South Africa’s musical heritage

Filed under : Music

The Republic of South Africa is a country in Southern Africa that enjoys a coastline on the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It is famed for its diversity in cultures and languages, including those of native African and European origin, and therefore also for its diverse musical offerings. The music created and enjoyed here is of both popular and folk forms. This article is a short description of the music of South Africa.

The local talent of South Africa was first brought to the world’s attention by the Christian missionaries, who also first brought formal musical training to the country. The musician that wrote the national anthem ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ (“God Bless Africa”) was one of these first musicians. By the turn of the 20th century South African cities like Cape Town became bug enough to attract foreign musicians, such as the American ragtime players.

Jazz plays a big part in South African musical history, with musicians such as Hugh Masekela, Jonathan Butler and Jonas Gwangwa being some of the great musicians produced. The Jazz of the 1960s can be categorised as two kinds. There were the popular dance bands like the Elite Swingsters, and then the more experimental jazz that took people like John Coltrane as influence. John Mehegan, the American pianist organised a session in a recording studio in 1959 with some of the best musicians in South Africa at the time, and what resulted was Africa’s first two jazz LPs.

Another popular form of music in South Africa is Kwaito. This is a new genre that was developed in Johannesburg in the late 90s. It is a popular form of dance music among the young black peoples of the country. Its sound is that of house music, combined with African sounds, and its distinctively slow tempo has lead it to be described by the famous producer Diplo as “slowed-down garage music”.

Supposedly linked to the freedom from Apartheid, the last ten years or so has seen a resurgence in popularity for Afrikaans music. The sheer amount of influences in the South African music scene are too numerous to give an exhaustive account of, but what is clear is that it is, musically speaking, and incredibly rich and varied place.

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