/ 25 September 2014

Eleven SA music acts making waves overseas

Hugh Masekela performs at Oppikoppi.
Hugh Masekela performs at Oppikoppi.

The international market is a tough nut for South African artists to crack: issues of talent aside, travel is debilitatingly expensive and the costs often outweigh the benefits. Here are eleven artists who have made waves overseas this year nevertheless.

Hugh Masekela

At 75 years old, South Africa’s biggest player on the international music scene, Hugh Masekela spends most of the year on international projects and touring the world. In July, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by the University of York, he is currently an artist in residence at Howard University in Washington DC and he will open the South African Festival at Carnegie Hall in October before embarking on a major European tour.

“Bra Hugh”, as he is known, was nominated for a Grammy award in 2012 and has recently collaborated with artists such as Manu Dibango, Paul Simon, Ziggy Marley and Dave Matthews. Masekela credits his mentors in New York in the 1960s when he was in exile – Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong – for encouraging him to develop his distinctly African jazz sound. He has recorded over 40 albums to date with some of the world’s iconic labels such as Mercury, MGM, Casablanca, Blue Thumb, Verve and Polygram.

Die Antwoord

(Photograph by Reuters)

Yolandi Visser and Waddy Tudor Jones’s ahead-of-the-curve look and sound brought them cult fame overseas. At their peak in 2010/2011 they performed at Coachella in front of 40 000 people and signed a record deal with Interscope. Their sold-out tours, strong internet presence and fashion influence still makes them commercially successful: they were the faces of an Alexander Wang clothing collection, and a remix of their song Enter the Ninja is the soundtrack for Dior’s perfume advertisement. They are currently touring the United States. 

Black Coffee

Thirty-eight-year-old Durban-born DJ and producer Black Coffee is the first contemporary South African artist who is genuinely developing a crossover audience. He has spent the past five years taking the house music world by storm, playing in Hong Kong, Dubai, Israel, Spain, Croatia, Portugal, France, Greece Amsterdam and the US. 

Highlights have been his residency at Ibiza club Circoloco, headlining Amsterdam Dance Event (the world’s biggest club festival), performing in Central Park, and remixing Avicii, Macey Gray and K’Naan tracks. Through his South African label Soulistic Music, Black Coffee has released music with international labels such as Jelly Bean Music and BBE records. He has recently been taken on by London-based PR agency Purple, whose clients include Adele, Beyoncé, Calvin Harris, Lana De Rey, and other big names in the business. 

John Wizards

In spite of achieving little success in the local market, John Wizards (a band made up of John Withers, Raphael Segerman, Alex Montgomery, Thomas Parker and Geoffrey Brink) has been credited in Europe for its fresh crossover sound, which is both deeply-rooted African and progressive electronic. 

This year they played most of the major European festivals, including Glastonbury and Field Day in the UK, and Primavera in Spain. Their self-titled debut album John Wizards was released in the UK in 2013 to critical acclaim and was named one of the Top 10 albums of 2013 by the Guardian.

Spoek Mathambo

Like Die Antwoord, producer, singer and rapper Spoek Mathambo is an entire package. His niche music, which is a blend of electronic and traditional sounds, art (he is a graphic designer) and his style has earned him cult status among a young alternative audience worldwide, and have landed him in publications such as Vice magazine. 

Married to Swedish rapper Anna Rab, Spoek spends half the year in Europe playing clubs and festivals with his band Fantasma. International career highlights have included performing at SXSW (US), Sonar (Spain), Roskilde Festival (Denmark) and EFG London Jazz Festival (UK). His music video for  Control, directed by artist Pieter Hugo, won a Cannes Lion award. His third album will be released worldwide in January 2015.  


Born in Israel and raised in Cape Town, electro-indie singer-songwriter Yoav calls South Africa home even though he only spends two months a year here and the rest of his time performing and recording abroad. That all started in 2007 when he was handpicked by Tori Amos to be the opener for her American Doll Posse tour. 

Since then he has performed in Russia, Denmark, Canada, Germany, Poland, the UK, Switzerland, Belgium, Israel and the USA. His biggest markets are Denmark where he has a gold selling number one album; a Russian Alternative Music award for Best Newcomer; in Canada he has number three on iTunes, and in Switzerland and Belgium all three of his records have been on the charts. Besides Cape Town, Yoav has recorded in Copenhagen, London and Ibiza. 

Petite Noir

Petite Noir is the solo project of 24 year-old Yannick Ilunga, who was born in Belgium and moved to Cape Town when he was three. Signed to UK independent label Domino Recordings, he calls his sound “noirwave”, incorporating new wave influences with an African aesthetic. 

The Guardian describes his music as “Joy Division meets Paul Simon in Graceland“. International performance highlights so far include SXSW Festival in 2013 and 2014 and a string of shows with Solange Knowles across the US. He has been featured by Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, BBC Radio 1 and i-D Magazine. His first album is set to launch in early 2015.

Culoe De Song

The 23-yeard old from northern KwaZulu-Natal was discovered by Black Coffee and signed to Soulistic Music when he was 17; his mother had to sign the contract. Since then the Afro-house producer and DJ has played at clubs in Australia, Asia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and Greece. He has remixed tracks for Boddhi Satva and Vusi Mhlongo and has released tracks on vinyl through cutting-edge German dance music label Innervisions and Japanese label Mule Musiq. 

Zaki Ibrahim

Born in Canada to an English teacher and poet mother, and late exiled South African freedom fighter and journalist father Zane Ibrahim, Zaki now lives and works both in Canada and Cape Town. Her unique sound fuses hip hop, jazz and poetry. International career highlights have included opening shows for Erykah Badu and Mos Def. In 2013 she was nominated for a Polaris award, given to the best Canadian album. 

Bongeziwe Mabandla

Twenty-eight-year-old Mabandla sings Afro-folk, mainly in Xhosa, and is having a very successful year overseas. He has toured Japan and Korea on the back of the Japanese release of his album Umlilo. Prior to that he performed in Germany (Africa Festival), Spain and France, where he also reached second place in the Radio France Internationale Discoveries award in 2011. In October and November Bongeziwe will tour the US and Australia. 


Cape Town electronic dance music duo Dominic Peters and David Poole maintain a punishing international touring schedule, which they credit for their international success. “We are all about selling tickets,” says Poole. Outside South Africa, Goldfish’s biggest market is the Netherlands, where they’ve been selling on average 3 000 tickets per show, for the past four years.

Brazil is their next biggest market, where Goldfish will perform three shows this. Next comes the rest of Europe: Belgium, Italy, France, Spain, and the UK. In October they will tour the US for the second time this year. International career highlights so far have included headlining Amsterdam’s Olympic stadium, a top 10 on the US iTunes dance chart, and a residency at Ibiza super-club Pacha.