the voice of youth
Clark goes to Johannesburg to explore the origins of Kwaito
music and find out why it has become the voice of urban
youth in the new South Africa.
people think of Johannesburg - their first thought is
probably the terribly high levels of crime and violence.
No-one can deny the headline-grabbing statistics, but
there's also a flip side which tells a different story.
is going to be around for a long time.
It's going to become a part of mainstream
music. I find nuances in it that so
called critics will never understand.
It's the core of township feeling"
legend Hugh Masekela
- a city where black people could once only walk with
identity cards and passes - has emerged from the dark
days of apartheid to become a thriving, cosmopolitan
a country where close to half the population is under
the age of 21, youth culture has taken a firm hold and
Kwaito music - the new sound of the township - has helped
shape a spirit of optimism and self-confidence.
"The youth can now speak openly throught the lyrics",
says one of Kwaito's most established stars, Esmile.
"It's a way of life. Kwaito is about the drug dealer
in the ghetto who everyone is looking up to because
he's driving fine cars.
about the single mother struggling to bring up three
children. Kwaito is about ghetto life."
One of the pioneers of this new music is DJ and producer
Oscar waRona, who says Kwaito originally grew out of American
Boom Shaka were spurned by record companies
came from house, but we needed to put an African feel
into it, so we added our own melodies, congas and basslines,"
he told me at his home recording studio.
"We started the Boom Shaka band and went on the road,
and people just started getting into it. But record
companies weren't interested and they all turned us
had to sell cassettes from the boot of a car. But it
became big underground and on the club scene."
Like many dance styles, Kwaito is not performed by a
band using live instruments.
Instead, tracks are manufactured digitally in a studio,
and played as a backing track on stage.
of the originators of this form of music was Arthur
Mafakote, dubbed the king of Kwaito by the media.
He captured Kwaito's brazen confidence and demand for
recognition, with a hit song in 1993 called Don't call
me Kaffir - a reference to the offensive word some white
people used for blacks.
Today, Kwaito is everywhere.
It's all over the radio and TV and its stars are sprawled
across billboards and minibus taxis, helping to sell everything
from condoms to coca-cola.
Kwaito music may have grown out of the huge political
changes in the early 1990s but it declared no allegiance
to the new order.
Luv - expressing themselves
black South Africans were celebrating their newly-won
social freedoms, Kwaito artists were rocking the boat
by questioning the social problems they saw around them.
"This music came in when Mandela was released" says
"We felt we were free, we could express ourselves.
"We used to do tracks where we would ask why is
the divorce rate so high? Why are little children being
found in shabeens drinking?
asked how we could question the social morals of older
people. They weren't used to such straight talking."
beat of the street
Undeterred by the initial negative response from the recording
industry and the mainstream media, Kwaito's advocates
kept up their drive to spread their music.
Eventually it began to infiltrate all forms of youth culture
from radio stations like YFM in Johannesburg, to magazines
majority of artists who are big right now - we made
them they made us," says YFM's DJ Fresh.
knew what urban youth wanted. They wanted a lot of local
Kwaito has evolved its own street style. It's not just
music, it's the way you walk, talk, dance and of course,
young South African mind today is a
goldmine because the bondage of the
past is being released. Music and fashion
are going to grow hand in hand. The
world has yet to see what's coming out
of this place"
designer Chubi Mogale
is where we're from. We live on the streets we walk
on the streets and we knew what was in and what wasn't,"
says Chubi Mogale of Kwaito fashion label Loxion Culcha.
Street wear also fills the glossy pages of Y - a funky
youth magazine, launched soon after YFM, targeting the
A number of internet sites, dedicated to Kwaito, also
emerged, including Rage, edited by Maria McCloy.
However, Maria McCloy also has her reservations about
"Kwaito's come a long way but there's lot more growing
up to do," she says.
of the acts have great tracks but are not good live.
Kwaito lyrics can be very vulgar and some of the songs
are very disparaging to women and objectify women sexually."
One musician who is trying put a more constructive message
into Kwaito is Mandoza who grew up in Zola, one of the
roughest areas of Soweto.
Despite the fact he's now one of Kwaito's hottest stars,
he initially didn't like the music at all.
"What I hated was that Kwaito had no message," he says.
- trying to find a message in Kwaito
was just for dancing. It didn't tell people about good
things or bad things. I see myself as a role model now
- big time.
"I want to inspire a guy from the ghetto so he can stop
hanging around in the corner begging and try and get
His track, Uzoyithola Kkanjani, literally means 'how
are you going to get it, if you don't get up and go
Some older, more established musicians in South Africa
may find Kwaito difficult to comprehend, but Hugh Masekela
- one the country's musical legends, is a big fan.
"If there's something negative in Kwaito, then it's
a drop in the ocean considering what it has achieved,"
"There has been criticism of some of the content but
older people always seem to be jealous of young people
who are coming up with new things."
And poking fun at the older generation seems to be part
of the game for some of the young Kwaito artists.
Ghetto Luv are an all-girl group known for their raunchy
lyrics and belief in sexual self expression.
When I met them at a restaurant in the inner city suburb
of Yeoville they delighted in flaunting their pierced
tongues and tattoos."
While Ghetto Luv are pushing forward the social frontiers,
other groups are trying to break new ground musically
by fusing elements of r&b, hop-hop and reggae.
One of Kwaito's top outfits, Bongo Maffin, have recently
released a song called Mari Ye Phepha with a distinctive
"When we performed the song at a free show in Soweto,
15 thousand people were going crazy to the latin beat,"
said band member Stoan.
of Bongo Maffin - mixing it with a latin flava
response was just deafening. People ask us how we came
up with the song. How did we go so far and bring it
Even Hugh Masekela is becoming involved in taking Kwaito
in new directions and has worked with Kwaito artists
on both his last two albums.
"I'm crazy about it," he says.
"There was a void in our music, so when Kwaito
came out I thought we had an identity again. This is
the music of our children. I love the dances. My daughter
teaches them to me and I do them on stage!"