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Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet: South African Pop

by Rachel Devitt

Cheat Sheet: South African Pop


Various Artists

Afropop is a messy, unwieldy misnomer of a genre at best. But if such a broad, sprawling world can be said to exist, South Africa is most definitely one of its epicenters. From Miriam Makeba to Hugh Masekela, from isicathamiya choruses to kwaito beats, the country has produced some of the world's most prolific and fascinating Afropop artists and movements.

That global significance speaks to the distinctive personality South African pop has honed over the years. The stylistic permutations and regional variations are extensive, of course, but some common currents run through much of the country's most memorable music, like a penchant for pairing traditional folk styles with peppy pop beats and smart, articulate political commentary -- all couched in some of the sunniest, smoothest melodies you've ever heard. South Africa has endured some of the world's most well-known and incomprehensible sociopolitical struggles, so it only makes sense that many (perhaps all?) South African artists (many of whom saw their careers stymied by apartheid) have a lot to say about the state of affairs in their country, and remain committed to working toward peace and social justice.

Dig into our Cheat Sheet guide to some of South Africa's best and most beloved pop icons, artists capable of putting a smile on your face and a thoughtful furrow in your brow simultaneously.