The decade is over. It’s time to celebrate those who bore aloft the South African music industry in the last 10 years. This list, in no order, shines the light on artists who know how to put on a world class show.
The last decade saw the ascension of Black Coffee into one of the world’s biggest DJs.
The house music producer went from churning out back to back dance floor anthems and lavishing house music numbers to playing one set for a record 60 hours.
That historic moment took place in the year 2010, the first year of yet another successful decade for his music career, which had now cultivated a timeless discography that set him ahead of his peers in the house music soundscape.
We now also know the year 2010 was merely the eve of his biggest era yet.
Now boasting a slew of hits with some of the world’s biggest acts, a list including Alicia Keys, Usher, Jorja Smith and amongst others Drake, Black Coffee’s sets are so transcendental that he managed to score himself upper echelon residences in Ibiza, New York City and other parts of the world.
Everything culminated into his Music is King shows, which he launched in 2018.
In the annual shindig, he unleashes his mastery on the decks, incorporating live instrumentation with powerhouse vocal performances for some of his timeless classics.
Enjoying Black Coffee’s sets is always quite an experience.
The jazzy dance music formation have not missed a beat since shooting into the scene during the summer of 2011, where they unleashed back to back scorchers from their self titled debut studio album. Despite the novelty, the South African Music Awards winning album reached gold status in the land.
Consisting of music producer and pianist Dr. Duda, who’d already achieved considerable success as a solo act, vocalist and guitarist J’Something and Mo-T, the group’s trumpeter, Mi Casa have carved out their own nook as a diverse and exuberant house music trio who deliver groovy lounge house music numbers.
It’s the myriad of influences in their sound that makes it both so distinct and familiar, always bringing bringing the fresh and the nostalgic in their records. They soon sealed their fate as one of the country’s most consistent house music formations with the release of their double disc album Home Sweet Home, which came out in 2015.
Four albums later, and a few career expansions, only a handful can hold a hand to the kinds of shows can execute.
Vusi Nova is this generation’s answer to the magical era that brought us a constellation of the brightest African performers. They used their voices as instruments to move, inspire, shock governments, influence political change and get even the most heartless to melt.
Do you know Hugh Masekela? Jabu Khanyile? Tshepo Tshola? Caiphus Semenya? Joe Nina? Ringo?
That’s not, of course to say contemporary artists pale in comparison. There’s no need to compare at all. The point here is that Nova possesses the star power and mind blowing talent that is just as timeless, as effective and as moving as did these legends.
They maintained an enigma about them, allowing the power of their music to furnish every gap. So does Nova, who in this exclusive music interview shared with us the importance of “keeping one’s head down” while focusing on the work.
But while he tends to shun splashy displays, the stage presence is something to truly marvel at.
I was introduced to Sho Madjozi’s powerful stage presence in 2016, when she performed at Pop Bottles. Although not many people there had heard of her before then, her energy onstage was unforgettable, infectious and a delight to experience.
The BET award winner, who recently got a surprise of her life when John Cena crashed her performance on Kelly Clarkson’s talk show, had quite an impressive start.
She dropped raw raps over a Gqom beat, which was layered with Xitsonga flavours, delivering an experience which was at once refreshing and cultural.
By the time she performed at Rocking The Daisy later that year, bringing her trademark visual brew of traditional garb with Hip Hop styles to the Trap House, she’d already refined her sound and aesthetic to place her as the next big player.
Having now graced big stages at AFROPUNK Brooklyn, Global Citizen Joburg and other global festival, there’s no shred of doubt Sho Madjozi is a wonder onstage.
On October 24, 2018, the South African music industry suffered a great loss.
Hip Hop Pantsula, who had single handedly risen to become the country’s biggest rapper, and one who did it while remaining anchored in his roots as a Motswako artist, reportedly committed suicide.
And while the late rapper is lauded for his indelible contribution to the African creative industry, as well as helping Hip Hop to move from the periphery into the mainstream thanks to his stellar era, he was also known for his live performances.
HHP had the kind of energy that can’t be manufactured.
It helped, of course, that his shows were always fuelled by his slew of nostalgic jams and trendy hits. But those who had the pleasure of watching his performances will attest to this – Jabba is one of the best live performers this country has ever seen.
She’s the epitome of talent, grace and power. And Lira, who’s one of South Africa’s most celebrated female artists of all time with no less than 11 SAMA awards, has earned her stripes in the best way – consistency.
The 40 year old, who’s been reported to be one of South Africa’s richest musicians on various lists, started out being contorted to fit the Kwaito mould during the heyday of Arthur Mofake’s 999 Records in the early 2000’s.
Following her departure from the label, the Daveyton raised singer pivoted and pursued sounds more suited to her tastes and authentic interests.
By 2009, she had amassed enough cultural capital, a solid following and an appreciation for her performances that a live album became realistically feasible. That’s when she debuted Live In Concert: A Celebration was released.
The project, which was filmed at the Carnival City Casino, became a manifesto for Lira’s richly powered stage presence. The DVD later garnered her the ‘Best Global Chart DVD’ at the SAMAs, and later became the country’s fastest selling videodisc in the Sony Music catalogue, replacing Celine Dion’s Live In Vegas; A New Day.
The South African rock band recently premiered a live album, Prime Circle – A Live World. The project consists of 24 of some of the band’s best live performances from around the world.
The performances are strewn all over the world, from Manchester to Mumbai, Cape Town and further, which in itself is a prism of the band’s global splash of sonic colour and their celebrated discography.
The live album, one of my faves to emerge in 2019, assembles live recordings of Prime Circle’s live treatments to their extensive catalogue, which dates back to 2002, when they released their debut album, Hello Crazy World.
Since then, they’ve been able to grow to become one of South Africa’s biggest rock band of all time. They’ve sustained a longevity that has has seen them churn out 7 successful studio albums, a run which has fuelled their inroads into the global market.
Onstage, Prime Circle always deliver stunning shows.
We hadn’t seen a talent as powerful as Zahara since the legendary Brenda Fassie when in 2011, the Eastern Cape songbird unleashed one of the decade’s biggest blockbuster hits, the timeless Loliwe. Soon followed by her debut studio album, Loliwe, which would become of one of the decade’s best selling works, Zahara’s entrance into the music business was explosive, loud and iconic.
And despite remaining one of the country’s best selling artists, Zahara has managed to remain authentic to her sound and original aesthetic. She’s the folksy Xhosa songbird with a guitar in her hand, singing beautifully from her heart.
It’s the reason why so many of her fans have continued to relate to her, even she battled some personal and professional drama, which included her much publicised strife with former label.
When the likes of Charlamagne Tha God drop your live performance as a testament to the South African talent yet to be discovered by the world in every other one of his popular radio interviews on the Breakfast Club, you know you are big deal.
Perhaps so did Jay Z and Beyoncé, who had to top his iconic performance at the Global Citizen Johannesburg concert at FNB Soccer City Stadium in December 2018, where Cassper Nyovest delivered what some still maintained to have been the performance that stole the limelight from the Carters.
But while the world slowly awakens to the musical beasts powering the South African music industry’s gradual ascension to global influence and fast scaling impact, locals have long rated Cassper’s live performances as some of the best in Hip Hop, anywhere in the world.
It’s how he’s been able to sell out so many stadium, making history by becoming the first South African rapper to unleash a long running arena tour through his trademark ‘Fill Up’ shows. In 2018, he sold out over 60 000 tickets for his show at FNB Soccer City Stadium, where he thrilled fans would braved the rain to see him toss out that infectious energy that continues to fuel his mega Hip Hop career.
She’s one of the most refreshing voices to emerge in within this decade in South African music. And having penned some of the country’s biggest house and pop joints in the last five years, Lady Zamar has earned her place as one of the business’ most formidable forces.
I asked her at an All White Party back in 2017, where she’d just finished performing some of her biggest hits, a set that included Collide, My Baby, Love Is Blind and Charlotte, if she was a poet. She said it’s at the centre of her creative instinct, and continues to shape her ability to write songs from the heart that millions can find themselves in.
After all, she’d given poetic and vocal justice to such songs as Cotton Candy and Mamelodi, on which she lavished Junior Taurus’ broken beat productions with airy odes to both her subjects of affection and her reverence for the Pretoria township.
What makes Lady Zamar one of the decade’s best live acts, however, is how she’s able to use the agility of her powerhouse voice to melt her dance numbers into acoustic, stripped down experiences that reveal emotional layers of her songwriting that have made her first three albums the critical masterpieces they are.
We love a House music duo who knows how to climb on top of the decks and dance without anything weird happening.
Those who’ve attended enough of their shows know about the precision that goes into their sets and performances; it’s the reason why things need to be disconnected in between line-ups before their performances at festivals.
Black Motion, who recently celebrated their decade run with the release of their new single ‘Everything’, have cemented their status as one the most sough after live acts in the business.
It’s all thanks to how they own the stage with their organic instrumentation, which finds them marry digital music engineering elements with organic African drums and effortlessly coordinated – sometimes trance charged – dance routines.
Throw in live vocals from their collaborators and you have an experience that shines beyond whatever your Instastories can capture.
The next decade will be quite interesting for Sjava’s career.
On the one hand, he’s reached the next dimension in his performance career. With a critically lauded sophomore album and a SAMA win in the bag, the Umqhele hitmaker ranks as one of the biggest artists in the game right now.
As far as his live performances are concerned, he’s managed to deliver enough showstoppers to successfully execute a sold out show at the Sun Arena in Pretoria, the stunning show which became the SABC 1 prime time slot broadcasted One Night With Sjava.
And yet, a storm threatens to blow it all open.
Following the allegations by Lady Zamar, in which she claimed he’d been sexually and emotionally abusive to her in their relationship, there’s been calls for boycotts. Questions are everywhere about whether not he’ll continue to perform at the looming AFROPUNK Joburg festival in December, where he is slated to perform alongside the likes of Solange, Miguel, Goldlink and amongst others Nao.
While Sjava denied all these allegations, saying he’s dealing with it all legally, it remains to be seen if his career will ascend higher or take a beating.
Nevertheless, he’s definitely earned his spot on this list.
While 2019 was a tumultuous year for the self proclaimed Queen of Gqom, she rocked the landscape in one of the biggest ways we’ve seen this decade.
Out of nowhere in 2015, she unleashed her debut single, Wololo, which not only goes down as one of the biggest street anthems over the last 10 years, but also arguably launched the Gqom genre into the mainstream subculture that it became for a few years after her emergence.
What followed for the Durbanite dynamite was a string of ‘firsts’, which saw her being featured on the Black Panther soundtrack, and Justin Bieber’s reported flirtation with the idea of jumping on the remix of her blockbuster Gqom hit.
Gqom Queen, Vol 1, debuted soon after she released her second single Mercedes in 2016. The 13 track project was a confident entry, finding Babes powerfully positioning herself not only as the first lady of Gqom, but also the dance queen with fired up stage performances that made her 2015’s most booked artist.
These days, however, fans continue worrying about the hitmaker’s wellbeing. This year she took her on again, off again boyfriend Mampintsha on assault charges which she laid after a disturbing live video of the Big Nuz frontman battering her emerged on Instagram.
And despite public outrage, she later dropped the charge and reconciled with him.
Her troubled personal life notwithstanding, and even with a list of hits that still wouldn’t be enough for a full show yet, there’s no doubt that Babes Wodumo’s live performances came and shook the table in the most exhilarating ways.
After more than two decades on top of the charts, the iconic Afro-Pop duo credits their longevity to two things. One, the importance of reinvention – whether through their constantly evolving fashion or sound – is the secret to why, after countless hits, awards and global recognition, they’ve remained in top form.
In an exclusive interview with QuenchSA, the two explained how working with younger producers time and again has helped them to keep abreast of the waves.
Secondly, humility is key for any artist, at whatever level in their careers, to be able to have longevity. While countless names have come, blew up in the most specular ways, and fell right off like nothing ever happened, Mafikizolo has maintained their staying power through always seeing themselves as students.
Along with that, they’ve also remained the most exciting Afro-Pop group to see live. Their sprawling catalogue is part of it, because there are countless sing along number ones to get the crowd going at any show. But with Mafikizolo, it’s also the quality of the vocals, the visuals, stage productions, outfits and dance routines.
They know how to bring a good show. It’s how they make it unforgettable, over and over again, that we bow our heads to!
He’s now transitioned from Tumi Molekane to Stogie T, a moniker representing the ways the rapper has evolved over the years. The decision, which was at first met with subtle blowbacks from fans, has defined the era since his iconic Hip Hop band, ‘Tumi & The Volume’, officially disbanded in 2012.
But while the new school have continued comparing the lyricist to the likes of J Cole as a means to pay homage to his rap virtuosity, Stogie is a legend is his own dimension.
A Pioneer in the league of the South African Hip Hop greats who championed the sound in the late 1990s and early 2000s, back when a chunk of Kwaito banter discredited the legitimacy of Hip Hop as an authentic voice for the African youth, Stogie has gone through the decades refining his delivery.
Now a Hennessy Wall of Fame honouree, the original South African emcee recently thrilled fans with the release of a critically lauded album, The Empire of Sheep, an 8-track project that finds him splay conscious insights.
Onstage, Stogie T’s experience as a performer who gained international prominence while performing around the world with Tumi & The Volume.
The powerhouse vocalist has the rare chops it takes to effortlessly oscillate between Afro-Pop and gospel both in the studio and onstage. When it comes to gospel, sheer technique and melisma are required for the acing of the vast range of notes the songs come with.
You don’t take people to church without knowing how to sang.
That woman’s range is downright unbelievable! And each time she performs, she makes sure we know why she’s earned every right to be on that stage.
But it isn’t just about the big voice, the gymnastics and adlibs though, is it? Kelly Khumalo consistently displays showmanship every time she steps out in her dazzling stage costumes and dance routines.
The last few years of the decade have, however, seen her performing career run into rocky grounds. Following the murder of her boyfriend, then Bafana Bafana national captain Senzo Meyiwa on October 26th, 2014, she’s been on the subject of much public scrutiny and suspicion.
A gig in which she gets booed off stage by the audience at an EFF rally sums up the complicated relationship she’s been having with limelight over the past few years.
They’ve got a killer discography of dance numbers, which are span multiple flavours in House, Pop, Jazz and other African soundscapes. And South African electronic duo Goldfish certainly know a great deal about unleashing killer sets at the massive festivals they get booked to performed around the world.
Consisting of Dominic Peters and David Poole, the MTV Africa Music Awards 2014 ‘Best Pop’ gong winning duo is not only the epitome of cool. They also know how to combine the works of visual glory and a killer set with live instrumentation. If you don’t mind being treated to some sensational sax and guitar interspersed with the electronic vibe, you’ve got to see what Goldfish can do to a party.
If you want to know who the finest live acts really are in a country, you look out for two things; how long they’ve been around and whether or not they have an album.
Thandiswa Mazwai wins in both distinctions, having shaped the South African music landscape since firing into the scene in 1998 as lead vocalist for Bongo Maffin, one of South Africa’s most iconic music groups of all time.
She also released a live album in 2010. Dance of The Forgotten Free (Live In Concert) features 15 of Mazwai’s transcendental performances. It won her the South African Music Awards for Best Female Artist and Best Live DVD in 2011.
She delights with live treatments to some of her best work as a solo artist, paying homage to her African and Xhosa roots in song and garb, and giving her fans a world class show with an exceptional band.
It’s also a show that distills her musical journey since the premiere of her award winning debut album, Zabalaza, in 2004.
Thandiswa Mazwai uses her art and platform to enact and embody the richness of the black and African experiences. Onstage, the many influences which inform her sound, from Afro-Soul to Jazz, raggae and traditional sounds, come alive as part of a larger visual and sonic celebration of blackness.