Kwaito Music in South Africa

Kwaito is at the center of South Africa’s youth culture. More than music, kwaito has taken on a role in amongst black South Africans that hip hop has in the American ghetto. Kwaito is a way of life influencing dress codes, speech and dance moves. Kwaito is representative of township life, the beat of the South Africa’s youths’ hearts.

Kwaito’s sounds have pulsated from Johannesburg townships through the whole nation and can be heard in nightclubs, thundering in taxi speakers, in trendy shops, on the radio and in the streets. But what exactly is kwaito? This uniquely South African music can be described as a fusion of disco music, hip-hop, R&B, international house music and Ragga, with local attitude. Vocals are typically chanted or shouted over a slow tempo with African percussion. Its the type of music you just can’t help moving to. Lyrics are a blend of South African languages and English, often referred to as Isicamtho or tsostitaal (gangster language). The name Kwaito is derived from Afrikaans word “Kwaai” (literally ‘angry’) which in South African slang has come to mean “cool” or “awesome”.

Kwaito was born in Johannesburg in the 1990s when certain local artists decided to combine the international house sounds then playing in the clubs with South African sounds. Leaders in the development of kwaito were artists such as Arthur Mafokate, Mdu Masilela, Oskido and Makhjenlasi. Many of the songs produced spoke out against the oppression of black people in South Africa and the situation in the townships. In the late 90s, early 2000s, the popularity of Kwaito spread like wild fire, even moving abroad to the United States and Europe. Older generations have often complained about the explicit content of kwaito songs as well as the sensual form of dancing that is often associated with the music. However, South Africa’s youth have embraced Kwaito as an expression of what it means to be young in this amazing country, and township life. Well known Kwaito artists include Mandoza, Zola, Brown Dash, Chippa, Unathi, Mahoota, Mzambiya, Spikir and many more.

Kwaito is leaving its mark on South African culture and history. The unique sounds and culture of this music phenomenon will continue to move the country’s youth. Transcending the bounds of race – it is proudly South African.