South African songs Beneath their beaches, mountains and several distinct ecosystems, South Africa offers a captivating music scene of eclectic local talent. We've picked out 7 acts across a range of different genres and styles that we think you should hear, maybe we'll do a second part of the content in the future, but for now it's just going to take a while to get your fill of South Africa's latest musical offerings. 

From afar and often from within, South Africa appears as a divided nation. But it doesn't take much to bring its people, cultures and languages ??together. Although the country's hosting of major sporting events is perhaps the most visible example of how a country can unite, music has played a key role in helping the country embrace its multilingual and multicultural identity.


South Africans have used music to heal, conquer and unify for many years. When South Africa was going through a euphoric process of democratization in 1994, music played a key role. After years of apartheid, which sought to divide and rule, there was a long period of unprecedented national unity – and the airwaves suddenly began to crackle with songs in languages ??many had never heard commercially, or even publicly.


But under the guise of the 'Rainbow Nation', the country has managed to distill years of suffering and oppression and a myriad of languages ??and cultures into a single catchy moniker. While the intentions of this movement were indeed good—that it was a nation united in its diversity—it also served to sweep several important issues under the political rug and allowed many people to avoid the harsh reality of the reconciliation that still lies ahead.




11 official languages

Spend time in the country's major cities and there's a good chance you'll hear English spoken mostly in businesses and other commercial establishments. But the reality is that many South Africans are multilingual and less than 10% of the population speak English as their first language.


Latest south African biography

Latest south African biography very own BLK JKS played at the 2010 South African World Cup kick-off at Orlando Stadium alongside Alicia Keys, John Legend and The Black Eyed Peas.


The other 10 official languages ??(Zulu, Xhosa, Southern Sotho, Afrikaans, Tswana, Northern Sotho, Venda, Tsonga, Swati and Ndebele) are much more prevalent in households across the country, adding significant depth and diversity to the country's music. As such, many of the country's most popular musical compositions are in one or more African languages, each of which carries with it its own cultural references.


Although much South African music contains some degree of multilingualism, the first multilingual song that most South Africans actually learned was the country's national anthem. The South African national anthem was a key driver of unity and global acceptance during the Rainbow Nation period.


Although modern musicians have worked several languages ??into continuous compositions, there are often problems when it comes to composing different languages ??into one coherent song. Nowhere is this more evident than in the South African national anthem. The dramatic pause and change of tempo between the Sesotho and Afrikaans verses prompted awkward, uncomfortable laughs for many years as the anthem seemed to give Afrikaans singers the momentum they needed to reclaim the language's place on the national stage. Some have suggested that Afrikaans and English be removed entirely, and that the shift in pace and placement of English and Afrikaans are problematic; however, it remains a powerful song that retains much of its initial impact today.



South African rugby players sing the national anthem 

Divided radio stations meant a divided music industry

Despite a multilingual anthem and the adoption of several official languages, music in South Africa has had to overcome deep-seated differences.


During the apartheid era, music radio stations were divided along language lines, often simply with Afrikaans, English and a mixture of African languages ??as available options. These linguistic divisions are still visible today. It was not until the early 21st century, many years after the advent of democracy, that the English-speaking radio station 5FM played an Afrikaans song on air. Fokofpolisiekar's Hemel op die Platteland was the first Afrikaans track officially added to the station's playlist and almost immediately shot to the top.


But as recently as February 2014 artists were complaining that the music on 5FM was anything but inclusive. An open letter by popular musician Kwesta has claimed that the radio station is still seen by the majority as a 'white station'.


"As a public broadcasting platform, it is deplorable and unacceptable," he wrote. "I'm trying to bridge the racial divide when it comes to my music by giving a small-town perspective to an audience that's been raised to fear 'the hood and his blacks, while [helping] those of us dealing with inferiority complexes, which comes with the knowledge that we will have to find our place in the "white man's world".'



Although commercial playlists can still be a problem, many musicians push through despite the challenges. Much of South Africa's most diverse, creative and popular music has emerged from its communities, including hip hop, house, kwaito and gqom. These melting pots of different cultures and languages ??have tilted nicely towards massive unifying hits.


Latest south African biography

Latest south African biography very own BLK JKS played at the 2010 South African World Cup kick-off at Orlando Stadium alongside Alicia Keys, John Legend and The Black Eyed Peas.



Bands like BCUC and The Brother Moves On use language and cultural identity more subtly to build a strong following across divides. The BCUC claim that they did not do so as a deliberate move, but rather as a result of their multicultural and multilingual upbringing in Johannesburg's Soweto. More intentionally, The Brother Moves On often use made-up languages ??or songs without lyrics to bridge differences. Regardless of approach or intent, it's clear that their quality music can often transcend language entirely.


Although some radio stations still do not fully embrace the concept of music in different genres and languages, many bands draw on the fact that multilingual music existed long before music became commercial. It has been used at important events for many years and connects people regardless of whether they know the intricacies of each word.


Creating music that spans multiple languages ??can be a complex process, but many South African musicians have risen to the challenge and produced songs that are more than just catchy tunes – they borrow from many histories and cultures to create truly unifying music that embraces multilingualism Republic of South Africa. identity without compromise. And now more than ever, commercial channels are opening up to these musicians and finally starting to shake some of the divisions that have been in place for far too long.

This article is part of our Explore Your World Through Language campaign. If you enjoyed this exploration of the wonders of words, why not dig into these great pieces: