A genre for the adventurous, Durban’s gqom scene came as a surprise to many who were in their pop, house and hip-hop bags at every club event throughout the 90s and early 2000s. Post-Apartheid, the kwaito genre emerged to give Black folks a chance to embrace their identities, via their own variant of house melded with local raps. But at the same time, South Africa was being introduced to MTV, and the mainstream charts were focused on American stars like Britney Spears and Ricky Martin with a sprinkling of local pop artists rising to prominence. Kwaito would dominate for a while, but as South Africans began to focus on hip-hop (both local and international) as the new mainstream darling, kwaito as we knew it dwindled into obscurity.

Then came gqom, the first style of electronic music rooted in township culture in Durban, which opened minds and throats with ease. Melding kwaito’s energy with ghostly shufflings in the mid-120s BPM range, gqom slowly became a movement that would appear in underground clubs all over Europe, Asia, the UK and eventually even US pop music.

Gqom’s dark, sparse and challenging tone comes in numerous iterations which vary in their intensity, structure and content. The most popular are Is’ghubu and uThayela, where you’ll find DJ Lag, Omagoqa, Distruction Boyz and Campmasters experimenting with tinny or hollow sounds and various drum patterns. With the Is’Qinisi style of gqom, lovers of beats that are a bit more techno-leaning will find their groove; then there’s Cape Town’s KaapseGqom, championed by artists such as Mr Thela, TempleBoys and Surreal Sessions.

As one of the most forward-thinking of all the South African genres (which still experiences bouts of sexism, elitism and homophobia) gqom has grown to welcome queer acts such as FAKA, Dee Traits, Nkulee and River Moon, as well as soundtracking South African ballroom culture. Lelowhatsgood, for example, hosts vogue nights with a stylish, sexy, sweaty and safe vibe.

Pioneers of the sound: Sbucardo Da Deejay, Distruction Boys, DJ Lag

3 Anthems:

Mshayi, Mr Thela – Mother’s Prayer
Goldmax, QUE DJ, Thobeka – Bamba iRoof
DJ Lag, KCDriller – Hade Boss

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