Skip to main content

The Music of the People: Africans in South Africa and Their Musical Sound Systems

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Members Of Amampondo...

the-music-of-the-people-africans-in-south-africa-and-their-musical-sound-systems
The rhythms and musical vibes of Amampondo group and these are their background singers and their names are listed on the photo.

The rhythms and musical vibes of Amampondo group and these are their background singers and their names are listed on the photo.

Sangomas and healers beating the sacred drum and dancing and singing in celebration- those dancing are called "Amathwasana"(Initiates)

Sangomas and healers beating the sacred drum and dancing and singing in celebration- those dancing are called "Amathwasana"(Initiates)

Lekganyana has also a marching band, sort of New Orleans-style, but in this case, for the religion of the ZCC songs and hymns.

Lekganyana has also a marching band, sort of New Orleans-style, but in this case, for the religion of the ZCC songs and hymns.

A Zion minister leads the singing in his church

A Zion minister leads the singing in his church

An African Zion church drummer thumps the drum to the listening members who sing and sway back and forth in gusto to the drum's beat and the congregations singing in the background.

An African Zion church drummer thumps the drum to the listening members who sing and sway back and forth in gusto to the drum's beat and the congregations singing in the background.

The minister is receiving the 'spirits' and is speaking in tongues as explained in the picture above

The minister is receiving the 'spirits' and is speaking in tongues as explained in the picture above

Healing sessions in the Zion African Christian churches in an animaated

Healing sessions in the Zion African Christian churches in an animaated

The indestructible sounds of Soweto Mbaqanga

The indestructible sounds of Soweto Mbaqanga

Abdulah Ibrahim, a South African Jazz pianist

Abdulah Ibrahim, a South African Jazz pianist

The heading for the Mbube groups below

The heading for the Mbube groups below

Empangeni Home Tigers in their 1974 Album Which was and still is a hit with the African People called "Ufakazi Yibheshu"(The Witness is the  Bheshu)"

Empangeni Home Tigers in their 1974 Album Which was and still is a hit with the African People called "Ufakazi Yibheshu"(The Witness is the Bheshu)"

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Mbube Group in full action. some other groups were Mtwalume Young Ages, Mkhizwane Home Stars and Jabula Home Defenders

Mbube Group in full action. some other groups were Mtwalume Young Ages, Mkhizwane Home Stars and Jabula Home Defenders

Grouped together in this phots are the Ladymith Blackmambazo on top and other various groups below

Grouped together in this phots are the Ladymith Blackmambazo on top and other various groups below

Mbube group going through their paces. Some other groups were were Greytown Evening Birds, Rovers and Harding Morning Stars

Mbube group going through their paces. Some other groups were were Greytown Evening Birds, Rovers and Harding Morning Stars

Mbube groups doing their Step(istep) Some groups were N.K.A. Special, Durban High Stars and Easy Walkers

Mbube groups doing their Step(istep) Some groups were N.K.A. Special, Durban High Stars and Easy Walkers

Rhytmic Elements; M'du Masilela; Kwaito Artists; Malaika

Rhytmic Elements; M'du Masilela; Kwaito Artists; Malaika

Obed Ngobeni and the Kurhula Sisters with their album "Xikwembu Xahina" sung in Shangaan

Obed Ngobeni and the Kurhula Sisters with their album "Xikwembu Xahina" sung in Shangaan

The Masuluke Kids, Bra Sello and stan Mogorosi in the album "Sax-Accordion Hits

The Masuluke Kids, Bra Sello and stan Mogorosi in the album "Sax-Accordion Hits

Scroll to Continue
A collection of contemporary Mbaqanga musicians

A collection of contemporary Mbaqanga musicians

Dark City Sisters' Mahotella Queens; Dark City Sisters; Mthembu Queens

Dark City Sisters' Mahotella Queens; Dark City Sisters; Mthembu Queens

Brenda Fasie; Rebecca Malope; Yvonne Chaka Chaka; Mahotella Queens

Brenda Fasie; Rebecca Malope; Yvonne Chaka Chaka; Mahotella Queens

Sibongile Khumalo; Brenda Fassie; Letta Mbulu; Mirriam Makeba

Sibongile Khumalo; Brenda Fassie; Letta Mbulu; Mirriam Makeba

Letta Mbulu's "Free Soul" produdeced in 1968 whilst she was in exile overseas

Letta Mbulu's "Free Soul" produdeced in 1968 whilst she was in exile overseas

Caiphus Semenya; Winston Manunku Ngozi; Jonas Gwangwa; Phillip Tabane

Caiphus Semenya; Winston Manunku Ngozi; Jonas Gwangwa; Phillip Tabane

Dollar Brand(Abdul Ibrahim); Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and Caiphus Semenya in The Union of South Africa; Mike Makhalemele; Phillip Tabane

Dollar Brand(Abdul Ibrahim); Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and Caiphus Semenya in The Union of South Africa; Mike Makhalemele; Phillip Tabane

The Original Harari Group after it changed its name from "The Beaters" To "Harari", after they returned from their Trip in Harari City, Zimbabwe

The Original Harari Group after it changed its name from "The Beaters" To "Harari", after they returned from their Trip in Harari City, Zimbabwe

This is the revamped Harari Group after the death of their leader, Selby Ntuli. Sipho Mabuse and Alec Kaholi are the original members, and they added Thelma Segonah, Branny Ledwaba, Masike Mohapi and Charlie Ndlovu and Lionel Petersen on lead vocals

This is the revamped Harari Group after the death of their leader, Selby Ntuli. Sipho Mabuse and Alec Kaholi are the original members, and they added Thelma Segonah, Branny Ledwaba, Masike Mohapi and Charlie Ndlovu and Lionel Petersen on lead vocals

The Artists Clockwise: George Maluleke, Bhudaza, and Herma, included are kids doing the dance "Majika-Majika"

The Artists Clockwise: George Maluleke, Bhudaza, and Herma, included are kids doing the dance "Majika-Majika"

The groups clockwise are: Stimela, Amampondo, Bayete and Sakhile

The groups clockwise are: Stimela, Amampondo, Bayete and Sakhile

Joe Nina, Herna fox Manganyi, Khakheni and Lucky Dube

Joe Nina, Herna fox Manganyi, Khakheni and Lucky Dube

Ringo and his 8 albums, Rudeboy Paul, Soul Brothers, and Manka le Phallang, Dilika Mjakathatha and Mzikayifani Buthelezi

Ringo and his 8 albums, Rudeboy Paul, Soul Brothers, and Manka le Phallang, Dilika Mjakathatha and Mzikayifani Buthelezi

Gideon Nxumalo along with Kippie Moeketsi, Dudu Pukwana, Martin Mgijima and Makaya Ntshoko

Gideon Nxumalo along with Kippie Moeketsi, Dudu Pukwana, Martin Mgijima and Makaya Ntshoko

The Chris McGregor Jazz Band

The Chris McGregor Jazz Band

Jazz in Africa Vo. 2 included John Mehegan, Chris Joseph, Kipiie Moeketsi,Huhg Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Claude Shange and Gene Latimore

Jazz in Africa Vo. 2 included John Mehegan, Chris Joseph, Kipiie Moeketsi,Huhg Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Claude Shange and Gene Latimore

Dollar Brand releaed one of the greatest hits called Mannenberg

Dollar Brand releaed one of the greatest hits called Mannenberg

Allen Kwela one of South Africa's eminent jazz guitarist

Allen Kwela one of South Africa's eminent jazz guitarist

The groups represented here were: The Jazz Dazlers, Orlando Six, N.D. Hotshots, King Jury and his band, Elite Swingsters, Snqamu Jazz Band and Spokes Mashiyane and his Big Five 77 Phata

The groups represented here were: The Jazz Dazlers, Orlando Six, N.D. Hotshots, King Jury and his band, Elite Swingsters, Snqamu Jazz Band and Spokes Mashiyane and his Big Five 77 Phata

The original Soweto's Teacers Choir recorded on Tour

The original Soweto's Teacers Choir recorded on Tour

Soweto Teachers Choir posing for a photo next to Putco bus

Soweto Teachers Choir posing for a photo next to Putco bus

The younger generation of Kwaito involved with scratching and being DJs

The younger generation of Kwaito involved with scratching and being DJs

Jonny Dyani and his Song for Biko Album

Jonny Dyani and his Song for Biko Album

Sooul Bothers; Amaswazi Emvelo; The Teenage Lovers; Bayete

Sooul Bothers; Amaswazi Emvelo; The Teenage Lovers; Bayete

The Vend Drummers; Music of the Tswana Peoples; Xhosa Kings; Culture Spears

The Vend Drummers; Music of the Tswana Peoples; Xhosa Kings; Culture Spears

Bakithi Kjumalo; Vusi Mahlasela; Bergville Stories; Imbizo

Bakithi Kjumalo; Vusi Mahlasela; Bergville Stories; Imbizo

Intsholo-Amampondo; Phillip Tabane; George Maluleke na va N'wanati Sisters; Best of Condry Ziqubu

Intsholo-Amampondo; Phillip Tabane; George Maluleke na va N'wanati Sisters; Best of Condry Ziqubu

The Era of the Pennywhistle captured artfully

The Era of the Pennywhistle captured artfully

Mirriam Makeba in concert

Mirriam Makeba in concert

The Cast of Sarafina , by Mbongeni Ngema, in New York

The Cast of Sarafina , by Mbongeni Ngema, in New York

Brass Band Pops of the Western Cape

Brass Band Pops of the Western Cape

Cape Colored getting ready for the Minstrel Carnival  and Brass Band

Cape Colored getting ready for the Minstrel Carnival and Brass Band

Kids being encouraged to create Brass Bands and are in need of Instruments

Kids being encouraged to create Brass Bands and are in need of Instruments

A Short History Of Townships Bands, Artists and Music

The music of the Townships as a genre was originated in the 1900s and is characterized by its musicians, who were often urban Township residents during the the Apartheid era in south Africa. The music of the Townships was created because of the presence of segregation during the time of segregation, and the musicians in the Townships created the music in response to the environment. The music of the Townships in South Africa began with the migrant laborers, who lived in area which were labor reserve and dormitories.

These poorly built houses which the African occupants had to rent, were built by Apartheid for its lower classes Africans. In the 1950s the Apartheid regime passed legislation to further consolidate the Apartheid state, and violent methods of implementation also assisted this along. One of the most serious legislation that was passed for urban African music was the Group Areas Act of 1950, which separated all racially mixed neighborhoods by removing African communities and relocating them on the peripheries and into townships.

From these ghettoes we are able to see emotions and creativity of musicians within the Townships due to a lack of power, resulted in the musicians' need to explore alternative musical paths. The Apartheid regime suppressed the music of jazz because it was music aspiring to musical and social equality. The aim of the Apartheid rulers was to form an ideology and program for separating and turning African South Africans against each other.

But, African people, who were a musical community, found many ways around the system and created music even when they were facing draconian laws and many African music lovers bought their music and gave them some serious form of support. Music amongst African South Africans is like breathing is to human beings, and they proved it by creating new genres of music where none existed.

South Africa's polyrhythmic and soulful songs are some of the best in the world. Sifiso Ntuli put it this way: "Song is something that we communicate to the people who otherwise would not have understood where we are coming from. You could give the long political speech and they would still not understand, but I tell you, when you finnish that song, people be like I know where you guys are coming from.' South Africa is distinguished by the most complex musical history, and the greatest profusion of styles and the most intensely developed recording industry anywhere in Africa.

Despite many regional and stylistic variations, its music - vocal based and long and deeply influenced by America and Europe, it is different from what one would hear anywhere else on the continent, or from nearby parts of central, for that matter, anywhere in the world. This is a country where you have twelve year-old children break out in complex harmonies whose time signatures defy the rigid regiment of the metronome, classic scoring is a foreign concept. For Africans in South Africa, everyday is a new song or two or three.

Throughout South Africa, there is a song for every event. In fact, South African African music is one of the most influential countries in the world of music, and it is also the homeland of some of the greatest and most popular artists in the world. Although from the 1900s, American Jazz music came into South Africa, and the Africans took to it and tried to imitate it, there has always been African folk music by all the 9 clans that comprise the Maguni/Bakone folk music which illustrates the the diverse and attractive use of instrumentation by these different ethnic groups, as well as different vocal styles, whilst maintaing a distinctly and uniquely African South African sound in texture and musical sounds.

This type of music and other types of music have large audiences and followers right throughout the country of South Africa and the continent of Africa. The singers of these folk songs sing about the day-to-day issues of the common man and they sing in styles that are appealing to their community and the world


We learn the following from Steve Gordon:

Africa's music market needs to be Africanised

FROM Osibisa to Salif Keita, the major names of African music have long been based in the Northern Hemisphere. Africa’s stars entered the world stage abroad, and returned home, celebrated like astronauts between space missions. Wined and dined at society functions, but seldom affordable or routinely accessible to Africans.

If Africa’s stars used to shine from afar, the exciting challenge of the new millennium is to ensure that they shine equally at home. This is possible, and imperative. Africa’s music market needs to be Africanised.

Conditions at the start of this new millennium bear little similarity to those faced by the young Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango or Salif Keita faced when they left to forge their international debuts in strange lands. Society, technology and distribution mediums have set a new playing field.

Not yet Uhuru

It’s Africa 2002, and there’s possibility. But, it’s Not Yet Uhuru. The circulation, exchange and flow of African music on the continent remains blocked.

To understand the networks and forces underpinning the contemporary flow and distribution of African music, it is essential to realise how closely they have been shaped by colonialism and the relationships between what now are known as “developing?and “developed?countries. Such understanding is all the more important as we confront the realities of globalisation, and the massive impact it has on both culture and economy.

A home away from home, and an anchor in foreign markets

itical settlement in South Africa (1990’s), a combination of studio locations, record deals, tour itineraries and the inevitable “permits and papers?issues rendered it opportune for Africa’s artists to be resident in countries such as France, England or even the USA to build and sustain their music careers. For many others, circumstance prompted or forced exile from their homeland.

Under such conditions, artists naturally gravitated towards host countries with which their native lands had strong links. Not only did this offer the potential benefit of being able to converse in the host language ?but typically, business, travel and financial links with home. The presence of local immigrant communities provided some support network, a family-away-from-home, and a crucial core audience. England and France are best illustrative of the manner in which third world music forms flowed North after colonies attained independence.

Jamaica’s Rocksteady, Ska and Reggae were the first to flow to the international market through England in the late 1960’s, followed by the music of Nigeria, Ghana and other ‘Anglophone?African countries. Nigerian artists Osibisa, King Sunny Ade, and to a lesser degree the outspoken Fela Kuti ?are key names when tracing the build up to the ‘World Music?phenomenon of the 1980’s.

France has been pivotal to ‘World Music?for the past 20 years. The colonial legacy in Africa and the Caribbean, coupled with the presence of some of the world’s most developed arts infrastructure and cultural industries rendered the country a well equipped host to African music. The presence of a socialist government which prioritised arts and culture programmes did no damage.

Paris is the de facto African music capital of the world. Not only has it been home to icons such as Manu Dibango and the late Francis Bebey (both natives of Cameroon), but its studios have spawned distinctly Parisian hybrids, drawing on sounds from the African Diaspora.

Thus African Music emerged as a product which followed closely the neo-colonial trade relations of the 1970’s: The raw materials came from Africa, the product from Europe. While the Beatles or Rolling Stones did it at home, Africans went abroad, and by the turn of the Century, ownership in the bulk of African Music catalogue was resident abroad.

Headed home

If African music was just an ethnographic curiosity during the 1960’s, by the mid 1990’s, a consumer market for what became known as “World Music?had established globally.

Sporadic as the markets in developed countries were to prove, they existed: Cultural space had been won. African music was circulating outside of Africa, but its artists also realized a need (and desired) to be back home.

With international profile and momentum established, an increasing number were able to locate their operations back home: Ismael Lo, having studied in Spain and worked in France, is now based in his native Senegal. Salif Keita lives in Bamako in his native Mali. Political settlement in South African paved the way for Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Abdullah Ibrahim, Letta Mbulu, Jonas Gwangwa, Caiphus Semenya and others to repatriate from their forced exile.

There are new opportunities and challenges for the new generation - Youssou Ndour is a prime example. Having established himself internationally, he works from Dakar, where he has set up both studio and nightclub; Femi Kuti, assuming the mantle of his late father Fela, operates from Lagos.

The new technologies for music production require far less capital outlay than those of a decade ago, a scenario which has contributed to a proliferation of small studios in Africa. It’s no longer just “raw talent?coming out of Africa, new expertise and technology propagate local product.

Straddling markets

Straddling the divide between developed and developing economies in the new millennium, the established African music acts need to maintain profile and presence globally. There is market up north, and a market at home - different needs, different tastes. All tour extensively internationally, but while the occasional tour or protocol event allows circulation in Africa, the African market, audience and performance networks remain underdeveloped, and at times unreliable.

Circulation and presence in Africa comes at a price. Many of the groups backing established artists are multinational. Just add airfares to hard currency, and bringing an African “name?into Africa can be just as much a venture as importing a Euro pop act.

Local markets in Africa cannot sustain such movement without significant private or public sector finance, and aside from an elite few, consumers cannot afford the price of African music cds imported (or manufactured under license) from Europe.

The globalized African sound often contrasts starkly with that which artists perform or release back home: Some battle with the contradiction, whilst others have reconciled parallel worlds and audiences. Youssou N’dour’s domestic Senegalese releases ?mostly on cassette ?are a counterpoint to the multinational catalogue on Sony; Papa Wemba at times operates two backing bands ?Viva la Musica and Molokai, for African and European audiences respectively.

African audiences consume international media, and African music is but a small part of MTV, CNN or BBC programming. At home African music competes for ears, eyes and dancefloor feet with the full array of international pop music products. African audiences do not yet have the level of access to their music which the rest of the world enjoys. African audiences need to be Africanised.

African Challenges

From an African perspective the challenges are both cultural and economic: African music has a massive role to play in Africa of the new millennium. Music cannot just be a soundtrack to Nepad, it must be integral to Nepad.

What of artists living and popular within Africa, and their chances of surviving and forging careers with their home continent as their primary operating base? An integrated and unified Africa can certainly facilitate this, allowing circulation of artists and music, overcoming the colonial and linguistic divides which have fragmented its audience.

The rallying cry now should not be to repatriate all things African. We need to acknowledge the multiplicity of markets, and attach value to the profile which has been built with international audiences. We must be conscious of, but not captive to the legacy of music ownership, and associated obstacles.

The recent OCRE Conference, hosted by AFAA (French Association for Artistic Action) and the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of Natal, addressed some of the issues of cultural networking, including music. The stark imbalances between different African zones were explored. At the conference’s conclusion, a “Letter from Durban?was tabled, calling on policy makers in Africa to consider these factors when formulating policy for the next decade.

Priority areas identified included the need for intra-African co-operation, the promotion of regional and internal markets and audiences, the facilitation of mobility within Africa, and skills and curriculum development. A cohesive policy to stimulate inter-African cooperation is needed.

Ultimately, there’s a lot of catching up required. African music has to transform from being a niche market of imported product, to its inevitable and rightful role as the mai

Historical Sketches Of South African Music

My effort on this part is to give a sketch of the musical Timeline of South Africa.. Though it might not be extensive, but it will help give the reader a sense of what has bee happening in the music arena here in Mzantsi.

The whole piece below was taken from the South African History Online:

The Development of Music In South Africa Since 1600s to 2004...

1600s

In the Dutch colonial era, from the 17th century on, indigenous tribes people and slaves imported from the east adapted Western musical instruments and ideas.The Khoi-Khoi developed the ramkie, a guitar with three or four strings, based on that of Malabar slaves. They used it to blend Khoi and Western folk songs.Then there was the mamokhorong. It was a single-string violin that was used by the Khoi in their own music making and in the dances of the colonial centre, Cape Town, which rapidly became a melting pot of cultural influences from all over the world.The governor of the Cape had his own slave orchestra in the 1670s.

1800s

In a style similar to that of British marching military bands, coloured (mixed race) bands of musicians began parading through the streets of Cape Town in the early 1820s, a tradition that was given added impetus by the travelling minstrel shows of the 1880s. This tradition has continued to the present day with the great carnival held in Cape Town every New Year.The penetration of missionaries into the interior over the succeeding centuries also had a profound influence on South African musical styles. In the late 1800s, early African composers such as John Knox Bokwe began composing hymns that drew on traditional Xhosa harmonic patterns.The development of a black urban proletariat and the movement of many black workers to the mines in the 1800s meant that differing regional traditional folk music met and began to flow into one another. Western instrumentation was used to adapt rural songs, which in turn started to influence the development of new hybrid styles of music-making (as well as dances) in the developing urban centres.

1860s

In the mid-1800s, travelling minstrel shows began to visit South Africa. As far as can be ascertained, these minstrels were at first white performers in "black-face", but by the 1860s black American minstrel troupes had begun to tour the country. They sang spirituals of the American South, and influenced many South African groups to form themselves into similar choirs; soon regular meetings and competitions between such choirs were popular, forming an entire subculture that continues to this day.