Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9780226362540 Published June 2016
Cloth $90.00 ISBN: 9780226362403 Published June 2016
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Kwaito’s Promise

Music and the Aesthetics of Freedom in South Africa

Gavin Steingo

Kwaito’s Promise

Gavin Steingo

320 pages | 12 halftones, 15 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2016
Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9780226362540 Published June 2016
Cloth $90.00 ISBN: 9780226362403 Published June 2016
E-book $10.00 to $30.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226362687 Published June 2016
In mid-1990s South Africa, apartheid ended, Nelson Mandela was elected president, and the country’s urban black youth developed kwaito—a form of electronic music (redolent of North American house) that came to represent the post-struggle generation. In this book, Gavin Steingo examines kwaito as it has developed alongside the democratization of South Africa over the past two decades. Tracking the fall of South African hope into the disenchantment that often characterizes the outlook of its youth today—who face high unemployment, extreme inequality, and widespread crime—Steingo looks to kwaito as a powerful tool that paradoxically engages South Africa’s crucial social and political problems by, in fact, seeming to ignore them.
Politicians and cultural critics have long criticized kwaito for failing to provide any meaningful contribution to a society that desperately needs direction. As Steingo shows, however, these criticisms are built on problematic assumptions about the political function of music. Interacting with kwaito artists and fans, he shows that youth aren’t escaping their social condition through kwaito but rather using it to expand their sensory realities and generate new possibilities. Resisting the truism that “music is always political,” Steingo elucidates a music that thrives on its radically ambiguous relationship with politics, power, and the state.
A Note on Language
A Note on the Language of Race

1 The Struggle of Freedom
2 The Experience of the Outside
3 Platform, or The Miracle of the Ordinary
4 Immobility, Obduracy, and Experimentalism in Soweto
5 Acoustic Assemblages and Forms of Life
6 Black Diamonds
7 Times and Spaces of Listening

Review Quotes
David B. Coplan, University of the Witwatersrand
Kwaito’s Promise delivers more than it promises. The book is not simply an account of the rise of a popular genre that provided the soundscape for South African township youth in the first years of freedom. It ventures boldly into an uncompromising, complex analysis of how this amorphous style of music gave form to the cultural imaginary, indeed to the very lives of its consuming creators. Heita!”
Louise Meintjes, Duke University
“A work that will make music ethnography legible to scholars engaged with critical theory. Steingo produces a story that makes kwaito sensible to those unfamiliar with it and that brings kwaito fans into print without reducing their struggle nor demanding that they represent resistance. The result is an exceptional analysis of freedom in music.”

Society for Ethnomusicology: Alan Merriam Award

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