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The Scene In Six Sounds: South Africa

Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa

Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa

Few countries can claim a more tumultuous recent history than South Africa, and great music, as they say, comes from great tragedy. International successes from the continent’s Southern tip are few and far between, however, but home grown talent makes plenty of noise in the bars and clubs of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. The occasional artist who has broken through into the international mainstream have often found themselves considered representatives of an entire continent. Plenty of pressure, then, but South African music’s background of jazz and traditional style has made for a unique and enticing sound. James Hendicott picks six of the best…

The Musical Educators: Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Having found fame after impressive contributions of Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ album, Ladysmith Black Mambazo are influenced by a range of traditional African styles, and have been performing live since way back in 1960. These days they’re as much as touring academy as singers, with one of their primary aims being to teach the world about African culture. Ladysmith are the perfect ambassador, with three Grammy Awards in their back pockets and an impressive assortment of over 30 different members over the years.
Mother To All Africa: Miriam Makeba

Nicknamed ‘Mama Africa’, Johannesburg’s Miriam Makeba is equally well known for her singing and her human rights activism. Having had her passport revoked while out of the country in 1960, Makeba lived in forced exile from South Africa for 30 years, winning honorary citizenship of ten other countries in that time as well as testifying against apartheid at the UN. Her musical style is a blend of tribal influences and jazz, and saw Miriam win a Grammy Award in 1966. The singer died doing what she loved in 2008.
The New Miriam:Simphiwe Dana

Following in the impressive footsteps of Miriam Makeba, Simphiwe Dana burst on to the South African music scene at the start of the 21st century, and performs in a similarly jazz, pop and traditional blended manner to Mama Africa. Performing internationally as a ‘world musician’, as well as successful at regular festivals and concerts back home, Simphiwe has also won numerous South African music awards, and is best known for her song ‘The One Love Movement On Bantu Biko Street’.
Sounds of the Ghette: TKZee

Performing in a kwaito style – a type of music that evolved from blending house music with traditional African sounds – TKZee worked with South African international soccer player Benni McCarthy and sampled Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ in their most successful singles towards the end of the 90s. The single Shibobo remains the fastest selling single in South African history, while TKZee – who formed while the members were still at school – saw their early albums sell immense quantities.
The Controversial Balladeer: Steve Hofmeyr

Well known for his numerous illegitimate children, Hofmeyr’s music has also had a substantial cultural impact across South Africa, drawing influences from the likes of Neil Diamond, Steve has recorded more than 150 successful tracks, and sold out an incredible 224 concerts in his home country in 2001. More recently he famously poured a cup of tea over a magazine editor, who he blamed for publishing stories of his numerous affairs and breaking up his marriage.
The Gospel Superstar: Rebecca Malope

Having launched her impressive career by walking 400 kilometers with her sister from her township to Johannesburg, Malope always wanted to be a popular singer, and quickly found her niche amongst those stunned by her story. A tiny lady with a massive heart, Rebecca overcame the traditional hurdle of being a country girl, releasing numerous touching and soulful gospel albums, before eventually winning a hostess position on her own TV show “It’s Gospel Time”.
James Hendicott is a travel and music writer living in Ireland, and your guide to Celtic punk in the Music+Travel Worldwide from Museyon Guides. More of his work can be found at hendicottwriting.com. And be sure to tune in every Wednesday, for a new local playlist.
Photo Melissa Goodman/Flickr

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