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Origins: 8 Tracks That Mark the Evolution of Afro House
26 Jun '2024
We investigate how Afro House came to be, from South Africa in the 80s to the UK today
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We’re back with the next instalment of the Origins series, in which we navigate the evolution of key musical styles. This time, we’re exploring Afro House, its roots, key artists, milestones and its journey thus far.


To explore Afro House yourself in your own DAW, pick up the Afro House Essential Bundle, with three key sample packs for just £20 – that’s cheaper than buying any one of the individual packs!


What is Afro House?

Afro House is a sub-genre of House music which was established in South Africa in the 1990s. It is characterised by repetitive drum patterns, a four-four kick drum, deep basslines and a liberal use of percussion. Most Afro House is made with a tempo between 100 bpm and 120 bpm, making it slightly slower than many other styles of House music. It is commonly associated with other similar styles of music, including Amapiano, Kuduro and Gqom.



1989: The Survivals - My Brother


Bubblegum paved the way for Kwaito, and later, Afro House





Afro House is commonly considered to have derived from two established genres, the soulful genre of Kwaito, and of course, House. There is plenty of literature surrounding the conception and evolution of House music, but what about Kwaito? Kwaito is said to have stemmed from the prevalent genre of Bubblegum, a synth and percussion-laden style of music that was essentially South Africa’s Pop music in the 1980s.


You can hear some of the notable characteristics of House music that creep their way into the Bubblegum style in the late 80s. The four-on-the-floor kick drum, groovy bassline and repetitive song structure heard in My Brother indicate the influence that House had on South African Pop music.



1995: Arthur Mafokate - Kaffir


Kwaito’s first big hit in South Africa





Kwaito picked up where Bubblegum left off, and incorporated more musical attributes of House, as well as other genres such as Hip Hop. One thing Kwaito had in common with its predecessor was its political and racial themes. This was driven by the lifting of political and economic sanctions when Nelson Mandela was elected in 1994. In the case of this particular song, Mafokate was asking his boss not to call him ‘kaffir’, an offensive racial slur in South Africa.


In the mid-90s, Kwaito got its first big break courtesy of Arthur Mafotate’s track Kaffir. The song features notable House-tropes including the classic four-four kick drum and an open hi-hat on the off-beat. The Korg M1-esque organ is reminiscent of the House music that was gaining popularity in the UK and US around the same time. Kaffir sold over 150,000 copies and helped to build the foundation on which Afro House was built.



1999: Afro Medusa - Pasilda


British House artists take influence from African percussion





Towards the end of the 1990s, it was plain to see the influence that Afro House was beginning to have on artists outside of South Africa. British House music group Afro Medusa incorporated a healthy dose of Africa-influenced percussion in their 1999 track Pasilda. The track went on to top the charts in 2000 and has remained a firm favourite amongst all-manner of House DJs ever since.


While not strictly an Afro House song in itself, Pasilda essentially softened up the European and American markets for the inevitable rise of Afro House. Combining the familiar House-style drums and piano with African-inspired percussion wasn’t exactly revolutionary, Louie Vega had been visiting South Africa throughout the 1990s and this was reflected in his sound. However, many of Vega’s contributions to the Afro House scene failed to achieve the same levels of success as Pasilda did.



2003: Malaika - Destiny


Afro House takes influence from classic House piano chords





Even into the 2000s, it’s clear that House continued to have a huge impact on the sound of Afro House. From the get-go, Malaika’s 2003 crossover hit Destiny sounds much more akin to House music than some of the earlier entries on this list. The piano chords are the most familiar element, along with the traditional Roland TR-909 sounds.


The core 909 drums are accompanied by syncopated percussion that takes direct influence from other styles of African music. Combining and programming these types of drums in this manner will be familiar to anyone with an interest in UK Funky. Destiny was a huge chart success. Not only did it help Malaika to enter the commercial music market in South Africa, it bolstered Afro House’s reputation on an international level too.



2008: Afefe Iku - Mirror Dance


A cult club crossover





Hailing from a small island off Kenya’s coast, Afefe Iku, is a talented multi-instrumentalist and producer. After finding a passion for music at a young age, he was taken under the wing of the Missouri-based musician, Osunlade. In 2008, Iku released Mirror Dance on Yoruba Records, the label founded and operated by Osunlade.


Like some of the other songs mentioned here, Mirror Dance picked up momentum across many realms of club-orientated music, from the absolute underground right through to more commercial clubs and radio stations. The success of Mirror Dance helped to shine a light on Afro House, and introduced a broad spectrum of listeners to the sub-genre.



2009: Black Coffee - Superman Ft. Bucie


Afro House finally gets its flowers





Black Coffee has forged himself a prosperous career creating and DJing his own take on Deep House and Afro House. His 2009 album Home Brewed is widely considered to be somewhat of a musical landmark for Afro House. While previous Afro House releases had achieved limited success outside of South Africa and Angola, Home Brewed was one of the first projects to truly make a mark on a global scale.


With its classic House kick pattern, groovy syncopated percussion jazzy piano and sultry strings, Superman is a quintessential Afro House tune. The track features revered South African vocalist, Bucie, whose vocal style and delivery takes the production into Deep House territory.



2011: Culoe De Song - Make You Move Ft. Chappell


Afro House finds a new flavour





As something gains popularity, it inevitably evolves into new iterations and formats. This is exactly what seemed to happen to Afro House after it gained traction in the UK, notably in London. The likes of Culoe De Song and others started to create Afro House with a darker, more minimalist feel. Afro House’s stereotypical rhythm and groove remained, but the big bright synths were swapped out for more subtle muted tones, as can be heard in Make You Move.


This coincided with the Post-Dubstep era of UK music, in which producers were moving away from the maximalist sound that Dubstep had become. Instead, artists were borrowing the elements they liked about Dubstep, and infusing them with other influences and musical styles. This approach seems to be mirrored in the stripped-back style of Afro House that was burgeoning in the early 2010s. Additionally, dialling back the intensity of the music may have helped Afro House to click with a larger UK audience.



2023: Tyla - Water


Afro House, Afrobeats or Amapiano?





Today, Afro House’s biggest challenge is its identity. Over the years, Afro House has often been wrongly labelled as Kwaito, Kuduro, Deep House or UK Funky. Today, Afro House and Afrobeats are incorrectly used interchangeably, despite Afrobeats referring to a different style of music born out of West Africa.


Amapiano is another genre that is frequently confused with Afro House. Not surprisingly given its shared heritage with Afro House; Amapiano was also established in South Africa and takes direct influence from House and Kwaito. Amapiano can be characterised by the lack of kick drums, and the presence of the log drum sound.


Afro House, Afrobeats and Amapiano are all hugely present in the world of commercial music today, with Tyla’s viral track Water being a standout example. Many of Afro House’s musical traits can be heard in the variations of the genre heard in the UK today.





Where did Afro House come from?

Afro House gained popularity in South Africa and Angola in the 90s, and takes influence from House music as well as other South African musical styles including Kwaito and Bubblegum.


What are the elements of Afro House?

Traditionally, Afro House contains certain elements of House music including four-on-the-floor kick drums, repetitive patterns and deep basslines. Afro House often contains soulful vocals and melodies that take influence from a range of African music styles.


What is the difference between Afro House and Amapiano?

Afro House and Amapiano are both genres that were established in South Africa. They share many similarities including deep basslines, hypnotic grooves and a four-four kick drum pattern. Amapiano is distinguished by its trademark log drum sound, synth chords and 16th note shakers.




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