As a transit point between flights to Cape Town, Durban and Kruger National Park, Johannesburg traditionally has never been known for its status as a tourist destination.
Yet as South Africa’s largest city and with an increase in international visitors, a development in more attractions for tourists has taken place.
South Africa’s music scene is based around the four major areas of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Bloemfontein. Jo’Burg or Jozi (as the locals call it) is one of the most diverse music spots in the country and has a reputation of having a passionate and feisty music scene.
A strong sense of community has evolved in the city where artists, promoters and venues all work together to develop local artists. Some of these local artists perform under the ‘Kwaito’ genre that was developed in Jo’Burg in the 90s.
Kwaito is derived from house music, although at a slower tempo it features African sounds and samples. Artists who perform Kwaito music are typically known for coming from impoverished backgrounds, with a music career considered a way out of their poor lifestyle.
As over half the population of South Africa under the age of 21, Kwaito is selling more records than ever before. With such a young population, Johannesburg has developed a culture where the night-life is vibrant and dynamic.
There is a plethora of nightclubs to choose from, while fancy cocktail lounges, small bars and music venues can also be found around the city.
While Kwaito forms a huge part of Jo’Burg’s music identity, the city’s independent music scene has been around far longer, with many of the country’s big name DIY bands emerging from the city.
Alternative music really started to grow in the 1980s, yet what’s more interesting was the development of a rabid metal scene from 1992 onwards.
Then of course there’s plenty of jazz music, most commonly seen at the city’s legendary club ‘Kippies’, named after one of the country’s most famous musicians, Kippie Moeketsi.
Johannesburg is by no means the safest destination for a tourist to visit however that shouldn’t discourage travellers from visiting the city, or experiencing the night-life.
While usual caution is necessary in the city, as you would expect no matter what international destination you visit, if tourists stick to the recommended districts, you shouldn’t have a problem enjoying a very late night or early morning.
People in Jozi take music seriously and that’s what makes the music scene worth visiting for. Those involved in the music community appreciate what they’ve got, they love their live music and would like to see the city’s music community grow.
In Jo’burg you can experience and understand what makes this community tick without difficulty or stress. That means easier access to South African music, a quicker way to find your new favourite Afrikaan band and you’ll more than likely meet some important players and punters of the city’s live music scene.
Undoubtedly for those visiting South Africa, Johannesburg will be in your itinerary whether you like it or not. But you don’t have to spend your time there in a hotel room, because you’ll find a music scene that is waiting to be discovered.
Oppikoppi: Although it’s a two hour drive away from Jo’burg this is one of the country’s best festivals that warrants a trip away from the city. Situated on a hill just outside the mining town of Northam, this camping festival attracts punters to the bush every August. When it first began in 1994 only 27 acts played before a small crowd, but it has since grown considerably with over 100 artists from around the world performing for 20,000 attendees.
Synergy Live: As the country’s fastest growing festival, Synergy was held in Johannesburg for the first time in early December 2012. This overage festival features some of the country’s best rock and electronic acts alongside international head-liners. This years one day event boasted the electronic dance rockers in The Prodigy.
RAMfest: The biggest rock music festival in the country runs in five cities, in just five days. Featuring local and international acts, tens of thousands of punters attend every year. Pendulum headlined the event in 2010. While the 2013 festival, to be held in March, boasts a lineup which so far features Rise Against and Bring Me The Horizon.
Johannesburg Record Stores
Record Mad, Shop 4, Linden Place, 59 4th Avenue. This small vinyl store is hard to find, but once you’re inside you won’t regret how long it took you to get there. Opened in 2012, the store began as a just the collection of what the store operator, Kevin, had already owned. Kevin has been buying vinyl since he was 13 and trading for 20 years. There are over 5000 records to browse, from African music to the classics, the store is open only on Friday afternoons and on Saturday. Record Mad is one vinyl enthusiasts gift to Johannesburg.
Deerhunter, 135 Greenway, Greenside. This is more than just a record store. In fact while vinyl might be at the heart of Deerhunter, you’ll leave this store feeling nostalgic for much more than just music. Vintage Playboys, Scoop magazines, toys and little kick knacks are all available here. As far as vinyl goes Deerhunter only stock the classics. Even if you leave empty handed you can always appreciate the ancient kitsch paintings and furniture the place is decked out with.
Warm & Glad, Alban’s Square, 357 Jan Smuts Avenue, Craighall Park. More than just your average record store, Warm & Glad is a cafe that serves breakfast and lunch. Whilst also providing books and magazine for your visit, you’ll be glad to find a spot with free wifi. The records here though range from classic to new alternative artists from around the world. Vinyl is appreciated like art in the store, with the records decorating the walls in a stylish manner. You’ll also find plenty of plenty of LPs for sale in this large space. Open all week Warm and Glad provides a relaxing way to find your latest vinyl purchase.
Tanz Cafe, Shop 27 The Buzz Shopping Centre. Voted as the best live music venue in Jo’burg from 2009 to 2012, performing at Tanz is a milestone that many South African musicians aim for and eventually achieve. It hosts the country’s biggest bands and also gives the up and coming talent a place to gain an audience. This is undoubtedly the best place to experience Johannesburg’s live music scene.
Radium Beer Hall, 282 Louis Botha Ave,Orange Grove. With memorabilia all over the walls, if it feels like you’re in one of the city’s oldest bars it’s because you’re. Radium Beer Hall first opened in 1929 and to this day it provides live music and great food from the grill. While the local acts make the tin ceiling vibrate, make sure you appreciate the venues vintage posters, photos of pre-war soccer teams and past musicians who have played there before. The newspaper articles from the bars past ensure that as it grows older, it’s history is on the wall for all to see.
The Bohemian, 5 Park Road, Richmond. Known by the locals as simply ‘The Bo’, if the half-priced pizza nights on Monday and Wednesday’s don’t get you through the door then the promise of seeing local bands in one of the city’s most renowned venues should. This is the perfect venue to sample South African music or play a few rounds of pool. Running for over 28 years those heavily invested in the local scene can be found here.
Johannesburg Acts You Should Check Out
Shadowclub – Soundcloud
Described by the press as The Black Keys if they were fronted by Jeff Buckley, this three piece have garnered an incredible amount of excitement off the back of their album Guns and Money. You can hear their brand of ‘rock and dirty blues’ by listening to the title track from the album below.
ShortStraw – Soundcloud
This five piece have been taking their self described thrash folk out of Jozi and around South Africa since their 2011 debut, You’re Underfed, I’am Wonderful came out. The album even has a track dedicated to Keanu Reeves. Listen to their latest single, ‘Bikini Weather’ below.
Zebra & Giraffe – Soundcloud
Having one awards for Best Alternative and Best Rock at the South African Music awards in 2009, the three piece released the follow up to their 2010 debut in July 2012. Entitled The Wisest Ones, the LP has received positive reviews from South African press. Listen to the song ‘Sick’ off their sophomore release below.