What killed Kwaito?

Courtesy of afktravel.com

Zola, Mandoza, Arthur Mafokate, Mawillies, Mzambiya, Trompies, Mdu, TKZee and the list goes on.

A few names that revolutionized South African music culture around 1994–2011 in what was called kwaito music.

Kwaito is a combination of a number of indigenous languages and to some is also the native version to hip hop because it was more than a genre but a culture. It embodied everything about living in the township, from the party lifestyle all the way to the struggles.

The reason I say it has similarities to hip hop is because hip hop started from just a bunch of kids jamming on the block. Some would breakdance, some would rap and others would create graffiti art all the while dressed up in what they considered dope fashion.

Then overtime the overall theme around hip hop changed to speaking about the struggles of living in the hood.

The same can be said about kwaito and the message around leaving the struggle behind. The vibe was also a bunch of kids having fun in the township despite the real issues that they were dealing with at the time. Some would rap, some would dance while also dressed up in what they considered to be cool and suitable fashion.

In fact, early on within the genre a number of songs focused on issues around oppression during Apartheid. A perfect example is Arthur Mafokate’s “Kaffir” song released in 1993. Which focuses on him telling his white oppressors to stop calling him a kaffir, (derogatory term for black people in South Africa).

The culture

Kwaito also had the attire; which would be things like the Dickies bucket hat also known as Sporti, the Converse All Stars and the colorful overalls. Along with that came the lingo, with phrases like chommie ya bana (a ladies man); ngakara (a boss) and ntswebu, meaning dope/cool. The name of the township dialect was called Tsotsi Tall which is a combination of Afrikaans and a few indigenous SA languages, which we still use today.

At the time endorsement deals or collaborations with brands weren’t feasible for kwaito artists. However Pro-Kid, a rapper, was one of the first SA artists to have a collaboration with a clothing brand, remember Loxion Kulca? Loxion Kulca was exactly that, ‘a culture for the township.’ Which originated from kwaito music and township living.

The dances

Then there was obviously the dances, which we have come to master as South Africans, e.g. Twalatsa, Tobetsa, Mnike, Mangisa, Durban Kwasa etc.

Some of these dances/songs are still relevant to this day.

All of these were dances created by young people living in the township/hood and this was a form of recreation for those who didn’t want to participate in gang banging or drugs.

A recent South African dance from the township that trended across the world because of the movie Black Panther is igwaragwara.

Rihanna doing the Gwara Gwara

Kwaito Heritage

Image courtesy of Wall Street Journal

Who can forget how the 1998 release of TKZee’s ‘Halloween’ revolutionized the festive season in South Africa. This album was the embodiment of what being a Pantsula is all about.

Pantsula’s are simply guys from the townships who rocked the attire, spoke the lingo and took part in the dancing. They represented the township in all it’s youth culture at the time. The easiest way to spot a Pantsula is with his attire — converse all stars, Dickies bucket hat, khaki trousers and formal shirt.

And songs like ‘Dlala mapantsula’, ‘Phalafala’ & ‘Mambotje’, became anthems every December since their release. Even to the point where Riky Rick, a hip hop artist, re-invented a scene from the ‘Dlala Mapantsula’ music video in his video ‘Stay Shining’, which shows how iconic kwaito still is.

(Halloween 1998) Image courtesy of Vevo
(Stay shining 2017) Image courtesy of Vevo

What really happened

So now my question is, what happened to kwaito? How has a culture that we used to cherish so much just disappear?

My opinion is that we swallowed hip hop culture so much that we almost forgot why we loved kwaito to begin with.

In addition when we used to listen to kwaito as kids, most if not some of us still stayed in the townships after Apartheid had ended. So for most of us, naturally our parents moved to the suburbs and thus the middle class started growing and because of that, I believe kwaito “died.”

Also townships started becoming more suburban/modernized thus changing people’s outlook or perception of township life especially because as a country we’ve become more Westernized.

To add to this a lot of kwaito artists signed bad contracts or they made bad life decisions like getting into drugs, which ended in them being exploited. As a result some kwaito artists ended up broke because they were never educated on the business acumen behind how the music industry operates.

Remember Pitch Black Afro? He was the first hip hop act in South Africa to win Song of The Year whereas previously it was only won by kwaito & house acts. And the sad reality is that despite his success, Pitch Black Afro is one of those legendary acts that just fell off because he either didn’t know any better or he was exploited.

Secondly, people have become confused with what kwaito is supposed to sound like and this is why the classics remain popular. The sound has evolved and become intertwined with hip hop and house music, it’s become hard to distinguish kwaito music in 2018, which is the case with most genre’s.

Whereas there are rappers such as Cassper Nyovest, Kid X & Kwesta who are hip hop artists and they tend to rap over a ‘kwaito’ beat now and then, giving us that nostalgic kwaito feeling with a modern sound. Contrary to popular belief this is considered hip hop now in S.A.

In an article written by Boitumelo Kgobotlo; Mkhonzeni Langa A.K.A Professor, who is a legend within kwaito and is responsible for hits such as ‘Imoto’ & ‘Jezabel,’ had this to say after he and other artists started pulling out of award nominations:

“Kwaito breeds and creates new sounds”

And when that happens, they suddenly wanted to treat them as genres independent of kwaito. That makes artists and songs within the kwaito genre to be reduced.

“Take gqom and amapiano for instance — it’s kwaito. They are trying to kill our music.”

Kwaito artist Mapaputsi also added by saying that if you get rid of kwaito music, you inherently kill SA hip hop. In other words kwaito has evolved. And because of that it has had a hand in creating other genres namely gqom and South African hip hop.

Ironically SA hip hop is starting to go back to it’s kwaito roots, which I’m loving right now because kwaito is a reflection of how we grew up and the culture behind it therefore it doesn’t deserve to die!

Long live kwaito, long live!



Music & Marketing/ Creative Ninja/ Writing Enthusiast themalesetja@gmail.com

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