“It speaks to an ancient history”. Styles like afrohouse, gqom and amapiano are thriving – but with ‘half-baked white kids getting a lot more airplay’, South Africa’s inequalities still hold the dance scene back. Marcus Barnes, the Guardian. December 2020.
Many people got their first taste of South African dance music this year via six Angolans dancing in their backyard, dinner plates in hand. Their viral video, with casual but masterful moves set to Jerusalema by South African producer Master KG, created a global dance craze; the track ended up all over Radio 1 this autumn and topped streaming charts across Europe.
Jerusalema is just one track amid what has now become arguably the most vibrant and innovative dance music culture on the planet. In South Africa, dance music is pop music, from townships like Soweto and KwaDabeka to cities like Durban and Cape Town. The country has 11 official languages, each with their own cultural practices, and even the national anthem of the so-called Rainbow Nation is comprised of the country’s five most commonly spoken: Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English. Out of this rich cultural heritage, and in a country that has long had distinct dance styles like jaiva, marabi, kwela and mbaqanga, has come wave after wave of astonishing work.
There’s afrohouse, brimming with emotion and tribal drums; gqom, with its edgy stripped-back rhythms; shangaan, a high speed, whimsical take on indigenous folk; amapiano, a slower paced hybrid of deep house, R&B and the earlier kwaito style; plus ever more splinters and hybrids, all rooted in the country’s Black communities. But Johannesburg DJ and producer Da Kruk says South Africa’s infamous racial and economic inequalities are still holding these scenes back: “You still find half-baked white kids getting a lot more airplay, more corporate buy-ins and more sponsorships than very talented, hard working Black kids because corporate South Africa is still in white hands.”