South African Music and Culture

Until quite recently, there were two totally different music scenes in South Africa. One was the music of the whites, which had its roots in European music. The other was the music of the black population, born of a long ethnic tradition. This music has to be “lived” through participation: singing, dancing, clapping or banging a drum.

These days, the two groups are influenced by each other and by music from all around the world. The blend that arises from these diverse cultural influences is evident in all music forms. A good example is Kwaito which is a mixture of house music, R&B, Jamaican raggae and American hip-hop. Yet the language, lyrics and the style of dancing and dressing are distinct to South African townships.

The very popular choral music and township jazz and blues have also adopted sounds from other cultures. These unique mixtures have attracted international attention. For example, the singer Miriam Makeba, the jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and the jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela are internationally well-known.

Opera, musicals and classical music are also strongly represented in the country. The diversity of South African music is celebrated in several festivals throughout the year.

South Africa has a vibrant music scene populated by a wide variety of genres and styles. Throughout the years, the country’s political environment has had a major influence on its music, leading to birth of original genres like kwaito, African jazz and mbube. Discover this and more with our guide to South African music through the decades.

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