Discover South African Folk Music on Wikipedia

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Discover traditional South African music on Wikipedia. Learn about the history and culture of the people of South Africa through their music.


South African folk music is a genre of music that is typically performed by people who identify with the country of South Africa. This music is typically rooted in the country’s history and traditions. It often includes elements of other genres, such as pop, rock, and jazz.

What is South African Folk Music?

The music of South Africa reflects the diverse range of cultural influences that have shaped the country. African, European, and Asian elements can all be found in the music, which has been influenced by a long history of migration and cultural exchange. South African folk music is particularly rich and varied, with traditions that have been passed down through the generations.

One of the most important aspects of South African folk music is the use of traditional instruments. These include drums, guitars, and other percussion instruments. The music often has a strong rhythm, which is perfect for dancing.

South African folk music is also known for its use of vocal harmony. This means that several people sing together, often in unison or octaves. This can create a very powerful sound, which is perfect for conveying emotion and feeling.

If you’re interested in discovering more about South African folk music, then Wikipedia is a great place to start. There are articles on many different topics, including the history of the music, the different genres and styles, and the various artists who have helped to shape the sound of South African folk music over the years.

History of South African Folk Music

South African folk music has been around for centuries, and has been shaped by a variety of factors. The country’s history is a complex one, with influences from indigenous peoples, European settlers, and slaves from other parts of Africa. This diversity is reflected in the music, which has been adapted and blended over time to create a uniquely South African sound.

During the colonial era, folk music was used as a tool to help spread Christianity among the native population. Missionaries would sing hymns in local languages, and sometimes incorporate indigenous instruments into their performances. This helped to create a link between the two cultures, and also allowed Europeans to better understand the local people and their customs.

As South Africa became more industrialized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of its citizens began to migrate to cities in search of work. This led to a mixing of different cultures and musical styles, as people from all over the country came into contact with each other. The resulting blend of sounds was often quite unique, and helped to create a new type of folk music that incorporated elements from many different traditions.

Today, South African folk music is still evolving, as new generations add their own twist to traditional sounds. However, its roots can be traced back centuries, making it an important part of the country’s cultural heritage.

Notable South African Folk Musicians

Vusi Mahlasela

Vusi Mahlasela (born 1965) is a South African singer-songwriter, guitarist, and political activist. He is sometimes called “The Voice” for his smooth tenor and his ability to convey the stories of his native South Africa through music. His songs often deal with optimistic themes, such as freedom, reconciliation, and hope.

Mahlasela was born in Johannesburg and grew up in the Township of Daveyton. He began singing at an early age and joined his first band, The Skyway Live Band, when he was just 14 years old. He rose to prominence in the 1980s as a member of the Congress of South African Musicians (COSAM), an organization that was dedicated to promoting black music during the apartheid era.

Mahlasela’s first album, When You Come Back, was released in 1992. He has since released eight more albums, including The Voice (2002) and Say Africa (2010). His music has been featured in several films, including Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (2002) and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013).

Mahlasela has received numerous awards and accolades for his work, including the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver (2011) from the South African government. He continues to tour internationally and perform at festivals around the world.

Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008), nicknamed Mama Africa, was a South African singer, actress, United Nations goodwill ambassador, and civil rights activist. Emerging from the musically rich 1950s in Sophiatown and Newtown, Johannesburg, she worked with such artists as Dolly Rathebe, Kippie Moeketsi, Hugh Masekela, and Abdullah Ibrahim. Makeba became famous abroad owing to her musical talent and political activism; she lived in Guinea-Conakry for many years with her husband, Stokely Carmichael.

After the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 she denounced the South African government’s policy of apartheid at a Newport Jazz Festival news conference which gained her worldwide attention. In 1963 she moved to New York City where she continued to campaign against apartheid. She married black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael and became involved with the Black Power movement. For five years beginning in 1966 she was unable to return to South Africa; in 1970 she was given permission by the government to perform there for the first time since 1961 as a result of international pressure on behalf of anti-apartheid activists. After Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 Makeba performed at his birthday celebration concert in Wembley Stadium London with Harry Belafonte and Paul Simon.

She recorded over two dozen albums over a span of almost four decades and toured widely, especially in Africa. In 1999 an all-star tribute concert was performed for her on her 70th birthday by such artists as Dolly Parton and Bono; it was later released as a CD/DVD package entitled An All Star Tribute: Celebrating Miriam Makeba. Upon her death at the age of 76 from an attack of esophageal cancer while traveling from Italy after performing at a benefit concert she was buried in Athens next to close friend Tammi Terrell with whom she had sung duets including “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” and “Angels Love Bad Men”.

Hugh Masekela

Hugh Ramapolo Masekela (4 April 1939 – 23 January 2018) was a South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, bandleader, composer, and singer. He is the father of American television host Sal Masekela.

Masekela was born in KwaGuqa Township, Witbank, Transvaal Province of South Africa. He began playing piano and singing in the choir at an early age. At 14 he joined the circulating big bands that visited his township on weekends and began experimenting with a neighbouring boy’s trumpet.

South African Folk Music Today

South African folk music is a genre of music that is often overlooked. The music has a rich history dating back to the 1600s when the first Dutch settlers arrived in the country. The music has been influenced by a variety of cultures, including Dutch, French, German, and British. Today, the music is enjoyed by a wide range of people, both in South Africa and around the world.

Ghoema Music

Ghoema music is a type of South African folk music that is popular among the Afrikaans-speaking community. The name comes from the ghoema, a traditional drum used in the music. Ghoema music is often upbeat and lively, and often features singers and dancers performing together.

Kwela Music

Kwela music is a light, happy music that is popular in South Africa. It is usually played on pennywhistle or toy piano and accompanied by marabi dance. Kwela means “to climb” in Zulu, and the music is often associated with joy and celebration.

Maskanda Music

Maskanda is a style of music that originated in the Kwazulu-Natal province of South Africa. It is characterized by its use of acoustic guitars and close harmonies. The songs are often about love, but they can also be about society or history.

The maskanda style began to develop in the early 1900s, when musicians started to experiment with adding Western-style guitar playing to traditional Zulu music. The genre really took off in the 1950s, when it became popular among young people in urban areas. Maskanda songs are often very lyrical and emotional, and they often tell stories about love and life.

Some of the most famous maskanda artists include Lucky Dube, Phuzekhemisi, and Mtshengiseni Gcwensa.


Despite the vastness and diversity of South African folk music, there are a few things that all genres have in common. Firstly, they are all based on traditional music that has been passed down from generation to generation. Secondly, they all exhibit a strong sense of community and identity. And finally, they all offer a unique window into the rich culture of South Africa.

Whether you’re looking for something upbeat and lively, or something more mellow and reflective, South African folk music has something to offer everyone. So why not explore it for yourself today?

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