Pop Music in South Africa: A History

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A history of pop music in South Africa, from the 1950s to the present day, discussing the influence of politics, culture, and social change.

The Origins of Pop Music in South Africa

Pop music in South Africa has its origins in the Western world, with the first recordings of pop music made in the 1950s. However, it was not until the 1980s that pop music became truly popular in South Africa, with the advent of radio and television. South African pop music has since come to be dominated by a few genres, namely hip hop, Kwaito, and house music.

The influence of American and British pop music

The origins of pop music in South Africa can be traced back to the 1950s when American and British rock ‘n’ roll and jazz began to be played on the radio. This was followed by the importation of 45 RPM records from these countries in the 1960s. These records, along with those of local artists, were played at parties and dances, helping to popularize pop music in South Africa.

The 1970s saw the rise of disco and funk, with American and British artists such as ABBA, The Bee Gees, Donna Summer, James Brown, and George Clinton becoming popular in South Africa. These genres would lay the foundations for what would later become known as bubblegum pop and township jive.

In the 1980s, South African pop music began to develop its own identity with the rise of homegrown stars such as Juluka,hotlegs, Lata Mangeshkar , Brenda Fassie ,and Miriam Makeba . This new wave of artists blended traditional African sounds with Western pop and rock to create a unique South African sound.

The 1990s was a particularly vibrant period for South African pop music with a number of different genres flourishing. These included kwaito (a form of house music), mbaqanga (a style rooted in traditional Zulu music), marabi (a type of jazz), gospel, and Afrikaans pop. Artists such as Lucky Dube ,Toure Kunda , Malaika , Youssou N’Dour ,and Salif Keita became international stars while remaining true to their roots.

Today, South African pop music is more diverse than ever before with artists drawing on a variety of influences to create new sounds. While some artists are content to stay within traditional genres, others are pushing boundaries and experiment with different styles, making South African pop music some of the most innovative and exciting in the world.

The influence of African music

Pop music in South Africa has been greatly influenced by African music. South African musicians have incorporated elements of traditional African music into their own unique brand of pop music. The result is a sound that is both uniquely African and distinctly South African.

Traditional African music is characterized by its use of percussion instruments, vocal harmony, and call-and-response singing. These elements can be heard in many of the popular songs that have come out of South Africa in recent years. One example is the song “Wololo” by the popular South African hip-hop artist, Cassper Nyovest. In this song, Nyovest sampled a traditional Zulu chant and combined it with a modern hip-hop beat to create a signature sound that is both catchy and authentic.

The influence of traditional African music can also be heard in the work of some of South Africa’s most popular rock bands. For instance, the group stimela, which means “train” in Zulu, has been incorporating elements of traditional African music into their brand of rock since they formed in the early 1980s. The result is a sound that is at once familiar and new, making stimela one of the most innovative and exciting bands in South Africa today.

The Development of Pop Music in South Africa

Pop music in South Africa has been influenced by a number of factors, including Western pop music, African traditional music, and South African local styles. The result is a unique and diverse form of pop music that has been enjoyed by South Africans for many years.

The rise of African pop music

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new type of African pop music emerged, influenced by American and European pop styles as well as traditional African sounds. This music, which came to be known as “kwaito,” was initially popular only in South Africa’s townships, but it soon found a wider audience among black South Africans of all economic backgrounds. At the same time, a number of white South African musicians began to experiment with incorporating African sounds into their own music, helping to create a unique South African pop sound.

The influence of apartheid

The system of apartheid, which segregated blacks and whites in South Africa, had a profound effect on the development of pop music in the country. Blacks were not allowed to play white-owned instruments or sing in white-owned venues, so they developed their own music and dance styles. The most popular black musical genres were Township Jive, Maskanda, and Mbube. These styles were often based on traditional African music, but they also incorporated elements of Western pop and jazz.

During the 1950s and 1960s, black South Africans began to experience more freedom, and their music began to reflect this change. Artists like Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela started incorporating elements of African folk music into their work, while others began experimenting with rock ‘n’ roll and soul. This new generation of musicians helped to introduce South African pop music to the world; in the 1970s, Makeba’s song “Pata Pata” became a global hit, and Masekela’s album “Graceland” was praised by critics worldwide.

The 1980s saw a return to more political subject matter in South African pop music, as artists used their work to comment on the country’s continued struggles with apartheid. Bands like Juluka and Savuka captured the frustration of black South Africans during this time, while artists like Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Lucky Dube used their music to call for peace and unity. In the 1990s, after apartheid finally ended, South African pop music entered a new era of exploration and experimentation; artists like Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zenani sang about her experiences growing up under apartheid, while other artists like Vusi Mahlasela combined traditional African sounds with Western pop to create a truly unique style of music.

The influence of post-apartheid

The first commercially successful pop music in South Africa was partially a result of the post-apartheid climate. In the 1990s, a new generation of South African musicians began to experiment with Western pop styles, infusing them with traditional African sounds and sensibilities. The result was a unique and vibrant new musical genre that came to be known as “township pop.”

Township pop incorporated elements of both Western pop music and traditional African music, resulting in a distinctly South African sound. The new genre quickly gained popularity among South Africa’s youth, who were eager for music that reflected their own experiences and culture.

Township pop soon began to exert a strong influence on the mainstream pop music scene in South Africa. Many of the country’s most popular musicians, such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba, began incorporating township pop sounds into their own music. As township pop became more popular, it also began to evolve, branching out into different subgenres such as kwaito and mbaqanga.

Today, townshippop remains one of the most popular genres of music in South Africa. It has also had a significant impact on the development of other genres of South African music, such as hip hop and house.

The Future of Pop Music in South Africa

Pop music in South Africa has always been a controversial genre. Some argue that it is a form of musical expression that is dominated by Western culture, while others believe that it is a unique genre that should be celebrated. There is no doubt that pop music in South Africa has undergone a lot of changes over the years.

The influence of globalization

In the past few years, South Africa has seen a significant growth in the popularity of pop music. This is largely due to the influence of globalization, which has led to an increase in the number of people exposed to different types of music from all over the world.

One of the biggest factors contributing to the rise in popularity of pop music in South Africa is the growth of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. These platforms have made it easier than ever for people to listen to any type of music they want, and they’ve introduced many South Africans to new genres and artists that they wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.

Another factor that’s played a role in the popularity of pop music in South Africa is the rise of social media. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have given artists a direct way to connect with their fans, and they’ve also allowed fans to share their favorite songs and videos with their friends. This has helped spread the word about new artists and songs, and it’s one of the reasons why pop music has become so popular in recent years.

Globalization has had a major impact on the South African music scene, and it’s safe to say that pop music is here to stay. In the coming years, we can expect to see even more growth in the popularity of pop music in South Africa as more people are exposed to different types of music from all over the world.

The influence of technology

The future of pop music in South Africa is likely to be shaped by the increasing influence of technology. In recent years, the proliferation of mobile phones and Internet access has made it easier for people to connect with each other and share music. This has led to a boom in the popularity of online music services such as iTunes and Spotify, which have made it easier for people to discover and listen to new music.

The rise of social media platforms such as YouTube and SoundCloud has also had a major impact on the way that people consume music. These platforms have given rise to a new generation of South African musicians who are able to reach a global audience without signing a record deal or getting radio airplay.

It is not just the way that people consume music that is changing; technology is also having an impact on the way that music is created. In recent years, there has been a growing trend for artists to use digital tools such as loops and samples to create their own unique sound. This has led to the rise of genres such as trap and drill, which are heavily influenced by hip hop and trap music from the United States.

The increasing popularity of these genres is likely to have a significant impact on the future sound of pop music in South Africa. As more artists experiment with digital production techniques, we are likely to see an explosion of new sounds and styles in the years to come.

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