With a rich sonic tradition spanning diverse genres and languages, from Zulu Folk to Jazz and Jive, South Africa’s musical output is varied and complex. Taking a closer look at a selection of exciting and genre-bending artists working in the country today, Something Curated highlights five musicians shaping the sound of contemporary South Africa.
Dope Saint Jude
Dope Saint Jude is a rapper, singer, songwriter and producer from Cape Town. Interested in raising awareness on LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, Saint Jude is an advocate as much as she is a musician. The artist studied political science at the University of Cape Town, and in 2011 formed South Africa’s first drag king group named Saint Dude. In 2013, she left the group and went on to learn about production and began her solo career. In 2016 Dope Saint Jude collaborated with M.I.A. to be part of an awareness-raising campaign video for World Recycle Week. She has performed at Afropunk Johannesburg and at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. More recently, right before the pandemic, she was on her European tour, with dates including cities in France, Germany and Switzerland.
Hailing from one of South Africa’s largest townships, Soshanguve, Thandi Ntuli comes from a rich musical heritage. She started taking classical piano lessons from the age of 4; her keen interest for Jazz was only kindled later in life though, leading her to undertake a Bachelors of Music in Jazz Performance at The University of Cape Town. Since the release of her critically acclaimed debut album, The Offering, which she released independently, Ntuli has been making a distinct imprint on South Africa’s Jazz scene with her unique voice. Her compositions draw from a wide array of influences – this she attributes to the collaborative culture of Jazz that has seen her working closely with many artists across genres.
The collaborative output of Fela Gucci and Desire Marea, Johannesburg-based performance art duo FAKA explore the complex and evolving role and position of the queer Black body. The artists explore a combination of mediums ranging from sound, live performance, literature, video and photography, to create an eclectic aesthetic with which they express their ideas about themes central to their experience as Black queer individuals navigating the cis-hetero-topia of post-colonial Africa. Established in 2015, the duo first gained wider attention with From Distance, a video self-described as “a gqom-gospel lamentation for dick.” Working against an exclusion of certain demographics, specifically Black/African queer voices, even in seemingly open spaces such as the arts, Gucci and Marea regard FAKA as a cultural movement.
Bongeziwe Mabandla has carved a unique position for himself in the industry with his distinctive Afro-Folk sounds, over which his soulful voice delivers in both Xhosa and English. Influenced by artists like Tracy Chapman, Simphiwe Dana, Jabu Khanyile and Oliver Mtukudzi, his sound has a rhythmically grass-roots vibe, while fusing elements of traditional Xhosa music, Mbaqanga, Soul, Hip-Hop and Dub. Recorded in 2012, Mabandla’s debut album, Umlilo, gained critical acclaim, and his second project, Mangaliso, released in 2017, expands on the traditional Afro-Folk sound that Mabandla is known for. Since the release of these two albums, Mabandla has performed on stages and at festivals across the world, including WOMEX and Lake of Stars Festival Malawi. His latest body of work, iiMini, was released in spring last year.
Following the release of her 2018 viral hit Whuzet, translating to “what’s up?” in English, which features impressive bars and seamless transitions between Xhosa and English, Dee Koala’s talent quickly caught the attention of popular South African rapper Riky Rick thanks to her exploding social media presence and popular YouTube videos. He was taken by the young artist’s raw talent, inviting her to perform at the summer music festival Major League Gardens. Raised in the township of Khayelitsha, Dee Koala, born Odwa Situma, is steadily climbing up the industry ladder, touted as the one to watch by South Africa’s Hip-Hop heavyweights.
Feature image: Still from Uyang’khumbula by FAKA