The history of kwaito music linked to the political history of South Africa. Its emergence coincided with the country’s first democratic elections and its sound and lyrics reflect the aspirations and realities of a generation of young black South Africans.

Did you know?

"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika", part of the joint national anthem of South Africa, was originally composed as a hymn by South African school teacher, Enoch Sontonga in 1897.

In South Africa kwaito culture has changed the face of local music and, in many ways, has come to define popular youth culture in the country.

This uniquely South African music genre emerged in the early nineties with the advent of democracy. It has its origins in South African townships and dance halls where new-found political and social freedoms gave South African musicians better access to the international music scene.

This translated into greater freedom of expression in South Africa, with kwaito music emerging as the vehicle to express the realities and aspirations of the young black South Africans that formed part of the country's first post-apartheid generation.

Kwaito musicis a richly textured and expressive urban sound that is uniquely South African. Its pulsing dance beat, which emerged in the 1990s, exhibited a mix of rhythms including the marabi sound of the 1920s, kwela from the 1950s, mbaqanga and maskhandi from the hostels, the bubblegum music of the eighties, and Imibongo (African praise poetry).

While it has connections with American hip-hop, kwaito’s lyrics originated in South Africa’s townships and convey the street language of the ‘kasi’ (township).

Primarily, kwaito was pioneered by a relatively small group of stars who earned themselves an ambiguous mix of fame and notoriety for their lifestyles as much as their music.

Among the best-knownSouth African kwaito starsare Arthur Mafokate, Mandoza, Zola 7, and Bravo and DJ Cleo, while music legends Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie also made significant contributions to the genre.

Award-winning kwaito groups include Malaika, Mafikozolo, Mzekezeke, Oskido and Bongo Maffin.

The development of kwaito has also influenced South African culture and extends to the economy, permeating television, radio and fashion, where it is seen as a lifestyle as much as a music genre. Its blend of black urban style and modern influences mean that it is constantly evolving and dynamic – much like South Africa itself.

The term kwaito is derived from the Afrikaans word kwaai, (‘angry’ in English). In colloquial slang, negative words or phrases often acquire a positive connotation or ‘cool’ status.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

South African Music Online

SA Gig Guide

How to get here

There are regular kwaito gigs around the country.

What will it cost

Live music gigs in South Africa cost between R100 and R800, depending on the stature of the featured artist.

What's happening

Kwaito stars and groups are increasingly mainstream and perform at a number of South Africa's music festivals, around the country.

Best buys

Buy a kwaito music CD either online, or at one of South Africa's many music outlets.

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