The Real Roots of Kwaito

(bigup This Is Africa for publishing this!)

The few times western publications have written about Kwaito and South African House, styles which have thrived for many decades, the story is almost always told in terms of a unidirectional migration of House Music from the United States to Africa.  This is problematic because 1 central factor is not only understated, but entirely missing, including from the South African voices sometimes interviewed.

This central factor is the wealth of Southern African musical traditions which was the real precedent, the main cultural lineage, the Mother (with Chicago perhaps being the Father, which might be an exaggeration) of Kwaito and SA House.

Mbaqanga, Township Jive, SA Jazz, music styles from Tsonga (Shangaan), Xhosa, Tswana, Zulu, Swazi, Venda, Sotho, Ndebele, etc., tribes, numerous other Southern African 20th Century and traditional styles, and influences from other parts of Africa, these are the true ancestors of contemporary urban electronic music.

In many classic, pre-80s South African jams you can hear the 4 to the floor kick, the consecutive high-hats (sometimes done with clapping), the off-beat snares (as opposed to on the 2), additional percussion, distinct baselines, driving chants — all elements which live on in today’s SA dance music.  Many older recordings sound almost exactly like Kwaito played on acoustic instruments:

modern Kwaito:

2 examples of unmistakeable precursors to SA house, 1 of traditional music, the other of classic Jive:

During the earliest days of new urban music in the townships, as a new wave of Afro-American and Afro-European imports landed in the form of disco and house, SA artists took a lot of inspiration from these refreshing electronic sounds, incorporating the influences and sometimes outright imitating.   Western sounds had the effect of an initial stimulant and inspiration, but its impact did not last, and soon after this initial phase, Kwaito, and a little later SA House, began to mature, and became its own thing, less and less influenced by outside sources, more and more taking ideas from indigenous Southern African musical heritage.  Eventually, as African musical roots fully manifested themselves, these genres took their rightful places in the history, the lineage, the continuum, of South African music.  Important was the shifting of rhythmic emphasis: as early as the 90s, Kwaito started to use more and more the homegrown “Dembow” rhythm pattern with offbeat snares, distinctly different from the mechanical Duple 1-2 beat of Western House.

Today, if one looks at canonical artists of SA House, those most emblematic of the genre, such as Dj Cleo, Dj Clock (most recent releases of these 2 artists excepting), Black Motion, or Dj Vetkuk, the music is clearly, much more than anything else, the descendent of deep African roots, with American or European characteristics largely left behind, almost as if it was never there.  Indeed, a very good case can be made, through analysis of musical form, that South African House is now a related but entirely different breed from Chicago House, with its own rhythm signature, its own palette of sounds, attributes, textures, and stylistic conventions; its own family tree, genealogy, and history.

Yet western journalism to this day nearly always focus entirely on the American Father, to the point of completely neglecting the African Mother.  Franky Knuckles was surely seminal (unlikelihood of the gay brother impregnating anything aside), but this influence needs to be seen in the context of a larger cultural womb rich with musical nutrients which nourished and gave birth to modern SA music, and its limits recognized.   Too much importance, as always, is given to Western exports, as if SA is only doing an African version of an American thing, as if Kwaito is only “Slowed Down US House” – a distorted view so common that it is on the Wikipedia page.  Even more extreme, This article absurdly compares the relationship of SA House to Chicago to that of the Rolling Stones to Muddy Waters, demonstrating plain ignorance and ethnocentricity. Grossly over-simplified, reductionist, and simply false claims such as these are made too frequently, perpetuating structurally West-centric points of view.  Even those with the best of intentions, such as Dj Lynnee Denise, often subconsciously take the hegemonic position, inadvertently denying Africans of cultural and historical agency.   And it is not surprising that South Africans themselves often reproduce these skewed perspectives, being a people recently liberated, and still largely in awe of everything from the wealthy people up north, often under valuing their own, in every way much more significant cultural heritage.

When it comes down to it, African Mother is much older and possessive of much larger bodies of deeper and more varied musical knowledge than American Father; the later being himself, of course, only one of her many children.

NGOMA MIX 13 – Juju-Juke

Ever since drums were banned on most slave plantations in N. America during the 1600s, after the masters discovering that the slaves organized revolts with their talking drums, the expression of poly-rhythms in N. American popular music has primarily been through use of the voice.  This is the reason music in the US is typified by the simple 1-2 “dupple” rhythm, in contrast to more complex beat patterns in South-America or the Caribbean (which kept their drums).  Thus the evolution of all subsequent Afro-North-American music was profoundly shaped, from Blues to Funk to Disco:  kick on the 1, and snare on the 2; all the way down to the late 20th Century – complex poly-rhythms in hiphop is produced with rap, and the drums remain a skeletal, minimalistic boom-bap, as if just to mark time.

Now in the 21st Century a renewed sense of rhythmic complexity returns to  Afro-North-American dance music in the form of Juke/Footwork in Chicago: interlocking 2s and 3s form intricate beat structures, unmistakeably related to many forms of percussion styles in the motherland (but still often keeping that N. American hard snare on the 2).

OR: STREAM: MIXCLOUD //// DOWNLOAD: SEPARATE TRACKS OR SINGLE TRACK

This NGOMA volume demonstrates this reconnection, after centuries of separation, between African tradition and Afro-Diaspora:  between Nigerian Juju/Fuji music and Chicago Juke/Footwork, between Ethiopian dance styles and Detroit Ghetto-Tech, between Iberian trad-modern street sounds and American R’n’B/Pop, between Afro-Punk and Club Music, between Congolese Mbira workouts and Hiphop, between Ghanaian and Senegalese drumming and Urban Bass Pressure.   Let us pump up the volume and remember the power and spirit of rhythm which survives every hardship, cruelty, and oppression, and rejoice in the timeless Music Of the Drums.

big thanks to Keith Jones for knowledge passing, Itzi Nallah, Sonic Diaspora and states side massive for making the Juju-Juke tour possible, my B-girls Jessi and Maya for support.Juju-Juke Tour kick off in Belgrade

I have played this set a few times now during the Serbia, Germany, and US East Coast tour  a few weeks ago, and crowds have gone completely BONKERS as the energy went straight through the roof: 500 screaming people and massive MOSH PIT at 3AM during Mikser Festival Belgrade; club crowd which refused to leave, clapping and hollering for 20 minutes after lights went up and sound was turned off at The Shrine Chicago.  I guess the world is more than ready for 160 BPM Afro-Footwork pressure!!!

and here is that adrenaline fueled misanthropic juke edit of South African punk rockers Koos by itself (download and drop into your set if you are wo/man enough :D):

NGOMA 11 – Northern Tropikal

Rhythms born of the tropics grow up in colder urban climates:  A re-newed attention to percussion is appearing on the many different shores of Northern Hemisphere electronic dance music; as a new generation of artists in the US and Europe channel, re-interpret, and recontextualize Afro-diasporic drumming traditions according to their own local sensibilities, reaching to complete the mother continents’ circle of musical influence.

OR: STREAM: MIXCLOUD //// DL: SEPARATE TRACKS OR SINGLE TRACK

In Detroit and Chicago intricate percussive patterns are growing right between the rigid 4-on-the-floor, snare-on-the-2 beat. Evolving directly from street level forms such as Ghetto-Tech and Booty-House, new drum sounds integrate with the cold and hard latices of industrialized assembly line structure – among others, the exceptional track by The Grizzl and J. Phlip is a perfect example.  interlocking microscopic beat segments by Afrikanized robot drummers are revitalizing increasingly impoverished styles like Hip Hop and Techno, machines under duress reaching new states of intensity.   Juke may be a freak mutation, a strange autistic grand child of Afrikan music with a mechanical brain and artificial limbs, and is itself giving birth to new hybrid styles both at home in the US and abroad (many of the tracks here fall in this one-step-removed category of Juke-inspired music).  Addison Groove brings streamlined house tempo footwork; while Chicago artists like Wheez-ie and Brenmar from the Movelt Posse come with their Juke inflected club music sometimes more informed by Afrikan urban music than anything from America – one listen to 28 – Bak it In or 16 – So High will convince you.

In Europe, the UK-Funky movement is in full swing, with its obviously Afro-Caribbean derived beat propelling the dance forward, represented here by mainstays  Roska and Doc Daneeka.  in Germany artists like Mode Selector, Dark Sky, and Schlachthofbronx are formulating their own Afro-Teutonic sonic worlds, sometimes reflecting the cold and sun-deprived climate of their homeland.   There are also micro strands of European producers making direct interpretations of Afrikan styles such as Angolan Kuduro, exemplified here by Diamond Bass and Portuguese artist Roulet.  Besides proponents working within genre delineations, there are many exploring unclassifiable areas between them.  For example UKG legends Bias and Gurley’s “Roll” remixed by Blackdown is a frankenstein monster borne of Garage and Juke, Sampology with the epic and all encompassing “Transatlantic Skanking Dub”, and Gremino and Baobinga & I.D.’s hard edged mutant Afro-Bass.

Northern Tropikal is either the lastest chapter of the continuing story of the original Afrikan pulse spreading, pollinating, multiplying, or “western” urban nomads accessing deep memories of Motherland rhythm heritage within the harsh reality of concrete jungles.  Which ever perspective you choose, one thing is clear:  Afrikanized Killer Beats are on the swarm.

01 Intro Feat. The Ill Saint
02 Bias & Gurley – Roll (Blackdown’s A Debt Repaid Remix)
03 Photek – U.F.O. (Addison Groove remix)
04 Addison Groove – Make Um Bounce
05 Dark Sky – The Lick
06 The Grizzl And J. Phlip – Bakupgrl
07 Modeselector – Art & Cash (Roska Remix)
08 Wireless Sound – Chicago
09 Lars Moston & Philipe de Boyar – So Sick (Douster Remix)
10 Randomer & Fife – No Sleep
11 Headhunter – Locus Lotus
12 Roska & Untold – Long Range
13 Diamond Bass – Stereotype
14 BD1982 – Calenture (Pacheko Remix)
15 Brenmar – At It Again
16 Brenmar – So High
17 AC Slater & Mumdance – Transatlantic Riddim (Instrumental)
18 Sampology – Transatlantic Skanking Dub
19 Doc Daneeka – Drums In the Deep
20 Pariah – The Slump + XXXY – Constant
21 Same Tiba – Barbie Weed + Onyenze – Onwa Nna Na Nwa – (Schlachthofbronx Remix)
22 Brenmar – Like It Like That
23 Dillon Francis – Westside
24 Onyenze – Onwa Nna Na Nwa – (Schlachthofbronx Remix)
25 Gremino – Ruffness
26 Baobinga & I.D. – Tongue Riddim
27 Addison Groove – This Is It + Berou & Canblaster – Kapongo Dance
28 Wheez-ie – Bak It In
29 Rusko – Cockney Thug (Buraka Som Sistema Remix) + Dj Assault – Ass ‘n’ titties
30 Buckfunk 3000 and Si Begg – High Volume (VIP Mix)
31 Makongo – Angolan Kung Fu (Dubbel Dutch Remix) + Dj Godfather I Keep Bangin The Beat
32 Roulet – Oasis
33 Scuba – Ruptured (Surgeon remix)
34 30Hz Mutate(d) (Pinch Re-work) / Outro Feat. The Ill Saint