Kwaito and amapiano echoing the sounds of freedom

Spotify documentary and two playlists honour 28 years of freedom in South Africa

By CityLife Arts Writer

One cannot speak about South African music without recognising its inherent ties to South Africa’s history. To honour the songs that have accompanied South Africans on their journey to freedom, Spotify has released two new playlists, alongside a documentary highlighting the deeply significant history of Kwaito, and how the genre of Amapiano echoes that same history.

The documentary, titled Freedom Sounds: From Kwaito to Amapiano, features chart-topping Kwaitio and Amapiano musicians like Oskido, Thandiswa Mazwai, Young Stunna and Uncle Waffles, telling the authentic, layered story of how these musical genres are linked to the expression of freedom.

“Our 28th year of freedom comes at a time when positivity and hope for our future are much-needed. Our music culture and creative community continue to serve as a source of relief, pride, escape, opportunity, and hope for our future,” says Melanie Triegaardt, Spotify’s head of music strategy and operations in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“With this documentary, we want to showcase the importance of the creative community in freedom of expression and showcase the similarities and differences of eras seen through music culture in South Africa,” she adds.

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Directed by Chris Kets and Lindiwe Mngxitama, the documentary tells the evolutionary story of Ampanio by tracing it back from Kwaito, which originated from Soweto and coincided with Nelson Mandela’s inauguration. Kwaito was birthed during the post-apartheid zeitgeist, quickly establishing itself as a mainstream genre and, for many, it epitomised the sound of freedom in South African streets, with musicians of colour now able to access the industry and find global recognition.
The playlists, Sound of Freedom and Kwaito Classics, each contain hit tracks by South African musical icons that pay homage to the sounds of South Africa’s streets.  Kwaito Classics spotlights creators like Thebe, M’Du, Trompies, Bongo Maffin and TkZee, their songs evoking the rhythm and musical heartbeat that would give rise to genres like Gqom, South African House/Dance, and, contemporarily, Amapiano. 

According to Spotify data in the last three months, the sounds of Kwaito continue to resound both locally and internationally. Over the past 90 days, streams were generated as far and wide as countries such as the UK, USA, Germany, and Australia – all listed among the top 5 sources of Kwaito streams outside of South Africa. What also emerges from the data is that Kwaito’s popularity is not specific to any particular age range, with music lovers between the ages of 18 and 44 all listening to the genre in equal measure, at an average of about 22% for each age band.

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The Sound of Freedom playlist is dedicated to the iconic tracks South Africans have come to know and love.

These songs are entrenched in the culture and climate of post-apartheid South Africa and are innately linked to the struggles for, and celebration of, freedom. Spanning artists like Hugh Masakela with Bring Him Back Home, Miriam Makeba with her hit Pata Pata, and Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s Great Heart, there is something for all South African tastes, rounded off by tracks from Just Jinger, Brenda Fassi, Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, Vusi Mahlasela.

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