It may be the role of academics to objectively analyze, deconstruct and philosophize about the evolution of culture. In effect however, culture defines itself – it evolves organically.
The roots of any culture lie in the past, growing from its people’s history. Its soil is that which it was given or fed – mass media and social existence. Its bloom is a response to that which surrounds. Culture finds form in action – it is constantly evolving – in life, in the clubs in the taverns – and in Africa, mainly on the streets.
South Africa is a country rich in diversity, yielding an abundance of ethnicsm and religion. It is an array of cultures and communities built of this coalescence. Its ancient history is embedded, its recent past inhumane and its present heroic.
For the past few decades, this land was severely isolated from the rest of the continent, yet its contradictory, fragile borders absorbed immigrants from the West and the North – adding to its multi-cultural flavour. Western value systems fed the populace; and in the years of the cultural boycott, a predominantly US culture was spread.
With eleven official national languages, contemporary South Africa has reason to define and celebrate its unique identity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the abundance of music.
The assortment of artists and styles on this compilation are a taste of this amalgamation. They reflect the different ingredients and varied recipes used to create a banquet of contemporary flavours.
In the eighties, the groove that got parties going was South African “bubblegum” disco from the likes of Brenda Fassie, Chicco, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse. This sound was largely disco and funk inspired, but it served as the fertilizer for a whole new trend in music – paving the way for the sound of the new generation.
In the early nineties imported dance grooves of British and American ‘housemasters’ inspired the youth. Soon DJ’s began making their own version of House, with a slower tempo and the addition of percussion and African melodies. Added to this were lyrics in local lingos, the ghetto punch of HipHop and the sentimentality of R’B.
Within this form, various genres grew, but overall the name of this specifically South African expression is Kwaito – an evolved sound that greeted the new country – as the voice of the young and the finally free!
Not all of the tunes featured here are Kwaito, but for many of the artists it is significant as an influence. The style in itself, continues to evolve – and as many believed that HipHop would never endure, Kwaito similarly incorporates an abundance of textural influences, expanding its development.
Added to this is that which is locally referred to as ‘traditional’ music. This so-called genre has a history of combining indigenous rhythms and vocal styles with the use of drum machines and synthesizers. Some of these featured artists continue to draw from this custom.
This is a dance compilation, from a country with groove. “Chesa” means ‘hot’– it is the heat of the “beat on the street”. It is the warmth of the spirit enjoying the human right to celebrate!
1.JOE NINA – SBALI
Joe Nina is undoubtedly one of the freshest and most multi-talented of South Africa’s new generation. He is a noted producer, performer, actor, engineer, musician, and vocalist, but it is his songwriting abilities that most astound.
Born Henry Makhosini Xaba in Kwa Thema, a township just East of
Johannesburg– his entire upbringing was centered on music. His father was a guitarist and saxophonist, and his mother a backing singer for the group. From the age of three, Joe accompanied them, and by twelve he was confident behind a drum kit and microphone. At fourteen he had mastered basic piano techniques, and although he originally dreamed of studying medicine, he decided on a musical career at the age of 16. His father gave him one year to prove himself, or return to schooling.
The rest is history in the true sense, for Joe’s contribution to contemporary South African music has been invaluable. As a pioneer of the Kwaito movement, he has subsequently developed a more mature, yet completely contemporary sound.
2.SKIZO – THE LOVE WE LOST [The Sultry Mix]
Raised in Botswana, Skizo traveled to the USA on a tennis scholarship and studied at Howard University in Washington DC, where he lived for six years. There he was exposed to the underground dance scene, and he soon produced his first House track.
With a degree in marketing management and a minor in computer science behind him, he went on to release four solo albums since 1997. He has also been active as a producer. “The Love We Lost” comes off his latest release, “69er” – the title taken from his year of birth. With this significant album he explores the “marriage between House and Kwaito” – with perhaps a touch of Acid Jazz.
3.CHAKAROSKI – KUTSA
Chakaroski is a dynamic kwaito act, coming out of SA’s biggest ghetto, Soweto.
The group is comprised of four childhood friends, Mangashi Nkosi, Sibusiso Ncaweni, Siphiwe Mogale and Nsika Dubazana, who began performing publicly at school concerts. Through audience response, they were inspired to form Chakaroski, which means ‘chronic’ in township lingo.
These socially conscious yougsters are also gifted dancers with a dynamic ‘live’ act. “Kutsa” comes off their recently released third album, “My Ma Se Kind” [my mother’s child] which calls on ‘brothers and sisters to unite as one’.
4.LEBO MATHOSA – NTOZABANTU
As a core member of the vibrant Boom Shaka group, Lebo Mathosa gained instant stardom at the age of sixteen. Her warm, extrovert presence and risqué dance routines appeal to the young and old alike. Moreover it is her powerful voice that commands attention.
After seven years in the industry, Lebo has come into her own – with a solo album, which features this track, ‘Ntozabantu’. She composed, wrote the lyrics and produced all the tracks, which reflect her unique fusion of R’n B, House and Kwaito.
5.CRUCIAL ZONE – SEKUYAKHANYA
Crucial Zone consists of two young, funky and energetic members – Daddy and Qhaksfada. They met on the gospel festival scene, where they were both prolific singers. They became good friends and soon started working with DJ’s on dance tracks.
They have worked as producers for other artists, and have written scores for television and jingles for radio.
Both members are deeply spiritual, still performing in church and citing God as their major musical inspiration. “Sekuyakhanya” is the title track of their latest album, which was produced by Skizo.
6.BLACK LIST – TOUCH ME
Black List was born after Joe Nina spotted Rhona Rolls, a professional vocalist, singing in clubs; and Candice Bentley – a gospel singer in church. He brought the two together, and it was only in the studio that they first met. Their bond was immediate and their first single was an instant hit in local clubs.
With powerful voices and Joe Nina’s production skills, this funky House sound is sure to make waves internationally.
7.T.R.O – YEBO YES YA
Coming from the port city of Durban, “The Real Ones”, better known as T.R.O, formed with the desire to teach people about life on the streets in their ‘coloured’ neighborhood. [The so-called ‘coloured’ people of South Africa are a recognized ethnic group in themselves, derived from largely Malay or Khoisan heritage – with a unique and specific culture.]
Paul Ogle, Daniel Jooste, Emlyn Barlow and Fabian Peters grew up together in a rough area. Inspired by the powerful messages of American Hip-Hop, they developed a fresh brand of funky rap music, which they have termed “Bruin Funk” [brown funk].
After winning an African Hip-Hop competition in 1996, they recorded their fist song. “Bruin Funk for a New Generation” is their debut album, and this track, ‘Yebo Yes Ya” is titled with three frequently used affirmative words, reflecting cultural diversity.
8.LEKGOA – BASETSANA
Kwaito is undoubtedly the voice of black youth, but Francois Henning, aka Lekgoa is a white exception. It is not only his talent that has enabled him to break into the black dominated scene, it is also his honesty of expression.
From a young age Lekgoa was passionate about ‘township’ music. Local stars such as Brenda Fassie, Chicco and Yvonne Chaka Chaka – who dominated the dance scene of the 80’s, inspired him. With the emergence of Kwaito he found his ‘voice’.
Lekgoa performs his tunes in English, Sotho [an African language which he learnt to speak from the age of 6] and the popular township lingo, known as ‘Scamtho’. His messages are positive and empowering, encouraging the youth to believe in themselves. With his blend of Kwaito, Garage and House, Lekgoa hopes to cross the cultural barriers of South Africa’s still largely divided youth.
His message can be aptly expressed in his statement: “I’m true to what I’m doing”.
9.LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO – Abezizwe [Remix]
Well loved by audiences at home and internationally, Ladysmith Black Mambazo need little introduction. In 1964, the group’s leader, Joseph Shabalala had a dream that persisted for six months. In the dream he heard “beautiful sounds of people singing”, and this inspired him to form the group, which was originally comprised of three local families from the town of Ladysmith, in the Kwazulu-Natal province.
Since working with Paul Simon on the Graceland project, Ladysmith Black Mambazo have become global ambassadors of the ‘Mbube’ or ‘Iscathamiya’ style, with its complex vocal harmonies. Theirs is also a universal message – of hope, peace and harmony.
D’Influence have been a successful band for nine years and have released three albums. They have produced and remixed for a number of international greats, including Mick Jagger, Seal, Simply Red and The Brand New Heavies.
Kwami, the group’s leader was originally from South Africa, and this remix project was offered to him because of his understanding of the roots and rhythms of the region. The result is the remixed ‘Abezizwe’, a potent blend of deep tradition and contemporary kick.
10.L.U.V. – KWABAMNANNI
In 1992, a group of secondary school students bonded through a common hobby of collecting music. Kingsley Nwayo encouraged his friends, Senzi Sibeko, Papi Mokoena and Tsepho Lekitlane to sing cover versions during school lunch breaks. Amid growing popularity, Love Unites Voices, better known as L.U.V. was formed.
By 1994, they were composing their own songs, and they broke into the national music scene with a smooth R’nB album.
“Kwabamnanni” is the title-track of their latest release, which explores a fusion of styles resulting in their own invention, called “Indlu House Kwaito’.
The founder of Medu, Tlokwe Sehume, grew up in Atteridgeville – a township near Pretoria. His first musical inspiration came, when as a child he followed his paternal grandfather’s marching brass band, on its rounds. He was fascinated by the instruments and by watching and learning from the group’s elderly members.
In 1973, in his early teens after saving-up industriously, he bought his first instrument – a guitar, which had only three strings. Two years later he managed to acquire a ‘proper’ guitar, and he performed solo at political gatherings and rallies.
Soon an appreciative man gave him a set of bongo drums, and he began to explore this instrument.
In 1986, Tlokwe taught his cousin, Motsepe Kgoane, to play the bongos and to accompany him on guitar. Together they form the core of Medu, which also includes a number of other musicians. As Tlokwe believes, “Medu is more than a musical group, it is an institution”.
Medu’s sound is essentially ‘African’, with deeply spiritual roots. Traditional instruments such as the mbira [African xylophone], and mvet [a Cameroonian string/gourd instrument], are juxtaposed with lyrics in Zulu, Pedi, South Sotho and other African languages.
Medu’s debut album is dedicated to Steve Biko, and the title-track, “Naga Ya Sfa” means ‘the country is burning”.
12.DR VICTOR – BURN OUT [Remix]
Victor Khojane, a.k.a. Dr Victor formed his first band while still at school. Shortly after completing his education, Victor and his friends left their hometown of Kimberley to search for their dreams in the ‘big city’, Johannesburg.
Through hard work and determination, the group soon gained popularity as a nightclub band. They also gained respect through backing a number of South Africa’s star performers.
After difficulties with recording companies, Victor found himself flat broke and hence joined a third company, agreeing to do Eddy Grant covers in the studio. This cover project was called ‘The Rasta Rebels’, and became a major success, with the band changing its name to Rasta Rebels,
Victor soon went on to record two solo albums, with original material and the name Dr Victor was born. He is now fast gaining international recognition.
13.TONY N’GUXI – Kazeze
Tony N’guxi comes from Lwena in the Moxico province of Angola, which borders both Zambia and the DRC. He has a solid fan base in his homeland, and is gaining recognition in Johannesburg, where he has worked for the past few years.
With his first two albums he created the now much imitated form of music called ‘Sezouk’. With his latest release, “Kazeze”, he fuses the indigenous Makopo style of singing with a variety of African rhythms and a Latin flavour.
14.DEVANTE – My Girl
Devante come from the coastal city, Durban. Their first single, released in 1995, received immediate and extensive radio play, establishing them as one of the country’s biggest R’n B acts.
By 1997 they began to mix R’nB and Kwaito for the first time. Their smooth vocals and slick production have received critical acclaim.
15.AMON MVULA – African Rhumba
Amon Mvula could certainly be considered as a Southern African. He was born to a Venda mother and Malawian father in the rural town of Messina, which borders Mozambique and Zimbabwe. After schooling in Malawi and Zimbabwe he returned to South Africa to explore his musical interest, first as a drummer and then a singer.
Amon’s fist album, released in 1996 sold 25 000 copies in the fist three weeks and his second received a gold disc. For two consecutive years, in 1998 and 1999, he received South African Music Awards.
Amon’s energetic and original stage performances have mass appeal. He plays music to “entertain – to listen, to dance and have fun”.
“Afrcan Rhumba” is the title-track of his fifth and latest release.
16.BY 4 – Anitakali
By 4 is an all-girl group, which produces songs with conscious messages. Ivory, Linda, Cindy and Sylvia were a group of friends who joined to explore their common interest and passion for music.
True to their roots, they sing in a number of vernacular languages, including Xhosa, Venda, Tswana and Zulu, and theirs is the popular disco sound of the townships.
Their second album, “Usizi “, features ‘Anitakali’ – a track about people who enjoy the failure of others.
17. VELI AND CHAZ – Percussion Mix
Veli Shabangu grew up in the Thokoza township, East of Johannesburg. He is one of South Africa’s acclaimed drummers, and he has worked with many of the world’s finest musicians, including a five-year stint with Lucky Dube; and in 1999 he toured the US with The Wailers.
Veli is also a highly regarded percussionist and DJ, with a passion for roots, reggae, salsa and African music.
This track is a gesture of acknowledgement to his Thokoza community and their struggles. Within this expression of gratitude and celebration, he acknowledges some of the heroes who have, along the way, passed on.