Sometimes called “township jive” , mbaqanga is a South African dance music which evolved in the townships and became broadly popular in the 1960s and ’70s. It usually includes guitars and bass, often brass, atop cascading rhythms.
Vocal groups such the Manhattan Brothers, the Skylarks, and Malathini & the Mahotella Queens popularized their vocal version of the mbaqanga sound.
Mbaqanga remains a dominant force in the music of South Africa today, incorporated into both jazz forms and popular music.
By the middle of the 1950s, the various strains of South African music were pouring themselves into an exciting melting pot of ideas and forms, propelled in part by the hunger of the vast urban proletariat for entertainment.
A key area in this growth was the township of Sophiatown, in Johannesburg, which had grown since the 1930s into a seething cauldron of the new urban lifestyles of black city dwellers.
Partly because of its ambiguous legal status as a ‘freehold’ area, and partly because of its proximity to the urban centre of Johannesburg, Sophiatown attracted the most adventurous performers of the new musical forms, and became a hotbed of the rapidly developing black musical culture.
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The cyclic structure of marabi met with traditional dance styles such as the Zulu indlamu, with a heavy dollop of American big band swing thrown on top. The indlamu tendency crystallised into the ‘African stomp’ style, giving a notably African rhythmic impulse to the music and making it quite irresistible to its new audiences.
The new black urban culture also developed a sassy style of its own, based in part on the influence of American movies and the glamour attached to the flamboyant gangsters who were an integral part of Sophiatown life.
That lawless domain was one in which black people could mingle with the more adventurous and liberal whites drawn to the excitements of its vibrant nightlife, becoming a touchstone for the first real cultural and social interchange between the races to take place in South Africa.
Eventually the white Nationalist government brought this vital era to an end, forcibly removing the inhabitants of Sophiatown to townships such as Soweto, outside Johannesburg, in 1960. Sophiatown was razed to the ground and the white suburb of Triomf built in its place.

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