#PhotoEssay | Back When Gqom Was A Dirty Word, And Now…

One of the biggest songs on South African radio in 2016 was Babes Wodumo’s “Wololo”. Deejays previously associated with mainstream ‘house’ music have been riding the wave since, with Euphonik’s atrocious “Tholukuthi Hey” the latest addition. Bhizer’s “Gobisiqolo” is a guaranteed hit at taverns; Busiswa’s inclusion onto it helped notch it up a few drunken nights into the consciousness of party-hungry Mzansi massive.

Bhizer’s one of the few visible artists whose roots go deep in the Durban gqom scene, which has bubbled and remained ignored until Babes’ hit made it acceptable to showcase in the mainstream.

In 2017, Distruction Boyz  are on rotation in clubs and taverns. Full-capacity stadiums rattle when “Omunye” or “Mandess”, songs off of their debut, gold-certified debut album Gqom Is The Future, get played. The duo comprising Cue and Gold are on the verge of re-modelling our collective Dezemba experience.

It wasn’t always like this.

On a trip to Durban in 2014, it became clear that the reason gqom wasn’t blowing up was because the right people weren’t fucking with it. And when these people — the likes of Afrotainment and their gatekeeper friends — finally saw how the scene can benefit them, they opened the gates; cut the tape; let the kids through. In a span of 18 months, gqom moved from an Internet-only obsession with a few ‘international’ fingers dipping in for their Eurocentric fulfillment, to a genre that’s played on Ukhozi FM — a radio station which wouldn’t playlist cats’ songs back in the cut because they weren’t mixed properly enough, and because they made drug references in their lyrics.

El. Oh. El!

Blaqboy Music Presents Gqom Wave is a newly-released documentary film that attempts to centre DJ Maphorisa as the face of gqom. It accompanies his similarly-titled compilation album. Though a fine watch, it largely overlooks gqom’s central figures, in a move that seems almost deliberate in how it obfuscates the truth.

It’s evident that only certain types of kids have been let through; that there isn’t a unified movement in gqom; and that some of the names which kept the scene alive — Sbucardo da Deejay, Bhejane, oBen10 — are less likely now to be acknowledged for their contributions to this artform which thrives on minimalism.

The positive effect is that increased visibility has made it okay for unconventional artists to enter the fray. The likes of Faka, DJ Prie Nkosazana and, to a degree, Stiff Pap, Moonchild Sanelly and more, have better opportunities now than a few years back, for their interpretation of gqom to find an audience.

It’s essential to tell the alternative story; to record it, so that the instances of erasure and memory lapses so common within music scenes occur less and less. More importantly, the alternative story isn’t necessarily a single story, nor should it claim affinity to genre when, for instance, artists like Bhizer and Madanon can drop bars on a gqom beat, then ride a kwaito beat, and even dip into rap territory.

This is the look of gqom between 2014 and 2017.

RIP to DJ 031, an active member in the scene who allowed us to photograph at his party one Saturday night in July.

Bhejane | Umlazi, ’14
DJ Bonnie | Umlazi, ’14
Sbucardo da DJ | Johannesburg, ’16
Umlazi, ’14
Madanon | Umlazi, ’14
Madanon | eNanda, ’14
DJ Lag | Clermont, ’14
DJ Gukwa, ’14
oBen 10 Studio, ’14
Ceeyaah & Managerh (of oBen-10), ’14
Ceeyaah & Managerh | eNanda, ’14
Over The Moon Nightclub | Chatsworth, ’17
DJ Luvas | Chatsworth, ’17
Babes Wodumo | Johannesburg, ’16
eNanda, ’14
DJ 031 | eNanda, ’14
Naked Boyz | Durban, 17
Taxi | Durban, ’17

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