South Africa and Rock Music

South Africa is a beautiful country, and its music anything but pre-packed items you’d find on the shelves of your local pet supermarket: it is original, surprising, and always great to listen to.

In addition to its diverse wildlife reserves and vast natural environment, South Africa plays host to: eleven official languages; a range of cultures finding their origins all over the world; and a populous that looks forward to a prosperous and stable economy. Further, South Africa sees several hundred thousand tourists each year, of which a large proportion returns again and again to revisit the country they’ve fallen in love with.

The charm of the place lies with the people of South Africa, many of whom suffer extreme poverty and degradation in their daily existence.

The enormously successful 2010 FIFA World Cup proved, despite the oftentimes negative image of the country portrayed by mainstream and global media, that South Africans are open, friendly, and warm hearted people.

With this said it should nonetheless be noted that SA is a society facing huge challenges: poverty is increasing and deepening, crime is still at very high levels, needless violence accompanies criminal acts, and to make matters even worse, there is corruption, divisive racism, and massive inequality.

The complexity of South African culture and the experiences of different sections of our society are well represented in music, and to a lesser extent, in art.  Although representative of only a small section of society (regarded as the privileged, white class), this site offers a very brief overview of the South African rock scene, its recent history and contemporary leanings.

It hopes to debunk the popular conception that rock is somehow constrained to the high walled enclaves of security estates and fenced communities; and in a seemingly paradoxical argument, would like to claim that even if it were a music that appeals to a small(ish) minority, it is still a legitimate form of expression and those who identify with it shouldn’t be denied a voice in contemporary SA.

Contra the critics who’d like to align rock with a ‘segregationist’ minority, this particular genre of music experienced massive growth and proliferation after the abolition of Apartheid, and is often associated with historically rebellious movements. To call to mind just a few of the rock artists who’ve made bold moves towards protesting against injustice and oppression is remember names like John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Tracy Chapman, The Beatles, Joan Armatrading, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Bob Geldof, Michael Hutchinson, U2 (and Bono especially), Queen (although Freddie Mercury was reluctant to get involved with social issues at first), and many, many more…

Indeed, in many ways Rock n Roll – the precursor to straightforward Rock – and Rock can be seen to be in their very nature based on a spirit of rebellion: that is, a rebellion against authority, oppressive figures, and anyone else who’d prefer to keep human creativity, emotion and expression at bay. Fighting against systems designed to keep people docile and “in their place” saturates many of the basic ideas underpinning the general gist of activist bands like Rage Against the Machine, Black Flag, REM, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana (again, to name but a few).

Rock is about freedom from oppressive forces, and the new South Africa is about freedom from oppressive forces: the two seem to complement each other well. In today’s context, though, the fight is no longer against a racist regime, and is instead for something: for greater equality, for uncorrupted politicians, for the recognition of basic human rights, and the list goes on…