Music

South African ChillOut by RoundGlass Music

South African ChillOut by RoundGlass Music

South Africa can be defined by its diversity. It has among the highest biodiversity of any country in the world. A wide variety of animal life, about 9% of all the known plant life on earth, and even an estimated 200,000 species of fungi. From scrubland to subtropics, desert to wetland, South Africa boasts an incredible diversity in climate, as well. 

South Africa can be defined by its diversity. It has among the highest biodiversity of any country in the world. A wide variety of animal life, about 9% of all the known plant life on earth, and even an estimated 200,000 species of fungi. From scrubland to subtropics, desert to wetland, South Africa boasts an incredible diversity in climate, as well. It is also a country with great cultural diversity. Some of the ethnic groups indigenous to the region are the Zulu, Xhosa, Bapedi, Tswana, South Ndebele, Basotho, Venda, Tsonga, and Swazi, as well as a white minority of European descent and an Asian minority of Indian and Malaysian descent. At least thirty-five languages are indigenous to South Africa, ten of which are official languages of the country along with English, as the eleventh.

Given the depth of diversity in the country, it is no surprise its musical roots are just as diverse. Music and dance have held great importance to indigenous peoples of the region with ancient cave paintings found high in the Drakensberg Mountains even depicting trance dances and ceremonies. But it’s impossible to talk about South Africa’s music without discussing how colonization and the history of apartheid affected that music.

The region was initially colonized by the Dutch, who used the area primarily as a hub for the slave trade. Cape Colony was seized by the British during the Napoleonic Wars. After further periods of conflict and abuse of the indigenous people, in 1910 the Union of South Africa was created, as an autonomous dominion within the British Empire.

This was the dawn of one of the most oppressive systems of racial oppression in the modern world. Indigenous populations were ‘retribalized,’ and forced to live in ‘homelands,’ and non-whites had vastly restricted constitutional rights. In 1913 the ‘Natives’ Land Act’ was passed severely restricting the landowning rights of black people. This system of oppression even restricted music and artistic expression as all music had to conform to ethnic lines and any collaboration between artists of different ethnicities, or mixing of languages was prohibited. Given the vast cultural diversity and the forced separation of peoples by ethnic groups make it impossible to speak about the history of South African music as a monolith.

In the early 1900s, an underground music style called Marabi emerged that has musical links to jazz and ragtime. Played in South African equivalents of speakeasies, it was a type of music discouraged by authorities. Like early jazz in America, it was seen as a corrupting influence and unfortunately, none of the original Marabi musicians were recorded.

One of the more influential types of music to emerge during this period was Zulu township music, in the 50s, called Mbaqanga, the name of cornmeal porridge. Early enthusiasts of the music were African jazz fans who often were not permitted to work in the city but couldn’t sustain themselves in the country. Mbaqanga gave them daily musical sustenance, hence the name.

Different ethnic traditions and different tribal roots, a shared history of oppression, and forced separation have created a plethora of distinct and uniquely South African musical styles, both traditional and modern and interesting mixes of the two. The end of apartheid in 1994, and the end of media restrictions led to an explosion of creative energy, and a plethora of new styles. The first of the new styles to appear post-apartheid was Kwaito, a South African brand of hip-hop, that utilized synthesizers and slow jams.

This playlist, rather than being defined by a specific genre or traditional music of a specific ethnic group, focuses more on a common vibe as a unifying factor. All of these songs were chosen for their smooth sound and calming, upbeat, energy.  The mix will take you through different cultures and styles of the region but across all of it will provide a smooth listening experience that works great as a background playlist to provide shape to your day. Digging into South African music can feel like a daunting task for a non-local. This mix can also serve as a wonderful starting point and if you hear a song you particularly enjoy, you can dig into more music in that tradition.