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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Soweto band mixes traditional African sounds and American rock ‘n’ roll

Shameless, a three-person rock ‘n’ roll band from Soweto, played for the first time last month at The Roving Bantu Kitchen in Johannesburg. PHOTO: The Hawk

Johannesburg, South Africa — As a photo of Hugh Masekela, “the father of South African jazz,” looked on in the background, aggressive guitar riffs, loud drums and a consistent bassline blared from a small dimly-lit stage.   

The sounds belonged to Shameless, a three-person rock ‘n’ roll band that had traveled from Soweto to play before a small but enthusiastic crowd last month at The Roving Bantu Kitchen in the Brixton neighborhood of Johannesburg.  

The band, which formed in February 2018, is comprised of singer and guitarist Musa Zwane, bassist Thabang Khonje, and drummer Rock Ruler Live, who prefers to be known only by his stage name. Born and bred in the infamous black township of Soweto, the band members said they, and their music, are a product of their roots. 

“There is no way that our environment didn’t influence our music,” Live said. “What comes out of you is through all your five senses as a human being. Everything that you do is according to what you have experienced.”

The band members first met at a jam session in 2018. After playing a few songs together, they decided to form a group. 

Shameless was influenced by Kwaito, a genre of music that emerged from the Johannesburg townships in the 1990s. The word “Kwaito” is South African township slang derived from the Afrikaans word “Kwaai,” which directly translates to “angry.”  The early Kwaito musicians were inspired by jazz, house and many of the disco pop musicians that emerged from South Africa’s black townships.

“We’re from the hood,” Khonje said. “We were raised with Kwaito. Every time we play, that element is always there.”

The band’s producer Hugh Davison said he was drawn to the group because of their chemistry and what they were trying to accomplish on the music scene. 

Rock ‘n’ roll is not huge in black South African music,” Davison said. “Rock ‘n’ roll sprouting from Soweto is a very unusual idea.

Davison was also intrigued by the band’s mix of traditional African sounds and American rock ‘n’ roll influence. 

“There has been a rock scene in South Africa, and it has generally been a white scene,” Davison said. “There’s been great bands, but it’s generally reactive bands, bands that are reacting to what’s happening in America and Europe. What’s great about this is that it’s original.” 

Khonje acknowledged that Shameless is attempting to influence and grow the genre of rock ‘n’ roll in a country where it hardly exists.

“In our society, it’s like we’re satanist [for playing rock ‘n’ roll],” Khonje said. “It’s demonic, so now we try to do it in our own language so we can attract more of our people, so they can understand that we’re not playing demonic, we’re just expressing how we feel from our everyday surroundings.”

The band sings songs in both English and Zulu, with the hope that language helps them express their experiences. 

At the Roving Bantu, the band played songs including “4by4” and “Shame on You,” singing in both English and Zulu. 

Today the group has recorded three songs and written a total of 15, with the hope of releasing an album later this year. Their hope for the future is to spread South African rock n’ roll worldwide.

“We’re starting an empire,” Live said. “It’s going to be tricky for us, but for the next generation, it’s going to be better. We want it to go nationwide, worldwide. We want people to see us playing in China, Japan, North America, South America, Europe. We want to play the whole world.”

For Roving Bantu Kitchen owner Sifiso Ntuli, bringing in groups like Shameless gives locals the opportunity to witness unrestricted expression.   

“This crew is what we hope for in the future,” Ntuli said. “They’re hardworking, smart, determined, winners and proud, proud South Africans, representing in a bigger way the concept of Soweto. Soweto is not just one place. It’s everywhere. They are represented in every way.”

Owner Sifiso Ntuli, outside The Roving Bantu Kitchen in Brixton, said bringing in groups like Shameless represent South Africa, and its future. PHOTO: The Hawk

Live said he believes by keeping Soweto close, and not straying from the band members’ roots, the band will accomplish their dream of spreading South African rock n’ roll music across the world.  

“We’re being ourselves,” Live said. “It has the power to take us anywhere.”

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