Dominique Wooldridge and Sibusiso Nxumalo, ‘Shifting soundscapes and youth dance cultures’; inPieterse, E. and Meintjies, F. (eds);
Voices of the Transition. The politics, poetics and practices of social change in South Africa
; Heinemann; Johannesburg; 2004; pp 206-214.
Shifting soundscapes and youth dance culture in Jo’burg
Dominique Wooldridge and S’busiso Nxumalo
Introduction: Jo’burg, late1980s/early 1990s
If you’re young, hip, black, and into dance culture
- you’re probably hanging out at swanky clubs likeRazzmatazz in Hillbrow or at Countdown in town. Or maybe a tavern, one of the new up-marketshebeens springing up in Soweto. The venues are packed, the patrons are smartly dressed, the vibeis rowdy, and alcohol is the drug of choice. The music of the day is “bubblegum disco-pop” from thelikes of Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Chicco Twala – singing in a mixture of English,Zulu, Sesotho and scamto (totsitaal).
If you’re young, hip, white, and into dance culture -
you’re probably heading for seedy inner-cityvenues like The Junction and Le Club. Almost everyone’s dressed in black and fashionably depressed(or at least trying hard to look preoccupied with existential questions). The DJ is probably playing yetanother 12” prog rock remix –or if you’re lucky some alternative rock like Sonic Youth or the Pixies.Despite the rumors that poppers are circulated through the air conditioning and that the glasses arerinsed in meths, its likely that most clubbers are using nothing harder than alcohol and splif.What white and black youth have in common is that they’re starting to get into British and Americanhouse music. Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Mr Fingers, JM Silk, Lil' Luis Vega and Masters atWork are playing on home hi-fis in Soweto and Jo’burg’s northern suburbs. House would become thebasis of the two most dominant youth scenes in Jo’burg during the 1990s - kwaito and rave.Looking back, it is easy to imagine a moment of anticipation- an expectation of an emerging popularyouth culture that crossed racial boundaries, a ‘new’ youth culture for a ‘new’ South Africa. But thatmoment was never really there. There was certainly an expectation of something new, a feeling ofchange, of movement – linked to both the national transition process and the influx of artists andcultural artifacts from around the globe. Yet the possibility that house would form the basis of a youthculture that crossed racial lines never really seemed imminent.In the Jo’burg of the 1990s, both kwaito and rave developed along distinctly racial lines. The ravescene was overwhelmingly white, while kwaito would came to be seen as music which ‘representsSouth African township youth’ (Nhlanhla, lead singer of Mafikizolo, quoted in McCoy 2003)Dolby (2001) makes the point that the demarcation of race is closely linked to popular culture. Herresearch in a Durban highschool revealed that young South Africans tend to define racial identity interms of fashion and music preferences. Practices of cultural selection and appropriation play a criticalrole in the production of racial identities. Popular artefacts (such as clothes and music) take onspecific, racialised meanings. Cultural artifacts which act as racial markers circulate both locally andglobally, so that the global intimately shapes young people’s interaction with the everyday livedrealities of race.
Jo’burg, early 1990s
There are many stories about the beginnings of kwaito. Our personal favourite goes like this: Onenight the
DJ doesn’t pitch. The guy who sells boerewors rolls outside the club fills in forhim. He starts slowing down house trax to mid-tempo and mixing them with chanted lyrics from localbubblegum pop. It goes down so well that he gets asked to play a regular session at
.The boerewors vendor in this story is Oscar ‘Warrona’ Mdlongwa. Oscar, with Christos Katsaitis, MduMasilela and Arthur Mafokate, is one of the pioneering DJs who invented kwaito – a kind of mid-tempohouse (around 100 to 120 bpm) with an African twist. Like house, kwaito is a genre with many