Sound of Soweto

Township Music

'Township Music' probably started as a crossover between gospel choirs and black minstrel shows that developed as early as the 1920’s. Marabi came about in the 1920’s (think The Jazz Maniacs, The Merry Blackbirds and The Jazz Revellers) and was the music of the shebeens that morphed into a swing style of jazz (Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe and the Drum generation) that flourished in Sophiatown. 

©Dr Peter Magubane
Teenagers from Sophiatown enjoying township music back in the day.

This was also the time of kwela ('get up' in Zulu) in the 1950’s, played by the likes of Lemmy Mabaso and Spokes Mashiyane. Mbaqanga jazz was popular in the 1960’s and gave birth to the pop mbaqanga sound of Soweto epitomised by Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Brenda Fassie and Yvonne Chaka-Chaka. Isicathamiya came along in the 1970’s with hits such as Mbube (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds.

Kwaito developed in the 1990’s and is the township equivalent of house dance music, mixed with hip-hop and later rap: think Mandoza, Mdu and TKZee. Then there was Lucky Dube, the chief proponent of African reggae, who was tragically killed in a botched carjacking in 2007. Today in Soweto, the music lives on.

By David Bristow