Beneath the political controversy and natural splendor South Africa offers a burgeoning music scene of eclectic local talent. We take a look at ten bands and artists that represent the plethora of talent rife in South Africa – by no means an exhaustive list.
It would be remiss omitting Die Antwoord from this list, regardless of their controversial antics and almost punk demeanour; their contribution is most certainly valued. Die Antwoord translates as ‘The Answer’; the answer to what, you may silently be asking yourself. Well, we’ll never know as Ninja himself conceded he has no idea. Die Antwoord is aRap-Rave group consisting of three members – Ninja, Yolandi Visser (typically stylised as ¥o-landi Vi$$er as to embody their Zef image) and finally DJ Hi-Tek, responsible for the next-level beats. Die Antwoord is one of South Africa’s most lucrative musical exports and has played alongside the likes of Johnny Depp and Marilyn Manson. You can find them in the new Neill Blomkamp feature film, CHAPPiE.
Francois van Coke
Francois van Coke (real name Francois Badenhorst) first burst onto the scene in 2003, debuting in the alternative-rock band Fokofpolisiekar (abbreviated to FPK), with visceral lyrics alluding to the social displacement of Afrikaners in the new South Africa. Motifs of how apathetic the Afrikaner youth had become and not being able to fit in the typical Calvinist, Dutch-Reformed strand of Protestantism were prevalent in the band’s melodic vocabulary. At the height of FPK’s musical and commercial success a controversial incident occurred and the band was put on a semi-permanent hiatus. The members all branched off in different projects, including van Coke, who formed his own band, van Coke Kartel (cartel). Van Coke’s ventures after FPK have been very successful and thus has etched himself into South Africa’s Rock history. Van Coke collaborated with Karen Zoid producing a beautiful Afrikaans single which you can find here.
Dubbed the Prince of Township Tech, Spoek Mathambo is at the forefront of South African electronic dance music. Amalgamating various electro genres including UK grime, dubstep and punk, and introducing a local variation of House music into the delicate mix, the end result is an exciting new genre in South Africa’s music scene – mixed on none other than your typical house computer. Mathambo achieved global recognition and notoriety for acover of Joy Division’s ‘She’s lost control’.
Sol Gems are the new kids on the block, but are quickly making a name for themselves. Three months after their first live gig, they had secured themselves a slot opening for the Allah-Las (California-based Pysch-rock band, touring in SA at the time). An opportunity most bands would call divine intervention had landed on their laps, and if their two tracks, freshly released, is anything to go by, this is definitely a band to keep an eye on. Be hypnotized by their psych-influenced and self-titled sun-gazing tunes here.
Alice Phoebe Lou
Alice is not just any Indie artist; Alice is the physical embodiment of Indie music. Refusing many major record label offers, arguing that being easily consumable and branded by their hidebound perception of popularity does not align with her vision and moral conviction. Making it on her own – from merely busking in Berlin, playing in the park to playing at a TEDx Talk and going viral; this whimsical wayfarer has the voice and instrumentalism to change our perception of ‘making it’ in the music industry. Although only 22 years old, Alice’s music speaks with a knowledge and truth far beyond her years. The new addition of Matteo, an Italian multi-instrumentalist adds a new dynamic to the performance and sound. Alice Phoebe Lou is certainly an artist to add to your playlist – listen to Berlin Blues on Soundcloud.
Al Bairre (pronounced Al Bear) is a young five piece collective bursting with energy; bringing a fresh breath of air into the lungs of the local music scene. The self-proclaimed ‘aggressively unfancy band’ are getting the mother city dancing, with what they call ‘classic indie finger pop’. The indie and orchestral tunes are truly contagious as you’re almost coerced into dancing – in a good way. A true representation of their electric performance was at Rocking the Daisies; one of South Africa’s premier music festivals attracting crowds from all corners of the festival-grounds. If you’re in the mood for coercive hip swaying listen to their latest single, Bungalow.
Dubbed the hardest working Reggae band in South Africa, the Tidal Waves do not disappoint. This diverse and soulful quintet have journeyed across 12 years in the music industry, gracing fans with five albums. The Tidal Waves play over 100 shows a year and have not only toured abroad in the US, Europe and China but have impressed reggae royalty. Ziggy Marley conceded to have ‘fallen in love with Tidal Waves’ after seeing them live and promptly chose them as his backing band at the Africa Unite concert in Soweto. View one of their hits, Rapolotiki here.
Yes, like Karl Marx’s manifesto. Das Kapital or Kyle Brinkmann as he is known otherwise is one of South Africa’s premier producers and EDM DJs. Brinkmann has a series of accomplishments ranging from opening for Hardwell, arguably the biggest DJ in the world to being featured and hand-picked by Rob Zombie himself appearing on Mondo Head Sex for his remix of Lords of Salem. Explore Das Kapital’s Soundcloud, for treats such as a remix of Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love’, which perfectly complements the famous single. With the founding of his own record label, Do Work Records, Brinkmann is certainly not a transient bleep on the radar but an integral part of South Africa’s EDM scene.
Arguably the Matriarch of South African music, this late beauty and talented musician had the cathartic melodies to quell any discontent you might happen to have. The soothing embrace of ‘Pata Pata’, her most familiar hit, gently grabs hold of your hips and you feel yourself swaying to the guiding voice of this once shining light of South African music. A Grammy Award winner and United Nations Ambassador, it is thus no surprise Makeba is referred to as Mama Africa. Not the hippest or most relevant artist in the scene, but Makeba’s music transcends relevancy with her timeless tunes.
Beckmann first made waves in the local music industry with LARK; an experimental and IDM crossover collective at the very frontier of South Africa’s music scene, it is thus no surprise they have been described as Avant-Garde. Their soundcloud page best describes their music as ‘glitch opera, soaring vocals and dirty electronic beats’, similar to Crystal Castles’ distorted, chaotic yet brilliantly fluid and coherent sounds. Inge Beckmann is responsible for the vocals and hypnotic stage performances which have garnered the band such a zealous following. Lark is currently on a semi-permanent hiatus.
During Lark’s hiatus Beckmann joined local supergroup BEAST, including Louis Nel (Taxi Violence), Rian Zietsman (Taxi Violence) and Werner von Waltsleben (The Plastics), whom are all in mutually successful and talented bands in South Africa. BEAST incorporates Beckmann’s vocals with two bass guitarists and pulls it off with the ease and suave one would expect from this troop of multi-faceted musos.