This genre of music started emerging in the 1990s. It is a mixture of a number of different rhythms from marabi of the 1920s, kwela of the 1950s, mbaqanga/maskhandi of the hostel dwellers, bubblegum music of the 80's, and Imibongo (African praise poetry). Great South African music legends such as Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie have influenced Kwaito. At times the use of styles drawn from the African Diaspora's Hip-Hop, Dub, Jazz and UK House is evident.
As pioneering DJs like Oscar "Warona" Mdlongwa, explains:" In the late 80s, we started remixing international house tracks to give them a local feeling. We added a bit of piano, slowing the tempo down and putting in percussion and African melodies". Another founding father, Arthur Mafokate says: "Lyrically we were inspired by people like Brenda Fassie and Chicco Twala, Fassie and Twala were the rising stars of the older "Bubblegum" disco music. They were representing us and talking about what was happening in the ghettos, and they spoke in a mixture of English, Zulu, Sesotho and Iscamtho (slang)."
The word Kwaito is derived from the Afrikaans word kwaai, which translates to "angry" in English. In colloquial slang, negative words or phrases often acquire a positive connotation or "cool" status. The language of Kwaito is Isicamtho, South African township slang. Isicamtho is a modern version of tsotsitaal - a Tsotsi is a thug or a gangster, and taal is an Afrikaans term for language. Tsotsitaal is a language that has always been thought of as the language of township thugs, and is probably derived from flaaitaal of the 1920s slums and mensetaal (People's language) of the 1940s and 1950s. This language is made up of Afrikaans and a mixture of all other vernacular languages. It can be argued that Afrikaans is the skeleton of the language. Most South Africans understand more tsotsitaal than they're aware of as some terms have become naturalised and incorporated into daily conversations.
Kwaito is about the township, knowing about the township, understanding the township, walking the walk, talking the talk and most importantly, being proud of these things. The township is being celebrated by the youth of South Africa in Kwaito music, this is interesting when one considers that the township was created to keep a ready supply of cheap labour under control by the apartheid government.
Many groups have begun to be exposed to the international market but this is still happening at a very slow pace. South African recording stables such as 999 and "Kalawa-Jazmee" have produced big acts such as Bongo-Maffin, Trompies, AbaShante, Brothers of Peace, Ismael and many more.
The lyrical content of the music is becoming more meaningful, young South African artists are learning to write more about life in the new South Africa as opposed to the monotonous and sometimes meaningless earlier versions of Kwaito.