Musical trends of the decade

Sho Madjozi
Sho Madjozi

Resourceful artists likely to define the soundtracks of our lives in next 10 years.

In music years, 10 years feels like forever. This is because of an oxymoron that exists in reality. Time seems to expand because the trends in music are becoming shorter and shorter. The idea of a musical trend that transcends more than a few years is a thing of the past. This is partly because the audience’s expectations are becoming lower and thus the effort needed on the part of the artist is becoming less.

This was particularly clear over the last decade – a period that started with Durban kwaito as the dominant South African sound. From Professor and L’vovo to DJ Tira and DJ Bongz, artists from the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal had taken over.

The baton had been passed on from kwaito and deep House to a coastal sound personified by dark sonics mixed in with whimsical happy-go-lucky lyricism.

DJ Tira was in the eye of the storm. Think about his family tree which includes Big Nuz, Duncan, Babes Wodumo, Character and many more. Then you understand why Makoya Bearings has arguably had the most influential artists of the last decade.

The increasing availability of production technology also meant we transitioned from music instruments to almost entirely electronic production, where whole albums can be produced – from start to finish – without a session musician in sight.

This was the era of the artist as a meme.

Everything is done on music software systems such as Fruity Loops, Reason and Pro tools. And it is from this DIY entry point that we’re able to find amapiano and gqom – two genres whose dominance has been undeniable.

But this over-reliance on technology has also led to an increase in seemingly less cohesive songs. Because the artists don’t have to be in the same room developing ideas and working on them together, the songs have become less collaborative. They are more like relays, where each person does their part and hands over to the next, hoping for the best. At best, the results were often underwhelming.

If you ever heard DJ Vigilante’s Bangout ft KO, AKA and Nasty C you would know what I’m talking about. The 2010s will also be remembered as the anti-clique decade.

Almost every significant crew present at the start of the decade broke up or withered away. Every new crew that emerged promising to define the sound of an era, fell extremely short.

Blk Jks broke up and then got back together and then reworked their roster. Big Nuz haven’t been back since R Mashesha died. Cashtime looked like they were on to something with a strong crew that included KO, Ma-E, Moozlie, Maggz and Kid X. But as is often the case, money disputes or creative differences – or both – meant the centre would not hold and factions splintered.

The last decade has offered several models towards success as an independent artist

As the decade progressed, what became clear was that we had entered a post-group era and the era of the co-sign was over. The 2010s were also marked by how inextricably linked online trends were with an artists’ success.

This was the era of the artist as a meme.

Killer Kau and Tholukuthi Hey are one case study. What started as a video of a guy singing randomly in his room went viral online and spawned a hit song that was an earworm at day parties across the country.

One recent example of this is Sho Madjozi’s hit song John Cena. For a song written right before her performance on music platform Colors Studio, it was shared across the world until the wrestler it’s named after saw it and posted on Instagram about it. John Cena then surprised her on the Kelly Clarkson Show.

Samthing Soweto. Picture: Rosetta Msimango

The impact of these moments has far outweighed the quality of the song itself, which at best can be described as innocuous. Perhaps in this roll-out we got a glimpse of the future, the long viral roll-out where a song spawns several eye-catching moments as opposed to one in a bid to combat our ever-shortening attention spans.

But while some artists looked and searched in vain for their viral hits, others were getting it from the mud.

The last decade has offered several models towards success as an independent artist. From Samthing Soweto, whose career got a second life towards a more commercial sound, to the likes of Bylwansta and Muzi whose fans gravitate just as much to their visual aesthetic as their musical one.

The next decade is likely to be defined by such artists whose audience building is a slow-burn and who have creative control at every touch point.

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