Kwaito is a uniquely South African music genre, rooted in house, raga (a subgenre of reggae), hip-hop, and local rhythms. It emerged from the country's townships after apartheid and gets its name, some say, from township slang for "cool talk." Its hard-pumping bass beats, lightly slowed down from a house rhythm, are topped with rambled-off lyrics in a style reminiscent of American rap. It's as much a lifestyle as it is a music genre, with its own ways of dancing and dressing.

The best-selling kwaito musicians (and kwaito DJs) have superstar status in South Africa, but they have a less unsavory reputation than their American hip-hop equivalents. Though some kwaito acts stand accused of sexism and vulgar lyrics, the kwaito attitude is generally quite respectable. Lyrics are often about banning guns or respecting women, or they comment on murder, rape, AIDS, and unemployment. One kwaito star, Zola—named after an impoverished Soweto community—enjoyed a long-running TV series, in which he worked to improve people's lives. His music is featured in the 2006 Academy Award–winning movie Tsotsi. Other chart-topping kwaito stars include Mandoza, whose catchy, powerful songs have earned him several awards and crossover appeal; Arthur Mafikizolo; Mdu; the Brothers of Peace; and Mzekezeke, an enigmatic masked singer.

–Riaan Wolmarans

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