In South Africa, rock music had its own kind of evolution. It was popularised through the rockabilly era and populated by white musical acts, such as Hawk, and Freedom’s Children, which made progressive rock to advocate equality.
A rock renaissance seems to be upon us once again – this time through the brilliant creativity of a select few young artists who are pushing boundaries. But, what does it take to be a rock artist today?
We spoke to alternative rock musician Asanda Silo, known more affectionately as Sonder the Africanime, about their rock journey.
Silo is a producer, musician and graphic designer from the south of Johannesburg, who makes interesting genres, such as shoegaze rock, folk rock and psychedelic rock.
The queer non-binary musician found their love for music when they were 11 and recovering from life-changing eye surgery:
“I took a break from listening to rock for a bit, but when I decided to transition from being a poet into a musician in high school, I leaned back into rock again and it has stuck with me ever since. I found the lyricism of rock artists, especially alternative rock artists, so different; how they dress, explore their voices; and the way their music pulls people into a trance.”
Sonder’s music is deep and all the things you could ask for from a good rock song. The singer’s journey is personal and they continuously find new ways to be expressive through music.
“Most of us rock artists are kind of socially awkward or suffer from mental health problems and, with the political and social problems I encounter every day, rock is like the perfect outlet. It’s therapy. It’s a beautiful way to express how I feel, what I see and to tell my stories. It’s been this way for so many of us and the history of the genre reflects that too.”
Sonder is an independent musician whose independence has allowed them to explore the versatility of their voice in the genre, but there have been some challenges along the way:
“I think branding is so important and that was really the toughest lesson I had to learn. As a South African rock musician, it was important for me not to get into a position where I was restricted by the constraints of labels. This is why I wanted to be an independent artist and not sign to a record label. So, it really is about aligning yourself with a brand well enough that your music speaks for itself. I’m trying to get more exposure and that in itself has been quite a journey.”
Through it all, Sonder has never strayed from their path, despite the challenging climate for black rock musicians in Africa – they see it as an opportunity to inspire other young rock fanatics and aspiring musicians.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been given this gift and I can create a new space and bring more people in. I get to bring in a new sound for so many people like me who never thought they could try anything else other than the usual genres you’d find in our country.”
The future is bright for people like Sonder the Africanime, whose resilience and perseverance became the perfect recipe for making it as a black rock musician in South Africa.
The singer hopes that people can move away from perceiving rock as a white genre to open the space for young black rock artists:
“I would like people, especially black people, to elevate themselves and open their minds to the possibility of loving rock music. I want more for us. I want more festivals for artists like me. I want to feel like I belong somewhere too.”
Sonder is currently working on an album that will be released later this year.
You can find the singer’s music on Soundcloud, Spotify and Apple Music under Sonder the Africanime.
And, for context to the beginning of rock music, listen here: