South Africa: Five female musicians making their mark 

By Shingai Darangwa
Posted on Friday, 9 September 2022 18:03

On the 9 August 1956, over 20,000 women marched to Pretoria’s Union Buildings in protest of the Apartheid pass laws that restricted the movements of black women across the country. Years later, after the abolition of apartheid, the government of South Africa declared August Women's Month in honour of those brave women. In light of that day, we look at South Africa's top five women making waves in the male-dominated music industry.

It may be the first week of September, but the month of August was an opportunity for South Africans to pause and reflect on the strides that are being made towards gender equality in all spheres of society.

One space that has seen women break boundaries and flourish is the music industry. Despite historical barriers of entry, female musicians are in the thick of things and making their voices heard more than ever. In recognition of this, we look at five South African female artists who are making their mark on the scene.

DBN Gogo 

DBN Gogo (twitter: @DBNGOGO)

DBN Gogo and Lady Du’s Dakiwe was an essential for any urban event held in South Africa in 2021. Driven by the infectious Dakiwe Challenge, which saw revellers swaying from side to side while bobbing their heads, Dakiwe became a viral hit off the back of DBN Gogo’s inventiveness and acute understanding of virility. She followed Dakiwe up with two consecutive platinum-selling smash hits, ‘Possible’ and ‘Khuza Gogo’, securing her spot as one of the top DJs in SA, male or female. 

Earlier in the year, DBN Gogo was among the six African artists who were enlisted for Spotify’s global batch of RADAR artists, which set the stage for her to receive significant support from the streaming giant who are now punting her to new fan audiences globally. Her two latest singles, Bambelela and Bells, have extended her run and are both among the most streamed amapiano songs released this year.

Kamo Mphela

Up until recently, Kamo Mphela’s impact on the South African entertainment industry wasn’t fully appreciated. Having entered the industry as a popular social media personality and a highly in-demand dancer at events across Soweto, breaking into the musical industry has not been easy. Her voice on the mic is unremarkable – a hoarse, low-pitched drawl better suited to MC’ing and hosting – but Mphela made the bold decision that she wanted to be true superstar. 

She couldn’t do that in any other way than to be behind the mic as opposed to just dancing. And so over the past few years she’s combined her high level dancing with what’s now a more than competent vocal performance. Today, she’s the voice behind the most viewed amapiano music video on YouTube, ‘MFR Souls’ Amanikiki’, and her latest single ‘Ghost’ is quickly extending her reach across the continent. 

Pabi Cooper

Thanks to a deep appreciation of visual aesthetics and a savvy approach to social media, Pabi Cooper drew public attention way before she started releasing chart-topping singles. She became popular just off of her looks and her superstar aura. So when she released her breakthrough single ‘Isiphithiphithi’ featuring Reece Madlisa, Joocy and Busta 929 last August, her brand exploded and she solidified her place as a bona-fide star. 

The latest hit single in her prolific tear is ‘Banyana Ke Bafana’, has fast become a mainstay on continental charts and was the unofficial anthem for South Africa’s women’s national football team that recently became African champions.

Despite not having as sprawling a catalogue as many amapiano stars, her numbers are right up there with the best of them and she already has a number of platinum plaques up on her wall. At this rate, she’ll be the biggest thing in SA in next to no time. 

Makhadzi 

Makhadzi (twitter: @MakhadziSA)

Makhadzi’s high energy and boisterous on stage antics are often mocked by social media trolls. But those same dance moves she’s been doing, which aren’t too dissimilar to those done by the Mahotella Queens during the world-renowned group’s international tour run in the 90s, have seen the 26-year-old become one of the biggest acts in South Africa.  

Throughout July and early August, Makhadzi toured overseas and played at packed shows like North America’s Canada and Ottawa African Festival and Zimfest in the UK Makhadzi’s career shifted gears and really took off in 2020 when she released her studio album, Kokovha, which spawned several gold and platinum certified singles including ‘Kokovha’ and ‘Tshikwama’. Now, as she gears up for another project, the world is her oyster. 

Cici 

Five years on from an alleged violent abuse at the hands of veteran music producer Arthur Mafokate that left her needing a pelvic replacement procedure, Cici has bounced back in a big way. After recovering and finding her feet again, Cici last year released her critically acclaimed sophomore album, Sukulila

Sukulila was recently nominated for Best Afro Pop Album at the 28th annual South African Music Awards, where it will be up against the likes of Aubrey Qwana and Nomfundo Moh. On the 26th of August, Cici will be co-headlining a highly anticipated live show billed as The Love Tour alongside singer Donald. 

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