Boom Shaka, Box Braids and Boomboxes: The generation brought up by Kwaito

By Ntombenhle Shezi (@NtombenhleShezi)

People like Janet Jackson, Lebo Mathosa and Thembi Seete of Boom Shaka were all rocking these braids during the 90s and many of us young girls followed suit. Their fashion sense was not the only admirable thing about them. The brashness as they sang “It’s About Time” was a signifier of the attitude  they and the rest of the collective of bold young Kwaito musicians had that they had arrived and it was about damn time that everybody’ took these young black kids seriously.

Growing up in the 90s, I always thought my older brothers and sisters (not always brothers or sisters by blood, but we called them that anyway) were cool as fuck. While I was watching Kiddio on SABC at the time, they were the ones listening to Boom Shaka screaming “It’s about time” on their ghettoblasters, as they danced gyrating like mad ngama hotpants.

It was interesting growing up in the 90s especially in South Africa as part of the so-called ‘Y Generation’ who came of age just as South Africa became a democracy in the 90s and early 2000s. This post- apartheid space brought in a flood of trends that were not as accessible under a repressive regime and established a new popular culture that was unapologetically local.


Many who grew up in this time will agree that ‘Jam Alley’ was definitely one of the most important shows for those growing up in this era. At six o’clock on a Friday young South Africans would find themselves in front of their TV’s watching the ever so stylish and brazen Vinolia ‘V-Mash’ Mashego and her fellow presenters Vanessa (later replaced by Pushie Watson) and Nimrod Nkosi.  The show was the place where young aspiring musicians went on as contestants and came off as stars. Who can forget a very young Mzambiya discovered on the show, who went to be one of the biggest Kwaito stars of the 90s? What about a much younger Proverb ‘freestylin’’ fresh off the bus from Kimberly?

Like ‘Jam Alley’, there were a number of other music shows in the late 90s and early 2000s that were equally popular. Presented by some of the finest, young local celebs of that time, such as Melanie Son and DJ Fresh on ‘Studio Mix’, and Bonnie Mbuli with Glen Lewis on ‘Technics Heart of the Beat’, these shows were a visual delight to those of us who were not hooked up to the MTVs and Channel Os at that time. Music was definitely an important element for this generation, and without a doubt Kwaito was at its core.


Kwaito evolved from being more than a music genre into a lifestyle and a mode of self-expression.  Fashion was one of these means of expression. Before box braids we had ‘Da Brats’ influenced by 90s female rapper of the same name who always wore her hair in thick braids. People like Janet Jackson, Lebo Mathosa and Thembi Seete of Boom Shaka were all rocking these braids during the 90s and many of us young girls followed suit. Boom Shaka’s fashion sense was not the only admirable thing about them. The brashness as they sang “It’s About Time” was a signifier of the attitude that they and the rest of the collective of bold young Kwaito musicians had that they had arrived and it was about damn time that everybody took these young black kids seriously.

You can’t think about Kwaito without thinking about the youth radio station Yfm, which not only  became the number one platform for this genre, but would also go on to do the same for emerging local hip hop artists on the very popular ‘Rap Activity Jam’ hosted by Bad Boy T, Lee and Sanza. Also trending in the late 90s into the 2000s was ‘Yizo Yizo’, a youth drama set in the fictitious Supatsela High School in Soweto. Shot with mind-blowing cinematography, the drama was a graphic interrogation of topics that were pressing to the youth at that time, opening up much needed debates around issues such as sexual violence, homosexuality and xenophobia. The Yizo Yizo soundtrack featured a track listing of Kwaito musicians who were at the top of the charts including Zola, Ishmael and Thembi Seete.

Cassper Nyovest Gusheshe

Nowadays, Kwaito has had to compete with the rise of local House and Hip Hop as well as with global sounds like EDM (Electronic Dance Music) on local dance floors. However, the sampling, referencing and the featuring of Kwaito musicians point to the continuity and the strength of the genre. HHP remains one of the first to rappers to hybridize both Hip Hop and Kwaito not only with his name but in the delivery of his music. His early collaboration with Mzambiya on ‘Ghetto Tragedy’ can be seen as a predecessor to the rise of the Kwai-Hop collaborations that we are seeing in recent times. One such example can be seen on the remix of Dream Team’s Tsekede featuring Big Nuz and AKA. Casper Nyovest is a good example of this too, his single ‘Gusheshe’ featuring OkMalumKoolkat a banger in the previous year is titled after the BMW drop-top of the same name featured in many Kwaito videos of the 90s.  Similarly, his latest single ‘Doc Shebeleza’ makes reference to one of the early pioneers of the genre.

It is interesting to see many of the things that were a sign of ‘our time’ back then taking on a different existence today. Our Studio Mixes have been replaced by the likes of Bonang ‘Your Girl B’ Matheba, Mzansi Insider, and Live Amped.  Da Brat’s are being worn as Box Braids thanks to Solonge Knowles, and Kwaito as a reference point are some of things that have seen continuity with the current generation.  Years from now, the Z Generation, as the youth of today are sometimes called, will be the ones reminiscing over these moments and experiences as being instrumental in making them who they are, and perhaps, they might too marvel at how cool we were.



READ: Mail and Guardian: ‘Freedom marches to kwaito’s drum’

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