The History Of Music In South Africa


The history of music in South Africa is diverse and complex. With a history that is fraught with pain and oppression, it’s become slightly easier to deal with these issues through music. In recent years, the boom of genres such as kwaito, house music and shangaan electro have proven that South African music continues to evolve beyond the standards set by marabi, kwela, maskandi and isicathamiya. In a post-democracy South Africa, this history is often mainly described according to the numerous cultural groups. 

But if one were to trace the roots of history of music in South Africa, it would extend all the way back to The First People of the country – the Khoikhoi and Bushmen. 

They have a dance called “Rieldans,” performed with instruments described by Danish doctor working on the Dutch East India Company Pieter van Meerhoff in 1661 as , “a hollowed reed in the hand, some long, some short, some thick, some thin”. 

Their music has been described as similar to the incantation of amaXhosa and was central to the ritual ceremonies, which were intended to transcend to a different realm to converse with ancestors.  

The rhythms went on to influence the coloured people of the Cape; influencing the carnival sound known as goema. 

AmaXhosa and their subgroups, amaBhaca, amaFengu, amaMpondo and amaThembu have their own forms of music expression, rooted in oral tradition. Women are also central in making music. 

From the overtone singing performed by the likes of Madosini and compositions using uhadi and umrhumbe, to the mohambi played by the Tsonga, the history is rich and complex. 

Basotho bred music known as Famo, which can be described as storytelling accompanied by an accordion while isicathamiya popularised by amaZulu found fame in Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  

20th century popular music was influenced by many of these music genres indigenous to the history of music in South Africa. 

Music in the 21st century continues to draw inspiration from these sounds. 


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