Is Kwaito South African hip hop?

In the article, Is Kwaito South African hip hop?, Swarlene Swartz writes about Kwaito in South Africa. There is an ongoing debate in South Africa as to calling “Kwaito” music South African hip hop. Many people argue that it is not, saying that it is merely mainstream European house music with reggae and rock elements. Others in South Africa say that Kwaito may be influenced by hip hop, but the sounds and rhythms are very different from one another.

Those who defend Kwaito say that it is a way for them to show their African-ness, instead of just “copying” the American styles of music. One person who was interviewed in the article says that Kwaito is the only music that is unique to South Africa, “it is ours, it is local”. Kwaito is rooted in South Africa, while hip hop was made in America. Many of the lyrics in Kwaito music are rooted in mysogyny, money and power (much like American hip hop), but South African youth say that Kwaito is “not as bad” as American hip hop in their portrayal of women and ostentatious wealth. Kwaito is also different than hip hop in that many artists do not focus on political issues, which many South Africans say that they are tired of listening to. Many people are alarmed by this growing trend and fear that Kwaito is encouraging youth to focus on material gain, rather than exacting change in their communities and societies.

Kwaito is often sung in native African languages (never in English) because artists maintain that they want to create their own identity from African culture–English is seen as a foreign language which has no history in South Africa and should not be used in Kwaito music.

Although people will continue to debate about how much or how little Kwaito and hip hop are related, it is clear that they borrow elements from one another. There are many hip hop artists who write lyrics only in the native language and incorporate traditional African instruments, just as Kwaito addresses topics that are commonly discussed in hip hop.


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