Marabi

From Academic Kids

Marabi is an indigenous music that evolved in South Africa over the last century.

The early part of the 20th century saw the increasing urbanisation of black South Africans in mining centres such as the gold mining area around Johannesburg - the so-caled Witwatersrand. This led to the development of township slums or ghettos, and out of this hardship came forth new forms of music, marabi and kwela amongst others.

Marabi was the name given to a keyboard style (often using cheap pedal organs) that had a musical link to American jazz, ragtime and blues, with roots deep in the African tradition. Early marabi musicians were part of an underground musical culture and were typically not recorded. Indeed, as with early jazz in the USA, the music incurred the displeasure of the establishment. Nonetheless, as with early jazz, the lilting melodies and catchy rhythms of marabi found their way into the sounds of popular dance bands with a distinctively South African style.

The sound of marabi was intended to draw people into local bars or shebeens (where illicit drinks like skokiaan were sold), and to get them dancing. It is characterised by a few simple chords repeated in varying patterns that could go on for a long time. A reflection of this music can be heard in the music of Basil Coetzee or Abdullah Ibrahim. The beginnings of broadcast radio intended for black listeners and the growth of an indigenous recording industry helped propel such sounds to immense popularity from the 1930s onward.

Such bands produced the first generation of professional black musicians in South Africa. Over the years, marabi developed into early mbaqanga, arguably the most distinctive form of South African jazz. This has which has influenced South African music since then, from the jazz performers of the post-war years to the more populist township forms of the 1980s and onwards.

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