TKZEE / “I Got You”

    Kwaito has got to be the hottest form of dance music to come out of South Africa… if not Africa in general. The first signs of this wonderful new form of expression appeared in the early 90’s when the political situation in this country seemed to be resolving itself. Where-as prior to Nelson Mandela’s release young people all across the country were the frontline of the political struggle, all of a sudden after his release, young people re-discovered their youth again. …To me Kwaito represents the struggles of black youth all around the world & parallels the developments of such art-forms as Ragga, Hip Hop & House… Street-made electronic music. —Phat Joe, in liner notes to Phat Joe Presents 3650 Days Of Kwaito
Kwaito is currently the most popular form of urban music in South Africa. It mixes rap and south African vernaculars with house and funk, over electronicly-altered indigenous rhythms, all of which is then creatively fermented into a heady dance brew. Kwaito is a relatively new musical form, and much like reggae, there are multiple explanations of where and how the name “kwaito” originated. Some say the name is a derivative of AmaKwaitos, a South African, Soweto street gang. Others suggest kwaito comes from a reinterpretation of the Afrikaneers word “kwaai” that means angry, reversing the meaning of the term transforming it from negative to a positive affirmation of coolness. And a third etymology is that it is a slang term meaning “these guys are hot.” Regardless of the origin of the term, there is no disputing that Tkzee is one of the most popular purveyors of kwaito. phat joe 01.jpg But before I drop Tkzee, let me give you a taste of the best intro to Kwaito I know of, a double CD titled Phat Joe Presents 3650 Days Of Kwaito, which, in a radio format with interview snippets, covers Kwaito’s first decade. Phat Joe is radio personality and TV talk show host Majotha Kambule. His spoken word intro pretty much captures the excitement of something new in the borning and the opening track by a DJ and future soccer star, makes clear that the roots of Kwaito are found in early rap and house music. tkzee 02.jpg Tkzee, the superstars of Kwaito, is a male trio of former high school mates: Tokollo Tshabalala, Kabelo Mabalane and Zwai Bala. The group name is an amalgamation of the first letters of each of the group members. Tkzee was so successful that much like Fela created afrobeat, Tkzee has created a style called “Guz,” which is a term they prefer rather than kwaito. The group ranges from untutored, urban street sounds to classical and jazz influences via Zwai who studied at the Royal College of Music & Drama in Scotland. The way they arrange their music reflects this stylistic breadth and technical depth. Their deconstruction and reconstruction of the Maze R&B classic “I Got You” offers a perfect example of what might be called their funky finesse. They separate out the various elements of the song: the distinctive piano, guitar and vocal riffs; the basic melody; the bassline; and treat each element almost as if it came from separate songs, with one or other of the elements to the fore at different times in the presentation, and they even overlay a quote from “Joy And Pain” sung in what sounds to me like Zulu. The whipped cream atop this delightful concoction is Tkzee’s judicious use of snyth-strings to provide counterpoint at key moments. It’s a beautiful tribute. Listen also to their first major South African hit, “Palafala,” which was originally released as a maxi-single in 1997. It’s classic kwaito—the slowed-down house beat, the indigenous South African lyrics (with polyrhythmic call and response) peppered with touches of electronics and computerized drum beats. Finally, listen to “We Love This Place,” a 1998 homage to their homeland (taken from their massive album Halloween). It’s a tender, heartfelt, albeit funky mid-tempo anthem featuring a memorable hook, sung in multi-part harmony. The piece exudes not only appreciation for today’s South Africa but optimism that it’s going to get better. Life in South Africa has not been peaches and cream of late, but nonetheless, while firmly grounded in their particular reality, Tkzee continues to produce an upful and invigorating popular music. —Kalamu ya Salaam Why is Kwaito so popular?       Kalamu first introduced me to TKZee (and Kwaito in general) about a year ago, around the time we were tossing around the idea of starting this site. I didn't like it then. When he sent me these tracks, I was hoping time would've changed my opinion. Nope. I still don't like it. Any of it. What's strange is, the music is very likeable. What I mean is, I want to like it. Listening to it, I can easily hear how it could be just the thing to move an entire club of young 1985 that is. And that's my problem with it. This music gives me strong memories of stuff like Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," Johnny Kemp's "Just Got Paid," and damn near anything by Teddy Riley and/or Aaron Hall. Those are strong memories for me, but not necessarily good ones. While the New Jack Swingers kept the girls dancing, I spent the mid- to late-Eighties deep, deep into Golden Age hip-hop. I didn't like that clean, uptempo sound then and I don't like it now. The other thing I noticed is that all these cats are fluent in English. That surprised me so much, I did a quick Wikipedia search and found out that English is actually one of South Africa's official languages. Oops. Shows you how much I know. Anyway, if anybody out there is from South Africa, write in and let me know: Why is Kwaito so popular? No disrespect intended, I'm just not hearing it. —Mtume ya Salaam  

This entry was posted on Saturday, May 27th, 2006 at 11:56 pm and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

10 Responses to “TKZEE / “I Got You””

tayari kwa salaam Says:
May 29th, 2006 at 7:50 pm

Like a kindergartener, I’m learning n appreciatin the knowledge. Hope someone from South Africa responds to Mtume’s question.

Qawi Robinson Says:
May 30th, 2006 at 12:56 pm

Bro. Mtume,

I hope someone from South Africa responds too.

But the obvious answer is that KWAITO is young, urban, full of expression and upbeat. It is faddish but also has some substance. In some ways it parallels American Hip-Hop, and in other ways it doesn’t. Yeah, Mtume, we’ve already heard “Joy and Pain” used in a Rap/Hip-Hop application ala Rob Base. However, you must remember that certain countries are JUST GETTING some of our modern-Post 80’s stuff. So, they’ve had the equivalent of listening to our reruns getting a perspective on Hip-Hop music. At least in some of the West African countries I know of, Hip-Hop was viewed as VIOLENT and OVERLY SEXUAL, thus an anti-popularity ensued. The American videos that got shipped over there didn’t help matters much either. But things are changing with the rise of Kwaito and Japanese Hip-Hop.

Would I listen to Kwaito on an everyday basis, probably not. However, it is refreshing to hear a different way of creative expression. Even if they sampled/stole/interpolated some of the songs I hold dear. And remember too, their audience is not Americans, but other South Africans who might not have heard our music before.

BTW, I see things have changed for the better about International Hip-Hop since the Telemary Diaz post. :)

P.S., the security code part to submit on this site is challenging to say the least.


         Mtume says:         

Yes, we know the security code thing is a pain. We had to do it though, because we’d started getting upwards of 300 spam ‘comments’ per day. We did notice that the legitimate comments slowed down right after we installed the security code, and that’s too bad. We liked it the way it was before, but unfortunately the spammers have made comment filtering a necessary evil.

June 13th, 2006 at 4:03 am


jamila Says:
July 4th, 2006 at 6:21 am

my name is jamila from maputo i want tok to kabelo .

phumzile Says:
July 21st, 2006 at 10:48 am

You get the artists such as Mdu and Arthur that produce music that just makes people want move, just go to a southern african party and watch how people young and just come alive when the bass starts thumping… Dancing is really big on the kwaito scene just catch a trompies video and you’ll see for yourself.

You then get the Zola’s and Mapaputsi’s that deal with issues of the new Suth Africa. True, the style of some of these artists resembles American Hip Hop but the Mzekezeke’s of kwaito bring a fresh and entertaining flavour. I think you have to have an understanding of the lyrics to truly grasp the meaning of what kwaito brings.

As a young south african living abroad I feel it keeps me close to home . I cant answer for every kwaito fan but I think for most people it connects rhythmically and in a lot of ways emotionally.

mabeater Says:
May 15th, 2007 at 8:17 am

i think kwaito is 4 little children it sucks

mabeater Says:
May 15th, 2007 at 8:20 am

kwaito is boring with it boring instruments i think house is far more beta,ill rather listen to profesor and t’zozo than listening to tkzee or mdu

lithuline Says:
October 15th, 2008 at 5:40 am

it depends on the person to listen to whatever he or she wanna listen. basically i think tkzee brought back the heat and i still enjoy their music even today. so i cant really say much but it rocks!!!!! 2lani

sunfly Says:
June 15th, 2009 at 9:17 pm

When the world briefly basks in the South African soccer world cup next yeat The kwaito bands will chant and joyfully sing and win the hearts of all who take part in such a magnificent event.Bless them all.

Dj Dazzy Daz Says:
July 12th, 2013 at 8:24 am

Hi guys
I had this album when i was on high school, i live in namibia & would like to know where can i get it again


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