Since early colonial times, South African music has changed out of your blending of local ideas and forms with those imported from elsewhere, creating the unmistakable flavour of the country.


In the Dutch colonial era, through the 17th century on, indigenous South African people and slaves imported in the east adapted Western musical instruments and concepts.

The Khoi-Khoi, for instance, developed the ramkie, musical instrument with 3 or 4 strings, and tried on the extender to combine Khoi and Western folk songs. They also used the mamokhorong, an indigenous single-string violin, in their music-making along with the dances with the colonial centre, Cape Town.

Western music was played by slave orchestras, and travelling musicians of mixed-blood stock moved across the colony entertaining at dances and also other functions, a convention that continued in the era of British domination after 1806.

Coloured bands of musicians began parading through the streets of Cape Town in early 1820s, a practice that has been given added impetus through the travelling minstrel shows from the 1880s and possesses continued to the present day with the minstrel carnival held in Cape Town every Year.

Missionaries and choirs

The penetration of missionaries in to the interior on the succeeding centuries also stood a profound affect on South African musical styles. From the late 1800s, early African composers such as John Knox Bokwe began composing hymns that drew on traditional Xhosa harmonic patterns.

In 1897, Enoch Sontonga, then a teacher, composed the hymn Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa), which has been later adopted by the liberation movement and, after 1994, became part of the national anthem of a democratic Africa.

The influence of both missionary music and American spirituals spurred a gospel movement remains strong. Employing the traditions of indigenous faiths including the Zion Christian Church, they have exponents whose styles range from the more traditional on the pop-infused sounds of present-day gospel singers for example Rebecca Malope and Lundi Tyamara. Gospel, in its many forms, is one of South Africa’s best-selling genres, with artists regularly achieving of gold and platinum sales.

South African Music focus on choirs, combined with the traditional South African vocal music and also other elements, also gave rise to some mode of an cappella singing that blend the appearance of Western hymns with indigenous harmonies. This tradition has endured in the oldest traditional music in Africa, isicathamiya, ones Ladysmith Black Mambazo will be the best-known exponents.

African instruments like the mouth bow and, later, the mbira from Zimbabwe, and drums and xylophones from Mozambique, did start to discover a put in place the traditions of South African music. Still later, Western instruments such as the concertina and guitar were built-into indigenous musical styles, contributing, for example, to the Zulu mode of maskhandi music.

The development of a black urban proletariat as well as the movement of numerous black workers towards the mines within the 1800s meant differing regional traditional folk music met and began circulation into the other person. Western instruments were utilised to adapt rural songs, which experts claim did start to influence the introduction of new hybrid modes of music-making (in addition to dances) inside the developing urban centres.

Solomon Linda and also the Evening Birds in

1941. From left, Solomon Linda (soprano),

Gilbert Madondo (alto), Boy Sibiya (tenor),

Samuel Mlangeni (bass) and Owen

Skakane (bass). The night time Birds’ 1939

hit Mbube has been reworked innumerable

times, particularly as Pete Seeger’s hit

Wimoweh and the international classic

The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

(Image: The International Library of

African Music at Rhodes University and

Veit Erlmann)


From the mid-1800s travelling minstrel shows started to visit Nigeria. To start with these minstrels were white performers in “black-face” but by the 1860s genuine black American minstrel troupes like Orpheus McAdoo and also the Virginia Jubilee Singers did start to tour Nigeria influencing locals to make similar choirs.

This minstrel tradition, merged with other types, brought about the roll-out of isicathamiya, which in fact had its first international hit in 1939 with Mbube by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds. This remarkable song may be reworked innumerable times, such as as Pete Seeger’s hit Wimoweh and the international classic The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Minstrelsy also gave form and a new impetus towards the Cape coloured carnival singers and troupes, who began to use instruments including the banjo in forms of music including the jaunty goema.


During the early 20th century, new varieties of hybrid music began to arise among the increasingly urbanised black population of mining centres including Johannesburg.

Marabi, a keyboard kind of music played on pedal organs, shot to popularity inside the ghettos in the city. This new sound, basically that will draw people in to the shebeens (illegal taverns), had deep roots from the African tradition and smacked of influences of yankee ragtime and the blues. It used quick and easy chords repeated in vamp patterns that can continue all night long – the music of jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim still shows traces on this form.

Connected with illegal liquor dens and vices including prostitution, the first marabi musicians formed some sort of underground musical culture and weren’t recorded. Both the white authorities and more sophisticated black listeners frowned on there, almost as much as jazz was denigrated like a temptation to vice in the early years in the usa.

Nevertheless the lilting melodies and loping rhythms of marabi found their way into the sounds from the bigger dance bands including the Jazz Maniacs, the Merry Blackbirds as well as the Jazz Revellers. These bands achieved considerable fame inside the 1930s and 1940s, winning huge audiences among both black and white South Africans. Within the succeeding decades, the marabi-swing style progressed into early mbaqanga, probably the most distinctive type of South African jazz, which in turn helped build the more populist township forms of the 1980s.

With the introduction of broadcast radio for black listeners and also the expansion of an indigenous recording industry, marabi gained immense popularity in the 1930s onward. Soon there have been schools teaching the different jazzy styles available, included in this pianist-composer Wilfred Sentso’s influential School of recent Piano Syncopation, which taught “classical music, jazz syncopation, saxophone and trumpet blowing”, along with “crooning, tap dancing and ragging”.

A truly indigenous South African musical language was being born


Among the offshoots with the marabi sound was kwela, which brought South African music to international prominence in the 1950s.

Named for that Zulu word meaning “climb on” – along with a mention of police vans, referred to as “kwela-kwela” in township slang – kwela music was taken up by street performers in the shanty towns.

The instrument of kwela was the pennywhistle, that was both cheap as well as simple and is used either solo or even in an ensemble.

Its popularity was perhaps because flutes of kinds had long been traditional instruments one of the peoples of northern Africa; the pennywhistle thus enabled the swift adaptation of folk tunes in the new marabi-inflected idiom.

Lemmy Mabaso, among the famous pennywhistle stars, began performing from the streets at the age of 10. Talent scouts were sent through the recording industry to lure pennywhistlers in to the studio and have them record their tunes with full band backing. Stars like Spokes Mashiyane had hits with kwela pennywhistle tunes.

In 1959, the playback quality Tom Hark by Elias Lerole and his Zig-Zag Flutes was obviously a hit around the world, being bought out and reworked by British bandleader Ted Heath.

Miriam Makeba in 1955.

(Image © Jürgen Schadebergmarabi)

Mbaqanga jazz

Propelled simply by the hunger of the vast urban proletariat for entertainment, various strains of South African music were pouring themselves into a fantastic melting pot of ideas and forms through the center of the 1950s.

An integral area with this growth was the township of Sophiatown, in Johannesburg, which in fact had grown since the 1930s in to a seething cauldron with the new urban lifestyles of black city dwellers. The suburb attracted one of the most adventurous performers in the new musical forms and have become a hotbed with the rapidly developing black musical culture.

The previous strains of marabi and kwela had begin to coalesce into what exactly is broadly called mbaqanga, a sort of African-inflected jazz. Singing stars including Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe and Letta Mbulu gained fanatical followings.

The cyclic structure of marabi met with traditional dance styles like the Zulu indlamu, with a heavy dollop of American big band swing thrown ahead. The indlamu tendency crystallised to the “African stomp” style, giving a notably African rhythmic impulse towards the music and so that it is quite irresistible towards the new audiences.

It is during on this occasion the new black culture designed a sassy style of its very own, partly with the influence of American movies as well as the glamour linked to the flamboyant gangsters who had been a fundamental piece of Sophiatown.

Eventually the white Nationalist government brought this vital era with an end, forcibly removing the inhabitants of Sophiatown to townships for example Soweto, outside Johannesburg, in 1960. Sophiatown was razed and also the white suburb of Triomf built-in its place.

Jonas Qwangwa.

(Image © Jürgen Schadebergmbaqanga)

The brand new jazz

The cross-cultural influences that had been brewed in Sophiatown continued to inspire musicians of all races within the years to come. In the same way American ragtime and swing had inspired earlier jazz forms, so the new post-war American type of bebop had started to filter right through to South African musicians.

In 1955, probably the most progressive jazz-lovers of Sophiatown had formed the Sophiatown Modern Jazz Club, propagating the sounds of bop innovators for example Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

The jazz club sponsored gatherings including Jazz in the Odin, at a local cinema, and from such meetings grew South Africa’s first bebop band, the very important and influential Jazz Epistles, whose earliest membership would be a roll-call of musicians determined to shape South African jazz after that: Dollar Brand (who changed his name to Abdullah Ibrahim after his conversion to Islam), Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa and Hugh Masekela most notable.

In 1960, the Jazz Epistles recorded their first in support of album, Jazz Epistle Verse One. At the same time, composers including Todd Matshikiza (who composed the successful musical King Kong) and Gideon Nxumalo (African Fantasia) were using combinations of old forms and new directions.

King Kong, a jazz-opera telling the story plot of black South African boxer Ezekiel Dlamini, was a hit, and toured overseas. Leading South African musicians like Miriam Makeba, the Manhattan Brothers and Kippie Moeketsi starred in the show; many found the liberty outside the country an irresistible lure, and remained in exile there.

Because the apartheid regime increased its power, political repression in South Africa began in earnest. In the wake from the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 and also the subsequent State of Emergency and mass arrests, bannings and trials of activists challenging apartheid laws, more and more musicians think it is essential to leave the country. For many decades, probably the most adventurous strains in South African music were pursued outside of the country.

Jazz in exile

Cover with the 1965 Dollar Brand (later

Abdullah Ibrahim) album Anatomy of an

South African Village.

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim is undoubtedly the towering decide South African music, a male who combined all its traditions using a deeply felt idea of American jazz, through the orchestral richness of Duke Ellington’s compositions for giant band for the groundbreaking innovations of Ornette Coleman as well as the 1960s avant-garde.

On his first trip overseas, to Switzerland in 1962, the pianist-composer met and impressed Duke Ellington himself, who sponsored his first recordings.

Later, in Nyc, Ibrahim absorbed the influence from the early 1960s avant-garde, which has been then pioneering new open-ended kinds of spontaneous composition.

Within the next 40 years, Ibrahim developed their own distinctive style, slipping back into South Africa inside the mid-1970s to make a number of seminal recordings with all the cream of Cape jazz players (Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, as an illustration), including his masterpiece, “Mannenberg”, one of the primary South African compositions ever.

Ibrahim’s extensive oeuvre continues to flourish the South African musical palette, while he spent some time working as a solo performer (in mesmerising unbroken concerts that echo the unstoppable impetus in the old marabi performers), with trios and quartets, with larger orchestral units, and, since his triumphant go back to South Africa noisy . 1990s, with symphony orchestras. She has also founded an excellent for South African musicians in Cape Town.

Hugh Masekela

Ibrahim’s old collaborator, the trumpeter Hugh Masekela, also had a glittering career outside Nigeria. Initially inspired in his musical growth by Trevor Huddlestonnewjazz – a British priest employed in the townships who financed the musician’s first trumpet – Masekela played his way through the vibrant Sophiatown scene and Britain with King Kong, to locate himself in Nyc noisy . 1960s. He had hits in the us using the poppy jazz tunes “Up, Up and Away” and “Grazin’ from the Grass”.

A renewed interest in his African roots led him to collaborate with West and Central African musicians, and lastly to reconnect with South African players as he set up a mobile studio in Botswana, approximately the South African border, within the 1980s. Here he reabsorbed and reused mbaqanga modes, a method she has continued to utilize since his go back to South Africa during the early 1990s.

Masekela continues to use young artists like Thandiswa Mazwai, Zubz and Jah Seed, fusing Afro-pop sounds with jazz tunes. He recently proceeded a tour of Canada as well as the United states of america for the live recording Hugh Masekela: Live at the Market Theatre.

The Blue Notes

Also adopting the increase of South African jazz into new realms, though in great britain, was the group nowhere Notes. Having designed a good name for themselves in South Africa during the early 1960s, this dymanic, adventurous group, led by pianist Chris MacGregor, left for Britain within the late 1960s and stayed there. One other individuals this guitar rock band, Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo, contributed richly for the sound with this ever-evolving ensemble, and in addition recorded significant solo material.

Nowhere Notes, and later on MacGregor bands such as Brotherhood of Breath, plus the Pukwana and Moholo bands, became an important part with the European jazz avant-garde, carrying the African influence beyond these shores. Sadly, all of the original individuals the Blue Notes, except Louis Moholo, died in exile.

Jazz in your house

Philip Tabane in 1964.

(Image: Jabula Musicjazzhome)

Philip Tabane

One key South African jazz performers, Philip Tabane, a guitarist who combined the deepest, oldest polyrhythmic traditions with all the freest jazz-based improvisation, kept the musical flame burning in Africa.

Tabane, inspired by his links to African spirituality, kept a shifting gang of musicians playing in various combinations as of Malombo, which refers back to the ancestral spirits inside the Venda language.

In the early 1960s until today, Tabane has produced a number of South Africa’s most interesting and adventurous sounds, though a rather conservative and commercially orientated local recording industry means that he’s been sadly under-recorded. Internationally acclaimed, Tabane has toured extensively in Europe and also the Usa, performing in the Apollo Theatre in The big apple and also the Montreaux Jazz Festival, and others.

For a while following democracy, Tabane helps shape and inspire the musical careers of countless musicians in Nigeria. Tabane in addition has done collaborations with house group Revolution.

Playing through repression

Jazz always been took part South Africa through the many years of severe repression, with groups such as the African Jazz Pioneers and singers like Abigail Kubheka and Thandi Klaasen keeping alive the mbaqanga-jazz tradition that have enlivened Sophiatown. Cape jazzers including Basil Coetzee, Robbie Jansen and Hotep Idris Galeta kept developing the infectious Cape style.

The 1980s saw each side Afro-jazz bands including Sakhile and Bayete, marrying the sounds of American fusion and ancient African patterns, to considerable commercial success.

New directions

Others such as the band Tananas took the idea of instrumental music into the direction products became known as “world music”, making a sound that crosses borders having a mix of African, South American and other styles.

Lately, important new jazz musicians like Paul Hanmer, Moses Molelekwa (who died tragically in 2001), Zim Ngqawana, Selaelo Selota and Vusi Mahlasela took the compositional and improvisatory elements of jazz in new directions, bringing them into contact with today’s contemporary sounds, along with applying the oldest modes, to supply the country – and appreciative overseas audiences – using a living, growing South African jazz tradition.

More recently, a mix of contemporary and jazz music has gotten Africa by storm with women musicians like Simphiwe Dana, Zamajobe Sithole and Siphokazi Maraqana adding some spice towards the way people have a look at jazz.

Pop, rock & crossover

From the 1960s onward, a lot more white rockers and pop groups appeared to interest white audiences in a segregated South Africa.

Four Jacks along with a Jill

Among the most successful bands from South Africa is Four Jacks plus a Jill, who had their first # 1 hit with “Timothy” in 1967. Yearly year, they’d a global hit on their hands with “Master Jack”, which reached number eight in the usa and primary in Canada, Malaysia, Nz and Australia. During the 1970s they toured Britain, america, Australia along with other places, including Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

After facing persecution by conservative elements and lots of line-up changes, the main pair at the heart of the band, Clive Harding and Glenys Lynne, eventually disbanded the viewers in 1983 after they became reborn Christians.

Electrical systems, 1966 saw the birth of Freedom’s Children, a band dedicated to the type of “acid rock” pioneered in the US by bands for example the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

Despite being seen as hippies who threatened abdominal muscles progress of civilisation Freedom’s Children travelled the united states, gathering a great fan base among the more progressive youth, and recorded two albums, “Astra” and “Galactic Vibes”, that proved inspirational to later “alternative” rockers.

Rabbitt fever hits the Durban city hall in

the mid-1970s. South Africa’s first boy

band inspired Beatles-like hysteria among

young white women. “Panties flew onto

the stage like confetti,” this article reads,

“and a minumum of one girl ‘lost’ her dress.”

From the mid-1970s, the “boy band” hit South Africa by means of Rabbitt, four teenagers who kicked off their career having a cover of the Jethro Tull song and, in the singularly daring move, posed naked on their own second album cover (“A Croak along with a Grunt in the Night”).

Imaginatively managed by producer-impresario Patric van Blerk, Rabbitt brought the teenager pop market of Nigeria to some pitch of Beatles-like hysteria before disbanding in 1977. Member Trevor Rabinpoprock proceeded with a successful career in the US, working as a session musician in top rock groups and also producing movie soundtracks.

A modification of mood

Because the 1970s drew to some close, however, the atmosphere did start to change along with the echoes of Britain’s angry working-class punk movement began to reach Africa.

Springs, a poorer white area on the outskirts of Johannesburg, turned out to be the breeding ground of an new generation of rockers who had been disillusioned about South Africa’s repressive white regime.

The air Rats provided social satire, while Corporal Punishment released “Darkie”, a sarcastic picture of white angst (“Darkie’s gonna get you”). Bands including the Asylum Kids and Dog Detachment also carried the flag of youthful rebellion, and gained significant followings.

With the mid-1980s an alternative solution rock culture had developed, and showed considerable diversity. James Phillips, a founding part of Corporal Punishment, was obviously a character. As Bernoldus Niemand, he produced an album of satirical Afrikaans songs like “Hou My Vas, Korporaal” (Hold Me Tight, Corporal), a satire on the army, thereby influencing a whole alternative Afrikaans movement of Afrikaners protesting against repressive social mores.

Bands for example the Gereformeerde Blues Band and singers like Koos Kombuis were later to get a keen following.

Simultaneously, Phillips produced superbly bluesy rock along with his band the Cherry-Faced Lurchers. An exciting underground rock scene, featuring bands like the Softees, the Aeroplanes, Bright Blue as well as the Dynamics, kept rebellious young white South Africans “jolling” with the 1980s.

Crossing over

Concurrently, a crossover was start to happen between monochrome musicians.

Johnny Clegg, a social anthropologist who learnt so much about Zulu music and dance that they formed his very own group, Juluka, with Sipho Mchunu, led the charge. Juluka’s capability to mix traditional Zulu music with white pop and folk was in itself challenging towards the racial boundaries the apartheid regime tried to erect between blacks and whites.

With commonly a more pop-driven style, bands such as eVoid, Via Afrika and Mango Groove followed the crossover trail blazed by Clegg (hailed overseas as “the white Zulu”), whose later band, Savuka, continued to breed his earlier success.

Moving forward to

The white pop/rock tradition continues up to the within Nigeria, growing ever bigger and much more diverse. Bands including the Springbok Nude Girls, likely the finest South African rockband from the 1990s, spearheaded a drive into harder, guitar-driven sounds, while groups such as the acclaimed Fetish did start to test out the brand new electronic palette offered by computers and sampling.

Crossover band Freshlyground.

Crossover music is still alive and well inside the new millennium, with the height possibly the band Freshlyground, who burst on the scene in 2002. Freshlyground add violin and flute to the familiar band instrumentation of bass, drums, keys and guitar, and frequently toss in the mbira, a conventional African “thumb piano”, and sax. Their song “Doo Bee Doo”, in the 2005 album Nomvula, is now something of the happy anthem for the new Africa untroubled by its difficult past. The album itself sold 150 000 copies.

Today there’s also a fantastic pop-rock-electronic scene across Nigeria, with bands including Prime Circle – one of the most effective South African rock bands, who achieved sales over 25 000 units because of their debut album “Hello Crazy World” – as well as Wonderboom, the Parlotones, the Narrow, Bell Jar and much more starting a strong rock and alternative music scene that is often overlooked and ignored by mainstream media.

Bubblegum, kwaito and alternative Afrikaners

While white rockers expressed their angst to largely white audiences throughout the 1980s, the black townships were located in thrall as to what came to be called “bubblegum” – bright, light dance pop relying on American disco up to through the heritage of mbaqanga.

Forebears of the style were groups including the Soul Brothers, who’d massive hits with their soulful pop, while artists for example Brenda Fassie, Chicco Twala and Yvonne Chaka Chaka drew huge audiences for his or her label of township dance music.

Brenda Fassie’s 1991 album included the

hit song “Black President”, dedicated to

Nelson Mandela, who has been released

from jail exactly the year before. In 1994

Mandela did, indeed, become South

Africa’s first black president.

Brenda Fassie

Up to her death in 2004, Brenda Fassie was maybe the most controversial along with the best-known determine township pop, having an enormous hit in 1985 with “Weekend Special” before starting your decade of high living that would have squeeze Rolling Stones to shame.

Ever outspoken, she admitted to drug abuse, marriage problems plus much more, yet her keen following never quite deserted her, and in 1997 she made a significant comeback with her album “Memeza” (meaning “Shout”), which spawned the large hit “Vulindlela” (“Clear the path” or “Make way”). In spite of the controversy have a tendency to appeared to dog her career, Fassie remained a central estimate the roll-out of township pop.


Inside the 1990s, a whole new type of township music, kwaito, grabbed a person’s eye and also the hearts of South Africa’s black youth. Equally as township “bubblegum” had stolen American disco, so kwaito put an African spin about the international dance music with the 1990s, a genre loosely called house music. Young South African music-makers gave it a homemade twist but with echoes of hip-hop and rap.

Artists like Mdu, Mandoza, Arthur, Chiskop and Zola, as an illustration – rose to prominence. Groups like Bongo Maffin, Abashante, Boom Shaka and TKZee developed huge followings. Key recordings for example TKZee’s “Halloween”, Mdu’s “Mazola”, Chiskop’s “Claimer”, Boom Shaka’s “It’s About Time” and Trompies’s “Madibuseng” swept the charts and dominated youth-orientated r / c for example the wildly successful Yfm.

South African hip-hop

In the early 2000s, a revolution in South African music was happening – a hip-hop music culture was going on with youth stations like Yfm inside the fore-front in advertising this genre. Raw talents like Tuks, Zubz, Hip-Hop Pantsula, Pro-Kid, Zulu Boy and Proverb took up task to blend the thumping beats folks hip-hop combined with Afro-pop music. The rhyming is done mostly in indigenous languages such as isiZulu, Setswana and Sesotho.

South African hip-hop has left an indelible mark on the music scene this also genre is maintaining growth with artists like Tuks scooping up music awards and recurring to offer copies in a huge number.

New Afrikaans music

The years since democracy have experienced the re-emergence of other Afrikaans music, with young Afrikaners reclaiming and taking pride in the culture without any the guilt of apartheid – the “Karen Zoid generation”. Often eccentric and quirky, this music ranges from the rough and raw sound of Fokofpolisiekar (which translates as “f**k off police car”) for the classic rock of Arno Carstens and the gentler music Chris Chameleon.