Right now, dance floors all across Nigeria are turning up to ‘Available’, a sparse record by Patoranking which inspires the craziest of moves. The song released in November 2017, is a hollow record, packed full of banging drums which inspire dancing.
You can find a similar rhythm and beat on ‘Legbegbe’, the hit song by Mr Real, which has grown to become one of Nigeria’s early hits in 2018. In fact, the entire Shaku shaku movement and sound is based on this heavy drumming, which is tweaked by producers for variety.
That drumming isn’t native to Nigeria, It originates in South Africa, where it is called ‘Gqom’. It’s the South African dance sound that’s come from the townships and is taking over the world.
Gqom is described as a “big bang which leaves you happy after it hits you,” and it’s exactly what Available does to you – with a simple catchy chorus and a contagious beat produced by DJ Catzico and Vista; this addictive song will surely get you dancing!
What is ‘Gqom’?
Gqom (pronounced “gom” with a clicking sound on the “g”) is an unfiltered mutation of South African kwaito that has evolved in the Zulu-dominated neighbourhoods surrounding Durban’s city centre.
Instead of the regular House beat and the refined production techniques of commercial South African kwaito, the gqom that comes out of the townships uses broken beats and is made on basic home computers, with producers often utilizing repetitive, sliced vocal samples, echo, and heavy percussive beats. The result is a dark, gritty and minimalist sound with similarities to dubstep, techno and Chicago juke.
Citizen Boy, who released one of the gqom tracks to gain international attention, a 2015 rework of Adele’s Hometown Glory, describes to Guardian, the intense atmosphere in any room the music plays. “It is heavy because no one is shy,” he states. “It’s like they become a new version of themselves. And even those who can’t dance, they have the courage to dance.”
In South Africa, gqom is regarded as an unsophisticated sound and looked down on. It is rare to find gqom music pressed to CD or vinyl. Producers of the genre generally upload their new productions to mobile phones and spread them via Whatsapp groups, or upload them to MP3 sites like Kasimp3.
Over the last five years overseas interest in gqom has increased, with tracks produced in Durban’s townships being played by international DJs including the owner of the Hyperdub, label, Kode9, who’s likened the sound to “being suspended over the gravitational field of a black hole, and lovin’ it.”
Gqom In Nigeria
Nigerians have always made music via copying, adaptation and pasting. We grab sounds from different cultures, bring it back home to our studios, remix, chop and adapt until it is passed through a Nigerian filter. The end result is something local, deeply Nigerian, and syrupy.
Nigerians have always had a musical connection with South Africa. Our version of House music borrows heavily from the country, and in Hip-hop, stars of both cities collaborate. At some point between 2013 – 2015, House music dominated our pop music.
But Gqom is starting to get in, although much of it is mixed with House, in a new variant named known as ‘Sgubhu.’ You can find it in Lagos club mixes, with notable names including Busiswa and DJ Tirra.
You also can find it in CDQ’s ‘Nowo Soke’, ‘Say baba’, and ‘Indomie’. Patoranking’s recent utilization of gqom to make ‘Available’ is likely to inspire a fresh class of musicians, who understand the hack behind leading with heavy, dark and minimalist beats.
So whenever you hear that South African sound in the club, inspiring you to move to the beat, just raise your glasses to the air, and educate your friends that this isn’t called a ‘South African’ sound. It is the ‘Gqom’.