Much of Africa’s entertainment industry in the 1990s was very much an offshoot of events and issues in South Africa, and how musicians developed a talent for telling their stories of the brutal apartheid experiences, in groovy songs that were favourite disco and dance tunes at the time.
Yvonne Chaka Chaka with songs as Stimela and Thank you Mr. DJ was the queen of Africa, Brenda Fasie, the pop princess and Lucky Dube, was a sweet melody to lovers in disco halls.
Dube’s music was not even known as reggae at that time, it was slows. The likes of Pat Shange and Chiko Chimora were the party blues, complimented by a variety of Congolese stalwarts like Tshala Muana, Arlus Mabele, the incredible Madilu System and Kanda Bongoman. (Where did he go?)
The songs and videos of continental music told of misery under dictatorships or absolute poverty, yet in the disco halls and party homes the music was a soundtrack for passionate dancing and joy.
Africans of this time danced with a certain zeal, that even one big DR Congolese star General Defao made himself a name primarily on dancing moves that resembled the gorilla walk.
The mid 1990s Congo or Zaire was still under the tutelage of the Kuku Wa’Zabanga al Mubutu Tse Koko. His people having given up hope of getting rid of him-he was considered a god after all-had invested all their energies in sweet Lingala tunes.
Their music with that of the South Africans was the soundtrack of the new Africa.
This was no ordinary time in Africa, Tanzania was breaking free of communism; Uganda was coming out of various episodes of war, South Africa was closing in on apartheid while Rwanda was going to war and later genocide. Robert Mugabe was still undergoing political adolescence.
Algeria was still fighting the famous Ninjas. But the music on the continent then was superb. Every event of name in any urban and rural part of Africa had to have some music from Lucky Dube, Chaka Chaka and Brend Fasie, Pepe Kale, Judi Boucher and UB40 to be worth a memory.
African music at that time indeed told of the continent’s quest from ‘Kumbaya’ and the famed idea that Africans were able to turn misery into celebration and so could only be good at dancing.
Considering that the South Africans at that time knew very little of the ‘other’ Africa, it is difficult to fathom how they created music that enthralled the whole continent. But South Africans love their dancing with passion, they supported their musicians and the musicians in turn told the story of the people.
The biggest music stars of the time in the country were equally as popular as such figures like Nelson Mandela and Chris Hani.
Sometimes their music was about working conditions in mines or farms, saving only for food and Umuqomboti. Yet most of these songs told the stories of the other Africa that they never knew.
The ‘other’ Africans loved this music; many ‘cool’ guys of the time had to have a Chaka Chaka or Dube cassette tape
And when Chaka released her I Cry song, about the struggle of a woman, married to an unreasonable jealous African ‘big man’ that had for long treated her to domestic violence, the government considered Africans not intelligent enough to know about gender equality, so the song was banned from television and promotion.
Like other artists her music was strictly for black people, it was not supposed to be promoted or marketed to other races.
The song was banned from SABC, the government not being happy after interpreting itself as the unreasonable jealous man in the song!
And then South Africa got rid of apartheid in 1994. The music changed as well. Where we had the Chaka Chaka’s now, arose; Mafikizolo, Black Smith Mambazo et al.
The rhythm changed to more energetic and powerful dancing, they had already figured out the computer sound. Africa was now in touching distance of the ICT ladder.
With the breakthrough of television in Africa in the late1990s, (during this time, the importation of television sets was banned in Tanzania, only Julius Nyerere imported and watched TV and sometimes he watched CNN and the next day when he addressed crowds he appeared as a philosopher or prophet. He knew his subjects would not figure out where he got his information.)
South Africa again led the television revolution in television, in many African programmes; Mnet presented an African vision and image of the continent that CNN, BBC and the movies never showed.
The corporate and ‘civilized’ Africa! They capped it all by the introduction of Saturday soccer pubs. Programmes such as Egoli, Generation and Isidingo not only told a story of diversity, they also depicted the corporate and ‘normal’ African, discussing business, talking law and even falling in love- without the use of force or witchcraft.
The story of Africa as told by South Africans was a happy and refreshing one indeed. The script changed when Africans started buying DVD players and abandoned regular television.
The Nigerians noted this. Having produced such giants of story telling as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, the Obas invented the famous “KiNigeria” movies.
Their entry reduced the love and vigour of dance on the continent, African continental stars also perished in their place we are now watching Nigerian gold diggers, African big men, Pentecostal prayers and Cinderella stories to get status.
We need a new era, idea or zeal with which to invoke this continental spirit again.
It remains to be seen who is going to lead us from this stage to the internet era as events in South Africa, DRC and Nigeria have not been forward steps.