South African music | Brand Africa

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


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

The Khoi-Khoi, as an example, developed the ramkie, musical instrument with three or four strings, and tried on the extender to blend 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 in the colonial centre, Cape Town.

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

Coloured bands of musicians began parading over the streets of Cape Town during the early 1820s, a convention that was given added impetus from the travelling minstrel shows of the 1880s and contains continued to the day together with the minstrel carnival located in Cape Town every New Year.

Missionaries and choirs

The penetration of missionaries in to the interior on the succeeding centuries also were built with a profound influence on South African Download Mp3 styles. From the late 1800s, early African composers including 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), which was later adopted through the liberation movement and, after 1994, became area of the national anthem of a democratic South Africa.

The influence of both missionary music and American spirituals spurred a gospel movement remains strong. Employing the traditions of indigenous faiths for example the Zion Christian Church, it has exponents whose styles range from the classical towards the pop-infused sounds of present-day gospel singers such as 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, with the traditional South African vocal music and also other elements, also gave rise with a mode of a cappella singing that blend the style of Western hymns with indigenous harmonies. This tradition has endured within the oldest traditional music in Africa, isicathamiya, ones Ladysmith Black Mambazo include the best-known exponents.

African instruments like the mouth bow and, later, the mbira from Zimbabwe, and drums and xylophones from Mozambique, begun to discover a place in the traditions of South African music. Still later, Western instruments like the concertina and guitar were integrated into indigenous musical styles, contributing, as an example, towards the Zulu mode of maskhandi music.

The development of a black urban proletariat and also the movement of numerous black workers to the mines in the 1800s meant differing regional traditional folk music met and began to circulate into the other person. Western instruments were used to adapt rural songs, which began to influence the introduction of new hybrid modes of music-making (in addition to dances) within 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 become reworked innumerable

times, particularly as Pete Seeger’s hit

Wimoweh and the international classic

The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

(Image: The International Library of

African Music at Rhodes University and

Veit Erlmann)


From the mid-1800s travelling minstrel shows started to visit South Africa. In the beginning these minstrels were white performers in “black-face” but by the 1860s genuine black American minstrel troupes including Orpheus McAdoo and also the Virginia Jubilee Singers did start to tour South Africa influencing locals to create similar choirs.

This minstrel tradition, merged with other forms, caused the creation of isicathamiya, which have its first international hit in 1939 with Mbube by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds. This remarkable song has been reworked innumerable times, especially as Pete Seeger’s hit Wimoweh and the international classic The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

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


During the early Last century, new forms of hybrid music started to arise one of many increasingly urbanised black population of mining centres like Johannesburg.

Marabi, a keyboard type of music played on pedal organs, came into common use from the ghettos from the city. This new sound, basically that will draw people in to the shebeens (illegal taverns), had deep roots inside the African tradition and smacked of influences of American ragtime as well as the blues. It used easy chords repeated in vamp patterns which could go on through the night – the songs of jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim still shows traces with this form.

Associated with illegal liquor dens and vices such as prostitution, early marabi musicians formed a type of underground musical culture and just weren’t recorded. The white authorities plus more sophisticated black listeners frowned upon it, much as jazz was denigrated as being a temptation to vice in its early years in the usa.

However 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 as well as the Jazz Revellers. These bands achieved considerable fame from the 1930s and 1940s, winning huge audiences among both monochrome South Africans. On the succeeding decades, the marabi-swing style become early mbaqanga, one of the most distinctive type of South African jazz, which often helped create the more populist township forms of the 1980s.

Using the introduction of broadcast radio for black listeners as well as the growth of an indigenous recording industry, marabi gained immense popularity in the 1930s onward. Soon there have been schools teaching the different jazzy styles available, one of them 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 truly indigenous South African musical language was being born


One of many offshoots with 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, called “kwela-kwela” in township slang – kwela music was adopted by street performers from the shanty towns.

The instrument of kwela was the pennywhistle, that was both cheap and straightforward and could be used either solo or in an ensemble.

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

Lemmy Mabaso, among the famous pennywhistle stars, began performing inside the streets on the ages of 10. Talent scouts were mailed from the recording industry to lure pennywhistlers to the studio and possess them record their tunes with full band backing. Stars such as Spokes Mashiyane had hits with kwela pennywhistle tunes.

In 1959, film Tom Hark by Elias Lerole and the Zig-Zag Flutes was obviously a hit all over the world, 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 to keep things interesting, various strains of South African music were pouring themselves into an exilerating melting pot of ideas and forms through the core 1950s.

An important area with this growth was the township of Sophiatown, in Johannesburg, that have grown since the 1930s right into a seething cauldron in the new urban lifestyles of black city dwellers. The suburb attracted one of the most adventurous performers of the new musical forms and became a hotbed from the rapidly developing black musical culture.

The old strains of marabi and kwela had begin to coalesce into what’s broadly generally known as mbaqanga, a sort 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, with a heavy dollop of American big band swing thrown ahead. The indlamu tendency crystallised in the “African stomp” style, giving a notably African rhythmic impulse on the music and rendering it quite irresistible to its new audiences.

During on this occasion that this new black culture created a sassy kind of its own, partly through the influence of American movies along with the glamour connected to the flamboyant gangsters who had been a fundamental portion of Sophiatown.

Eventually the white Nationalist government brought this vital era for an end, forcibly taking out the inhabitants of Sophiatown to townships like Soweto, outside Johannesburg, in 1960. Sophiatown was razed along with the white suburb of Triomf internal its place.

Jonas Qwangwa.

(Image © Jürgen Schadebergmbaqanga)

The modern jazz

The cross-cultural influences that had been brewed in Sophiatown continued to inspire musicians of most races inside 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 like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

The jazz club sponsored gatherings for example Jazz at the Odin, in a local cinema, and from such meetings grew South Africa’s first bebop band, the vital and influential Jazz Epistles, whose earliest membership would have been a roll-call of musicians going 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 one of them.

In 1960, the Jazz Epistles recorded their first and just album, Jazz Epistle Verse One. Concurrently, composers such as Todd Matshikiza (who composed the successful musical King Kong) and Gideon Nxumalo (African Fantasia) were tinkering with combinations of old forms and new directions.

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

Since the apartheid regime increased its power, political repression in Nigeria began in earnest. In the wake from 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 discovered it required to leave the nation. For a lot of decades, many of 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 an

South African Village.

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim is without a doubt the towering estimate South African music, a person who put together all its traditions using a deeply felt knowledge of American jazz, in the orchestral richness of Duke Ellington’s compositions for big band to 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.

In the next four decades, Ibrahim developed his own distinctive style, slipping into South Africa inside the mid-1970s to create a number of seminal recordings with the cream of Cape jazz players (Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, as an example), which included his masterpiece, “Mannenberg”, one of the primary South African compositions ever.

Ibrahim’s extensive oeuvre continues to grow the South African musical palette, as he worked as a chef like 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 return to Nigeria during the early 1990s, with symphony orchestras. He’s also founded a faculty for South African musicians in Cape Town.

Hugh Masekela

Ibrahim’s old collaborator, the trumpeter Hugh Masekela, also stood a glittering career outside South Africa. Initially inspired in the 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 to Britain with King Kong, to get himself in The big apple during the early 1960s. He previously hits in the usa using the poppy jazz tunes “Up, Up and Away” and “Grazin’ in the Grass”.

A renewed fascination with his African roots led him to collaborate with West and Central African musicians, lastly to reconnect with South African players when he set up a mobile studio in Botswana, just over the South African border, inside the 1980s. Here he reabsorbed and reused mbaqanga modes, a method she has continued to work with since his come back to Africa in the early 1990s.

Masekela continues to do business with young artists like Thandiswa Mazwai, Zubz and Jah Seed, fusing Afro-pop sounds with jazz tunes. He recently continued a tour of Canada and also the U . s . simply the live recording Hugh Masekela: Live on the Market Theatre.

The Blue Notes

Also following your growth of South African jazz into new realms, though in the uk, was this guitar rock band nowhere Notes. Having made a term for themselves in South Africa during the early 1960s, this dymanic, adventurous group, led by pianist Chris MacGregor, left for Britain inside the late 1960s and stayed there. The other people in the group, Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo, contributed richly to the sound of this ever-evolving ensemble, and also recorded significant solo material.

The Blue Notes, and then MacGregor bands including Brotherhood of Breath, plus the Pukwana and Moholo bands, became an essential part with the European jazz avant-garde, carrying the African influence beyond these shores. Sadly, all of the original folks the Blue Notes, except Louis Moholo, died in exile.

Jazz at home

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 together with 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 several combinations under the name of Malombo, which means the ancestral spirits within the Venda language.

From the early 1960s until today, Tabane has produced a few of South Africa’s most fascinating and adventurous sounds, though a somewhat conservative and commercially orientated local recording industry has meant that he has been sadly under-recorded. Internationally acclaimed, Tabane has toured extensively in Europe and the U . s ., performing with the Apollo Theatre in Nyc and the Montreaux Jazz Festival, among others.

Even after democracy, Tabane helps shape and inspire the musical careers of many musicians in South Africa. Tabane has done collaborations with house wedding band Revolution.

Playing through repression

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

The 1980s saw each side Afro-jazz bands including Sakhile and Bayete, marrying the sounds of yank fusion and ancient African patterns, to considerable commercial success.

New directions

Others for example the band Tananas took the concept of instrumental music to the direction of what became called “world music”, making a sound that crosses borders which has a combination of African, South American as well as other styles.

In recent times, important new jazz musicians like 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 connection with today’s contemporary sounds, and also applying the oldest modes, to provide the nation – and appreciative overseas audiences – with a living, growing South African jazz tradition.

More recently, a mix of contemporary and jazz music has gotten Africa by storm with young women musicians like Simphiwe Dana, Zamajobe Sithole and Siphokazi Maraqana adding some spice on the way people have a look at jazz.

Pop, rock & crossover

From the 1960s onward, a lot more white rockers and pop groups did actually attract white audiences inside a segregated Africa.

Four Jacks as well as a Jill

Among the most successful bands from Nigeria is Four Jacks along with a Jill, who’d their first number 1 hit with “Timothy” in 1967. Yearly year, they’d a major international hit on the hands with “Master Jack”, which reached number eight in the united states and # 1 in Canada, Malaysia, Nz and Australia. In the 1970s they toured Britain, the usa, 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 of the band, Clive Harding and Glenys Lynne, eventually disbanded the group in 1983 when they became reborn Christians.

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

Despite being considered hippies who threatened the very progress of civilisation Freedom’s Children travelled the nation, building up a good 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

takes place like confetti,” the content reads,

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

In the mid-1970s, the “boy band” hit Nigeria in the form of Rabbitt, four teenage boys who kicked off their career with a cover of your Jethro Tull song and, in the singularly daring move, posed naked on the second album cover (“A Croak plus a Grunt in the Night”).

Imaginatively managed by producer-impresario Patric van Blerk, Rabbitt brought the teenager pop market of Africa into a pitch of Beatles-like hysteria before disbanding in 1977. Member Trevor Rabinpoprock went on to some successful career in the united states, being employed as a session musician in top rock groups in addition to producing movie soundtracks.

A change in mood

Because 1970s drew into a close, however, the climate began to change and the echoes of Britain’s angry working-class punk movement began to reach South Africa.

Springs, a poorer white area on the outskirts of Johannesburg, become the breeding ground of your 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 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 an affiliate Corporal Punishment, was obviously a central figure. As Bernoldus Niemand, he produced an album of satirical Afrikaans songs for example “Hou My Vas, Korporaal” (Hold Me Tight, Corporal), a satire for the army, thereby influencing a complete alternative Afrikaans movement of Afrikaners protesting against repressive social mores.

Bands for example the Gereformeerde Blues Band and singers like Koos Kombuis were later to realize an enthusiastic following.

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

Crossing over

As well, a crossover was starting to happen between monochrome musicians.

Johnny Clegg, a social anthropologist who learnt a lot about Zulu music and dance which he formed his own group, Juluka, with Sipho Mchunu, led the charge. Juluka’s capacity to mix traditional Zulu music with white pop and folk what food was in itself difficult towards the racial boundaries the apartheid regime experimented with erect between blacks and whites.

With often 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.


The white pop/rock tradition continues to the present in Africa, growing ever bigger plus more diverse. Bands like the Springbok Nude Girls, possibly the finest South African rock band of the 1990s, spearheaded a drive into harder, guitar-driven sounds, while groups such as the acclaimed Fetish did start to try out the newest electronic palette made available by computers and sampling.

Crossover band Freshlyground.

Crossover music is still alive and well from the new millennium, using the height possibly the band Freshlyground, who burst on top of 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”, from your 2005 album Nomvula, is becoming something of an happy anthem for the new Nigeria untroubled by its difficult past. The album itself sold 150 000 copies.

Today another highlight is a fantastic pop-rock-electronic scene across South Africa, with bands for example Prime Circle – one of the finest South African rock bands, who achieved sales well over 25 000 units because of their debut album “Hello Crazy World” – and also Wonderboom, the Parlotones, the Narrow, Bell Jar and much more generating 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 throughout the 1980s, the black townships were located in thrall as to what came into existence called “bubblegum” – bright, light dance pop relying on American disco up to through the heritage of mbaqanga.

Forebears of this style were groups including the Soul Brothers, who’d massive hits using their soulful pop, while artists such as Brenda Fassie, Chicco Twala and Yvonne Chaka Chaka drew huge audiences for his or her label of township dance music.

Brenda Fassie’s 1991 album included the

hit song “Black President”, focused on

Nelson Mandela, who was simply released

from jail only the year before. In 1994

Mandela did, indeed, become South

Africa’s first black president.

Brenda Fassie

Up until her death in 2004, Brenda Fassie was maybe the most controversial and the best-known decide township pop, having an enormous hit in 1985 with “Weekend Special” before starting a decade of high living that could have put the Rolling Stones to shame.

Ever outspoken, she admitted to substance abuse, marriage problems and much more, yet her keen following never quite deserted her, plus 1997 she developed a significant comeback with her album “Memeza” (meaning “Shout”), which spawned the large hit “Vulindlela” (“Clear the path” or “Make way”). Regardless of the controversy very often did actually dog her career, Fassie remained a main decide the creation of township pop.


Within the 1990s, a brand new type of township music, kwaito, grabbed the eye and the hearts of South Africa’s black youth. In the same way township “bubblegum” had drawn on American disco, so kwaito put an African spin about the international dance music from 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.

Music artists and bands like Mdu, Mandoza, Arthur, Chiskop and Zola, for example – rose to prominence. Groups such as Bongo Maffin, Abashante, Boom Shaka and TKZee developed huge followings. Key recordings including 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 for example the wildly successful Yfm.

South African hip-hop

Noisy . 2000s, a revolution in South African music was happening – a hip-hop music culture was happening 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 process to combine the thumping beats individuals hip-hop blended with Afro-pop music. The rhyming is performed mostly in indigenous languages such as isiZulu, Setswana and Sesotho.

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

New Afrikaans music

Time since democracy have seen the re-emergence of other Afrikaans music, with young Afrikaners reclaiming and taking pride in a culture clear 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”) to the classic rock of Arno Carstens and also the gentler music Chris Chameleon.