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South African Music timeline

1600-2004

1600s
In the Dutch colonial era, from the 17th century on, indigenous tribes people and slaves imported from the east adapted Western musical instruments and ideas.
The Khoi-Khoi developed the ramkie, a guitar with three or four strings, based on that of Malabar slaves. They used it to blend Khoi and Western folk songs.
Then there was the mamokhorong. It was a single-string violin that was used by the Khoi in their own music making and in the dances of the colonial centre, Cape Town, which rapidly became a melting pot of cultural influences from all over the world.
The governor of the Cape had his own slave orchestra in the 1670s.
1800s
In a style similar to that of British marching military bands, coloured (mixed race) bands of musicians began parading through the streets of Cape Town in the early 1820s, a tradition that was given added impetus by the travelling minstrel shows of the 1880s. This tradition has continued to the present day with the great carnival held in Cape Town every New Year.
The penetration of missionaries into the interior over the succeeding centuries also had a profound influence on South African musical styles. In the late 1800s, early African composers such as John Knox Bokwe began composing hymns that drew on traditional Xhosa harmonic patterns.
 
The development of a black urban proletariat and the movement of many black workers to the mines in the 1800s meant that differing regional traditional folk music met and began to flow into one another. Western instrumentation was used to adapt rural songs, which in turn started to influence the development of new hybrid styles of music-making (as well as dances) in the developing urban centres.
1860s
In the mid-1800s, travelling minstrel shows began to visit South Africa. As far as can be ascertained, these minstrels were at first white performers in "black-face", but by the 1860s black American minstrel troupes had begun to tour the country. They sang spirituals of the American South, and influenced many South African groups to form themselves into similar choirs; soon regular meetings and competitions between such choirs were popular, forming an entire subculture that continues to this day.
1890s
Orpheus McAdoo and the Virginia Jubilee Singers were among the most popular of the visiting minstrel groups, touring the country four times. African American spirituals were made popular in the 1890s by Orpheus McAdoo's Jubilee Singers
1897
Enoch Sontonga, then a teacher, composed the hymn Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (God Bless Africa) Early 1900s
In the early 20th century, governmental restrictions on black poeple increased, including a nightly curfew which kept the night life in Johannesburg relatively small for a city of its size (then the largest city south of the Sahara).
The Marabi music style formed in the slum yards that resulted from the increasing urbanisation of black South Africans into mining centres such as the Witwatersrand. The sound of marabi was intended to draw people into the shebeens (bars selling homemade liquor or skokiaan) and then to get them dancing. Marabi was played on pianos with accompaniment from pebble-filled cans. Over the succeeding decades, the marabi-swing style developed into early mbaqanga, the most distinctive form of South African jazz
1912
South African popular music began in 1912 with the first commercial recordings.
1920s
Marabi's melodies found their way into the sounds of the bigger dance bands, modelled on American swing groups, which began to appear in the 1920s; Marabi added to their distinctively South African style. Such bands, which produced the first generation of professional black musicians in South Africa, achieved considerable popularity, particularly in the 1930s and 1940s: star groups such as The Jazz Maniacs, The Merry Blackbirds and the Jazz Revelers rose to fame, winning huge audiences among both blacks and whites.
1930s
The beginnings of broadcast radio for black listeners. This resulted in the growth of an indigenous recording industry and helped popularize black South African music. The 1930s also saw the spread of Zulu a cappella singing from the Natal area to much of South Africa.
1933
Eric Gallo's Brunswick Gramophone House sent several South African musicians to London to record for Singer Records. Gallo went on to begin producing music in South Africa.
1939
The tradition of minstrelsy, joined with other forms, contributed to the development of isicathamiya, This music form had its first major hit this year with the song "Mbube", an adaptation of a traditional Zulu melody which has been recycled and reworked innumerable times since then, often known as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds, recorded "Mbube" it was probably the first African recording to sell more than 100,000 copies.
1940s
From the late 1940s to the 1960s, a form of music called isikhwela jo was popular, though national interest waned in the 50s until Radio Zulu began broadcasting across Natal, Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
1950s
South African music came into International prominence with the formation of Kwela (Zulu for ‘get-up' or in township slang it also referred to the police vans, the "kwela-kwela") music, which was greatly influenced by Marabi sounds. The primary instrument of kwela, in the beginning, was the pennywhistle, a cheap and simple instrument that was taken up by street performers in the shantytowns. Lemmy Mabaso was one of the most notable musicians of this genre.
 
The older strains of marabi and kwela saw the birth of what is broadly thought of as mbaqanga, the mode of African-inflected jazz that had many and various practitioners, with a large number of bands competing for attention and income. Singing stars such as Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe and Letta Mbulu gained fanatical followings.
Later in the 1950s a new black urban music culture started to emerge in Sophiatown. Marabi met with traditional dance styles such as the Zulu indlamu and American big band swing. The indlamu tendency resulted in the "African stomp" style, giving a notably African rhythmic impulse to the music.
The lawless domain which was Sophiatown was one in which black people could interact with the more adventurous, liberal whites drawn to the excitements of its nightlife, becoming a touchstone for the first real cultural and social interchange between the races to take place in South Africa.
Miriam Makeba was a central figure in the African jazz scene throughout the 1950s. By the early 1960s, she was an international star and brought attention to South African apartheid.
1951
Willard Cele appeared in the film The Magic Garden, which spawned a legion of more imitators and fans. Willard Cele is credited with creating pennywhistle by placing the six-holed flute between his teeth at an angle.
1954
Spokes Mashiyane's "Ace Blues" became the biggest African hit of the year and launched pennywhistle as a mainstream genre.
1955
The most progressive jazz-lovers of Sophiatown formed the Sophiatown Modern Jazz Club, propagating the sounds of bop innovators such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The jazz club sponsored gatherings and from such meetings grew South Africa's first bebop band, the important and influential Jazz Epistles: The earliest members were musicians destined to shape South African jazz from then on: Dollar Brand, Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa and Hugh Masekela.
1959
The recording "Tom Hark" by Elias Lerole and His Zigzag Flutes was a hit around the world.
 
In 1959, American pianist John Mehegan organized a recording session using many of the most prominent South African jazz musicians, resoluting in the first two African jazz LPs.
1960s
The white Nationalist government brought the musically vital era, Sophiatown, to an end. They forcibly removed the inhabitants of Sophiatown to townships such as Soweto, outside Johannesburg. Sophiatown was razed and the white suburb of Triomf built in its place.
In the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 and the subsequent State of Emergency and mass arrests, bannings and trials of activists challenging apartheid laws, more and more musicians found it necessary to leave the country.
 
Many key figures in South African jazz developed their talents and their careers outside the country in the years of increasing repression, amoung them were: Dollar Brand (later Abdullah Ibrahim, after his conversion to Islam), Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Caiphas Semenya, Letta Mbulu, and Miriam Makeba Well-known South African Jazz band, The Blue Notes, left for England in 1960. The band included: Chris MacGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo.
King Kong (the tale of South African black boxer Ezekiel Dlamini) became a hit, and travelled overseas.
The Jazz Epistles recorded their first and only album, Jazz Epistle Verse One. At the same time, composers such as Todd Matshikiza (who composed the successful musical King Kong) and Gideon Nxumalo (African Fantasia) were experimenting with combinations of old forms and new directions.
One key South African jazz performer of the 60's, and one of the country's most innovative musicians was Philip Tabane.
From the 1960s onward, more and more white rockers and pop groups appeared to appeal to white audiences in a segregated South Africa.
The First Cold Castle National Jazz Festival was held in 1960, which brought additional attention to South African jazz. Cold Castle became an annual event for a few year, and brought out more musicians, especially Dudu Pukwana, Gideon Nxumalo and Chris McGregor.
1962
The South African government launched a development programme for Bantu Radio in order to foster separate development and encourage independence for the Bantustans. Though the government had expected Bantu Radio to play folk music, African music had developed into numerous pop genres, and the nascent recording studios used radio to push their pop stars. The new focus on radio led to a government crackdown on lyrics, censoring songs which were considered a "public hazard".
Abdullah Ibrahim went overseas for the first time, to Switzerland. The pianist-composer met and impressed Duke Ellington himself, who sponsored his first recordings.
1963
The 1963 Cold Castle festival produced an LP called Jazz The African Sound, but government oppression soon ended the jazz scene. Again, many musicians emigrated to the UK or other countries.
1966
The Band Freedom's Children was formed, a band dedicated to the kind of "acid rock" pioneered in the USA by bands such as The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
1967
One of the most successful 60's South African rock bands was ‘Four Jacks and a Jill' (the name echoed their line-up of four men and a woman), they had their first number one hit with "Timothy".
1970s
Ibrahim managed to slip back into South Africa in the mid-1970s to make a series of seminal recordings with the Cream of Cape jazz players (Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen), which included his masterpiece, "Manenberg", one of the greatest South African compositions ever, which became the unofficial soundtrack to the anti-apartheid resistance.In the mid-1970s, the "boy band" hit South Africa in the form of Rabbitt, four young men who kicked off their career with a cover of a Jethro Tull song and, in a singularly daring move, posed naked on their second album cover ("A Croak and a Grunt in the Night").
1973
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, headed by the sweet soprano of Joseph Shabalala, released their first album, Amabutho, which was also the first gold record by black musicians. This band became perhaps the biggest stars in South Africa's history, reforming the sound of Zulu a cappella.
1975
American disco was imported to South Africa, and disco beats were added to soul music.
1976
South African children rebelled en masse against apartheid and governmental authority, and a vibrant, youthful counterculture was created, with music as an integral part of its focus. Few South African bands gained a lasting success during this period, however, with the exception of the Movers, who used marabi elements in their soul.
1977
Rabbitt disbanded.
1980s
The 1980s saw the appearance of Afro-jazz bands such as Sakhile and Bayete, marrying the sounds of American fusion and ancient African patterns, to considerable commercial success.
A genre of music referred to as ‘bubblegum' emerged from the townships.
 
By the mid-1980s a white alternative rock culture had developed, and showed considerable diversity. James Phillips, a founding member of Corporal Punishment, was a central figure. As Bernoldus Niemand, he produced an album of satirical Afrikaans songs such as "Hou My Vas, Korporaal" (Hold Me Tight, Corporal), a satire on the army, thereby influencing an entire "Alternative Afrikaans" movement of Afrikaners protesting against repressive social mores; bands such as The Gereformeerde Blues Band and singers such as Koos Kombuis were later to gain an enthusiastic following. At the same time, Phillips produced superbly bluesy rock with his band The Cherry-Faced Lurchers. A vibrant underground rock scene, featuring bands such as The Softees, The Aeroplanes, Bright Blue and The Dynamics, kept rebellious young white South Africans "jolling" through the 1980s.
At the same time, a crossover was beginning to happen between black and white musicians.
 
Johnny Clegg, a sociologist who learnt so much about Zulu music and dance that he formed his own group, Juluka, with Sipho Mchunu, led the charge. Juluka's ability to mix traditional Zulu music with white pop and folk was in itself a challenge to the racial boundaries the apartheid regime attempted to erect between blacks and whites. With often a more pop-driven style, bands such as eVoid, Via Afrika and Mango Groove followed the crossover trail blazed by Clegg (hailed overseas as "the white Zulu"), whose later band, Savuka, continued to reproduce his earlier success.
Hugh Masekela set up a mobile studio in Botswana, just over the South African border. Here he collaborated with West and Central African musicians.
1980
Following international superstar Bob Marley's concert celebrating Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, reggae took hold across Africa. Lucky Dube was the first major South African artists; his style was modelled most closely on that of Peter Tosh.
1982
A key conference was held this year, 1982, The Botswana Festival of Culture and Resistance, it was attended by many South African exiles. The message to white participants - the Black Consciousness perspective dominated the festival - was the one that had been heard many times before: to regard their aim as the conscientising of fellow whites while leaving the task of liberation to the black oppressed. Culture, it was resolved, should be used as a weapon of the struggle, and the phrase, "cultural worker", began to replace "artist", "musician" or "writer". The musician Abdullah Ibrahim - who was at the time living in exile - summed up the mood of the festival when he castigated South Africans for living amid oppression but apparently not feeling the need to commit themselves to political issues: "After all the killings and everything...it's 1982 and we still have to tell the culture to resist!"
1983
Clive Harding and Glenys Lynne, disbanded the group Four Jacks and a Jill in 1983 when they became reborn Christians.
1984
The late 1980s saw the rise of Yvonne Chaka Chaka, beginning with her 1984 hit "I'm in Love With a DJ", which was the first major hit for bubblegum.
1985
Brenda Fassie's huge hit ‘weekend special' was released. Brenda Fassie is perhaps the most controversial and the best-known figure in township pop.
This is also the year that fifty-four American pop artists, calling themselves "Artists United Against Apartheid" released the track "Sun City," which includes the lyric "Relocation to phony homelands Separation of families I can't understand Twenty-three million can't vote because they're black We're stabbing our brothers and sisters in the back." The song was nominated for a Grammy award and raised more than one million dollars for the anti-apartheid cause.
1986
Ladysmith Black Mambazo took their first step into the international arena via Paul Simon on his Graceland album in 1986, whejavascriptre a series of reissue albums by US label Shanachie sold very well.
1990s
This decade saw the formation of the Springbok Nude Girls, possibly the finest South African rock band of the 1990s, spearheaded a drive into harder, guitar-driven sounds.
In the 1990s, a new style of township music grabbed the attention and the hearts of South Africa\'s black youth. That music was kwaito, probably now the biggest force in the South African music scene.
Stars with names as minimal as their music - Mdu, Mandoza, Arthur, Chiskop and Zola, for instance - rose to prominence. Groups such as Bongo Maffin, Abashante, Boom Shaka and TKZee developed huge followings, propelled by a streetwise visual style, an in-your-face performance energy and a host of pop videos. Key recordings such as TKZee's "Halloween", Mdu's "Mazola", Chiskop's "Claimer", Boom Shaka's "It's About Time" and Trompies's "Madibuseng" swept the charts and dominated youth-orientated radio stations such as the wildly successful Yfm.
1990s
Lucky Dube' album slave made him one of the best-selling artists in South African history
1992
Vusi Ximba's Siyakudamisa (1992) was perhaps the most memorable Zulu-traditional album of the later 20th century, and drew controversy for racy, comedic lyrics.
1994
In 1994, South African media was liberalized and new musical styles arose. Prophets of Da City became known as a premier hip hop crew, though a South Africanized style of hip hop known as kwaito soon replaced actual hip hop groups. In kwaito, synthesizers and other electronic instruments are common, and slow jams adopted from Chicago house musicians like The Fingers, Tony Humphries and Robert Owen are also standard. Stars of kwaito include Trompies, Bongo Maffin and Boom Shaka.
1997
Brenda Fassie made a significant comeback with her album "Memeza" (meaning "Shout"), which spawned the huge hit "Vulindlela" ("Clear the path" or "Make way").
2000
In the new millenium, free of the baggage of apartheid, Afrikaans music has grown in popularity. A major addition to this style of music is Fokofpolisiekar, a Cape Town-based punk rock band. Their positive move away from the stigma attached to Afrikaans culture has attracted a lot of publicity in South Africa and has given them a considerable amount of fame.
2004
Pop legend Brenda Fassie dies of a drug overdose.

References