South African Alternative Essentials

South African Alternative Essentials

If music serves as a mirror of society, then the alternative scene in South Africa reflects a vastly diverse nation bursting with social change and bold ideas. As apartheid gave way to liberal democracy beginning in 1994 and past the turn of the millennium, tension and release came to play a central part in the alt-rock of iconic bands like Fetish and Fokofpolisiekar—the former famed for their smoldering dirges, the latter articulating the angst of repressed Afrikaner youth. Beloved traditions of Zulu folk and township rhythms play a key role in even the most avant-garde creations of genre-hopping artists like BLK JKS and Spoek Mathambo, albeit usually filtered through new lenses of psychedelia and nightclub tech. The “zef” rave-rap of Die Antwoord and the understated ballads of singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou also show how artists across South Africa draw from their culture—even as they reimagine it.

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