by Mpho Lehlongwa
How relevant is kwaito music today? During the genre’s early days, it was celebrated as being South Africa’s “definitive genre” but now, just two decades later, the genre finds itself swimming knee-deep in the pool of irrelevancy. How did this happen? Let’s start at the beginning.
The word “Kwaito” is derived from the colored township slang word ‘Kwai’ – which was used to call out something that was cool, dangerous, hip, threatening. That’s what kwaito was to township people all over the country: hot, dangerous, threatening to the other music genres but also hip and funky. There was a time when kwaito was regarded as the definitive sound of the township. The youth in the townships finally had a voice and could get their message across through the art of music. During its early years, kwaito was also responsible for uniting people of all races during a time when our country’s race relation were still very fractured.
I remember attending a predominantly white school in the 90’s and hearing my white friend singing Mandoza’s “Nkalakatha” out loud in the playgrounds. I also remember Chiskop – a famous kwaito group which Mandoza used to be a part of – being the only black kwaito group that incorporated breakdancing into their performances! These two events demonstrate just how powerfully kwaito would cut through racial and social barriers.
As I grew up, so did the genre. Artists such as Mzekezeke and the legendary Brown Dash emerged and gave us some of the country’s biggest anthems for years. From Mzekezeke’s ‘Akekho uGogo’ to Brown Dash’s ‘Voom Voom’ – all these songs were tinted with a certain nostalgia that we still carry with us today.
I’m still asking myself that very question . The sound changed, and so did the lyrical content. A faster BPM was introduced in kwaito production, and, as such the genre ended up sounding more like dance music. Now Big Nuz, popping bottles and naked girls in the pool are the theme. Original township stories were replaced with the lifestyle of glorifying money and sex was what sold. All this was drawn from westernized cultural influences.
Should we also be blamed as South Africans because we allowed this kind of music to be called kwaito? That very moment when South Africa accepted dance music as kwaito, our culture slowly died and all we’re left with are the distant memories of a once influential genre. Radio’s cancelled kwaito slots and chart shows and some award ceremonies renamed their kwaito category to ‘Street Music’.
Is that enough evidence to pin this on us too? Yes! We, as a country, accepted this and didn’t help fight this. When our greatest kwaito legend (Brown Dash) passed on, people mocked his cause of death and made it a social joke. The fact that we took the death of this pioneer so lightly proves what we think of the genre as well.
All is not lost, however. As long as kwaito still lives in us, there’s the hope that we will help sustain its strong history and, one day,help fuel another movement that no one will erase from the hearts and memories of South Africans.
LONG LIVE KWAITO MUSIC!!!
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