Brenda Fassie. Photo by Gallo Immages

By Nathi Ngwenya

It would be amiss to have a word about South African music without having an appreciation for its integral ties to the country’s history.
As Melanie Triegaardt, Spotify’s head of music strategy and operations in Sub-Saharan Africa, correctly observed in an opinion piece on “A country’s history is so often told through its arts and music – most notably the songs its people have sung on their journey through time.
“South Africa has a rich culture of music and singing about freedom and for the past 28 years that sound has grown, evolved and told many new stories in the country’s streets.”
To further drive the point home, Triegaardt asserted that irrespective of what stage of freedom South Africans have located themselves in the last 28 years, “music has remained an enduring thread of commonality and even unity in the midst of societal challenges”.
She said: “Long before the days of music streaming, the end of apartheid collided head-on with the rise of kwaito, spearheaded by the likes of Oscar “Oskido” Mdlongwa who took inspiration from international House music beats, slowing them down and infusing them with local genres and township slang.”
As stated by data captured over the past three months by Spotify, kwaito continues to reverberate locally and internationally.
“Over the past 90 days, streams were generated as far and wide as countries such as the UK, the US, Germany and Australia – all listed among the top five sources of kwaito streams outside of South Africa.
“What also emerges from the data is that kwaito’s popularity is not specific to any particular age range, with music lovers between the ages of 18 and 44 all listening to the genre in equal measure, at an average of about 22% for each age band,” wrote Triegaardt.
As a mark of respect and appreciation for the songs that have be an adjunct to South Africans on their journey to freedom, Spotify has released two new playlists, alongside a documentary highlighting the profoundly noteworthy history of kwaito, and how amapiano echoes that same history.
The documentary, Freedom Sounds: From Kwaito to Amapiano, features chart-topping kwaito and amapiano musicians. The musicians vary from Oskido, Thandiswa Mazwai to Young Stunna and Uncle Waffles.
The documentary tells the authentic, layered story of how these musical genres are linked to the expression of freedom.
“Our 28th year of freedom comes at a time when positivity and hope for our future are much-needed. Our music culture and creative community continue to serve as a source of relief, pride, escape, opportunity, and hope for our future.
“With this documentary, we want to showcase the importance of the creative community in the freedom of expression and showcase the similarities and differences of eras seen through the music culture in South Africa,” explained Triegaardt.
Directed by Chris Kets and Lindiwe Mngxitama, the documentary tells the evolutionary story of amapiano by tracing it back to kwaito, which originated from Soweto and coincided with the inauguration of Nelson Mandela.
Kwaito was birthed during the post-apartheid zeitgeist, quickly establishing itself as a mainstream genre and, for many, it epitomised the sound of freedom in South African streets, with musicians of colour now able to access the industry and find global recognition.
The playlists, Sound of Freedom and Kwaito Classics, each contain hit tracks by South African musical icons that pay homage to the sounds of South Africa’s streets. Kwaito Classics draws attention to leading lights such as Thebe, Mdu, Trompies, Bongo Maffin and TKZee, their songs evoking the rhythm and musical heartbeat that would give rise to genres like gqom, South African House/Dance, and, contemporarily, amapiano.
Spotify said: “Over the past 90 days, South Africa-based music lovers led amapiano listens and generated a whopping 149 million streams of tracks in the genre on Spotify. Moreover, listeners in the UK, the US, Canada, the Netherlands and France combined generated streams reaching 42 million, while streams generated in Nigeria, Botswana, Kenya and Namibia came up to 16 million. In total, the top 10 countries streaming amapiano over the past three months produced a total of 207 million streams, with most listeners falling in the age groups of 18-24 (44%) and 25-29 (20%).”
The Sound of Freedom playlist is dedicated to the iconic tracks South Africans have come to know and love.
These songs are entrenched in the culture and climate of post-apartheid South Africa and innately linked to the struggles for, and celebration of, freedom.
Spanning artists like Hugh Masekela with Bring Him Back Home, Miriam Makeba with her hit Pata Pata, and Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s Great Heart, there is something for all South African tastes, rounded off by tracks from Just Jinger, Brenda Fassie, Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, Vusi Mahlasela and more.

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