The Beats23 Mar 2016
Bigger, Better, Bass – The Homegrown Sounds of South Africa Aren’t Just Staying at Home Anymore.
Inspired by jazz, house and afro-beats, South African dance music is like no other. We take a look at the main sub-genres to come out of the country.
The word gqom means “hit” or “drum” in Zulu, and a title is rarely so fitting. As Durban producer Rock Silver says, “it’s just beats, beats, beats”. There are no pianos, no keyboards, no instruments whatsoever – and it’s this raw, rough, minimalist House/ Kwaito mashup that’s moving off the streets of South Africa and onto some of the biggest stages in London.
Diplo described Kwaito as “slowed-down garage music,” but that can’t begin to cover the aggressive staple of South African culture. Percussive loop samples, deep bass lines and vocals define the genre that began in the 1990s on the streets of Johannesburg. In its infancy it was a sort of hip-hop born out of a need to carve SA’s own identity into the music scene, but it has since moved on to become an amalgamation of dub-step and electro. It’s closely linked with Pantsula, a type of dance which will bend your mind, and has supporters like Beyonce.
It’s lightning speed and more than a little weird, Shangaan Electro is music to dance to, but it’s like no dance you’ve ever done. Thumping, jumping and often done in masks – it’s a mix of folklore and tribalism, knocking traditional 110 BPMs all the way up to 180-183. Cell phone repair shop owner turned musician Richard “Nozinja” Mthethwa took the traditional Limpopo beat and set it on fire, trust us: it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen or heard before, yet it’s weirdly infectious.