"Kwaito will never die," tweeted the rapper Riky Rick about a week ago.
This was after he'd just released a new single called "Stay Shining." The song features fellow rapper Cassper Nyovest, alongside the Durban kwaito artist Professor, Alie Keys and the DJ duo Major League DJz.
"Stay Shining" has a kwaito flavor to it, which is nothing new for Riky Rick, Cassper Nyovest and Major League DJz.
Kwaito, a South African genre that was big in the 90s and early 2000s, lives vicariously through hip-hop in 2017. Artists such as Spoek Mathambo, OkMalumKoolKat, Cassper Nyovest, K.O and many others, have all referenced kwaito in their songs, sparking a hip-hop subgenre called 'new age kwaito.'
Durban kwaito (Big Nuz, DJ Tira, Character, Professor, etc.), which leans more towards house, with a higher tempo than conventional kwaito, is the main reason there's still a kwaito category at the South African Music Awards and Metro FM Awards.
Pure kwaito in 2017 is not as popular as it was in the 90s and early 2000s, when it was the youth genre of choice. Artists such as Trompies, Alaska, Zola, Guffy, TKZee, Boom Shaka, Bongo Maffin, Arthur, Mandoza, and hordes of others have provided the soundtrack to every December without fail every year.
Those artists, however, were nothing without the architects of the kwaito sound. It was the producers who had us gyrating and bobbing our heads to those bass lines and thumping drums while reciting those catchy hooks.
Kwaito started in the late-80s to the early-90s. At the height of bubblegum music (Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Chicco etc.), the then-new generation needed its own voice.
Mandla "Spikiri" Mofokeng, who used to be part of bubblegum producer and artist Chicco Twala's ensemble as a dancer, joined forces with Mduduzi "Mdu" Masilela, a seasoned piano player, to form the duo MM Deluxe in the late-80s. They released their debut album Where Were You? in 1988. Those two, with the influence of Chicco, arguably gave birth to kwaito.
By the mid-90s, kwaito was unstoppable (M'du released his hit single "Tsiki Tsiki" in 1994). What set kwaito apart from bubblegum was its slower tempo and that most of the lyrics weren't sung, but chanted–just like in rap.
At the height of Nelson Mandela's release in 1990 and his election as the first democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994, the kids had every reason to celebrate. Apartheid was a thing of the past, and the country was optimistic for a new South Africa (that hasn't gone so well, but that's a story for another day).
Kwaito was playing loud in taxis, shebeens, hair salons, homes and everywhere black people were. The youth radio station YFM is cited as the first to give kwaito a platform.
Sonically, the genre could be, at the time, described as a slowed down version of house music and lyrically as a less dense version of hip-hop, as the lyrics were repetitive and catchy.
While the producers contributed immensely to what kwaito became, just like in every other genre, they're hardly ever part of the conversation. The work that producers, like Spikiri, Oskido and Bruce Sebitlo, have done for artists such as Mafikizolo, Mawillies, and Trompies, doesn't always get mentioned when the artists' names are brought up.
But what is Mandoza's smash hit "Nkalakatha" without Gabi Le Roux's and menacing bass and electric guitar? What's TKZee's "Shibobo" without that sample from the band Europe's "The Final Countdown?" What is any Malaika song without those organ keys and big bass lines by Guffy? What's your favorite kwaito hit without that memorable beat?
In the next 10 pages, we look at the most prolific, consistent and impactful kwaito producers of the yesteryears, in no particular order.
Mandla "Spikiri" Mofokeng, alongside M'du, is the godfather of kwaito. The two formed what's arguably the first kwaito outfit, MM Deluxe. As a member of the pantsula trio Trompies, Spikiri produced most of their hits, with assistance from Oskido and Bruce Sebitlo, with whom he co-founded the label Kalawa Jazzmee Records. A Spikri production is hard to miss–his trademark bass line is unique to him and no one else.
That same bass line has been part of the biggest kwaito and afro pop hits and classics by the likes of Kabelo, Mafikizolo, Mzekezeke, Jakarumba, Mawillies, Lebo Mathosa, among others. He also produced most–if not all–of his solo stuff, including the massive hit "Current." His contribution to one of kwaito's most successfu labels Kalawa Jazzmee doesn't only make him one of the greatest kwaito producers, but a very important name in South African music as a whole.
Mafikizolo "Sgruva Njalo"
Kabelo "Pantsula For Life"
Mafikizolo "O Tswa Kae"
Trompies "Sigiya Ngengoma" (co-produced by Oskido)
Mzekezeke "Fosta Njengo Mzekezeke"
Mzekezeke "Ganda Ganda"
KB used to be the in-house producer for the indie label Ghetto Ruff in the early 2000s. He was one of the most versatile producers of his time–he has kwaito, hip-hop and R&B hits bearing his credits.
KB produced Zola's first three stellar albums (Umdlwembe, Khokhovula and Bhambatha), and that alone is enough to make him one of the greatest–the consistency is unmatched. Him and Zola changed the way kwaito was made–Zola was one of the first kwaito artists to successfully fuse rap and kwaito, while KB's production was clean and had layers of different sounds that were unheard of in kwaito until he used them.
But the man's work goes deeper than Zola's impressive catalog–he produced earlier Ghetto Ruff gems like Oda Meesta's "Wena ubani" and Skeem's "Waar was Jay?," among others.
Oda Meesta "Wena Ubani"
Zola "Ghetto Scandalous"
Zola "Ghetto Fabulous"
Zola "Sana Lwami"
Skeem "Waar Was Jy?"
Zola "Don't Cry"
Gabi Le Roux
Gabi Le Roux brought a rock element into kwaito. The prime example is his work on the timeless Mandoza hit "Nkalakatha," which travelled beyond the realms of kwaito and touched South Africans of all colors and creeds.
Try to think of a more memorable kwaito song that that–his electric guitar rifs blended with Mandoza's hoarse voice created a distinct sound that Mandoza would be known for most of his career–following up with similarly massive songs produced by Le Roux, such as "Tornado" and "Godoba."
The producer is also responsible for "Phezulu," a hit by the group Chiskop, which Mandoza was a part of. He has contributed to albums by the likes of Thembi Seete (Smatsatsta), Mandoza and Danny K's collaborative album Same Difference, among others. Even if he had produced "Nkalakatha" alone, he would still make this list.
Magesh "It's All Right (I See You)" ft Mandoza & Kabelo
Mandoza (ft. Chiskop) "Uzoyithola Kanjani?"
Mandoza ft. Magesh "Is'khathi Sewashi"
D-Rex incorporated a lot of pop and electro into his production. He was a perfect fit for Mandoza, alongside Gabi Le Roux's production. With his EDM sensibilities, the bass came naturally, which alongside a selection of synths pushed kwaito forward a bit.
Recall his monumental bassline and the cleanliness of Mapaputsi's mega hit "Izinja." D-Rex worked with the likes of Thembi Seete, Gurash, Black Jack, Ghetto Lingo, Kabelo, most of whose sound wasn't conventional. Most of his production, Gurash's "Luncho Boys" for example, sounds like nothing kwaito fans had heard before, and arguably, after.
Thembi Seete "Shay' Izandla"
Mandoza "Phunyuka Bamphethe"
Ghetto Lingo "Pump It Up"
Gurash "Lunch Boys"
Black Jack "Amajekeje"
Jamali "Ndalile (The Hamba Song)"
Guffy's contribution to the group Malaika's success is obvious to almost everyone. Apart from his trademark bassline, Guffy's productions were characterized by his virtuoso organ skills. Songs like "Muntuza," "Destiny," "Mhla Uphela Amandla" by Malaika saw a synergetic combination of the two elements to create some of the most memorable kwaito/afropop classics of the early and mid-2000s. Earlier in his career, Guffy was a hot kwaito artist who produced most of his hits.
Before his sound "matured" by way of Malaika, Guffy was producing classic kwaito that led with bass in the 90s, and has contributed to the careers of the likes of Mawillies, Tokollo aka Magesh, Kabelo, among others.
Malaika "Mhla Uphela Amandla"
Guffy "Vuka Mawulele"
Brown Dash, Mzekekze & Kabelo "Amasoja"
Mawillies "Liyakhuz' ikhehla"
Oskido & Bruce Sebitlo
Two of the co-founders of Kalawa Jazmee Records, a label instrumental in the success of kwaito, Oskido and Bruce Sebitlo partnered on some of the most genre-defining kwaito releases. They produced hits for their duet Brothers of Peace (B.O.P), Alaska, Trompies, Thebe, Mafikizolo and a lot of others. The two, alongside another genius, jazz producer Don Laka, were responsible for the merging afro pop and kwaito. They produced songs such as Mafikizolo's "Kwela Kwela" and "Sebenza" (ft. Dorothy Masuja), which combined Sophia Town-era kwela music with kwaito, almost creating a new subgenre. This put Mafikizolo in a unique space, which they still occupy progressively to this day.
Kalawa Jazzme ran kwaito for years, and it was mostly Oskido and Sebitlo alongside producers such as Don Laka and Spikiri, who created the label's trademark sound.
B.O.P's sound later morphed into more house than kwaito, but still kept those kwaito sensibilities on their Zabalaza trilogy of albums.
Oskido is also a notable in South African house music, and, through songs by Durban's T'zozo and Professor, ushered a new era of Durban kwaito, which kwaito purists consider house, but has, like or not, prolonged kwaito's lifespan through Big Nuz, DJ Tira, L'Vovo and others.
Some notable productions
Mafikizolo "Ndihamba Nawe" (co-produced by Mahoota)
Mafikizolo ft. Hugh Masekela "Kwela Kwela"
T'zozo & Professor "Woz' eDurban" (co-produced by Mahoota)
Zonke "Ekhaya" (Produced by Bruce Sebitlo)
Winnie Khumalo "Live My Life"
Thebe "Boola Boot" (produced by Bruce Sebitlo & Guffy)
Trompies "Sigiya Ngengoma" (co-produced by Spikiri)
Boom Shaka "Makwerekwere" (co-produced by Spikiri and Mahoota)
BOP "Manyonyoba" (co-produced by Spikiri, Mahoota and Don Laka)
M'du, aka Tha Godfather, earned his epithet. After being part of the definitive duo, MM Deluxe, alongside Spikiri, M'du went on to create the most impressive and memorable kwaito productions.
With his piano skills, M'du's production came with a musicality that probably shut down critics who thought kwaito was musically inferior.
He produced all of his solo records (he has nine studio albums under his belt). M'du was also the producer of groups such as Mashamplan (of which he was a member) and later MaG'mbos.
The artist is one of the few producers who never lost consistency–he was as hot during the early days of kwaito, and went on to work with newer artists such as Mzekezeke and Brown Dash, producing some of their most biggest hits.
This man's basslines knock harder than most's.
M'du "Tsiki Tsiki"
M'du "Ma Bank Book"
M'du "Y U 4 Me"
Brown Dash "Phans Komthunzi Welanga"
Jakarumba "Zong'Thola Kahle"
Brown Dash "Vum Vum"
M'du & Mandoza "50 50"
In the mid-2000s, DJ Cleo, apart from being a DJ and a house producer, contributed a lot of kwaito jams within a very short space of time. The rise of the kwaito indie label TS Records introduced to kwaito a producer who was ahead of his time (there's no less cliché way to put it).
DJ Cleo used screeching and whizzing synth sounds that were new to kwaito at the time, as heard on some of early productions such as "Amakoporosh" by Mzekezeke and "Puff n Pass" by Brown Dash.
DJ Cleo went on to contribute to the merging of kwaito and hip-hop when he produced the rapper Pitch Black Afro's seminal debut album Styling Gel (2004). The mega hit "Matofotofo" from the album is considered both kwaito and hip-hop. DJ Cleo also produced hits for the likes of Brickz (he produced his first two albums), Mandoza, and later on Bleksem.
Without DJ Cleo, there's no Mzekezeke, Brown Dash, Pitch Black Afro as we know them.
Brown Dash "Puff n Pass"
Mzekezeke (ft. Brown Dash) "Guqa Ngamadolo"
Pitch Black Afro "Matofotofo"
Brickz "Sweety My Baby"
Mzekezeke "Akekh' ugogo"
Mzekezeke (ft. Brown Dash) "Amakoporosh"
Zwai Bala did something phenomenal when he took the Swedish rock band Europe's massive hit "The Final Countdown" and turned into yet another massive South African hit "Shibobo" by TKZee, a trio he is part of.
Zwai Bala kept most of his production in-house, producing almost exclusively for TKZee and its affiliates. TKZee added a hip-hop element into kwaito, even blending their music as the self-created genre they called "guz."
His best and most progressive body of work to date has to be TKZee's groundbreaking classic album Halloween (1997), which, after 20 years in existence, is still loved by South African music lovers of all ages.
Almost every TKZee hit is the work of Zwai Bala. And for a group that has as many hits as they do, Bala sure is a special talent, and one that sits perfectly among the legends of not just kwaito but South African music as a whole, especially since he has produced other genres.
TKZee (ft. Benni McCarthy) "Shibobo"
TKZee (ft. Sbu) "Masimbela"
TKZee "Dlala Mapantsula"
TKZee Family "Fiasco"
TKZee Family "Izinja"
TKZee "We Love This Place"
The self-proclaimed King of kwaito produced almost every song that was released under his label 999 Music. Except producing his own hits such as the monumental "Kaffir," "Oyi Oyi," "Mnike," "Haybo," "Twalatsa," among hoards of others, he produced hits for Abashante, Ishmael, Makhendlas, Purity, New Skool, Chomee, Iyaya, Zombo and more.
Earlier, his production style was simplistic, with a lean bassline and high pitch organ keys, but later became wider as demonstrated on songs like his hit "Pule Pule" and Ishmael's "Roba Le Theka," which boasted a healthy bass line and layers of pads that proved Mafokate was moving with the times and improving on his sound.
Apart from the instrumentals, Arthur's production was distinct as a reasonable number of his productions featured vocals usually sung by members of the group Abashante.
Arthur's solo singles and those he produced for artists signed under 999 Music were responsible for popularizing dances that are now part of South African subculture–kwasa kwsa, twalatsa, manyisa and more.
Ishmael "Roba Le Theka"
New Skool "Dlala Kayona"
Arthur "Haai bo"
Arthur "Sika Lekhekhe"
Arthur "Pule Pule"
Arthur "Oyi Oyi"