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Gqom Is Not What You Think It Is…

The Untold Truth About Gqom

Some rare & brief “history” on “-gqom-“ (as a term and also a sub-genre).

Before it became its own thing, in KZN obviously, the term “-gqomu” was used to refer to a nice, hard-hitting house/dance song. In isiZulu “-gqoma” means to hit one thing against a hard surface with much impact.

The term “igqomu” directly translates to “a banger” when referring to a dance/house song. Something characterised mostly by a hard-hitting kick and bass and an upbeat tempo – once again, this was BEFORE Gqom became its own thing.

Whenever someone was requesting a change in playlist selection (usually from deep house to something more upbeat that can be somewhat danced to such as a commercial house song) you’d commonly hear, “Aw’dlale igqomu lapho” which directly translates to, “Play a banger, there” (sidenote: this phrase later appeared in a Distruction Boyz ft. Babes Wodumo song).

Examples of such songs (back then) include:
DJ Fistaz Mixwell – La Mezcla
DJ Cleo – Facebook
DJ C’ndo – Amerido
DJ Zinhle – My Name Is…
DJ Zinhle – Pepe
DJ Fisherman – Happy Song
DJ Clock – Umahamba Yedwa
DJ Chynaman – Xavatha

[Disclaimer: the following statement is in no way an endorsement or promotion of Mampintsha, his music or anything that he stands for. It’s purely for descriptive purposes]

Basically, almost anything that came from the Afrotainment stable was usually called “igqomu” (due to their upbeat style of house music). This is the primary reason why Mampintsha’s ad-libs/chants were prevalent in a lot of Gqom songs from when it started all the way up until Gqom became a national sensation. As much as Mampintsha didn’t start nor coin Gqom (the subgenre) – he played a huge, indirect/unintentional role in influencing its sound since his chants/ad-libs were HIGHLY sampled and laid over a plethora of Gqom songs in the sub-genre’s teething stage.

 

It wasn’t only until AFTER 2010/2011 when the underground house DJs in KZN started putting out more and more of their own music geared towards one objective only, making people dance – where the term “igqomu” started shifting from referring to a general upbeat dance/house song to referring to a more specific style of house music.

In one of the first & most popular Gqom songs by DJ Mata from Maphumulo, the title of the song (Bhenga K’phela/Bhenga Span) and its lyrics are literally telling you what is going to happen when you listen to this song, “Uzobhenga, uzobhenga k’phela” which directly translates to, “You’re gonna dance, you’re only gonna dance”. Those three words are repeated in perpetuity throughout the song’s 5 minute long runtime carried along by, you guessed it – a hard-hitting kick and a bass riff alongside a dark sound, claps and a chant.

No later than that, the song that solidified Gqom as its own thing was Madanon’s 2012 underground SMASH hit titled “Unjani uQoh?”. It was this song that also introduced/popularised the nursery rhyme style of Gqom lyrics that Babes Wodumo later became known for and also, the referencing of the one drug associated with this style of music the most. That drug being ecstasy, of course. Once again, a drug that makes you want to…? Dance. The title of the song itself, “Unjani uQoh?” popularised the one of many isiZulu slang terms for ecstasy, “qoh” and directly translates to, “How’s the ecstacy?”

In that song alone, Madanon interpolated roughly 5 to 7 different isiZulu nursery rhymes.

Madanon alongside, DJ Lag, DJ Lusiman, DJ Ndile & Target (a duo), Sbucardo and several other names are all credited/recognised as the founding fathers of Gqom music, the genre/sound/style.


He then soon followed up that underground classic with an even more timeless and bigger banger titled “Thana Wosh” that incorporated more of the now dark signature Gqom sound. This time using more of a “call & response” approach to his lyrics where he’d open each verse with, “Everybody say…” and then he’d dictate out a suffix that the audience would use to respond to every sentence & prefix he would then sing out. Such suffixes being, “-ni”, “-si” and “-nga”. Listen below:

 

This rudimentary approach to his songwriting which then became the signature approach for songwriting for Gqom in general is what made Gqom go from being an underground fad that would be gone in a year, to something that quickly gained popularity (and notoriety) and redefined youth culture in KZN forever. Because apart from being nonsensically simple, the lyrics were also very familiar (since most were already nursery rhymes) and also, extremely hilarious. And as a result, they didn’t require the audience to recall much. It also didn’t help that as vulgar as some of these songs were; due to their staccato and elementary nature – they EASILY appealed to toddlers. Once again, this speaks to the familiarity, simplicity and levity of the songwriting in these songs.


The next level to the rise of Gqom that fast-tracked its popularity was its mode of distribution and its insanely quick production turnaround time and here’s how and why that happened. Because most Gqom artists/producers were primarily DJs – the next and most obvious step in its evolution was obviously sampling and remixing. And usually, a globally huge pop artist would release a song today and the following morning, there would already be a Gqom remix of the same song playing on almost every taxi you jump into and quickly gaining more popularity than the original song itself. I cannot begin to tell you how many Gqom versions of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” or Adele’s “Someone Like You” I knew and enjoyed more than the original songs around the time they came out.

The production barrier was low (i.e.: attach the Gqom sound to an already existing IP), the distribution barrier was even lower (share it via BBM, MXit and play it in taxis) and as a result, the recall and replay value/potential was insanely high. You have to remember – the music was made with one (and only one) objective in mind: make people dance. Specifically (or preferably) while they’re high on ecstasy. Everything else beyond that is basically a luxury.

It was only 2 to 3 years after this that Gqom eventually broke out of KZN and shook up the music scene nationwide. One of the few songs in particular that did that was, “Yamnandi Into” which loosely translates to, “Such a nice thing” by DJ C’ndo & DJ Lusiman. Which was originally DJ Lusiman’s underground banger titled, “Wamnandi uQoh” which loosely translates to, “Such nice ecstasy”.

 

This is around the same time we started seeing more mainstream artists such as DJ Tira, Mampintsha and the likes endorsing Gqom more. And ultimately, the introduction of some of the most popular Gqom artists such as Babes Wodumo, Distruction Boyz, Bhizer, Dladla Mshunqisi and dare I say, Dj Maphorisa (I know, I know).

It is also worth noting that Busiswa has appeared in almost every stage of the evolution of Gqom – even before it was its own genre. A visionary. And while Gqom might have primarily started in KZN, there have been a few other contributors from other provinces here and there throughout its evolution.

The rest, fellow inmates, as they say – is history. There are more intricate details about this culture defining genre that are not included in this article in efforts to keep it brief, so keep that in mind.

I hope you found this article insightful and enjoyable and if you have any comments, drop them down below.

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2 Comments

  1. That was a useful and informative clarity. Nowadays westink took all the glorry associated with Gqomu music as they normally refer to Babes Wodumo as a Gqom Queen. In actual fact nje indala lento

  2. I really enjoyed this article and how it introduced us into the world and it’s context., it’s a refreshing and insightful piece of music history that appreciates with more coverage and analysis.

    Thank you for this.

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