100 Greatest Kwaito Songs From The 90s And Early 00s

Around March, I was asked by Apple Music to compile a set of 9 playlists, each containing 100 songs, across different genres. The series is called Mzansi Essentials 100, and consists of black music ranging from Kwela to Jazz to Mbaqanga, Maskandi, to House and Hip Hop. But it’s the Kwaito playlist I’m most grateful for being granted the opportunity to contribute towards. The genre and its many hits tells the story of my own childhood, from the heady 90s when Arthur and BOP, Thebe and Alaska, Boom Shaka and more, were the shit; to the early 2000s when Zola, Bricksz and Brown Dash were the word on these streets.

Additionally, Keleketla! Library released a vinyl pressing of selected tunes from the That’i Cover Orchestra events they’ve held over the years. I was asked to contribute recollections of my own relationship with the music, and those words, alongside esteemed writers such as Lindokuhle Nkosi and Kagiso Mnisi, now form part of the booklet accompanying that set.

The playlist can be streamed here, while words from the compilation are below.

Maseru, 1995

Blasting through the broken back window of the housing complex next door is a bassline I’ll keep hearing all summer — the undulating sub to Mdu’s “YU4Me”, as I’ll later learn. Kwaito’s all the rage and the government’s pissed. Ausi Sharon Dee keeps telling us that local is lekker, while tat’ uMadiba makes pronouncements on Boom Shaka’s braids, and how they shouldn’t overpower the length of their hot leather pants. Words like skimpy, and phrases like music-without-a-message, are thrown about, aimlessly at first. Relax, our Chiskops tell em ole bums.

 

I’m hearing Kaffir on the radio and attending concerts at the stadium. I’m missing out on street bashes and late-nite grooves because, fuck, what’s an 8 year-old doing at those? I’m seeing TKZee on the television; buying Trompies’ and BOP’s cassette tapes; marveling at Red by the poolside, the yin to Bongo Maffin’s yen. Makeba’s a vibe, yes — rare and kwaaified, no Mafikizolo shit here.

 

This is my inauguration into the house of the free. Kwaito’s a revelation.

 

Pantsula’s not for life, it is life. Zola’s as much a state of mind as it is the hood-turned-highbrow suburban coke-sniffing, free-wheelin’ rags-to-riches tale. Fuck whitey and his entire infrastructure, this is our house.

 

BOP are my icons and Brenda’s your fada!

 

Senyaka and Molelekwa are kwaito. Laka is kwaito. Katsaitis is up there, with them, helping usher in a new era of kool alongside Lebo the Great. DJs are at work indeed, mashing and smashing things, crashing the dancefloor with number after number of relentless bangers. And who’s to shield us from all of this if not our big brother-cum-president Thebe, guiding us through the basics of uk’shela.

 

Ha re nyofisane bbz, for real!

 

Cape Town, 2011 (?)

You left us amidst the mid of tempos, as DJ Glen Lewis and the House of Music would have it. You had ceased to exist, apparently.

 

But today, yo, it feels like your rumored transition was but a bad trip; a ludicrous nightmare; a terrible joke. Because ‘Masello’s show-and-tell, in the company of those brothers — Makonga, Simz, Mister Dyer et. al — is proof that nah, you’ve always been here: cruise-shippin’, controlling tingz, keeping the groove in check.

 

Jozi, 2013

From the first note, the audience was treated to traces of TKZee, hints of Busi Mhlongo, and outright verbal pronunciations of M’du Masilela. I’m sure that Jacknife got the live treatment, but cannot really tell since Lebo Mathosa decided to re-incarnate through vocalist Phumla Siyobi’s perfect styles (the other vocalist was Smash Mellow from Impande Core). Kwaito may not have survived in its original format – what with over-arching influences from tribal house, mid-tempo, and other derivatives – but the collective experience, the sheer elation of hearing the songs, enabled all who were ‘aweh’ in its heyday to bond over this inexplicable maze of the random, the unique, and indeed the indefinable. Did kwaito reach the proverbial ‘next step’ already a torn and tattered, half-dead anomaly? Could this translation of its hard-coded kasi lingo be what it needs to be hip again? Is there need for such revivalist approaches?

 

Now

It’s freedom, not your transition, that was a bad trip. Fees still haven’t fallen. Everyone’s pissed at Madiba. Rap only cares to take and take from you. It doesn’t give back. Some of your greatest sons are wife beaters and convicted rapists. What the fuck fam, I though we were gonna be for life? Or is this house Thath’i Cover’s orchestrating a new lease?

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