A dance floor divided
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - The following text was inadvertantly ommitted from last week’s edition of the Mail & Guardian - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Similar beats and shared roots—- so why is SA dance music culture still so racially defined? Our reporters find out
Maria McCloy on kwaito and rave
Apart from a handful, there are no black kids at raves and no white kids at kwaito bashes. The same applies to nightclubs. Despite similarities, there is a rigid divide between black and white South African youth culture: the flygirls in Boom Shaka in their skintight outfits and platforms look kind of like the Hispanic girls in New York house clubs who in turn look kinda like the Rosebank rave crowd, and Abashante might as well have bought their clothes at Diesel along with the techno bunnies.
Step into a white club playing house music, slow it down and it is not all that different from the beats pumping at kwaito bashes.
So why the division? After all, there are white people who were at the forefront of the creation of local house/kwaito music and are respected in these circles.
And similarly, though most see rave as a purely “white thing”, many of the originators of that music were black. As a 1993 issue of American magazine Vibe said: “Whitewashed genres like techno and ambient house were all quietly appropriated from the Midwestern black kids who invented the stuff eight years ago.”
Lekgoa—- it means “white person” in Sesotho—- consist of an Afrikaans man (Whiteboy aka Francois Henning) and woman (Azeah aka Ansie Krog): they make kwaito and believe it’s a new thing for white people to be doing this. How many fluent Sesotho-speaking Afrikaans boys who perform kwaito do you know?
Says Henning: “We’ve got a unique sound, we’re not riding on the fact that we’re white ... if you hear it you will not think we’re white.” I don’t doubt that they love the groove, but if they are good enough not to rely on gimmicks, why do they call themselves Lekgoa and carry on in their demo tape with lines like, “Let the white boy move you from side to side ... “
Even if Lekgoa are sincere about wanting more whities to embrace kwaito, an image keeps springing to mind of American record execs with a historical penchant for watering down music which originated in black culture and transposing it to white singers they think will be easier to market. In some ways, Lekgoa are a potential wet dream for South African record companies eager for the latest rainbowised fix.
South Africa has its own house music history—- people recall the days when the kind of music associated with US clubs crossed the Atlantic to South Africa where it was considered disco. Pantsula dancers went mad for it. In the early Nineties, DJs at the helm of the international house explosion took the music and slowed it down for a local vibe. They included the likes of Oscar (Mdlongwa of Brothers of Peace) and Ian Segola and Christos (Katsaitis). Eventually, South African artists began creating their own house music (today’s D’Gong or kwaito).
White producers were also a part of this movement. Tim White steered the Groove City project; Oscar created Two DJs and a Keyboard Player with Static P (Pedro Spathoussis) and Christos; Quentin Forster created Vision. Christos and Oscar were also involved in putting together Boom Shaka—- the outfit who were to capture the public’s imagination as the popular face of the new dance music.
But, as they had been with Pedro, kids at black bashes were initially curious about Christos and sceptical about his abilities: “Oh, he can’t play music for us,” they said. He surprised them.
At the same time, Christos and Pedro also played the early rave scene. As Kimon Webster of Jacknife says: “Those were the guys who brought house music to the country.”
Christos says back then he had clubbers from both scenes coming to hear him play, whereas today you don’t get many DJs “who’ll cater for both sides musically”. To him, today’s rave music is similar to kwaito; the local version is just more funky. “Ours is a little more soulful and downtempo.”
Azeah of Lekgoa thinks their sound is unique: “We’re experimenting, getting a more crossover sound, a more international sound—- so it doesn’t only stay local.” But to me Lekgoa’s demo tape sounds like a cheesy mix of Sea-Bee and those Americans who sing, “I like to move it move it.” It’s not fresh, it’s not even good.
Despite their claim that they don’t ride on their whiteness, Whiteboy says record companies “love the concept”. What concept? “The concept of white people into the whole vibe of kwaito.” Might they get signed because of the novelty value? “It’s a pity if that’s the case,” he says. Lekgoa, it is rumoured, are about to sign with Tusk.
“We just make music. We don’t dwell on things like that [race],” says Jacknife’s Webster (who’s white). It’s so underplayed that the sleeve of their hugely popular 1994 album Continua didn’t show any mugshots. Then again, they grew up in the shadow of the faceless international techno unit. Themba Smuts, also of Jacknife, is coloured. He describes people at bashes going: “Oh you’re Jacknife. We thought you were two black guys.”
So what’s the reason for the divide in South African dance music culture when there are so many shared roots? Everyone approached for an answer agreed that it’s a socio-historical thing: parties are not that different from life.Ongoing racist mindsets keep club kids separate, unexposed——and uncomfortable with one another.
Azeah thinks “white people are scared to allow anything [in] that’s crossing the borders ... This is Africa and they’re trying to make out they’re living in Europe.”
Aside from a great new album, HiJack, Jacknife have also got a jungle (drum’n'bass) thing going on. Webster is of the opinion that jungle has the potential to bridge the barriers.
Then again, he reckons a fresh spirit can only happen when people from both scenes are willing to break away from the racially defined categories to “create a new dancefloor culture ... those who want to come from both sides, can, those who don’t want to can stay behind.”