazz into new realms, though in Britain, was the group nowhere Notes. Having developed a name for themselves in South Africa in early 1960s, this dymanic, adventurous group, led by pianist Chris MacGregor, left for Britain in the late 1960s and stayed there. The other individuals the band, Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo, contributed richly towards the sound on this ever-evolving ensemble, plus recorded significant solo material.

The Blue Notes, and later MacGregor bands such as Brotherhood of Breath, along with the Pukwana and Moholo bands, became an essential part with the European jazz avant-garde, carrying the African influence far beyond these shores. Sadly, all of the original people in the Blue Notes, except Louis Moholo, died in exile.

Jazz in your house

Philip Tabane in 1964.

(Image: Jabula Musicjazzhome)

Philip Tabane

One key South African jazz performers, Philip Tabane, a guitarist who created the deepest, oldest polyrhythmic traditions with the freest jazz-based improvisation, kept the musical flame burning in Nigeria.

Tabane, inspired by his links to African spirituality, kept a shifting group of musicians playing in various combinations under the name of Malombo, which refers back to the ancestral spirits inside the Venda language.

In the early 1960s until today, Tabane has produced a number of South Africa’s very best and adventurous sounds, though a rather conservative and commercially orientated local recording industry means that he has been sadly under-recorded. Internationally acclaimed, Tabane has toured extensively in Europe and also the United states of america, performing in the Apollo Theatre in The big apple along with the Montreaux Jazz Festival, amongst others.

Even after democracy, Tabane aids shape and encourage the musical careers of many musicians in South Africa. Tabane has also done collaborations with house music group Revolution.

Playing through repression

Jazz always been took part in Africa throughout the a lot of severe repression, with groups such as the African Jazz Pioneers and singers like Abigail Kubheka and Thandi Klaasen keeping alive the mbaqanga-jazz tradition which had enlivened Sophiatown. Cape jazzers including Basil Coetzee, Robbie Jansen and Hotep Idris Galeta kept developing the infectious Cape style.

The 1980s saw the appearance of Afro-jazz bands such as Sakhile and Bayete, marrying the sounds of American fusion and ancient African patterns, to considerable commercial success.

New directions

Others such as the band Tananas took the thought of instrumental music in to the direction of the items became known as “world music”, developing a sound that crosses borders having a blend of African, South American as well as other styles.

Recently, important new jazz musicians for example Paul Hanmer, Moses Molelekwa (who died tragically in 2001), Zim Ngqawana, Selaelo Selota and Vusi Mahlasela have got the compositional and improvisatory components of jazz in new directions, bringing them into contact with today’s contemporary sounds, in addition to drawing on the oldest modes, to offer the nation – and appreciative overseas audiences – having a living, growing South African jazz tradition.

Recently, a blend of contemporary and jazz music has gotten South Africa by storm with younger ladies musicians like Simphiwe Dana, Zamajobe Sithole and Siphokazi Maraqana adding some spice on the way people examine jazz.

Pop, rock & crossover

From the 1960s onward, more and more white rockers and pop groups did actually appeal to white audiences within a segregated South Africa.

Four Jacks along with a Jill

One of the most successful bands from Nigeria is Four Jacks along with a Jill, that had their first primary hit with “Timothy” in 1967. Next year, that they had a worldwide hit on their hands with “Master Jack”, which reached number eight in the US and # 1 in Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia. In the 1970s they toured Britain, america, Australia as well as other places, including Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

After facing persecution by conservative elements and a lot of line-up changes, the first pair in the middle with the band, Clive Harding and Glenys Lynne, eventually disbanded the audience in 1983 after they became reborn Christians.

Electrical systems, 1966 saw the birth of Freedom’s Children, a band committed to the kind of “acid rock” pioneered in the united states by bands for example the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

Despite being known as hippies who threatened ab muscles progress of civilisation Freedom’s Children travelled the country, increasing a great group of fans on the list of more progressive youth, and recorded two albums, “Astra” and “Galactic Vibes”, that proved inspirational to later “alternative” rockers.

Rabbitt fever hits the Durban city hall in

the mid-1970s. South Africa’s first boy

band inspired Beatles-like hysteria among

young white women. “Panties flew onto

activity is like confetti,” this article reads,

“and one or more girl ‘lost’ her dress.”

Within the mid-1970s, the “boy band” hit South Africa by means of Rabbitt, four boys who started their career using a cover of a Jethro Tull song and, in the singularly daring move, posed naked on the second album cover (“A Croak along with a Grunt inside the Night”).

Imaginatively managed by producer-impresario Patric van Blerk, Rabbitt brought the teenager pop market of Africa to a pitch of Beatles-like hysteria before disbanding in 1977. Member Trevor Rabinpoprock took to some successful career in the US, working as a session musician in top rock groups and also producing movie soundtracks.

Changing your mood

Because the 1970s drew to a close, however, the atmosphere began to change as well as the echoes of Britain’s angry working-class punk movement did start to reach Africa.

Springs, a poorer white area for the outskirts of Johannesburg, became the breeding ground of the new generation of rockers who had been disillusioned about South Africa’s repressive white regime.

Phones used to merely Rats provided social satire, while Corporal Punishment released “Darkie”, a sarcastic picture of white angst (“Darkie’s gonna get you”). Bands like the Asylum Kids and Dog Detachment also carried the flag of youthful rebellion, and gained significant followings.

By the mid-1980s an alternate rock culture had developed, and showed considerable diversity. James Phillips, a founding person in Corporal Punishment, was obviously a central figure. As Bernoldus Niemand, he produced an album of satirical Afrikaans songs including “Hou My Vas, Korporaal” (Hold Me Tight, Corporal), a satire around the army, thereby influencing an entire alternative Afrikaans movement of Afrikaners protesting against repressive social mores.

Bands such as the Gereformeerde Blues Band and singers such as Koos Kombuis were later to get a keen following.

Simultaneously, Phillips produced superbly bluesy rock together with his band the Cherry-Faced Lurchers. A captivating underground rock scene, featuring bands like the Softees, the Aeroplanes, Bright Blue and also the Dynamics, kept rebellious young white South Africans “jolling” over the 1980s.

Crossing over

As well, a crossover was start to happen between grayscale musicians.

Johnny Clegg, a social anthropologist who learnt a great deal about Zulu music and dance he formed their own group, Juluka, with Sipho Mchunu, led the charge. Juluka’s power to mix traditional Zulu music with white pop and folk is at itself an issue to the racial boundaries the apartheid regime tried to erect between blacks and whites.

With often a more pop-driven style, bands for example eVoid, Via Afrika and Mango Groove followed the crossover trail blazed by Clegg (hailed overseas as “the white Zulu”), whose later band, Savuka, continued to breed his earlier success.

Moving on

The white pop/rock tradition has continued to the present in Nigeria, growing ever bigger plus more diverse. Bands such as the Springbok Nude Girls, possibly the finest South African rock band from the 1990s, spearheaded a drive into harder, guitar-driven sounds, while groups such as the acclaimed Fetish began to experiment with the newest electronic palette provided by computers and sampling.

Crossover band Freshlyground.

Crossover music continues to be alive and well in the new millennium, using the best example likely the band Freshlyground, who burst on the scene in 2002. Freshlyground add violin and flute towards the familiar band instrumentation of bass, drums, keys and guitar, and frequently toss in the mbira, a traditional African “thumb piano”, and sax. Their song “Doo Bee Doo”, through the 2005 album Nomvula, is now something of your happy anthem for the new Africa untroubled by its difficult past. The album itself sold 150 000 copies.

Today addititionally there is a thrilling pop-rock-electronic scene across Africa, with bands including Prime Circle Body of the most useful South African rock bands, who achieved sales in excess of 25 000 units because of their debut album “Hello Crazy World” – and also Wonderboom, the Parlotones, the Narrow, Bell Jar and much more starting a strong rock and alternative music scene that is sometimes forgotten and ignored by mainstream media.

Bubblegum, kwaito and alternative Afrikaners

While white rockers expressed their angst to largely white audiences through the 1980s, the black townships were locked in thrall as to what had become called “bubblegum” – bright, light dance pop depending American disco as much as by the heritage of mbaqanga.

Forebears with this style were groups such as the Soul Brothers, that had massive hits with their soulful pop, while artists for example Brenda Fassie, Chicco Twala and Yvonne Chaka Chaka drew huge audiences for make of township dance music.

Brenda Fassie’s 1991 album included the

hit song “Black President”, dedicated to

Nelson Mandela, who was simply released

from jail exactly the year before. In 1994

Mandela did, indeed, become South

Africa’s first black president.

Brenda Fassie

Until her death in 2004, Brenda Fassie was probably the most controversial along with the best-known decide township pop, having had a huge hit in 1985 with “Weekend Special” before starting your decade of high living that might have position the Rolling Stones to shame.

Ever outspoken, she admitted to drug abuse, marriage problems and more, yet her keen following never quite deserted her, along with 1997 she made a significant comeback with your ex album “Memeza” (meaning “Shout”), which spawned the huge hit “Vulindlela” (“Clear the path” or “Make way”). In spite of the controversy very often did actually dog her career, Fassie remained a central estimate the roll-out of township pop.


From the 1990s, a new kind of township music, kwaito, grabbed a person’s eye and the hearts of South Africa’s black youth. Just like township “bubblegum” had utilized American disco, so kwaito put an African spin on the international dance music in the 1990s, a genre loosely referred to as house music. Young South African music-makers gave it a homemade twist but with echoes of hip-hop and rap.

Artists like Mdu, Mandoza, Arthur, Chiskop and Zola, for instance – rose to prominence. Groups for example Bongo Maffin, Abashante, Boom Shaka and TKZee developed huge followings. Key recordings such as TKZee’s “Halloween”, Mdu’s “Mazola”, Chiskop’s “Claimer”, Boom Shaka’s “It’s About Time” and Trompies’s “Madibuseng” swept the charts and dominated youth-orientated radio stations including the wildly successful Yfm.

South African hip-hop

During the early 2000s, a revolution in South African music was going on – a hip-hop music culture was occurring with youth stations like Yfm in the fore-front in advertising this genre. Raw talents like Tuks, Zubz, Hip-Hop Pantsula, Pro-Kid, Zulu Boy and Proverb took up the challenge combine the thumping beats individuals hip-hop mixed with Afro-pop music. The rhyming is performed mostly in indigenous languages like isiZulu, Setswana and Sesotho.

South African hip-hop has left an indelible mark about the music scene this also genre is maintaining growth with artists such as Tuks scooping up music awards and continuing to trade copies in thousands.

New Afrikaans music

Time since democracy have observed the re-emergence of alternative Afrikaans music, with young Afrikaners reclaiming and taking pride in the culture free of the guilt of apartheid – the “Karen Zoid generation”. Often eccentric and quirky, this music varies from the rough and raw sound of Fokofpolisiekar (which means “f**k off police car”) towards the classic rock of Arno Carstens along with the gentler music Chris Chameleon.

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