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Kwaito: South Africa's hip-hop?


Bongo Maffin gives WorldBeat a sample of Kwaito music

Audio clip: 100k MPEG-3
Audio clip: 135k WAV
Video clip: 825k QuickTime

June 9, 1999
Web posted at: 2:52 p.m. EDT (1852 GMT)

From Steve Wright
CNN WorldBeat Correspondent

LONDON (CNN) -- It's never been easy for South African acts to break into the international market. But the musical form known as kwaito is proving to be a useful tool to open doors to wider exposure.

With its swirl of irresistible dance beats and cheeky lyrics, this music born in South Africa's streets has already been enthusiastically accepted by many on the African continent. Now two leading bands, Boom Shakka and TKZee, are leading the push for kwaito to take on the world.

The members of Boom Shakka have achieved superstar status in their native South Africa, their success reflecting the massive surge in popularity of kwaito in the past few years. They've become icons for South Africa's township youth.

So how did Boom Shakka and this music become so popular?

"The old artists who used to come at the shows, they relaxed, and there was not enough of a music feel going on like in the early '90s," says Boom Shakka. "So when everybody was like changing to the new South Africa, you know, we thought, why can't we just change, to a new South Africa with a new type of music?"

 What is kwaito?
The origins of the name are in question -- some say it was named after the AmaKwaitos, a gangster group, while others say it comes from the Afrikaans slang word kwai, meaning "hot." Kwaito owes much to U.K. house music, but its African melodies and ghetto themes give it a sound all its own.

TKZee, another of South Africa's leading kwaito bands, has just won an array of awards at this year's South African Music Awards, including best kwaito album for "Halloween."

Boom Shakka and TKZee are paving the way for other kwaito bands that want to take their music to wider audiences.

So is kwaito producer Arthur, dubbed the "king of kwaito." He's become almost a Puff Daddy figure, as both artist and producer. One of his protégés is Aba Shante, a female band with just a hint of En Vogue.

Bongo Maffin is another kwaito band that's taken its act to London after winning the popular ear in its native country. The band's lead singer, Thandiswa ("Red"), likens the genre to hip-hop in the United States, in that it's "more than just a music genre, it's a whole subculture.

Boom Shaka

"And so you can never say that it's going to die or whatever, but it's always changing and involving new things, and evolving, and whatever," she says.

From crowd reaction at recent London performances, it's clear that both Boom Shakka and TKZee are a success well beyond their native South Africa. But members of both groups say their priority is to remain true to their roots and keep South Africa in their music.

"I still believe that the drum come from Africa, you know, no matter what they say," says TKZee artist Tokollo Tshabalala.

"Music, it's a feeling, and black people have been dancing, beating drums, and all that? And then the rest is just -- you don't make money out of it and just taking it away, you know? They just took the shows ... and we want to bring it back."

Les Nubians: The French-African beat redoubled
May 10, 1999
Baaba Maal's eclectic blend gets people grooving
September 11, 1998

Rage: South African Street Culture Online
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