Wednesday, April 1, 2009

KWAITO IS DEAD a movement in 6 parts

This just might do nobody any good. At the end of reading this, it may be possible to say that I’m making a very comfortable positioning for many more uncomfortable. It could be said that is giving a platform to dangerous, and even heretical ideas. Flitting whispers, uttered in the taxi ranks and office corridors alike, the suburban streets and township backways, from the mudhuts to the mansions, people are giving voice to rumor and allegation. Now it must come to light. Well, here goes nothing. KWAITO IS DEAD. There, it’s out. Now go back and re read it again, slowly. KWAITO IS DEAD.

 You may not believe it, you may not like the way it sounds, you may not agree with it. It’s ok, denial is the first step to acceptance. But realize, that in death, there is liberation. In death there is change. Be willing to embrace that change and accept it. For only through acceptance of the truth can we gain an understanding of the present reality.

The truth is, evolution is calling. There are times when life calls for a transition, like the seasons. We have had our Spring together, breathing in the fresh air of the dawn in an era with M’du and Spikiri, Arthur, and Oskido, whose new style of music was like naked baby feet on fresh wet grass in the morning,

My man, back in the day, I used to beat program, slowing down those international house tracks and putting some African chanting over them. Those tracks like TRAFFIC COP were the birth of Kwaito, -OSKIDO

 Oskido’s elated reminiscence is evident in the timber of his voice over the phone. I managed to catch up with him in the midst of his busy schedule shuttling between, the UK and heading up one of the world’s most successful black owned record label empires. He continues to confront the rumour that Kwaito is dead like a proud father at his son’s graduation party,

Kwaito started from House Music and us putting our lyrics over it. When we first made that music no one said, ‘hey it has to stay at a certain BPM or it’s not Kwaito’ bull shit, to do that, to define it would be to put limitations on the music. There is no definition like that. You can’t do that. You have to change with the times, you can’t do the same beats. Most of the Kwaito that is doing well now is up-tempo, but it’s 100% Kwaito. Kwaito is not dead, Kwaito is a revolution!-OSKIDO

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And the speed of the revolution must be increased. This was Arthur’s take on Kwaito in 1998 in a conversation with Oskido upon returning from the music conference in Ibeza,


When I came back I did an interview with Oskido, and I told him,  “If we are going to take this Kwaito music thing internationally, then we need to go back to the normal speed. Only by doing that can we fit into those international formats and take what we are doing to an international level."
Those early songs which I did, “Don’t Call Me Kaffir,” and “President,” the BPM was over 126. In those days we never put a limit on the speed of the music.-ARTHUR

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Now we are smack dab in the middle of  the Festive season of Kwaito’s existence. With the release of his 3rd studio Album Mandla “Spikiri” has finally caused South Africa to march to the tempo of a different drum, altering Kwaito forever and killing off the older assumed idea that Kwaito had to exist in a certain BPM. 

By doing so, he placed the genre on par with the international house music from which it is was derived. The release of CURRENT in the summer of 2005 moved the focus of Kwaito lovers from the dusty streets of Egoli to the Golden Shores of Kwazulu Natal.

Current, which I did with Professor, was 118bpm. That song was a big change in the way Kwaito was made, but Kwaito is flexible. I don’t agree with people who say Kwaito is dead. Kwaito is still alive and it’s kicking. When these internationally DJ’s who we work with, like Lois Vega and Dennis Ferierra, come to visit us in South Africa or we see them when we are abroad, they commend us on what we are doing. They say that this KWAITO we are doing is original and nothing like anything else in the rest of the world.

Kwaito, is not dead, I can say that. I’m in studio now with Brown Dash, he’ll be dropping in two weeks. Jakarumba has an album that will drop in September. I’m working with Mapaputsi and Thebe. Come September into December this year, my man, we will be rocking! -SPIKIRI

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Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and the bliss began. This new artform, immediately cool and awash in the rich powerful freedom bestowed upon it from the pot of gold at the end of the newly founded rainbow nation, is now taking the party to the next level. Now nearly 20 years later, isn't it sincerely ironic that in the twilight of Madiba’s impressive existence, the artform his freedom breathed life into is on it's last legs or about to evolve to a higher plane of existence. But it depends on what school of thought you subscribe to.


“Kwaito in the technical sense is 100-108 beats per minute, with one or two exceptions: Puff and Pass 107bpm, NtofoNtofo 105bmp, Sweetie My Baby  108 bpm, Jovicho 107bpm; anything else is not Kwaito, it’s House. What those Durban boys are doing is not Kwaito.

Honestly, I may offend a couple of people by saying this, but I think some people have forced Kwaito to evolve to something that it’s not. It will always be Kwaito. If you want to evolve it to something else, then call it something else. It will always be Kwaito.

I think the new generation is focusing too much on alcohol and partying and girls. Kids look up to us and they listen to Kwaito and they model themselves around what we do. So guys must be careful what we voice out.

If Bricks sings, “Sweetie My Baby”, a guy can say that to his girlfriend. But if we make songs singing about how many bottles of Black Label we are drinking in the club, what are we saying to the youth, It’s not about that” -DJ CLEO


I drop my cell to avoid the traffic cops roadblock before continuing what proves to be a very enlightening and emotional conversation with the Crown Prince Producer of Kwatio. On the line from his home in Gauteng, Dj Cleo’s strong words come from the position of a man secure in his abilities and what can only be termed as a purist outlook for the Kwaito artform.  

I carefully avoid Metro and consider his having single handedly pushed the boundaries of Kwaito with hits for names that range from: ZOLA to MZAKES, BROWN DASH to BRICKS. MAPAHPUTSI TO BLEXUM Cleo’s take on the current state and progression of the music leads to a divergence in the process of how it is made and goes directly against the founding father's positioning of  keeping the music free for interpretation, but it can give hope to those who are holding on to the flag and longing for what can soon be referred to and revered as the OLD SCHOOL OF KWAITO,


I think the statement that kwaito is dead is bullshit. It’s dying, its in the process of dying. But I’m about to reverse that process with Blexums new album and I’ve just done new tracks for Mandoza. People just want to dance and they just want something to dance to and people don’t dance to your reputation. The talent remains in my hands and my brain, not what the papers say, it’s not my reputation that’s going up on that stage to pick up the awards, it’s the music. People just want the music. When they can’t get in the club because the promoters are charging too much, they will dance outside. They will park their cars, open the boot and play the music.           -DJ CLEO


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The Halelouja’s, AYE YE’s and AYOBA YO’s issuing from the taxi’s, nightclub parking lots, and double parked vehicles during any trip to Durban during the Festive Season will prove just that.  As South Africa converges on the Durban shoreline like so many ants to spilled sugar, the music which has provided the sweet nectar for the last three Festives has undoubtedly been touched by some of Durban’s Finest Dj’s and musicians. With all of the hubbub surrounding the success of the music coming out of Durban, it only made sense to catch up with Professor for his take on the death of Kwaito and his cities role in the changes to the genre,

It used to be that everyone came to Durban to perform. Mandoza, M’du. All of them. And they controlled the vibe here! Guys from Gauteng used to come to Durban and control the vibe. Lately I’ve seen Kwaito stars come to Durban, to perform, I don’t want to name names, and people were bored. The vibe just wasn’t there. Now when they come here, they are too away from the vibe. They stay in their hotels before the performance, they don’t go out, you don’t see them. And after the show they are hiding in the VIP area away from the people. 

Now we are the vibe, we know the dj’s who are playing, we are out there moving the vibe. So I don’t really know what happened to those guys, maybe they got old, maybe it was the fame.

Kwaito is not dead, maybe I can be hard on the guys who are saying that Kwaito is Dead and say that they are ignorant. Ignorant to what we are doing here in Durban. We just came with a different style. It wouldn’t matter if we were in Cape Town and sped it up to 125bpm or even 150bpm. As long as you can dance to it and a guy is telling you his story in vernac over those nice beats, it’s Kwaito.

How can you say that Kwaito is dead when Professor is alive, T’zozo is alive, Tira is alive, Big Nas is alive, and we are rocking my man. So they mustn’t say that Kwaito is dead. They must just accept the change. Life changes now and then.  The tempo changes, we must all just get used to it. -PROFESSOR

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And get used to it we have. Kwaito has continued to grow, to encompass and embody the current state of the youth of South Africa. We are partying too much and forgetting the issues. We are stepping away from our traditions and not honouring what got us here in the first place. At some point the party must end and we must get to the business of living and developing what we have been given. 

In regards to Kwaito,  "Is it dead?" For some, yes. For others, it is just beginning to take its first steps. For Arthur it is very much alive,

I was the one who termed it Kwaito, But if now you say that there is a definition of what the beat is in order for it to be Kwaito, then it means for all these years, that I haven’t been doing Kwaito!

When we revolutionized the music industry with Kwaito music, we gave our people an identity. To say Kwaito no longer exists and call it House or Hip Hop, which are international terms and music forms, is to take away who we are as a people. Are we then saying that we don’t exist?

 Kwaito is who and where we are as South Africa’s youth. It’s our way of life, it’s the music, the way we dress, the way we talk, it’s our way of life as a youth. The music is the expression of that.

I feel that people are confused. When L’vovo was nominated for a Sama, to me that was a Kwaito track.

Put M’du’s earlier music and some of  Kabello’s more recent tracks, and and let someone listen to it. Play those different artists for a sober minded person, they will say that it’s all Kwaito.

 The Mahoota track,  it’s Kwaito, Cleo’s track, Kwaito, Thebe’s track, is Kwaito. What those Durban boys are doing, L’vovo Derango and the rest, yes you can say it’s dance music, but Kwaito is dance music. So when people say Kwaitio is dead, I’m suspicious of what exactly it is that they are trying to push.


Yes what exactly?! At the end of the day, what matters is that we don’t let down the vision of Nelson Mandela, who championed our ability to have the freedom we enjoy today. So to Kwaito I say goodnight , may angels sing thee to thy rest.