First of all – I love kwaito. The music, the language, the attitude, the culture. Secondly, harde! No hard feelings to whoever might get offended. This is my opinion piece; the way I see things. Should you feel otherwise, feel free to comment or otherwise write your own opinion piece. Since this write-up is about decline it will be more negative than most of us would like so it is what it is.
After reading an article on ‘5 things that killed hip hop’ my mind again revisited the monologue on what killed kwaito. Like many lay analysts I see a lot of similarities between kwaito and hip hop so the autopsies might have a few points in common.
Kwaito is dead. I hope and pray for a revival of that, you know, real Mzansi urban youth vibe music. That kick ass music with those intoxicating bass lines and half-rap half-spoken verses that made you f*cking alive and proud to be a product and resident of the hood. Kasi. Well for now you’ll have to dig up your CD collection and feast on nostalgia because for now, kwaito music is dead. By the way, I am not an old fart hanging onto the past glory of kwaito. I would rather have new kwaito to listen to. The ‘classics’ are too small a list and radio continues to irritatingly milk them. We need new classics to come out every few months but how is that going to happen with only one mainstream kwaito act making a noise?
As much as I am one for obscure (read ‘can’t get’) and under loved underground tunes I know that it is radio and commerce that is the life blood of a music genre and culture. Discussing that barely known Chakaroski album or that mildly interesting Amaskumfete trivia is cool, but we always need to have those bangers, or even crazy gossip about a genre and its stars. Sometime before 2010 the hits and the attention started fizzling. Zola was more of a Sunday Sun star than a kwaito and TV star. Brickz had been quiet for too long after that insane debut. Brown Dash’s star began to wane. I’m sho @TshepoStapura would agree but hey… Yfm agreed and hence shockingly, but understandably, they canned the Kwaito 9-nine. Dude, if you don’t know, Yfm and kwaito is like a township and night school ya ma-dice.
So, who or what killed kwaito music? In short we all did. We sucked our beloved dry and did not invest in its future. For the purposes of a higher word count I continue, in a more intelligentsia prose of course. Here is what killed kwaito.
The saying goes something like, “too many chiefs and not enough Indians”. In kwaito everybody became a record executive, and a recording superstar at the same time. Everybody shunned ‘the machine’ and went ‘independent’. With only one album, or sometimes just a demo, everybody owned a label. The prospect of keeping all that cash in-house; think about it! Skimp on the A-grade producer – use DJ No Name. Skimp on the song rewriting and rehearsals – do 1 takes to save studio fees. Skimp on experienced A&R and executive producers – who says an album needs things like themes, concepts and a cohesive thread? Man, in the end our top notch kwaito artists came out sounding like how the haters used to describe kwaito – repetitive, uncreative and too simple. Kwaito got too smart and cut out experienced management. The quality of output became sloppier by the day and fans just stopped buying into it. Kwaito ran like another kasi-based enterprise gone wrong – the spaza shop.
Being a township sound about township life it only makes sense that Soweto dictated kwaito. Zola section in particular ruled in terms of the stars that came out. Zola is thugnificent; it’s hard and gritty, and the street language is Zulu. You don’t look and sound the part then you’re a victim – ask my friends from the Sotho sections of Tladi and Moletsane. Zola boys kept kwaito hot with that rugged street slang, stories of crime and regret, dreams of making it out the gutter. You know, that good hood ish.
But where them sisters at? The suburban cats? The regular okes? The mature kwaitonians? You know, after a while everyone started sounding the same. Even Tswana speaking fellas tried their luck but we could smell their fake Zulu from a mile away and we dismissed them. And we dismissed the girls from Boom Shaka and Nestum. When we moved out the hood and into the ‘burbs kwaito wouldn’t let us kick it. I mean TC tried hey. He had a serious publicity game and Thebe/ Kalawa showed him much love. Why didn’t TC get any love back? Even if he sucked, I’m sure we could have developed other ‘different’ talents from other townships. With the crazy rate of urbanisation that we have experienced for the last 25 years we should have kwaito stars representing from Seshego to Mdantsane.
With everyone looking and sounding the same kwaito got stale. Fatal move for a youth-oriented music genre. Let’s get a diverse cast of artists, producers, locations and executives for Kwaito 2.0.
While the internet afforded every wannabee the chance to be seen and heard in America back here in Mzansi we shunned it. Too much of a good thing (in USA) killed hip hop, here too little of it has killed our music. Sadly our music industry shunned the internet until it was too late. With their resources the industry could have used their first mover advantage to direct us into the path that would serve them best, that is interactive and legal. Instead they ignored the internet at their own peril and here we are. Their potential customers are disconnected and illegally feasting off the industry’s output.
In 2008 I stopped buying CDs and instead started buying and downloading off the net but getting South African content was a tough pistachio to crack. For me, and the most of the rest of the youth/world, getting increasingly digital became a way of life. Not all of us have the time or privilege of going to Jet Music in the CBD to go and hopefully find the latest releases. Modern life does not allow that – but the internet allows us to be everywhere all the time. Websites, online stores, blogs, messenger apps and other social platforms allow us to interact and be a part of whatever movement we choose. Insufficient investment has been made into the online side of things and now kwaito is at the risk of being left in the past along with bubblegum music.
In 2002, when Skwatta Kamp released Khut n Joyn could you have foreseen SA hip hop exceeding kwaito in terms of popularity? As they say, numbers don’t lie. Check the stats for tweets, gigs, sales; hip hop be killing it yo! Hip hop made the greater investment – blogs, streets, websites, magazines. We are well and truly into the Information Age – is Kwaito 2.0 loading yet?
From where I stood as an outsider the late 1990s to the mid 2000s seemed like kwaito paradise. Finally kwaito got the shine it deserved – money, popularity and even a crowd with Madiba. Tjo, kwaito stars even started having drug problems! Too much of that paper I guess.
Cheap psychology would lead me to say that our kwaito stars came from financially poor backgrounds hence they could not cope with the money thrown at them. Nor the attention. Nor the panties. Another stereotype would indicate that the white powers at the record labels exploitted the kwaito boom and ran off with the loot while they still could. But what do I know? I would expect those profiting from this great product to tweak and develop it further so that they could milk it for more years to come (see Omo detergent).
From where I stand it seems like there was too much easy money for all parties involved. Labels skimmed on investing in their stars (learning music, planning albums, financial and emotional training) and the stars skimmed likewise. People went into the recording booth and just did it with a condescending attitude for the end customers, i.e. “they are too simple to appreciate good music” and “we are hot, and high, and rich – of course they’ll love it!”
They say money is the root of all evil. Did it kill kwaito too?
“Kwaito has been called the music that defined the generation that came of age after apartheid. Its pulsing dance beat evolved from styles such as mbaqanga and dancehall, as well as house and disco. It can also be viewed as a cultural product of the societal norms and historical context of the townships of South Africa which gave black people in the township a point of reference for their social situation and cultural norms to be understood, because back in the 90s it was the main form of self-expression and a way of life—it was the way many South Africans dress, speak, and dance. It was a street style as lifestyle, where the music reflects life in the townships, much the same way hip hop reflects life in the American ghetto.” Khuliso “Khukz” Maano, 2014.
Dress, speak, dance, cultural product, black people, township, self expression. Those are some of the words used in defining kwaito. Those words could also easily fit in defining culture, and to me that what kwaito represents – a culture. Where as people live and ultimately die no matter what, intangibles ideas/feelings/things can live forever but for that to happen we need to believe in them.
When Mandoza came out with weaker follow up albums did we believe in him? When M’du tried to be more musical and mature with it did we show our belief in him? When kids started dreaming of being kwaito stars did we invest in their knowledge of music and get them the required equipment? Do we have popular platforms that discuss and encourage kwaito in any depth? Don’t mention the 10 sentence review on new albums in your Sunday paper. Awfully shallow and without a clear rating. The clichéd interviews, “Who are you featuring on your new album? Who did you work with?”. Come on! Any kwaito-specific music and talk platforms in the media? Blogs? Shops and retailers? No. No. No.
Kwaito developed into a beautiful tree with the sweetest tasting fruit but instead of nourishing, pruning, reproducing and cultivating a kwaito farm full of these trees we ate off that tree until it got old and went barren. We consumed kwaito. To its death.