Kwaito, a musical genre containing catchy melodic and percussive loop samples, deep
bass lines and vocals, and a “dance music” feel evolved in Johannesburg, South Africa during the 1990’s on the tail-end of Apartheid. The kwaito genre is a mixture of a number of different rhythms including marabi form the1920s, kwela from the 1950s and bubblegum music from the early 80’s.  Kwaito music largely represents life in the townships of South Africa during the post-Apartheid period; some even consider it “aggressive township music.” Kwaito is often described as a “lifestyle” and was most popular among the black youth of South Africa. One of the first Kwaito songs to become popular in South Africa was the song “Kaffir” by artist Arthur Mafokate, which illustrated the freedom of expression resulting from political liberation in South Africa (1). Kwaito’s musical characteristics continue to influence music in South Africa to this day, making it an important an important milestone in the evolution of African Music in the 20th century.

This picture shows Arthur Mafokate, the South African artist who is considered “The King of Kwaito”.

Although kwaito music was a largely male-dominated genre, South African
female artist Brenda Fassie, also known as the Queen of African Pop, quickly
adopted this genre of music as it came about in the 1990’s. Fassie’s diva
attitude, her scandals involving sex and drugs, and her sexually explicit
lyrics and dance moves, led to her fame. Although she was known for her
outrageousness, Fassie grew popular because of her songs about controversial
topics at the time such as African culture and life. Fassie was considered a voice
for disenfranchised blacks during apartheid and performed at Nelson Mandela’s
85th birthday celebration (2). According to David Coplan in In Township Tonight, “Brenda’s blend of explicit and sexual explosiveness was never the contradiction to herself or her fans that the term ‘bubblegum’ might suggest. In fact, her defiantly self-destructive lifestyle and in-your-face rebellious female articulateness were as much part of her politics as her recordings and her frenetically sensual stage performances” (3). Brenda Fassie spent the majority of her career as a prominent bubblegum artist, although at the end of her career she put more of a political emphasis on her music.

This link leads to a a recording of Brenda Fassie singing “Black President”, a tribute to Nelson Mandela after his death in April 2010.

Bongo Maffin was a South African kwaito music group who became famous in the late
1990’s. Although the band fell under the genre of kwaito, a variety of different sounds influenced their music, such as the reggae inspired “flavor” from one member Appleseed. The variety of styles range from reggae, dancehall, rap, and contemporary R & B. Bongo Maffin was formed in 1996 and they have been tapped for shows by international stars such as Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Skunk Anansie and Boys to Men. Bongo Maffin’s mix of groove and spirituality, cutting edge and tradition has already made them one of the biggest sounds on South African dance floors, and they are poised to take on the international stage next (4). This band is important because they incorporate so many different styles, yet still retain aspects of traditional Africa music in their songs.

South African Kwaito group Bongo Maffin. Members include Applessed, Stoan, and Thandiswa.


1. “South African History Online.” South African History Online. (accessed November 10, 2011)

2. Chale, Museke. 17 Nov. 2006. 20 Nov. 2011 <>

3. Coplan, David B. In Township Tonight!: South Africa’s Black City Music and Theatre. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 2008. Print. 295.

4. “Bongo Maffin .” BongoMaffin . Multimedia Images , 2008. Web. 20 Nov
2011. <>.

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