Beneath the political controversy and natural splendor, South Africa offers a burgeoning music scene of eclectic local talent. We take a look at 10 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 punk demeanor; 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 a rap-rave group consisting of three members — Ninja, Yolandi Visser (typically stylised as ¥o-landi Vi$$er as to embody their Zef image), and DJ Hi-Tek, who is 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 home computer. Mathambo achieved global recognition and notoriety for a cover of Joy Division’s ‘She’s lost control.’
Sol Gems might be the new kids on the block, but they 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). An opportunity most bands would call divine intervention landed on their laps, and if their two tracks, freshly released, are 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. She’s refused numerous 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 to going viral after playing at a TEDx Talk, 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 age. The addition of Matteo, an Italian multi-instrumentalist, has brought about a new dynamic to her performance and sound.
Al Bairre (pronounced Al Bear) is a young five-piece collective bursting with energy, providing a breath of fresh air in 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, doing its best to get you dancing. A true representation of their electric live 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 some 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 U.S., Europe, and China, but have also 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, aka Kyle Brinkmann, is one of South Africa’s premier producers and EDM DJs. Brinkmann has a series of accomplishments ranging from opening for Hardwell, one of the world’s biggest DJs, to being featured and hand-picked by Rob Zombie himself to appear on Mondo Head Sex for his remix of ‘Lords of Salem.’ 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. Explore Das Kapital’s Soundcloud for treats such as a remix of Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love.’
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 winner and United Nations ambassador, it is no surprise Makeba is referred to as Mama Africa.
Beckmann first made waves in the local music industry with Lark, an experimental IDM crossover outfit at the very frontier of South Africa’s music scene. Their Soundcloud page best describes their music as ‘glitch opera, soaring vocals and dirty electronic beats,’ similar to Crystal Castles’ distorted and chaotic but brilliantly fluid sounds. Inge Beckmann is responsible for the vocals and hypnotic stage performances which have garnered the band such a zealous following.
Lark currently on a semi-permanent hiatus, Beckmann joined local supergroup BEAST, including Louis Nel and Rian Zietsman of Taxi Violence, and Werner von Waltsleben of The Plastics, all 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.