house music
South African House Music is breaking all our preconceived notions of house. (Illustration by Andrew Moghab, School of Visual Arts)

Never Underestimate: Shout Out to South African House Music

Awê! We underestimate our neighbors to the east, who have created their own innovative spin on the genre.

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house music

Awê! We underestimate our neighbors to the east, who have created their own innovative spin on the genre.

Every weekend at sunset, city clubs and townships of Cape Town and Johannesburg begin pumping deep house. While evocative of images in Miami or Ibiza, the most prolific form of electronic music has its largest hold in South Africa, the complex cultural history between African and Western culture making for arguably the most eclectic and original in the world.

House music was born in the warehouse scene in the South Side of Chicago, and since, it’s proliferated around the world. In South Africa, it’s still generally considered “black music,” but controversy over the lineage of South African house remains. While Western reporters often characterize South African house as an African interpretation of a Western-born genre, the back and forth Afro-mixing, wealth of influences and unique individual evolution of SA house is often left out.

Far from the electronic scenes of city business districts, township music, a precursor to modern SA house, is rooted in expressions of the struggles of apartheid. This state of institutionalized racial segregation in South and South West Africa began in 1948, implemented by the power-holding white minority. During apartheid, black Africans were considered aliens on their own land, pushed out of cities to live in townships that exist to this day. Apartheid ended only 30 years ago, and while the country is highly developed in some areas, it’s one of the most unequal places in the world.

Township music began in the apartheid era in the ‘60s, influenced by choral music, jazz and Afropop. “Township Jive” and Pantsula were later predecessors to SA house. The influences of ‘80s disco, dance and electronic music brought a wave of Afro-American and Afro-European disco and house music, resulting in the incorporation of a new electronic sound to more traditional African beats.

When the ‘90s rolled around, a genre called Kwaito emerged with the democratization of South Africa. The variant of electronic house represented the voice of the black youth in the post-apartheid period, and an expression and celebration of freedom in a democratic South Africa. Since the 1990s, Kwaito and South African house have evolved. House music has taken off internationally, while South African house has bred world-renowned artists such as Black Coffee, Oskido, Euphonik, DJ Maphorisa and Lady Zamar.

SA house now represents the nature of modern life through the lens of a hopeful young generation. An extremely rich SA cultural and musical landscape make for some amazing older listens and hundreds of new age bops. While already garnering increasing attention, SA house is predicted to blow up internationally even more than it already has — and soon. Below are 6 hits that epitomize the future of South Africa and the future of house.

1. Pantsula (1988-90)

Thanks to Rush Hour Music, you can listen to this amazing remix of Pantsula music from apartheid-era townships. It developed into a form of social commentary for black South Africans and has undergone several transformations with the country’s changing political tides. Emerging in the 1950s and ‘60s during the apartheid era, it is a major predecessor to modern SA house. Listen to hear an electrifying modern-day remix of some OG jams.

2. Fresh House Flava 1

Founded in 1994, the Afro-house and deep-house label House Afrika remains one of the most respected dance names in South Africa. “Fresh House Flava 1,” has been called “house music scripture” by Black Coffee, the world renowned and arguably biggest name in South African house music.

3. Muyè (Black Coffee Remix)

Remixes of ‘Muyè,’ which you should listen to, by Black Coffee, who you should also listen to.

4. Embrace (Black Coffee & Aquatone Remix)

This remix is worth a listen, a download or purchase and the music video is worth at least one watch.

5. Euphonik – All the Moves

Worth at least one more listen than the last one.

6. Bang Her – Urban Remix

Vinny Da Vinci and DJ Christos have been active DJs for more than a quarter century. Their musical careers began before apartheid’s end, and they were among the first to spread modern house around South Africa. Considered the grandfather of SA house, Da Vinci’s label House Afrika is one of the country’s most important house labels, and has released mixes from Da Vinci and Christos, as well as albums and EPs from a lot of great artists, and this remix worth still one more listen. Enjoy!

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