Bodytonic in South Africa
In our last journey I mentioned Kuduro's one time destiny as 'next big thing' and the fact that for various reasons it remains unfulfilled. In this issue we will look at another contender and also ask some questions of the scene that perpetuates these kind of prophecies.
I mentioned before how hardship is often a catalyst for creativity, well this next journey takes us to a land that has seen more than its fair share of hardship, a land where for more then 50 years the majority of its inhabitants were denied basic human rights by a minority government and where nearly 20 years ago one of history's greatest heroes was released after 30 years in captivity. It was to this political backdrop that the young inhabitants of Jo'burg's turbulent townships, riled up after years of oppression and surges of passion, took to the studios and the streets and gave the world Kwaito.
The story is much like the last two: traditional elements of drum and voice, mixed with electronic influences from the west, house from the UK and garage from the States. It's another former colony, shaking off the shackles of the colonists but maintaining some of the influences, born of political struggle. In the wake of apartheid, young people were for the first time in their lives free to go where they pleased, this meant they needed clubs to dance in and music to dance to, a new era called for a new sound.
Unlike some 'ghetto' music however, kwaito is generally positive and celebrates freedom rather than lamenting the past. It does share traits with other GG cousins though, often celebrating the female form, specifically the pleasures to be found in looking at or gyrating with.
I could go more into the history of the sound but as someone said, anyone and their wikki can figure that out, so now I want to look at the circumstances behind its rise to the top of the trendster's cool lists. The answer, one word... Mujava.
DJ Mujava's Township Funk has single-handedly brought the spotlight on kwaito, the song is huge, not since Dooms Night has a song had such mass appeal, techno kids took to it, house heads love it, dubsteppers dig it, and a little while back trendster bloggers everywhere were tripping over their kufiyas to claim it the new-new-Baile. The tune is great, it's hook is catchier then a beard full of crabs and it's low fi off-beat rhythm is a welcome addition to any style of set. No wonder Sinden, Diplo and the usual suspects were quick to get in on the act.
This in itself is seen by some as enough to give it the new baile tag but this track is not wholly indicative of the sound as a whole, as you would expect from a sound that stretches back 20 years there is huge variation in styles to be found after a little digging. As I said last time, bringing the spotlight on any region is always nice but what are the negatives that come with these trendy tags?
Well sometimes the music can be devalued, it becomes disposable to many Djs, a scene which is everything to the youth of South Africa (half the population are under 21) becomes just another means for Western hipsters to claim cool points. I know everyone likes to be 'fresh' in their sets but there is a real danger that we overlook some great music just because word is that there is an even poorer region with even crazier beats being touted by Diplo and co.
On the positives, as I said before, even if one local artist gets worldwide recognition it's a nice result and if 80% of the people into kwaito right now, forget about it in six months, that still leaves many brand new fans to spread the love. Specifically to the 'global ghetto-tech' phenomenon, it can serve to highlight some political and historical issues which you may not know much about too, I got a nice history lesson on apartheid writing this article and I can now recite swear words in Portuguese and Afrikaans.
If you know some far-flung corner of the world's music scene better than you know yourself, and want to write about it, get in touch with us here.