South African music | Brand South Africa

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


Inside the Dutch colonial era, from the 17th century on, indigenous South African people and slaves imported from the east adapted Western instruments and ideas.

The Khoi-Khoi, as an example, developed the ramkie, an instrument with 3 or 4 strings, and used it combine Khoi and Western folk songs. Additionally they used the mamokhorong, an indigenous single-string violin, in their own personal music-making along with the dances with the colonial centre, Cape Town.

Western music was played by slave orchestras, and travelling musicians of mixed-blood stock moved throughout the colony entertaining at dances and other functions, a practice that continued to the era of British domination after 1806.

Coloured bands of musicians began parading with the streets of Cape Town in early 1820s, a practice which was given added impetus with the travelling minstrel shows from the 1880s and contains continued to the present day using the minstrel carnival kept in Cape Town every Year.

Missionaries and choirs

The penetration of missionaries in the interior over the succeeding centuries also had a profound impact on South African musical styles. Within 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, then this teacher, composed the hymn Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa), which has been later adopted through the liberation movement and, after 1994, became the main national anthem of a democratic Africa.

The influence of both missionary music and American spirituals spurred a gospel movement remains strong. Drawing on the traditions of indigenous faiths including the Zion Christian Church, they have exponents whose styles add some some for the pop-infused sounds of present-day gospel singers including Rebecca Malope and Lundi Tyamara. Gospel, in its great shape, is one kind of South Africa’s best-selling genres, with artists regularly achieving of gold and platinum sales.

The missionary focus on choirs, combined with the traditional South African vocal music and also other elements, also gave rise with a mode of a cappella singing that blend the appearance of Western hymns with indigenous harmonies. This tradition has endured within the oldest traditional music in Africa, isicathamiya, which 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, did start to find a place in the traditions of South African music. Still later, Western instruments such as the concertina and guitar were built-into indigenous musical styles, contributing, for instance, towards the Zulu mode of maskhandi music.

The creation of a black urban proletariat along with the movement of many black workers for the mines inside the 1800s meant that differing regional traditional folk music met and began circulation into one other. Western instruments were used to evolve rural songs, which often did start to influence the development of new hybrid modes of music-making (as well as dances) from the developing urban centres.

Solomon Linda along with 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, especially as Pete Seeger’s hit

Wimoweh along with the international classic

The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

(Image: The International Library of

African Music at Rhodes University and

Veit Erlmann)


Inside the A-Reece shows started to visit South Africa. Initially these minstrels were white performers in “black-face” but from the 1860s genuine black American minstrel troupes for example Orpheus McAdoo as well as the Virginia Jubilee Singers began to tour Africa influencing locals to create similar choirs.

This minstrel tradition, put together with other kinds, led to the development of isicathamiya, which in fact had its first international hit in 1939 with Mbube by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds. This remarkable song continues to be reworked innumerable times, such as as Pete Seeger’s hit Wimoweh and the international classic The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

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


In the early Last century, new kinds of hybrid music did start to arise one of the increasingly urbanised black population of mining centres like Johannesburg.

Marabi, a keyboard kind of music played on pedal organs, became popular within the ghettos with the city. This new sound, basically meant to draw people to the shebeens (illegal taverns), had deep roots in the African tradition and smacked of influences of American ragtime along with the blues. It used quick and easy chords repeated in vamp patterns that may carry on for hours – the music of jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim still shows traces with this form.

Related to illegal liquor dens and vices such as prostitution, earlier marabi musicians formed some sort of underground musical culture and weren’t recorded. Both white authorities plus much more sophisticated black listeners frowned on there, almost as much ast jazz was denigrated as being a temptation to vice in its early years in the usa.

But the lilting melodies and loping rhythms of marabi found their distance to the sounds with the bigger dance bands for example the Jazz Maniacs, the Merry Blackbirds as well as the Jazz Revellers. These bands achieved considerable fame within the 1930s and 1940s, winning huge audiences among both white and black South Africans. On the succeeding decades, the marabi-swing style progressed into early mbaqanga, essentially the most distinctive kind of South African jazz, which experts claim helped create the more populist township kinds of the 1980s.

Together with the introduction of broadcast radio for black listeners and the growth of an indigenous recording industry, marabi gained immense popularity from the 1930s onward. Soon there are schools teaching the many jazzy styles available, most notable pianist-composer Wilfred Sentso’s influential School of contemporary Piano Syncopation, which taught “classical music, jazz syncopation, saxophone and trumpet blowing”, and also “crooning, tap dancing and ragging”.

A totally indigenous South African musical language was being born


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

Named for the Zulu word meaning “climb on” – plus a mention of police vans, generally known as “kwela-kwela” in township slang – kwela music was adopted by street performers inside the shanty towns.

The instrument of kwela was the pennywhistle, which has been both cheap as well as simple and is used either solo or in an ensemble.

Its popularity was perhaps because flutes of kinds had been for a while traditional instruments one of the peoples of northern Nigeria; the pennywhistle thus enabled the swift adaptation of folk tunes in the new marabi-inflected idiom.

Lemmy Mabaso, one of many famous pennywhistle stars, began performing inside the streets with the ages of 10. Talent scouts were mailed from the recording industry to lure pennywhistlers in to the studio and have them record their tunes with full band backing. Stars for example Spokes Mashiyane had hits with kwela pennywhistle tunes.

In 1959, it Tom Hark by Elias Lerole and his awesome Zig-Zag Flutes was obviously a hit worldwide, being taken over and reworked by British bandleader Ted Heath.

Miriam Makeba in 1955.

(Image © Jürgen Schadebergmarabi)

Mbaqanga jazz

Propelled in part with the hunger from the vast urban proletariat to keep things interesting, various strains of South African music were pouring themselves into a thrilling melting pot of ideas and forms by the middle of the 1950s.

An integral area with this growth was the township of Sophiatown, in Johannesburg, which had grown since 1930s in a seething cauldron of the new urban lifestyles of black city dwellers. The suburb attracted essentially the most adventurous performers of the new musical forms and have become a hotbed of the rapidly developing black musical culture.

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

The cyclic structure of marabi met with traditional dance styles for example the Zulu indlamu, which has a heavy dollop of American big band swing thrown on the top. The indlamu tendency crystallised into the “African stomp” style, giving a notably African rhythmic impulse to the music and so that it is quite irresistible for the new audiences.

It is during on this occasion that this new black culture designed a sassy kind of a unique, partly through the influence of yank movies as well as the glamour coupled to the flamboyant gangsters who had been a fundamental piece of Sophiatown.

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

Jonas Qwangwa.

(Image © Jürgen Schadebergmbaqanga)

The new jazz

The cross-cultural influences that had been brewed in Sophiatown continued to inspire musicians of most races within the years to come. Equally as American ragtime and swing had inspired earlier jazz forms, hence the new post-war American style of bebop had started to filter by way of South African musicians.

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

The jazz club sponsored gatherings like Jazz at the Odin, with a local cinema, and from such meetings grew South Africa’s first bebop band, the highly important and influential Jazz Epistles, whose earliest membership was a roll-call of musicians determined to shape South African jazz following that: Dollar Brand (who changed his name to Abdullah Ibrahim after his conversion to Islam), Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa and Hugh Masekela among them.

In 1960, the Jazz Epistles recorded their first simply album, Jazz Epistle Verse One. At the same time, composers such as 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 storyplot of black South African boxer Ezekiel Dlamini, has been a hit, and toured overseas. Leading South African musicians including Miriam Makeba, the Manhattan Brothers and Kippie Moeketsi starred in the show; many found the freedom away from country an irresistible lure, and remained in exile there.

Because the apartheid regime increased its power, political repression in South Africa began in earnest. Within the wake with the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 as well as the subsequent State of Emergency and mass arrests, bannings and trials of activists challenging apartheid laws, a lot more musicians found it required to leave the nation. For many decades, probably the most adventurous strains in South African music were pursued outside the country.

Jazz in exile

Cover of the 1965 Dollar Brand (later

Abdullah Ibrahim) album Anatomy of the

South African Village.

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim is without question the towering decide South African music, a man who combined all its traditions with a deeply felt understanding of American jazz, from your orchestral richness of Duke Ellington’s compositions for giant band for the groundbreaking innovations of Ornette Coleman and also 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 Ny, Ibrahim absorbed the influence of the early 1960s avant-garde, which has been then pioneering new open-ended varieties of spontaneous composition.

Within the next 4 decades, Ibrahim developed their own distinctive style, slipping back into Nigeria in the mid-1970s to generate a compilation of seminal recordings with all the cream of Cape jazz players (Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, as an example), which included his masterpiece, “Mannenberg”, one of the biggest South African compositions ever.

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

Hugh Masekela

Ibrahim’s old collaborator, the trumpeter Hugh Masekela, also a glittering career outside Africa. Initially inspired in his musical growth by Trevor Huddlestonnewjazz – an english priest doing work in the townships who financed the musician’s first trumpet – Masekela played his way over the vibrant Sophiatown scene and to Britain with King Kong, to find himself in Nyc noisy . 1960s. He’d hits in the us with all the poppy jazz tunes “Up, Up and Away” and “Grazin’ within the Grass”.

A renewed curiosity about his African roots led him to collaborate with West and Central African musicians, lastly to reconnect with South African players as he create a mobile studio in Botswana, just over the South African border, within the 1980s. Here he reabsorbed and reused mbaqanga modes, a method he’s got continued to work with since his come back to South Africa in the early 1990s.

Masekela continues to work with young artists like Thandiswa Mazwai, Zubz and Jah Seed, fusing Afro-pop sounds with jazz tunes. He recently continued an excursion of Canada and the United States meant for the live recording Hugh Masekela: Live in 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 made a good name for themselves in Africa in early 1960s, this dymanic, adventurous group, led by pianist Chris MacGregor, left for Britain from the late 1960s and stayed there. Another folks this rock band, Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo, contributed richly towards the sound with this ever-evolving ensemble, and in addition recorded significant solo material.

The Blue Notes, and then MacGregor bands including Brotherhood of Breath, and also the Pukwana and Moholo bands, became a crucial part of the European jazz avant-garde, carrying the African influence far beyond these shores. Sadly, all of the original members of the Blue Notes, except Louis Moholo, died in exile.

Jazz in the home

Philip Tabane in 1964.

(Image: Jabula Musicjazzhome)

Philip Tabane

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

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

Through the early 1960s until today, Tabane has produced some of South Africa’s most interesting and adventurous sounds, though a somewhat conservative and commercially orientated local recording industry has meant that he’s got been sadly under-recorded. Internationally acclaimed, Tabane has toured extensively in Europe as well as the United States, performing at the Apollo Theatre in Nyc and also the Montreaux Jazz Festival, and the like.

Even after democracy, Tabane aids shape and encourage the musical careers of several musicians in Africa. Tabane has additionally done collaborations with house wedding ring Revolution.

Playing through repression

Jazz always been played in Africa through 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 such as Basil Coetzee, Robbie Jansen and Hotep Idris Galeta kept developing the infectious Cape style.

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

New directions

Others such as the band Tananas took thinking about instrumental music in to the direction products became known as “world music”, developing a sound that crosses borders using a combination of African, South American and also other styles.

In recent times, important new jazz musicians for example Paul Hanmer, Moses Molelekwa (who died tragically in 2001), Zim Ngqawana, Selaelo Selota and Vusi Mahlasela have the compositional and improvisatory aspects of jazz in new directions, bringing them into experience of today’s contemporary sounds, as well as drawing on the oldest modes, to supply the nation – and appreciative overseas audiences – with a living, growing South African jazz tradition.

Recently, a blend of contemporary and jazz music has had Africa by storm with young women musicians like Simphiwe Dana, Zamajobe Sithole and Siphokazi Maraqana adding some spice for the way people have a look at jazz.

Pop, rock & crossover

From your 1960s onward, increasingly more white rockers and pop groups gave the impression to interest white audiences in a segregated South Africa.

Four Jacks and a Jill

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

After facing persecution by conservative elements and several line-up changes, the initial pair at the heart with the band, Clive Harding and Glenys Lynne, eventually disbanded the audience in 1983 when they became reborn Christians.

In comparison, 1966 saw the birth of Freedom’s Children, a band dedicated to the kind of “acid rock” pioneered in the united states by bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

Despite being viewed as hippies who threatened ab muscles progress of civilisation Freedom’s Children travelled the united states, gathering a great group of fans one of many 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

the stage like confetti,” the article reads,

“and a minumum of one girl ‘lost’ her dress.”

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

Imaginatively managed by producer-impresario Patric van Blerk, Rabbitt brought the teenager pop market of South Africa to some pitch of Beatles-like hysteria before disbanding in 1977. Member Trevor Rabinpoprock continued to a successful career in the usa, being a session musician in top rock groups along with producing movie soundtracks.

A change in mood

Because the 1970s drew to a close, however, the mood started to change and also the echoes of Britain’s angry working-class punk movement did start to reach Africa.

Springs, a poorer white area about the outskirts of Johannesburg, proved to be the breeding ground of the new generation of rockers who were disillusioned about South Africa’s repressive white regime.

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

Through the mid-1980s an alternate rock culture acquired, and showed considerable diversity. James Phillips, a founding person in Corporal Punishment, would be a character. As Bernoldus Niemand, he produced an album of satirical Afrikaans songs like “Hou My Vas, Korporaal” (Hold Me Tight, Corporal), a satire around the army, thereby influencing a full alternative Afrikaans movement of Afrikaners protesting against repressive social mores.

Bands such as the Gereformeerde Blues Band and singers for example Koos Kombuis were later to gain a passionate following.

As well, Phillips produced superbly bluesy rock along with his band the Cherry-Faced Lurchers. An exciting underground rock scene, featuring bands like the Softees, the Aeroplanes, Bright Blue along with the Dynamics, kept rebellious young white South Africans “jolling” through the 1980s.

Crossing over

As well, a crossover was starting out happen between grayscale musicians.

Johnny Clegg, a social anthropologist who learnt much about Zulu music and dance that they formed his 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 difficult towards the racial boundaries the apartheid regime attempted to erect between blacks and whites.

With normally a more pop-driven style, bands including 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 forward

The white pop/rock tradition has continued up to the contained in South Africa, growing ever bigger plus much more diverse. Bands for example the Springbok Nude Girls, possibly the finest South African rock band with the 1990s, spearheaded a drive into harder, guitar-driven sounds, while groups for example the acclaimed Fetish did start to research the new electronic palette provided by computers and sampling.

Crossover band Freshlyground.

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

Today another highlight is a fantastic pop-rock-electronic scene across Nigeria, with bands like Prime Circle – one of the most effective South African rock bands, who achieved sales well over 25 000 units for his or her debut album “Hello Crazy World” – in addition to Wonderboom, the Parlotones, the Narrow, Bell Jar and many more establishing a strong rock and alternative music scene that is often overlooked 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 located in thrall in what was called “bubblegum” – bright, light dance pop affected by American disco up to with the heritage of mbaqanga.

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

Brenda Fassie’s 1991 album included the

hit song “Black President”, specialized in

Nelson Mandela, who had been released

from jail just the year before. In 1994

Mandela did, indeed, become South

Africa’s first black president.

Brenda Fassie

Getting the club her death in 2004, Brenda Fassie was possibly the most controversial and the best-known estimate township pop, having a huge hit in 1985 with “Weekend Special” before starting a decade of high living that could have place the Rolling Stones to shame.

Ever outspoken, she admitted to drug abuse, marriage problems plus much more, yet her keen following never quite deserted her, as well as in 1997 she designed a significant comeback with your ex album “Memeza” (meaning “Shout”), which spawned the enormous hit “Vulindlela” (“Clear the path” or “Make way”). In spite of the controversy have a tendency to seemed to dog her career, Fassie remained a main estimate the development of township pop.


Within the 1990s, a fresh style of township music, kwaito, grabbed the eye along with the hearts of South Africa’s black youth. Equally as township “bubblegum” had utilized American disco, so kwaito put an African spin on the international dance music with the 1990s, a genre loosely termed as house music. Young South African music-makers gave it a homemade twist though echoes of hip-hop and rap.

Performers like Mdu, Mandoza, Arthur, Chiskop and Zola, for example – rose to prominence. Groups including 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 stereo such as the wildly successful Yfm.

South African hip-hop

In early 2000s, a revolution in South African music was happening – a hip-hop music culture was going on with youth stations like Yfm inside the fore-front to advertise this genre. Raw talents like Tuks, Zubz, Hip-Hop Pantsula, Pro-Kid, Zulu Boy and Proverb began task combine the thumping beats people hip-hop combined with Afro-pop music. The rhyming is completed mostly in indigenous languages such as isiZulu, Setswana and Sesotho.

South African hip-hop has left an indelible mark for the music scene and also this genre is growing with artists such as Tuks scooping up music awards and recurring to sell copies in countless amounts.

New Afrikaans music

Many years since democracy have observed the re-emergence of other Afrikaans music, with young Afrikaners reclaiming and taking pride within a culture free from 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”) on the classic rock of Arno Carstens along with the gentler music Chris Chameleon.