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Vus
VUS.ISM: 80'S BABIES - MUSIC AND LIFE II
11H45 FRIDAY, 16 MAY 2014
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PART I

With the euphoria that rained withthe realisation of our freedom, a lot of music in the mid 90’s was celebratory and fun. While kwaito was popping its pubescent pimples, the OG’s of jazz were still kicking it. Rex Rabanye’s Ongketsang wasn’t as much a wedding song as it was a wedding anthem. Bra Hugh's horn had managed to cross over to the youth and Sankomota and the likes still woke us up on Sunday mornings to moms’ cooking. My pops still bumped his Ella Fitzgeraled, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis vinyls on that radio that was the size of a coffin. My brother was being too alternative. He had one of those cassette suitcases full of Wet Wet Wet, Toto and UB40. I had no cultural context for “Red Red Red Wine”, so you could miss me. My sister was always shooshing me as she dubbed tracks straight from radio on to tape. You had to keep quiet because the system not only recording from the radio show, but any other sound around it too.

By now, we had moved away from politics now. Our father who art in Qhunu had told us to forgive, we did, or so we thought. But by and large, we were pretty happy. Kwaito was now a fully-fledged industry with a plethora of artists.

As 80’s babies we can try to pretend that we don’t know where this skhothane dress code comes from. But we do. Trompies has been colour blocking with obnoxious floral shirts and sdories from way back. It was the advent of a full on fashion awakening. Boom Shaka had liberated our sisters and music was now a lifestyle.

Shell Road To Fame had given us a taste of what would later become shows like Idols. Then came "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 4 3 2 waaaan...Zero Hour Zone!" A music show that started giving us a glimpse into the music world from over the oceans. Then there was BopTv which always seemed to have a one up on music, especially hip hop. Now that everyone had access to tv, our music also began to pick up on international trends.

Music was now talking about the lighter stuff. Oskido and Bruce Sebitlo formed  Brothers Of Peace and Trompies  dropped  “Sweety Lavo” which was in a sense, the drunk uncle’s anthem. Many songs that came out during the mid-90’s were wedding songs. DJ’s were spinning tapes with pens and being in the hood was fun. There was less of a need to send messages through music. Artists like M’Du, the arguable Godfather of Kwaito,  took this literally, with lyrics like,

“Nomsa’s father / open the gate / we enter / we enter / we eat / we eat / get on top of the house / and tell them / mazolo is here”

Shit made no sense, remnants of Thembi’s rap verses on Boom Shaka. It was the advent of one phrase lyricism and whole songs were just made up of adlibs. Sparse rhymes over a bed of repetitive loops, not unlike OG tracks like Senyaka's’ In The Mood. Bob Mabena and Doctor Khumalo gave us a snap shot of what rap music could sound like, it was hilariously too soon, but we loved “yupi yupi yupi yooo” nonetheless. The music was mostly about setting the mood more than actually saying anything so we didn’t care. When it did say something it was along the lines of Chiskops’ “Sfuna Bantwana” – We Want Women, party songs, as it were. That was before Mandoza left the group to become Nkalakatha. M'Du was also still with Mashamplani.

My father was a policeman from the 70’s right up till ’97. I grew up with an understanding of the crime landscape in the country. From the mid 90’s onwards, something started changing in kwaito. While TKZee were the new poster boys of kwaito, a more insidious groan was getting louder  in townships and in parallel, in music. The youthful fire that had sparked the ’76 uprising and signalling the demise of apartheid, was now directionless and it was beginning to feed on itself.

Crime was on the increase in townships. Those who fighting against the government had robbed of a decent education found themselves of no use in the new country. The ferocious violence that we had witnessed during the pre ’94 elections had left many scarred and desensitised. One day I’m playing soccer with my friends near my house and we see a guy get stabbed to death following a fall out during a dice game. One cracked a bottle, the other unfolded his okapi and went straight for the jugular. Around about the same time Oda Meesta dropped the track “Uzama Ukwenzani”, which was essentially the calling out someone for talking trash about you and then…well…dealing with them.

Street bashes were now common place and most of us snuck out the house to attend. That’s where you could hear most songs that were too risqué for radio. Many bashes ended in blood though. Alcohol was making a mess of things and, for the very first time, drugs were now making an appearance. There were now gangs in the townships. In my hood we had RFD (Red For Danger), KGB (Khaba Ganda Bulala), HLF (Hot Like Fire). You could spot them because, ironically, most of them dressed like kwaito stars. There was a strange duality in them in that as violent as they were, they were exceptional pantsula dancers, which everybody loved about them. Chuck T’s became synonymous with knife wielders and had given kwaito a dark, cultish tint.

By a bizarre twist of fate, when TKZee released the video for Mambotjie, the dancers featured in it were from the RFD gang in my street. They became instant superstars. Today, most of them are either dead or are in jail.

One day I was at basketball practice a friend of mine asks me if I’ve listened to Yfm, I ask him what that is. As I came to learn, Yfm came to be a way of being, through music. It embraced everything our folks shunned. It became our home. Fresh, Oskido, Khabzela, Rudboy Paul, Badboy T, they became icons and helped usher in a new era, one  that, tragically, would undo kwaito as we knew it.

PART III | PART IV

Words & Illustration: Vus (@JustVus)

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