South African Protest Songs Find Different Themes
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) - South African music,
long associated with the anti-apartheid struggle, is changing
tempo to target social issues like crime and the impact of AIDS
in the fledgling democracy.
With about 10 percent of the country's population infected
with HIV, a 30 percent unemployment level and one of the
highest murder rates in the world, young South African
songwriters are finding plenty of compelling material.
Where songs like "Watch out Verwoerd," a warning to the
architect of segregation, once filled township streets, today's
songs carry lyrics like "Ubani Okumule Inzinja na?" (Who let
the criminals out to abuse us?).
Singers like Mapaputsi and Zola put across their biting
social commentary using a music style called "kwaito" --
township slang for "fierce language" -- hugely popular among
the young people who make up around a third of the population.
"Kwaito wants to turn the gun into a microphone," Zola says.
Kwaito performers chant lyrics over backing tracks in a
style similar to U.S. hip hop music, but with distinctly South
"I would totally disagree with anyone who says Kwaito
emulates American music," says Rudeboy Paul Mnisi, who has cut
his own CD mixing a tough new beat with old classics by South
African artists like Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
MASEKELA GOES MODERN
Hugh Masekela, whose trumpet sounds became synonymous with
calls for an end to white domination, has recently teamed up
with kwaito singers to offer a jazz version of their songs.
"If you are concerned about what's going on around you, you will talk about it in whatever format," Masekela told Reuters.
The government has ruled that radio stations must play a
minimum of 40 percent local content, up from 20 percent
previously, aiming to limit the dominance of American imports
as indigenous artists struggle to match their marketing might.
"The local industry is growing at a rate of 6 to 10 percent
every year...there is no growth in local genres like pop rock
that imitate international artists," an official from Sony
Corporation's South Africa subsidiary said.
"People want something that has an Africanism about it like Afrikaans music or kwaito or African jazz."
Zola's records have achieved platinum sales of more than
80,000 in South Africa and he says music is not about race
anymore, but about a youth which needs to define itself in
"Kids no longer just listen to one radio station, they
listen to music, they go to the same clubs," said Zola, who
took his name from the deprived part of Soweto where he grew
"Today, love is the struggle -- with that comes sex, comes
AIDS, comes abuse. So ours is a journey of self-identification
that is nothing like what the older generation experienced."
His song "Tshi-tshilam," for example, is a message to girls
not to be seduced into having sex just for the sake of having a
In 2002, some 50,000 cases of rape were reported in South
Africa, one of the highest figures in the world and an acute
problem when combined with the AIDS crisis and a traditionally
Zola hosts his own television show which tackles issues
like the clash between tradition and modernity, education and
relationships. A recent program followed a woman taking a
NEW NATIONAL IDENTITY
Even South Africa's version of the hit television series "Pop Stars" is moving toward a more locally based theme.
"In the past the criticism that (Pop Stars) is heavily
American influenced could be relevant, but I think our new
format has helped to change that," Nkhensani Manganyi, one of
the judges on the program, said.
Manganyi runs her own fashion label, Stoned Cherrie, whose
trademark style is to put images of apartheid-era heroes and
heroines onto contemporary T-shirts and cutaway tops.
"We want the youth to know who the icons were, what they
were talking about and how they fit into our present
situation," Manganyi said. "We are a new nation negotiating our
identity and that is incredibly exciting."
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