If you’re travelling to South Africa and interested in learning a bit of local lingo, there are plenty of songs to help you out. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of languages to work your way through.
The country has 11 official languages, and several unofficial ones, but if you must pick one to learn by music, consider Zulu. It’s the most widely spoken home language in the country, and it also lends itself nicely to some powerful and catchy hip hop songs. Though your ability to pick up the language based on some quick-fire hip hop lyrics is debatable, at the very least you’ll expose yourself to some of the country’s best MCs.
Zuluboy – ‘Nomalanga Mntakwethu’
This politically-driven love song by popular hip hop artist Zuluboy serves as a powerful history lesson. ‘Nomalanga Mntakwethu’ is essentially a love letter written by a soldier fighting for freedom under apartheid. With a popular jazz sample and fast, meaningful lyrics, this is a great local song to get you interested in South African hip hop.
MarazA – ‘Gwan’
The track ‘Gwan’ isn’t strictly Zulu – rapper MarazA uses Fanagalo, a mixture of languages including Zulu and English. The language originally arose on the mines of Johannesburg, where miners mixed dialects for easier understanding. It’s a power track that rose to the top of the charts in 2016.
DJ Citi Lyts feat. Sjava and Saudi – ‘Vura’
This song is a collaboration by some of the country’s top hip hop artists. It’s a complex tune well worth a listen for its musical idiosyncrasies. Sjava’s lays down some solid lyrics, which ensured that this will be a legendary South African song for some time to come.
Kwesta feat. Cassper Nyovest – ‘Ngud’
Kwesta’s 2016 collaboration with Cassper Nyovest was one of the biggest tracks of the year. His debut album, on which this track featured, went gold, further entrenching this young star’s importance on the local hip hop scene.
Kwesta – ‘Thul’ujaive’
If you’re looking for the ultimate Zulu hip hop collaboration of recent years, then listen no further than Thul’ujaive. Kwesta brought together three of the best Zulu songwriters to put together this powerhouse track. For months after its release this song was the bar and club anthem that got revellers to their feet. The catchy hooks and sharp lyrics mean it’s not going away anytime soon either.
Zakwe ft Mzulu – ‘Izinsizwa’
Zakwe hails from KwaZulu Natal, and so it’s not surprising that his lyrics are influenced heavily by his home province and language. He’s been around for some time now, and has worked with some of the best artists in the industry. Izinsizwa, released in 2015, is not only a powerful local hip hop tune, it’s also accompanied by a captivating video that references his background and heritage.
Kid X ft Yanga, Mashayabhuqe – ‘Mfazi Wephepha’
Kid X is a leader in the local hip hop scene, and his quick, mostly Zulu lyrics and catchy hooks have built him a loyal following. He’s collaborated with several key players in the industry, including Kwesta, Mzulu and Zakwe, and this 2017 track featuring Yanga and Mashayabhuqe draws heavily on auto-tune and quick lyrics to draw in the fans.