Rock Music in South Africa

Kahn Morbee of the Parlotones.

Kahn Morbee of the Parlotones. Image thanks to Ulis at en.wikipedia

The growth and development of rock music in South Africa can be turned into a wonderful story of the ages. Like in many other countries, rock music evolved as the people matured as artists and lovers of music. Listen to their story….

In the 1970s

The late 1970s, long before I owned an iPad and a Nikon Coolpix camera, was a time when British bands were popular in South Africa. Many of them played punk rock music generating a cult-like following. Some of the popular banks were The Radio Rats, Young Dumb and Violent, Rude Detrimentals, Red Army, and Riot Squad, among many others. It was in 1976 when South African blacks were becoming restless and angry like the incident in Soweto where over 600 people died fighting security forces. While the punk rock was mostly listened to by white South Africans and the affluent, it did not help the situation because it placed a greater divide between the whites and the non-whites.

The 1980s

In response to the punk rock stage in South Africa, the 1980s sort of mellowed down with alternative and gothic rock. Alternative rock is also known as underground music and it fits in exactly with the historical timeline of the country. In South Africa, alternative rock refers to the rock music of Afrikaners. From 1994 to 1989 was a tumultuous time in South Africa as rebellious groups fought the authorities in charge at that time.  The country was in a state of emergency and it was only after 1989 that jailed activists were freed and free speech was allowed. Popular alternative rock bands were Scooter’s Union, The Usual, Tribe after Tribe, and The Softies, among several others.

Gothic rock music is post punk rock which is a cross between punk rock and heavy rock. There is more keyboard instruments and dark lyrics. Dog Detachment was the country’s early poster bands for gothic rock but was quickly overshadowed by the music of No Friends of Harry.  However, it was only in the 1900s that any gothic band got national recognition and this was The Awakening Band.

The 1900s

In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released and metal rock was finally coming into own. One of the popular metal bands at that time was Ragnarok, the country’s version of Metallica. They were so famous; a cult group began to follow them religiously. Many of the punk bands began a crossover to a combination of punk and metal. This was the high point of metal bands in South Africa’s history. It also helped because the Apartheid ended and international music groups were allowed to hold concerts in the country.

The 2000s

The years following 1999 could be best described as a time of relative peace and harmony. It wasn’t perfect but it was something akin to new beginnings. The music turned from heavy metal to blues rock. Doesn’t this say something?

It was a dramatic change as the bands appealed to the public were blues rock bands like Albert Frost, The Black Cat Bones and the Boulevard Blues. Local artists were also singing blues rock like Piet Botha. Some of the historical landmarks that happened in the years after 1999 were the death of anti-Apartheid activist, Walter Sisulu, same sex marriages were allowed, a stronger stance on providing HIV/AIDS drugs to poor South Africans, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the election that voted Jacob Zuma as president. With all these mainly positive changes, the music also became less angry.