April 2nd, 2007

Videyoga #4355: Kwaito Wedding to Popeye’s Parkinglot

Now that’s some footwurk —

&here’s the Chi-town version: jukin over 80s power-ballad refixes —


  • 1. Erin P  |  April 2nd, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    I know you are an ethnomusicologist (bless you), but I cannot resist asking you how you even know about kwaito. And how did you stumble upon this video?

    I am an undergrad at Columbia College (just up the road from you) working on my Cultural Studies thesis on kwaito music. It has been difficult finding cultural references to kwaito despite my obsessive digging.

    Cheers to you for a consistently interesting blog.

  • 2. wayneandwax  |  April 2nd, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Hi Erin,

    I try to keep my ears and eyes open to all the music in the world, and I’ve been interested in kwaito for a while now, esp as an example of hip-hop gone global (and localized in an interesting way). I can’t say that I’m any sort of expert on the genre, though I’ve been listening at least since Louise Meintjes slipped me a cassette or two back in grad school (even if, at the time, I found it a little too cheesy for my tastes). More recently, I only know what I’ve been able pick up from the internet, from radio programs, from gmail chats with kids in Zimbabwe, etc. This video in particular was brought to my attn by a student who wrote a term paper for me on kwaito last quarter.

    I’ll be curious to hear how your thesis turns out. I’ve yet to see much sustained academic analysis of kwaito and the discourse around it. Not sure what you mean by “cultural references” (what’s not a cultural reference?), but I can see how this wedding video might be very interesting to you. Gotta love YouTube for that. Don’t miss the comments, which I imagine are even more interesting if you understand Zulu?/Afrikaans?

  • 3. Erin P  |  April 2nd, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for the quick reply. I agree that most everything is a cultural reference, but I was indeed meaning a youtube video, blog entries, radio programs, etc.

    I would be interested to read what your student wrote and see the resources they were able to identify. I was in S.A. last year and was able to pick up some great CDs and have more on the way from a friend who is visiting right now.

    I have been in contact with some students in Port Elizabeth, S.A. and I get the sense that kwaito is a little retro to some of them. I will admit that I am into it way more for it’s reference to early Chicago House than to Hip-Hop, although there is no denying the Hip-Hop elements. But it is interesting, what kwaito means to us and what kwaito means to the youth of South Africa.

    If you have any more resources to share on kwaito, I would love them. I will be presenting my paper on May 11 at Columbia-so I am immersing myself in all things kwaito at the moment.

  • 4. wayneandwax  |  April 2nd, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    I too find kwaito’s embrace of house/techno style deeply interesting. There are not many genres that are able to reconcile so well the often opposing musical aesthetics of hip-hop and house (tho the short-lived hip-house of the early 90s, obv — and today’s Chicago juke! — both come to mind). I’d be really curious to know more about the early years of kwaito and how the hybrid style was forged, and what young people in S.A. thought about the various genres they were synthesizing (never mind how it interacted with mbaqanga, etc).

    It’s definitely a good idea to try to get a sense of how young people in S.A. think about kwaito today (though I imagine it differs depending on region), and how it competes with other local and global styles for subcultural cache. I imagine there are parallels there to what I found in Kingston, Jamaica in terms of how youth embrace, reject, or fuse hip-hop with reggae, etc. (&yeah, Kwaito’s international resonance would seem to be a very different thing indeed.)

    In terms of other refs on kwaito, I can only point you to my del.icio.us links for that tag, which includes the resources that my students turned up as well as other things I have encountered here and there. Wish there were more, but that’s all I’ve got for now.

    You might find kwaito’s presence and representation (“slow techno rules South Africa”!) in this online audio “installation” interesting as well:

  • 5. Birdseed  |  April 3rd, 2007 at 1:21 am

    Ahh, an ethnomusicologist studying a genre only after it’s on the verge of dying. That’s never happened before. ;) :p

    I’m curious though – what do the kids in PE think is modern today? Hip-hop?

  • 6. wayneandwax  |  April 3rd, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    > Ahh, an ethnomusicologist studying a genre only after it’s on the verge of dying.

    Hey now! Ethnomusicologists study all music — alive, dying, dead, reborn.

  • 7. kevin r hollo  |  April 3rd, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    No one’s said a bit about the dance!

    Gotta ask where you came up with the vid of Chicago steppers? Not that they’re *stepping,* or anything close, but damn! That work is lightning quick, certainly faster than the average b-boy feet. Interesting how the phil collins laser speed is SOOOO much faster tempo (and pitch!)-wise than what the kwaito dancers are moving to. Can you speak to this a bit? How/why does slow techno rule South Africa? If there are links to Chi-town house, why is the beat in that vid smack more of Elephant Man-type production?


  • 8. wayneandwax  |  April 3rd, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    You got me, Kev. This was a sparsely contextualized post. Just quite busy these days.

    As for juke, there is definitely a connection to steppers-style somewhere in there, and certainly to Chicago house, but the kids today do it in a really hopped up way (to their own hopped up, fruityloopy remixes of all kinds of things), with analogs in Harlem’s Chicken Noodle Soup, Detroit’s Jit, Philly’s Wu-Tang, and Memphis’s Buckin — all fairly frenetic dances to (in most cases) techno-infused hip-hop (or vice versa) and exploding all over the (African-American) YouTubosphere (just search any of those names).

    I think I might have first seen this video via a tip from my man Kevin Driscoll, but there are lots and lots up on YouTube, often set in bedrooms or rec-rooms. The Popeye’s parkinglot is a helluva venue though. Down home, knamean. Just last week I saw from my porch some of my neighbords jukin right on the corner. DJ Clent’s “What Have You Done?” was blasting out of someone’s house or car and one kid was just footwurkin like mad. It’s quite a little subculture here in (black) Chicago. I hope to (learn & share&) write more about it soon.

    Juke and kwaito don’t share much musically, except that they both have roots in hip-hop and house. But while juke takes house’s 120-130bpm span and speeds it into the 145-155 range, kwaito slows it down toward hip-hop’s relatively loping tempos (90-110 to my ears — but don’t quote me on that). Kwaito has been a big music for South African youth for a long time now. In the 90s it was a lot more housey, and quite resembled hip-house in some cases, with rap styles — as happens all over Africa (and the wider world) — crossing between hip-hop and dancehall flows. Kwaito has stayed in sync with (as it has competed with) hip-hop and dancehall since its inception, so it’s no surprise that the genre’s housey hip-hop beats might lean toward a likkle bashment from time to time. As for why “slow techno rules South Africa” (to quote /rupture and Maga Bo), I can’t really say. I’m quite curious about how&why kwaito producers fastened onto house, which has, of course, long been a widely traveled genre itself, if not marked as “black” in the same way as hip-hop and reggae (and thus having, I’d argue, a necessarily different currency in the immediate post-apartheid years in S.A., or any time&place really).

  • 9. erich  |  April 4th, 2007 at 8:46 am

    wayne –
    now you’re gonna make me get to work. i’ve got some footage i shot on my still cam when i was in SA of Zola (kwaito’s king) and his dancers at this benefit show. must get this up on the web, tho i’m gonna have to drop his track on top cuz the sound is so bad. i’ve also been getting submissions for calabashmusic.com from various indy artists in SA, including video. i’ve been slammed for a while but will try and get some of these into the webosphere as well . . .

    from what i can tell from my forays into SA and from my contacts there, kwaito is still alive, but not nearly the scene it was. hip hop (both the underground and the bling bling styles) are rising, both radio and live scenes. dj culture is alive and well in SA, so you know all styles are getting loved, remixed, mashed, etc.

    local styles rule though, and there are different scenes in jozi, pretoria, durban, PE, cape town and elsewhere, so i think it is difficult to talk about any music in SA on a national level and have those statements be accurate . . .

  • 10. Birdseed  |  April 4th, 2007 at 9:53 am

    This is just speculation from thousands of kilometers away, but couldn’t kwaito’s acceptance of house be related to its immediate predecessor? In the eighties, black South Africa’s most popular youth style was something called bubblegum disco, which borrows features from euro disco and US electric boogie. It also shares a number of features with early kwaito, most obviously in this context the slower-than-disco four on the floor drum beat.

    Since Kwaito has always been a DJ style (it started out with slowing down house records, sources I’ve read suggest), I don’t see it as a far-fetched to think DJs would have found house a natural dancefloor fit to the earlier style. Just like, I guess, house tailed onto Hi-NRG in Britain, italo in Italy and balearic beat in Ibiza.

  • 11. SAChoirgirl  |  April 4th, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Great video, Wayne.
    In response to Erin’s request for sources, Lara Allen wrote an article on the political resonance of Kwaito in the post apartheid era for a Cape Town based journal called Social Dynamics. You can access the article http://www.africanstudies.uct.ac.za/downloads/30_2allen_p82.zip. Also, the language in most of the comments is skamto, a language from the townships that combines several languages. It is also called Tsotsitaal, which translates as Gangster language.
    Good luck with the paper, Erin. I’m at NYU, and so I’d love to come up to Columbia to hear it.

  • 12. Birdseed  |  April 5th, 2007 at 7:47 am

    I was browsing through South African music videos from the eighties (inspired by this thread) and came accross this Yvonne Chaka Chaka vid which perfectly illustrates what I was trying to say earlier. Isn’t this quite a bit proto-kwaito?


  • 13. wayneandwax  |  April 5th, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    I definitely see/hear what you’re saying, Birdseed. The earlier engagement with (post-disco) international pop, including 80s reggae and hip-hop, no doubt provides some of the sonic foundation for kwaito. Still, I’d love to see some interviews with kwaito’s pioneer producers to confirm some of these conjectures about influence and identification.

    &thanks to everyone else for the links and comments here. I’ve enjoyed this thread a great deal. Looking fwd to what y’all are variously cooking up. Do let me know when things are ready for viewing, etc.

  • 14. Erin P  |  April 5th, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Oooh. I am so happy to see all this dialogue surrounding kwaito. Thank you Wayne for the gentle reminder to return to the thread. I have gotten carried away in my writing the last few days.

    As for kids in PE, it seems that they are for the most part into hip-hop and commercial rap. 50 Cent, Ludacris with the occasional Dead Prez or Talib fan. I posed a question on that blog: Who luvs Kwaito? I got one response. These are students who are 18-20 and don’t seem to dig that sound like they do American hip-hop and rap.

    There is a distinct difference in kwaito of the late 90’s and kwaito of today. The sound is much harder, more reminiscent of hip-hop than the early sounds which sounded like they were straight out of a UK or Chicago rave. My love of house music is in fact what attracted me to kwaito. There still are some producers who are making house-y kwaito (O’dameesta is my fave).

    Thank you SAchoirgirl for the article. At a glance, it looks much like the brand of research I am doing. I will certainly keep you all updated on the progress of my work.

    Wayne, there is a documentary called “Sharp!Sharp!” that has some wonderful interviews with Arthur, Zola and many others. It does confirm that kwaito is a product of bubblegum (disco) and also asserts kwaitos place in the political discourse amoung black youth living in the townships. I found it through yet another blog, the kagablog. Here is the kwaito thread

  • 15. Erin P  |  April 5th, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    I forgot to mention that I own “Sharp! Sharp!” which I requested from the filmmaker. It is about 30 minutes long and I would be willing to lend it out. Or maybe we could have a Chicago screening and discussion on kwaito?

  • 16. wayneandwax  |  April 5th, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    What you describe in PE sounds pretty similar to what I found in Jamaica — a great love among young people for today’s “hottest” commercial hip-hop (though strikingly, in JA, there was very little acquaintance with the more “underground” acts you mention), at times making for an embrace of “foreign” style that was quite conspicuous, and contentious, in such a “roots” conscious place. Of course, in JA the local style (reggae) has perhaps a stronger pull on local tastes than kwaito in SA, which may be related to each style’s international resonance (or lack thereof). How people negotiate these overlapping identifications in different places, how the local thus intersects with the global, is of great interest to me.

    As for the doc, I’d love to check it out myself. Not sure who else we could involve in a screening, tho. What/where were you thinking? (I’m afraid SAchoirgirl mistook Columbia College for Columbia University — she’s in NY — so she won’t be able to join us.)

  • 17. SAChoirgirl  |  April 6th, 2007 at 8:35 am

    Oh damn. I did think Erin was at Columbia University. Oh well, if you do all land up here sometime in the next while, I’m sure I could host a screening at NYU. :-)

  • 18. Erin P  |  April 6th, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Wayne, I have had interest from a few others to have a screening, but I am in no place to organize a screening right now. For the time being, if it interests you, I could mail it on down to HP.

    Thank you SAChoirgirl. If I end up in New York, I will let you know. Are you teaching in the ethnomusicology department at NYU? Also, I did read the article you sent last night and I can see it will be quite helpful. After I recovered from the fact that it is indeed nearly exact to my thesis, I realized it will be an invaluable resource.


  • 19. wayneandwax  |  April 6th, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Sounds good, EP. I’ll send you my snailmail via email.

    Also, if you check southafricanchoirgirl.blogspot.com, you’ll see that our friend and interlocutor is a (first year) graduate student (in ethno at NYU).

  • 20. curm  |  April 8th, 2007 at 9:01 pm


  • 21. wayneandwax.com » O&hellip  |  March 15th, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    […] This one’s (more) interesting (to me right now)! Whereas the last one you sent (which I blogged back in April) seems fairly typical to me in terms of kwaito musical style and perhaps dance style (though […]


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

Tag Cloud

academic aesthetics af-am africa anthro arab art audio baby babylonia beatresearch blogging bookish boston brazil cambridge caribbean chicago commerce copywrong cumbia dance dubstep ethno europe events funkcarioca gigs global globalghettotech hip-hop humor industry internet interview jamaica jazz juke kwaito latin lifey linkthink mashup media mexico middleeast mixx nation newyork panama politricks pop public puertorico r&b race radio reggae reggaeton remix review riddimmeth0d rock sampling seasonal sexuality soundscape tech techno traxx UK video whirledmusic worldmusic youth



Creative Commons License

chacarron chacarronchaca-riggity-ron