Kwaito’s looking sharp!

9 April 2003

A new documentary film about kwaito culture is spreading awareness about this uniquely South African music form around the world and creating an international market for kwaito artists.

“Sharp Sharp!”, written and directed by Aryan Kaganof, was broadcast in the Netherlands on 8 April. The first film to tell the story of kwaito, “Sharp Sharp!” contains detailed interviews with all the major musicians, producers, figureheads, media commentators, industry executives and others involved in kwaito.

“Sharp Sharp!” tells the story of a music form that burst from South Africa’s computers and synthesizers after the release from prison of Nelson Mandela in 1990.

By the time of the first democratic elections in 1994, kwaito had its first stars, Boom Shaka. Today, there is a veritable pantheon of kwaito celebrities who are idolised by millions, and kwaito is now breaking into the international market.

M’du, Zola, Arthur, Kabelo, Oskido, Don Laka and Mzambiya are just some of the artists featured in the film, which was broadcast on Holland’s prestigious RAM world culture programme.

Johannesburg-based Kaganof, who won the prize for Best Video Made In Africa in 2002 with Western4.33, is currently working on bringing “Sharp Sharp!” to South Africans as a five-part television series.

Voice of the ghetto
The music and culture of the township youth of South Africa, kwaito is the voice and language of the ghetto, speaking of the daily experiences and dreams of the first generation to come of age in the post-apartheid period.

Despite suffering a lack of recognition, and often downright disparagement from mainstream cultural institutions and figures, kwaito has forged ahead, providing employment for tens of thousands of people in the music, radio, entertainment and fashion industries.

To date, no substantial analysis of the kwaito phenomenon has been written or filmed, and the music and the scene surrounding it have often been relegated to gossip columns.

But kwaito is a force to be reckoned with. It is the site of a major sonic revolution: the dawn of the digital age in South African music.

Dominated by a radically different approach to sound, kwaito is a music of textures and repetitive modal vamping, as opposed to classical song structures. Rather than a weakness, this is kwaito’s great strength, for this is the direction that popular music culture across the world has taken since the mid-1980s and the onset of house music.

Purely SA dance music
Kwaito, then, is an addition to the library of world dance music; a uniquely South African contribution to global dance culture that is respected precisely because of its distinctive South African qualities: the languid, rolling bass lines and vocal chants that imbue this music with characteristics that are purely South African.

These chants and phrases link the music form to American hip-hop, but kwaito’s lyrics come straight from South Africa’s townships and convey the street language of these townships: the tsotsitaal, the kasitaal, the street “lingo” that is a glorious pot-pourri of all 11 official languages that puts paid to the apartheid mythology of separate development.

Kwaito is a wild, eclectic mix-up, a boiling, cooking brew of language and sound that could have happened nowhere but in South Africa.

Source: Franki Hills

Using SAinfo material Want to use this article in your publication or on your website?
See: Using SAinfo material