Despite the variety in languages, South Africa is brought together through a language that transcends all boundaries: Music. A number of genres exist in the South African Music Scene but the most popular appears to be House Music. House Music has become the sound of young Democratic South Africa. In fact, nowhere else in the world is house music so deeply woven into the fabric of the everyday life. Today House is played everywhere in South Africa, cars, taxis, clubs and so on.
Where did it all begin?
It all started in Chicago’s Southside in 1977, when a new kind of club opened. This new Chicago Club called “The Warehouse” gave house music its name. Frankie Knuckles, who opened The Warehouse, mixed old disco classics and new Euro beat pop. House was the first direct descendant of disco. In comparison with disco, House was “deeper”, “rawer” and more designed to make people dance. House music did not have its origins just in American Music. The popularity of European music, specifically English electronic pop like Depeche Mode and Soft Cell and the earlier, more disco based sounds of Giorgio Moroder, Klein and MBO, as well as Italian productions, they all gave rise to house music.
10 years later this cultural product called ‘house’ was travelling beyond the American Housing Projects and settling into South African Townships. The increase in access to overseas sound material in the early 1990s led to house music’s growth locally. This is where house found a home.
At this point this sound was popularly known as “International Music”. This is when this genre started taking root in South Africa and shaping its identity. Music from the likes of Frankie Knuckles & Steve “Silk” Hurley were polluting our airwaves. This was the era of the popular “bubble gum” music where artists such as Mercy Phakela and the late Brenda Fassie were very popular. House music culture then exploded into the South African consciousness after the end of apartheid, in a wild, new variant of the sound, known as kwaito. A typical house beat was normally programmed at 120 beats per minute (bpm) and local Artists such as Arthur Mafokate and DJ Oskido slowed down the tempo of these beats from 120 bpm to a mere 90 bpm which gave birth to the sub-genre of house known as Kwaito. I am not suggesting that this was the end of international influence into our local house scene. At this point music was used to tell stories of the people. In the early 90′s, the so-called Kwaito music emerged as the voice of the nation used to speak up against political and social injustice.
During this period (from early 1990s to early 2000s) “International Music” and Kwaito dominated airwaves in South Africa as the country was going through a transition from an apartheid regime to a democratic South Africa.
Popular South African DJs like DJ Fresh, Monde, Glen Lewis, Tim White, Christos and Vinny Da Vincy were introducing us to more international producers through their respective “Compilations”. Internationally produced tracks such as “Nick Holder’s Summer Daze” were short of becoming South Africa’s national anthem due to its popularity. Tracks still popular today by the way. The 2000s saw the South African House scene grow at a fast rate.
Local DJs and amateur producers were experimenting with the sound and this, I believe, gave birth to South African House music as we know it today. South African House was characterized by a heavy bass, “church-ified” synthesized sound of classic Chicago house and some euro-techy sounds heard coming out of Germany and England. It incorporates syncopated, repetitive rhythms, traditional African instruments and sounds and lyrics sung in South African Languages. Then in 2001 Soul Candi Records opened its doors in Birnam, north of Johannesburg. Access to international house music was made possible for average music lovers through vinyls which could be bought at the store. The demand for records was extremely high as the desire to make DJ’ing a full time career was increasing amongst the South African youths.
This move gave a lot of the other “amateur” producers’ confidence to release their music and the South African house scene grew bigger with a number of sub-divisions emerging. House was then sub-divided into what was known as Durban Kwaito, Tribal House, “Commercial Dance Music” and of course Deep House. This meant a bigger market was available for house music in South Africa and those seemingly scarce opportunities of making a living out of making and mixing house music in clubs were increasing in a major way. International DJs noticed this gap and took full advantage of it.
Big Name International DJs and Producers started touring South Africa which contributed to strengthening South Africa’s position as a number one house consuming nation in the world. Nick Holder, Ralf Gum, Rocco, Atjazz and Louie Vega are some of the big names who have toured South Africa, even been hosted as interview guests on VOW FM. All the above mentioned DJs have since visited the country on more than one occasion as they all agree on one thing: they do not sell more records anywhere in the world as they do in South Africa. German DJ and Producer Ralf Gum have since applied for local citizenship in South Africa.
Today we see a number of international record labels signing local producers and releasing their music on international platforms such as Beatport and Traxsource. Soul Candi is still the leading distributor in regards to international producers on the local front; however, a few more local record labels are signing and distributing for international producers. I hope through this brief summary of the transformation of “International Music” to what we know as house today will give you an idea as to what house music is to South Africans – the World’s biggest house music market per capita.