The thing about kwaito was that it was not universal; it was not for everyone and it had no intentions of being such. It was for the hood and only the hood and it was damn proud of the fact. Mandoza’s Nkalakatha’s crossover appeal was a flash in the pan but, kwaito was still too raw to be stomached the “broader” audience. Artists like Thebe tried to sway kwaito into new urban relevance through catchy house loops and “crowd of young girls” choruses. But, the Ulyssean epic that was kwaito, decked out in a bucket hat, DMD golfer, Dickies chinos and red Chuck T’s from Skipper Bar, it entertained such advances, but only to a point. It was still stuck in its ways. It longed for the street bash, dodgy taverns and obscene sub-woofer booming from open car boots in leisure parks. Then, Dj Cleo burst in riding the Wheels of Steel and turned the shit around like a hand-braked 325i gusheshe with its top down. When the rubber smoke cleared, there stood Mzekezeke, a Yfm radio show skit that had hulked out of its orange overalls. A black masked Moses that had split the music scene open to usher in the glorious return of the prodigal son; kwaito was back. Not modern kwaito, not a modified version, no, this was the brash, obnoxious and intoxicating kwaito we grew up with. The work that Mzekezeke, Cleo, Brown Dash, Bricks and the likes out was like the alignment of the stars. The sound was euphorically nostalgic and, most importantly, it took us back to the glory days of ghetto exclusivity. To understand the cultural significance of, “Akekho Ugogo” (grandmother is not home) and “Phantsi Komthunzi Welanga” (under the shade of the sun) you’d have to have been hood at some point.The broken English rhymes didn’t lie, neither did the numbers and Mzekezeke was racking them all up and sinking the competition. Broken records, soaring album sales and amassed awards, all for breakfast.
You’d have thought that the momentum would carry kwaito for another decade, but it was not to be. Through a move reeking of acute business acumen, Mzekezeke called for the bill and was out. The balaclava was hung up and a bespoke suit replaced the overall, “Mzekezeke had done his thing”, said Dj Sbu at a 20/20 seminar. Brown Dash met an untimely death. Bricks carried on, somewhat, in-between the court cases. Though many other artists still released kwaito albums, most were inconsequential.Personally, I don’t have major gripes with current pop culture. I simply believe that I am not the target market and so I don’t need to like it. But, what is a hallmark of good music is it’s relevance. If you were to give someone kwaito music from the 90’s, they’d get a decent picture of what was going on during those times. What is unfortunate with new music today is it lacks relevant stories to tell. This may be in part to every trend cue being taken from America but, it may just also be because, well, there’s not much to say. There’s a story in the bible, about King David. “Here I am, living in a Palace of Cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”, he said in 2 Samuel 7. He felt it was his duty to build Ark of the Covenant a mighty temple to be housed in. But, God didn’t see it that way. His response to David ended with, “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you. He is the one who will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. “See, the story goes that God felt that this temple should be untainted and pure. It was not David was not worthy, not at all, it was just that God that David too much blood on his hands.
He wanted the temple built by hands that had not been blemished by the past, thus able to last “forever”. This, I believe, is the story that is playing out with kwaito. It is by no means dead, more like your father who used to be a powerful man but now, he prefers sitting in his favourite chair and reading the paper and watching tv. Kwaito, like David, had helped fight against the goliath that was apartheid, using menial slingshot lyrics and back room loops. But now, with the safeguarding of the ark of the spirit of the youth, it is not kwaito that is to build this future. The Born Free’s don’t want to be reminded of the past, they want music unblemished by “the struggle”. You can’t fault them for that either. At best, we can hope that one of kwaito’s offspring will rise up and, in time, establish kwaito’s kingdom “forever”. I for one am grateful that once in a while, you can still kick it with the old man while he waxes poetic about, “Waar was jy?”