Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

The Politicization of Kwaito: From the "Party Politic" to Party Politics

Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

The Politicization of Kwaito: From the "Party Politic" to Party Politics

Article excerpt

Kwaito--the most important music genre and cultural innovation to emerge in postapartheid South Africa--is often described as explicitly apolitical. Essentially a type of dance music, kwaito in its most common form is music "after the struggle." Most kwaito songs are composed of slowed-down House tracks and repetitive "chanted" lyrics in isiZulu, English, or Scamtho (slang). (1) Enjoyed primarily by black South Africans, the "poststruggle" aesthetic of kwaito usually manifests itself in alcohol-or zol (marijuana)-inspired all-night parties referred to as "bashes."

In a recent article, I explored kwaito's apolitical character in some detail (Steingo 2005). However, that paper was written before the national elections of 2004, and during and since those elections, kwaito has been politicized. In retrospect, I can see that kwaito's politicization did not happen suddenly with the elections: the process of drawing kwaito into the political sphere had been taking place slowly for several years prior. Looking back, the difficulties I experienced in my earlier analysis revolved around the contradictions inherent in the politicization of a cultural formulation that has apolitics at its center. However, my analysis of kwaito as apolitical--even today--is not incorrect. What I hope to do in this article is illustrate how kwaito--specifically because it is apolitical in the way that it is--was politicized, or rather, hijacked, by political parties before and during the 2004 elections. Moreover, I will illustrate not only that kwaito's apoliticalness survived its politicization but that this apoliticalness was essential to the very process of politicization.

Such a study necessarily requires a careful analysis of what the political actually is. In this article, I suggest that "Real" (in the Baudrillardian sense) politics is dead. I read the "political" through Jacques Attali's (1985, 88) concept of the simulacral "political spectacle," which is nothing more than a vestige of the previous era preserved in the contemporary period only to "avoid disturbing or dispiriting us unduly." Today, "power can no longer be located simply in the control of capital or force" (90). "And if there are no longer any localizable power holders, neither are there counterpowers that can be institutionalised in response" (90). The terms political and apolitical cannot be thought about in a conventional way--nor are these terms strictly oppositional. Pursuing Slavoj i ek's (1989, 1994) Lacanian reading of Hegelian dialectics, I would argue that the dialectal relationship between politics and apolitics cannot attain a synthesis. Instead, following i ek, I suggest that one side of the dialectical opposition (synthesis) turns into its own opposite (antithesis). That is to say, the "apolitical" becomes political precisely through its opposition to the political. By being apolitical, kwaito becomes political. It is the becoming political of the apolitical that primarily interests me here.

While it is at times imperative to undermine the binary opposition political-apolitical, I do so here by using the terms conventionally. In this sense, I hope to deconstruct the binarism through what Gayatri Spivak (1996) has called "strategic essentialism." This deconstructive strategy is focused less on the "exposure of error" than in "constantly and persistently looking into how truths are produced" (see Arteaga 1996, 19). It is by appropriating, rather than rejecting, the binary opposition politicalapolitical that the dialectical interplay between the two can be fully revealed.

On (A)politics: Kwaito versus Hip Hop

Because of seemingly obvious parallels between African-American youth culture and the new black South African youth culture, people have been inclined to think of kwaito as "South African hip hop" or a South African version of hip hop. (In 2000, Sterns/Earthworks released a kwaito compilation compact disc in the United Kingdom called Kwaito: South African Hip Hop. …

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