Music in South Africa


Hugh MasikelaSouth Africa has always been a popular international music venue. The nation’s political history made it a fashionable focus for 80s and 90s race protest and human rights related concert themes.

A more gritty and populist revival of the SA vibe came into being with the help of Paul Simon who, in his 1986 roots exploration ‘Graceland’, brought some of the more obscure sounds of South Africa into wider recognition.

With advent of majority rule in 1994 South Africa ceased to be the frontline of global human rights activism and overnight morphed into a regional economic and cultural superpower. Nowadays all kinds of international music finds its way to South Africa, some with a cultural/political overtone, but most without. Add to this the fact that South Africa itself has over the years generated some of the greatest names in jazz and world music and you have a music and culture destination like no other.

It can as a consequence be quite bewildering trying to navigate the huge number of venues, acts and festivals going on almost all the time in South Africa, but here are a few tips to help…

It helps to narrow down the field…

Music in South Africa is a very broad term. With choices ranging from the Chamber Orchestra of South Africa to the angry energy of Kwaito, and almost everything in between, it makes sense to get a fix on exactly what you are looking for.

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gumbootMost people come to South Africa expecting to hear ‘African’ music. This in itself covers a whole spectrum of indigenous styles from early gospel, acapella, Township Jazz and so on. Indigenous South African street music is in fact an academic subject studied in cultural institutes worldwide. One of the most current listings of top gigs on any day is music.org.za with the eclectic site afribeat.com offering more snippets of local cultural information.

On a local level your backpackers lodge or hotel reception should be tuned into what is going on in any local area, but if you happen to be in Cape town try your luck on one of the Coffeebeans Route cultural tour options. These can include anything from an evening Jazz Safari, a Roots Reggae Route to a little cultural repartee on the charming Story Telling Route. Add to this a good number of alternative tour ideas and you have an altogether off-beat series of day trips on offer from the inimitable Coffeebeans Routes.

Festival are a big feature on the South African events calendar…

hoggity-hoggSome of Africa’s coolest festivals happen in South Africa. To name but a few check out Splashy Fen in the lee of the Drakensberg, Cape Town International Jazz Festival, Oppikoppi for a taste of traditional Afrikaans music and culture and of course the annual OBZ Festival in Cape Town as if the Mother City was not already well represented.

Impromptu summer festival are held in public parks, botanical gardens, beaches and in the open air all over South Africa

Check out music.org.za for a comprehensive listing of festival, concerts, artists and general SA music background…

Drum circles and workshops…

afrikaburnThis is perhaps one of the most interesting and most poorly organized of all South Africa’s fraternities. South Africa has a deep strata of new-age/alternative subcultures that includes a Burning-Man type local festival called AfrikaBurn as well as an enthusiastic corps of Rainbow Warriors who travel widely from venue to venue with their Sacred Crystal. Somewhere in all this is to be found the drum fraternity including a strong clique of djembe drummers, builders, teachers and gurus. Check out algorhythm.co.za for an outdated list of events but an up-to-date contact page for the current word on what is going on. Bring a carton of king size rolling papers to trip the light fantastic Africa style!

And in conclusion…

There is always something going on in South Africa. The music industry is alive, vibrant and aggressive and is well represented and major and minor venues country wise. Check out your local tourist information office for anything interesting going on where you are…