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Full 3 hour 49 min playlist and tracklist on the sidebar. ~ Paola Bassanese
Let’s start with a few definitions.
I am slightly disappointed with Wikipedia’s definition of tribal house: “a sub-genre of house music which combines traditional house music with world music.”
Meh. Talk about take all the excitement and the beauty out of this fantastic music genre. This definition could have been written by a former USSR bureaucrat during the Cold War.
Similarly, afro house’s treatment is no better; Wikipedia refers to a particular sub-set of house music it calls ‘Cosmic disco’ – “various forms of synthesizer-heavy and/or African-influenced dance music”.
Fear not, things are going to get more interesting. Afro house isn’t a new phenomenon but has emerged recently as one of the most influential music styles.
Although a discussion on sub-genres of Afro house is not essential to understanding it, I think it’s useful to mention them and provide some examples of artists and record labels. I spoke with people who play Afro house and organise events in London: Slave2thevibe, DJ Josh Grooves and DJ Kayo, whose insights have been invaluable.
Different regions within Africa have their own distinctive flavour and it’s fascinating to see how the Afro house movement has developed organically over the years spreading its influence around the world.
Although for the sake of clarity I used Afro house subcategories in this article (ancestral, tribal, deep afro), I am told by people in the industry that the key message is to focus on the music as a whole and simply enjoy its rich diversity.
Early players who have been working in the scene for years include Vinny da Vinci, Christos, and Glen Lewis. In the UK the most influential names are Zepherin Saint, St.Denis, Fiddla and Miguel Lin.
Afro House has different flavours (Ancestral, Tribal and Afro Deep plus soulful, tech, ambient among others) and origins however we shouldn’t be too fixated on categories as such.
I do believe, however, that we need some definitions, so I worked my way backwards by listening to several playlists and browsing through various music labels. I listened to a lot of free ancestral house music from different sources and looked at individual profiles of South African tribal house music artists.
There’s also a book about the history of house music, Dance Music By Nicolae Sfetcu which has proven to be quite useful when starting my research.
“It began as the music of the townships” reported the BBC when introducing Afro house music to British audiences.
The report features an interview with Zepherin Saint and La DJ Petite from Zimbabwe, who explained that “the music is not just music, it’s like a movement”.
Afro house is distinctively South African music. Stemming from Pretoria in South Africa in the early 90s, Afro house is grounded with accents from local culture and African loops and instruments.
It is the soundtrack to the generations growing up after the Apartheid era. Sometimes lyrics are sang in local languages; it developed from Kwaito, first born in Johannesburg and featuring mainly male vocals and slow melodic African loops.
Drums feature predominantly in Afro house and the production is raw, less polished than European or US house music.
You can get a better understanding of Afro house directly from the main DJs: Black Coffee, Fresh, Culoe de Song, Euphonik from this interview.
Also worth checking out this interview by DJ Kitty Amor, whom I have seen play several times in London.
Ancestral house can feature Angolan and South African house music mixed with some Tribal house vibes.
Who is the “Messiah of Ancestral House music”, I hear you ask? It’s Osunlade!
His Yoruba Records biography quotes that he decided “to no longer work under the influences of corporate ideals and demands” – that’s a brave and creative stance in the music industry.
See the master in action here:
The mission statement of Yoruba Records is to produce “a source of music created to elevate the soul”.
Now that’s a good definition.
Tribal House is a blend of polyrhythmic percussion and world music sounds popularised by DJ Junior Sanchez.
Tribal house is a generic category including both commercial and non-commercial music favourited by superstar DJs like Roger Sanchez (New York) and Nacho Chapado (Barcelona) and underground DJs like Tshepo N at Large (Pretoria).
Deep Afro house is characterised by a heavy beat mixed with tribal and jazz sounds.
Anatomy of Afro Deep: “from light djembes to deep, throbbing congas” (Attack Magazine).
A gentle introduction to Afro deep is this podcast featuring more jazzy and soul sounds.
Why not learn some dance moves?
This is coupe decale: from the Ivory Coast.
Now that you’ve warmed up, you are ready for the ultimate afro house music playlist: the best in Afro, Ancestral, Afro deep and Tribal house music to get you going.
My favourite tracks? Hands down:
It began in Africa, DJ Fudge
Lomhlaba, Black Coffee feat. Siphokazi
Beautiful, Cee Elassaad,Zulus At Work,Heidi Martin
Life Everlasting, Glen Lewis Featuring Mjojo and Bongani
And now, click on “play” and roll those tracks.
Which one is your favourite? Which ones am I missing?
Let me know in the comments.