Is the world finally waking up to UK Afrohouse?

Their peers in southern Africa are celebrated stars. But artists in the UK Afrohouse scene have had to fight to be heard. Marcus Barnes explains why the tide might finally be turning.

Though there’s been an undercurrent of Afrohouse activity in London and the UK for well over a decade, it’s only very recently that the southern African sound has received the attention it deserves. As the world has gone through a major shift with regard to representation across race, gender and sexual identity, leading electronic music platforms have made changes to editorial policies. Similarly, the influential house music label Defected launched Sondela, a sub-label focused exclusively on Afrohouse. Underrepresented scenes like Afrohouse are finally being noticed. 

In South Africa, over 8,000 miles away from London, it’s been a different story. Deep house and other localised forms of electronic music, gqom and amapiano for instance, are embedded into everyday life. Taxis pump four-to-the-floor beats all day long, radio is awash with house music, and some of the artists who make and play the music are lauded as stars across the nation. 

Many factors have led to this huge contrast between the two nations, but small, dedicated grassroots collectives in the UK have been supporting and pushing the sounds emanating from southern Africa. Names like Aluku Rebels, Jonny Miller, Zepherin Saint, Khaya Deep, Sef Kombo, Kitty Amor, D-Malice and others have cultivated communities around the music, although, until recently, it remained niche and “underground,” with limited opportunities for growth. 

Afrohouse is imbued with soulfulness, percussive arrangements, rich tones and a highly affecting emotional intensity. Voices are intrinsic to the sound, from soothing female vocals to more traditional chanting. Many who experience Afrohouse in a club environment describe it as “spiritual”—as though the music is channeling our ancestry, or the divine. In the party it sparks wanton self-expression, euphoria and freedom, celebratory scenes and unity, touching the deepest parts of those who experience it. 

Electronic music from southern Africa is the voice of the townships—pain, suffering, and the hardships of daily life, but also escapism, jubilation, romance, love and joy. “It’s so uplifting that, at the end of a good night, you’ll come out and you will still feel exhilarated,” said Dawn Bryan, station manager at Drums Radio, a London-based station focused on Afrohouse. “I’m not religious, but this is religion. When it’s that good, it’s church.” 

London’s scene is brimming with talent—dedicated DJs, producers, promoters and label owners who have been pushing the music independently and developing this largely Black-orientated movement. Afrohouse is dynamic, enriched with a positive energy that’s removed from the often po-faced techno and tech house events that are so popular in London. As we move into a new world, where equality and the drive to highlight underrepresented voices becomes standard practice, it’s time to shine a light on the woefully neglected London Afrohouse scene. 

So how did southern African electronic music find a place in London, and other parts of the UK? Who are the people who embraced it? And why has the scene had such limited growth? 

(I’m going to use “Afrohouse” throughout this piece to describe the music played by the people featured. A few of those I spoke to didn’t like the term, which I definitely understand, as it’s become a catch-all term for a range of genres: deep house, Afrotech, ancestral house.) 

As with any historical documentation, it’s important to consider the complexity of the narrative. Everyone has their own version of things and every perspective is subjective. What’s clear in the story of UK Afrohouse is that no one person was responsible for being “the first,” and there is no definitive answer to where it all started, though we have immigrant southern African communities to thank for some of the earliest parties representing the music. 

“African music was there at the beginning of house and it’s not just the drums,” said Dawn. “In the clubs, where they were playing disco before there was house, there was African music. People seem to forget that and relegate the contribution. The African and Latin music was there inside clubs at the same time as all of the other music that fed into this beast that we call house.”

Bryan’s point highlights the pre-house era, when DJs like Larry Levan (who had African heritage, as opposed to Caribbean) incorporated a wide range of influences into their sets. The African and Latin music reflected the diversity of the Paradise Garage and other such pioneering clubs. Those influences have always been there, from Mancuso’s Loft parties to Louie Vega and Kenny Dope’s early flirtations with house—African music, exported from the Motherland, has inspired many of electronic music’s pioneers. 

How is this relevant to what’s been happening in the UK? By considering the formative years of house music, or the post-disco era, we can acknowledge a lineage of African influence through DJs and artists. Kerri Chandler, Joe Claussell, Francois K, Danny Krivit, Nicky Siano, Frankie Knuckles, Masters At Work and, later, DJ Gregory, Dennis Ferrer, DJ Spen, and Karizma, plus many others who gained popularity in the UK. As we’ll see later, it’s a lineage that can be traced right up to the modern UK Afrohouse scene. 

Drums Radio started out as a self-contained show called The Drums on Bang FM, which was later called The Beat (103.6FM). Founded by London DJ Mr. Silk, the station launched in 2017. “One Christmas, we were like, ‘We want to hear the music all the time,’ So the drums was born,” said Dawn. “We just wanted to play the music when we wanted to. In the beginning we weren’t really taking on any shows or anything and then it was like, ‘Actually, if we believe in the music,’ which we did, ‘and we have belief in the community and its ability to grow, let’s do it properly.’”

Silk and Dawn began to take Drums Radio seriously, launching The Afro House Party events series alongside the station, which began to take on shows. “It was just a belief in the music and an innate knowledge that everybody that engages with the music on the level, they grow to enjoy it, and they grow to love it,” Dawn explained. “It was no more than that. Yes it’s about business. And yes, you have to look at making money to be sustainable. But initially it was: the music feels, the music touches you, the music has a spirituality that other house music doesn’t.”

Zepherin Saint, AKA Dean Zepherin, is a veteran of the London scene. Now based in Melbourne, Australia, he was involved in the capital’s raves as far back as 1988, supplying the soundsystem at the now legendary RiP at Clink Street, a seminal acid house rave hosted by residents Kid Batchelor, Eddie Richards and Mr. C. He recalls the rise of conscious hip-hop, young Black people representing their African roots, and the iconography that seeped into fashion and music around the late ’80s. “Around that time there was a lot of African influence in terms of history, what was going on in hip-hop and, as young Black London youth, we were really discovering ourselves in a new way,” he explained. “That was very much coming into the forefront with our music and what was going on in the hip-hop scene from a conscious point of view.

“It was coming into the house scene; we had a club called Club Conscious, which was in Brixton. That was all house. On the flyer was [an image of] Africa and it was all about us bringing the African influence into house music. That was always what I wanted to bring as my contribution to house music.”

Saint went on to launch the Tribe record label and its associated parties, which were among the first wave of Afro-leaning enterprises in London’s electronic music underground. In 2009 he launched the label with a track called “Circles” with the singer Nathan Adams. The tune blew up in London and caught the attention of house enthusiasts in South Africa, connecting Saint to the homeland’s fertile scene. 

Like many of the people I spoke to, Saint discovered AfrodisiaMP3, a seminal site from the late 2000s, where a variety of African artists were putting their music up for sale, including artists like Da Capo and Culoe De Song. Saint began to license music from the site to his label, deciding that it needed a bigger platform. He hired better-known acts to remix the tunes in order to connect with a wider audience. But it was, in his own words, “a hard slog.” “If you think it’s niche now, imagine what it was like then,” he said.

Saint launched the Tribe party, representing house music across the board, but it quickly became renowned for its Afro sounds. “We were the only ones at that time who were pushing the Afro sound in the party, in London,” he told me. “No one else was doing that and I guess I was the only one who was playing that sound. So the party became known for that.”

Elsewhere, Aluku Rebels came to the fore as another essential Afro advocate. Conceived by South Londoner Jodie Denis, the brand introduced new audiences to the sounds coming out of southern Africa and established Denis as a key champion of the music. He connected to the Afro sound while working on the security team at the former London club Matter. Manning the booth one night when the late Phil Asher was playing, he heard “Sunday Showers” by Kentphonik (AKA Themba, DJ Kent and Tumi Mokitlane), asked Phil what it was, and not only got the ID but was also directed to AfrodisiaMP3. From that point, in 2008, he started collecting music, and began to DJ two years later. Denis’ experience as a house and garage raver on ’90s London dance floors, combined with his work in the clubs during the 2000s, gave him the knowledge and insight to cherry pick tunes that he thought would work in the city’s clubs. 

The Aluku podcast series became hugely popular, with Denis creating conceptual soundscapes that included sounds of nature, indigenous creatures from the Motherland, and atmospheres to accentuate the music. In his DJ sets he merged familiar acapellas and well-known club hits with the emergent Afro sound, a gentle introduction for his audiences. “It was all a balance,” he explained. “I would mix house and garage stuff that I grew up on with the Afro. I was the guy that was using ‘Gypsy Woman’ acapellas, which I knew that UK audiences would resonate with.”

As a result of his work in London, and the connections he made out there, Denis was the first UK artist to get booked to play in South Africa, alongside Black Coffee. He also performed in Botswana, appearing on national TV there, and was a very early adopter of gqom, before he even realised it was a genre of its own. His passion for blending a variety of Afro-influenced styles, from ambient to more techy sounds, set him apart from his peers. 

Pablo Martinez, DJ, producer and owner of FOMP Records, drew his early inspiration from Afro and Latin styles and their connection to the soulful end of house music. Raised just south of Croydon in Greater London, his multicultural surroundings and Spanish roots shaped his penchant for the sounds that would become the bedrock of his sonic identity. In his younger years he worked with the garage duo Bobby & Steve, playing at their Garage City events, where he fused soulful Afro and Latin flavours with the UK sound. He also ventured into production, forming a partnership with Chris Allan and calling themselves Samba La Casa. 

Eventually he crossed paths with Zepherin Saint and began working with him at the Tribe label, later moving on to FOMP, where Pablo was responsible for the first release. Then run by Joseph Hines and Samuel Jeffries (Pablo took over at a later stage), the label focused on deep and soulful house with some Afro leanings. This Afro-inspired sound became especially prominent when they signed a South African artist called Luka, who runs the label We Go Deep. Luka had connections to a variety of virtually unknown singers, including Sio and Jackie Queens. An exchange began to occur between Pablo and Luka, and both labels grew and matured.

In the late 2000s, as grime lost momentum, UK funky exploded. A space opened up in inner-city club culture that was quickly filled by this style of house with a distinct Afro-tribal rhythm. Prior to this the majority of audiences at soulful house nights were older heads. But with the UK funky wave, a whole new (largely Black) younger generation were introduced to house. DJs would blend British-produced UK funky records with tracks by a range of house greats—Dennis Ferrer, Kerri Chandler, Osunlade and DJ Gregory were among the key artists favoured by UK funky selectors. Ferrer’s “Hey Hey,” a huge track that has a clear influence from southern Africa, was ubiquitous during this time. DJs such as Kismet, Fever, Perempay, Scholar Tee, Carlos Aries, and MA1 were among those on the forefront during this period. Southern African music was also being folded into sets at UK funky parties. 

The post-garage, post-grime shift into UK funky primed younger audiences for the Afro sound. Artists like Black Coffee, Bucie, Bodhi Satva and Culoe De Song became well-known on the UK funky and soulful house circuits. “Funky house trickled in during the transition from old school house,” said Petite DJ, AKA Tendai Chagweda. “So we’d go to those parties and there’d be sounds that were obviously SA but I had no idea.”

Tendai was one of those who caught the wave through deep and soulful house rooms at garage nights, before following her ears into the UK funky scene. She’d be captivated by Afro sounds, not knowing they were from the Motherland until she went there in 1999. While visiting family (Tendai is from Zimbabwe) she attended some underground parties, “So I was out there and I heard what I thought was funky house and I was saying to them, ‘Listen to my music! This is what we play in England.’ My cousins looked at me and they’re like, ‘You know this is Zim and South African, right?’ I was like, ‘No way!’”

In recent years Sessions and Motherland have come to the fore as two of London’s key Afrohouse events. Helmed by Kitty Amor and Sef Kombo, the parties have hosted a variety of headliners from SA and beyond. Both Sef and Kitty have traveled to South Africa, connecting with artists on the ground and performing at parties across the nation. “Over there if it’s good music, then that’s what they want to hear,” said Sef, describing SA crowds’ passion for exclusives, or what are referred to as “unShazamables.” “Over here, it’s more like, ‘What can you play to satisfy my evening?’”

Kitty also spoke fondly of her time in South Africa. “It refined my sound a bit more in regards to trusting the feeling,” she said. “Because I know what pulled me to Afrohouse in the first place, it was a feeling. Sometimes you can get lost by following certain names and playing what’s popular, especially in the UK where the sound is still quite new to many.

“Going to South Africa gave me that extra confidence and refined my ear to trust those feelings. If I had this feeling in Johannesburg when I first heard this tune then trust me, I’m going to take that over to the UK, to London, and share that feeling with others.”

Sef Kombo was one of the young DJs whose journey into Afrohouse was inspired by the musical shifts during the post-UK funky period. Originally an open format DJ, he began to explore the deeper side of house, and eventually stumbled across AfrodisiaMP3. Sef used his TilTwo events to gently ease London’s Black underground clubbing community into the Afro sound, moving the music from R&B and hip-hop to house music after midnight. Later, he would join the team at Motherland and run the Sessions parties conceived by his partner in crime, Kitty. 

Together they have led the charge for UK Afrohouse, with Sef calling out the electronic music media on social media back in 2019 for their neglect of the scene. The pair were featured in Mixmag after I attended a Sessions party and, this past February, they appeared on the magazine’s cover. 

Kitty learned to DJ while at university in Nottingham. A fan of Sef Kombo and a regular attendee at his nights, she also connected with Afrohouse through Afrodisia. She became a prominent party promoter in Nottingham, running some of the city’s biggest student nights, where she booked a variety of high-profile rap stars, including Krept & Konan. She also curated the house rooms at these events, and started to play at the parties herself. Kitty booked Sef for one of her events, playing after him. Sef stuck around to catch Kitty’s set and was so impressed that he booked her for TilTwo soon afterwards. Once back in London, Kitty forged her own path in the club scene and eventually became part of Jonny Miller’s Motherland collective, before launching her own Sessions event with Sef.

Kitty is renowned for her subversive sound, distinct and more underground than her counterparts. Fans and peers alike tip their hat to Kitty for her “different” selections. She is also one of the rare few women running their own Afrohouse parties in the capital.

“Over there, it’s just known as ‘the local sound’, which is slower, 118 BPM,” said Jonny Miller. “And that sound really now has become the amapiano thing, which nobody gets here at all. Unless you hear it over there, in its environment, you don’t get it.” In 2010, Miller went to Johannesburg, where he met Kid Fonque (nicknamed the “Gilles Peterson of South Africa”) and got a first-hand introduction to South Africa’s vibrant and deeply embedded house scene. The two hit it off and Jonny returned to SA a further 10 times over the following years, touring with Fonque and releasing on the influential Soul Candi label, where Fonque was label manager. 

In London, Miller hooked up with D-Malice, owner of DM.Recordings, one of the few British labels pushing the Afro sound at the time. Malice was running a night called Hoja, with Pascal Morais from Amsterdam, and Miller joined them to host a series of parties in Brixton. Miller mentioned a key moment in the evolution of Afrohouse: when the UK’s soulful house crowd began to pick up on it. From the Deep Into Soul parties, which launched a second room dedicated to the sound, through to the Southport Weekender and its Croatian outpost SuncéBeat, Miller said this period, in the mid-2010s, was the biggest change in attitudes to Afrohouse.

“In the early 2010s all the guys in SA were making songs,” said Miller. “It was all about a soulful song, you know? That’s what drove it. And with Afro tech that has ebbed away. That’s the big difference that I’ve seen in the last 10 years, with the European influence coming in—less songs and more tracky, techy stuff. There are SA artists that are into that, but there’s still loads of producers doing beautiful songs over there, which you don’t get so much here in London.” 

Besides Tribe, FOMP and Aluku, DM.Recordings came through in the 2010s, supporting Afrohouse almost exclusively from the beginning. It was started in 2012 by D-Malice, and was originally a space to release his own productions  He’d achieved success in the UK funky scene with his refix of DJ Spen’s “Gabryelle,” and was shifting into a more Afro-oriented sound, appearing on Soul Candi and Defected. 

“I was producing before I started my record label and I was connected with Soul Candi,” he said. “So [up and coming SA artists] heard my music. And that’s where it happened. They’ve got this thing, ‘You’re from the UK you must be really connected.’ And I was like, ‘I’m really not.’ But it sparked the idea that…these people, these kids at the time, are craving and shouting. They want to get their music out. They want to be heard. And that’s when I started releasing other artists. I was like, ‘Cool, let’s put Afrohouse on the map.’”

It’s clear to see that London’s melting pot of creatives, music connoisseurs and party people opened up several key channels for Afrohouse. The music touched different communities, each with its own characteristics, but ultimately they all ended up under the umbrella of the deeply spiritual club sound emanating from South Africa. There is, however, another perspective we should consider.  

“There’s a whole story that nobody has really touched on, because this music wouldn’t really be here to the same degree without that southern African community,” said Dawn. “They have an infrastructure, and have had an infrastructure for the music, for years. It’s always been there, they brought it from home, they just weren’t necessarily very open to outsiders, but the music was always there. And if you were lucky enough to get into one of those events, you’ve got to experience this music like, ‘Oh my God!’” 

Away from the big-name clubs and DJs that dominate the listings on ticketing websites, there are myriad club nights and events that operate at a local level. These smaller grassroots parties are plugged into a broad cross section of the city’s immigrant communities. From Brazilian and Latin nights, to under-the-radar reggae events, these nights are a layer of London’s club activity that is often overlooked. 

Perhaps the most authentic London event to showcase sounds from southern Africa is Monate (pronounced Mon-ar-tay). The party brand was conceived and nurtured by southern Africans aiming to cultivate an inclusive space where they could party like they do back at home. Helmed by Khaya Deep, the party epitomises the diversity of London’s clubbing landscape. 

These kinds of events preceded Saint’s Tribe, FOMP and Aluku Rebels, and took place up and down the country—in particular, in towns like Kettering and Peterborough, where immigrant worker communities formed around industrial sites, plus more prominent cities like Manchester. Southern Africans were the first to bring Black Coffee to the UK. He played a show in Canning Town in the late 2000s, way before anyone outside of SA communities knew of him. 

Khaya Deep founded Monate with fellow southern African Mzi, plus DJs Limbzo Housa and Logic Senya, to create a space where they could feel at home, “a family setting,” as he called it. Khaya and his friends couldn’t find that authentic vibe they were looking for at London parties, but they were also limited financially. “A lot of the parties were quite expensive,” he said. “At that time, we were working, we didn’t have money, we were just sending money home. So you always had to think about entry fee, drinks.” As a collective, they decided to start their own thing to bypass pricey ticket fees and drinks. They also wanted to cultivate an atmosphere that was closer to what they knew from home.

“When we first started we emphasised that it was about cross pollinating cultures,” Khaya Deep said. “It wasn’t just about SA, we wanted a hub where everyone could chill out, relax and talk to each other. That’s what we were trying to do.” In southern Africa, house music events are not always restricted to the 18-30s bracket; there’ll be older folk on the dance floor, a BBQ cooking up tasty meat, and a more open, communal atmosphere.

In South Africa, Black Coffee and Themba command huge crowds, are recognised as superstars, and various strains of electronic music dominate—deep house, Afro, amapiano, gqom. Electronic music is a way of life, and that deeply rooted passion has been translated on to the world stage, as the southern African sound has gained increasing popularity over the past decade. 

In particular, Black Coffee’s debut in Ibiza, at DC-10 in 2014, and his subsequent residency at Hï, has helped boost the music’s international credentials. 

In the UK though, the climate has been quite different, with barely any recognition of its local ambassadors until very recently. All of the aforementioned UK-based artists and promoters have been operating for the best part of a decade or more, yet their international profiles pale in comparison to those of their SA counterparts. In a relatively unusual reversal, the UK and London—one of the world’s most influential musical and cultural hubs—is importing its musical inspiration. 

Why has the music not broken through in the UK in the way many people think it deserves to? Among the reasons for its stunted growth is cultural nuance—differences in the way that electronic music is presented and consumed in the UK and SA. There’s also been some media neglect, and a lack of cohesion on the part of those who’ve been supporting it. 

For instance, the Afrobeats sound has become ubiquitous in the UK. The official charts have been awash with Afrobeats songs—even Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You,” a track with over 5 billion plays on its music video alone, draws heavily on the sound. How this occurred is largely thanks to the widespread West African diaspora. Nigerian and Ghanaian personalities have achieved success and attained positions of influence in the UK media, across music, film and television, whereas the presence of southern Africans is less notable. “Because they’ve got more strength in numbers it’s a little bit easier, over a certain period of time, to start navigating into the commercial space,” said Sef. “That’s one of the key things behind why Afrohouse hasn’t had as much impact over here as it warrants.

“Also some of the DJs that are involved in Afrohouse [in the UK], the prominent people, are not from SA as well,” he continued. “It’s important, when you have a figurehead that it’s actually someone from there to help those things along because there’s only so much we can do; we don’t speak the language, we don’t have the heritage. What we go off is based on a feeling and some education and reading.”

This is compounded by the ignorance of event organisers, who have a one-dimensional view of the southern African sound. Black Coffee in particular is perceived as a “safe bet” for those wanting to sell out a large-scale Afro-leaning party. But that limits opportunities for homegrown talent to flourish. “This is no fault of his, it is a fault of the people that have their blinkers on, because they feel a sense of entitlement and think, ‘He’s the best. That’s it. We don’t need to find out anything more,’” said Khaya. “Prior to summer, I get a phone call every other week, ‘Can you get us Black Coffee? Can you get us Black Coffee?’ Not to applaud us for doing well, not to book one of our resident DJs. It’s borderline insulting.”

“It goes back to exploitation, where you want something out of it,” he continued. “Everyone that wants a gig that packs out, they want Black Coffee. And that’s no fault of his. But that is just sad. It takes away from the music because it is growing in one direction. I feel it just takes away from a lot of the artists who are trying to do great things for the sound as well.”

This universal focus on Black Coffee came up in several of the conversations I had. The general consensus from everyone echoed Khaya’s points. 

“We didn’t really have much of a scene here, it was just a collective of us that were really passionate about the sound and pushed it,” Denis said. “A good night would be a couple of hundred people, that’d be an excellent night. It was really weird because when Black Coffee comes over, for the last five or six years, he sells out, maybe 1500 to 2000 tickets. It was really odd to kind of see a lot of people that were in a scene, that would come out to Black Coffee but when we put on nights, they wasn’t interested.”

In a time where more attention is being paid to underrepresented pockets of electronic music culture, we have to peel away some of the top layers to expose the talent below. In the case of the UK’s southern African scene, perhaps promoters could start looking at local acts, who are part of engaged communities willing to support them wherever they go?

Financial barriers have also stunted the growth of the Afro sound in the UK. It’s difficult to get access to funding, which could provide the support needed for smaller promoters to build their events, to book bigger artists and to invest in their companies. “We could be having artists coming up and down from South Africa but financially, it just doesn’t work,” said Khaya. “Because they make a lot of money in South Africa. Because the sound isn’t really ‘out there’, financially you’re at a loss in the beginning. Unless you bring someone like Black Coffee, but who’s got the capital to do something like that?”

“A hindrance that I’ve experienced, being a label manager in this sound, is you have to put in some money for it to be able to go into certain spaces,” Kitty said. “If I don’t pay an actual PR company to do the rounds and send it over, it’s not really going to happen. Not many of us are fortunate to have that money behind our labels, so I think that’s the thing that can block us from being in the mainstream space.”

From the new generation of Afrohouse promoters, J.tham (pronounced Jay-dot-fam) has made a name for himself with his party DreamNights. Conceived two years ago with his partner Chloe, the event is representative of a new school of Afro-inspired sounds emanating from the capital. “The event came about through the love of house, DJing and the lack of opportunities for an upcoming artist in the scene,” he explained. “Two of the other DJs playing the launch night were also up and coming: DUO & Grooveguruu, who were able to showcase their talents in a space that wasn’t available to us.”

As the name suggests, DreamNights is all about making emerging artists’ dreams come true, by giving them a platform to showcase their talent. Since that first event, J.tham has held several parties in east London. He’s been privy to the unbridled energy and positivity that comes from the music and the crowds it attracts. But he’s aware that it hasn’t achieved the breakthrough many of those who follow the music believe it deserves. “The Afrohouse scene feels amazing and diverse when you are in it, whether you go to a club night or you follow the producers and DJs here in the UK or globally,” he said. “However, if you are not in it or unaware of it, it’s surprising how quietly it is represented on the major level of house music.”

“I used to think, ‘Why is this not promoted everywhere? Why are these events not everywhere?’ I’ve been to house festivals, and the energy and music there is special, but I always imagine how crazy the music from the Afrohouse scene would sound on those big festival speakers,” he added. “You start to wonder why DJs who have been in the scene for 10-plus years aren’t on these festival stages as headliners, let alone on the stages to begin with.”

On the subject of growth, he’s adamant that the scene will expand and evolve naturally, albeit with a little bit more push from all sides. “The scene itself is growing regardless of whether people notice or not. The lockdown was a realisation for a lot of people, seeing how important music is to them,” he said. “Us, the people in the scene, are attentive to everything that is growing in our scene in the UK, in SA and globally. Collaborations are the way that the music and the scene will grow best. With our Instagram livestreams we managed to connect with DJs outside of London, and the UK in the US. The scene is growing and will keep growing in time, we just need to take time and let it happen.”

A unified front could also push the scene forward. Up to now, promoters have been organising events and cultivating their own communities separately. Progress could perhaps be made by those disparate entities coming together to represent the sound. In 2021, as the UK prepares for its clubs and festivals to reopen, perhaps it’s the right time for people to collectively build events that celebrate southern African culture in its entirety? 

Last summer, DJs Kismet, Supa D and Fever hosted Originals, a day party in Essex that brought together some of the most prominent members of London’s Black electronic music underground. The event was a sell-out and proved that there is plenty of opportunity to take things outdoors to the big stage and maintain the integrity of the music. As both Martinez and Miller both suggest, this could also be one of the reasons why the media have overlooked the Afrohouse community. “In London there’s not been enough of a community,” said Martinez. “A community that said, ‘I am Afrohouse’ has never positioned itself for the media to jump on board, write about it and acknowledge it. Even within the people that you will speak to, for this piece, that are saying, ‘I am Afrohouse’, they will still have their own niches—Afro tech, ancestral house… it’s difficult for the media to promote Afrohouse if it doesn’t have its own identity and seeps into those different niches.”

His suggestion is to focus on artist development, sharing artist’s stories and cultivating strong narratives and identities. “You have a job as a DJ to promote the sound and educate people,” Martinez said. “But you can also educate people by telling a story about the people’s music. More time should be spent on that because you have stories galore now, and all these artists, all these amazing singers and instrument players, they’re so much more interesting than a DJ.”

This point was echoed by Petite: “DJs weren’t doing their jobs to the full, where it was down to us to educate. When I was on radio I’d be like, ‘By the way it’s Black Coffee’s birthday today. Happy Birthday, sir!’ Or I’d do articles when they’ve won awards. Things like that, sharing topical news to demonstrate that, outside of music, these people are human beings. Just like we know about Britney Spears. We’re not delving in and sharing the highlights of artists’ lives. As DJs we’re not educating to that point.”

Luka is a prime example of this. A former rugby player who suffered a life-changing injury, he began to experiment with music while he was coping with the fallout of breaking his neck and ending up in a wheelchair. It’s a story that adds a strong human and emotional element to his productions.

Several of the contributors to this piece were sympathetic to the media for missing a beat with Afrohouse, accepting that perhaps there needs to be more of a cultural movement for journalists to hook on to. “Nowadays there’s virtually no printed magazines and there’s 400,000 little media platforms and social media,” Miller said. “So, when I look back on the last five to 10 years of what sort of coverage Afro has had, personally, I don’t think it’s been a case of, ‘Well the media have slept on this.’ I just don’t think that the media is as important as it used to be and it’s harder now to identify a cultural movement, and for that cultural movement to have as much of an identity as it did before.”

As Jonny Miller highlighted, southern African house has evolved since landing in the UK and the rest of Europe. In its infancy, the music was more song-based, but over time the dominant sound has become more minimal and club-focused. “Afro has taken its own form here,” said Miller. “The main reason is that the importance of it being authentically local doesn’t matter here. Whereas, 10 years ago, the stuff I was making, I was thinking, ‘I want to make a track that I know is going to sound right in Pretoria’. That was what was driving me. Whereas now I think with the producers doing Afro, that doesn’t enter their mind. They’re not thinking, ‘I need to make this for it to sound right in South Africa’, they’re thinking, ‘I want to make this sound good when Black Coffee plays it in Ibiza.’”

Zepherin Saint envisioned a UK take on Afrohouse as being one of the ways in which it can really flourish. “The UK needs to get its own spin on that sound as well, and not just rely upon what’s coming from South Africa,” he said. “There’s enough roots and history in the music of the UK to have its own spin and influence in that sound, and I’d love to see that come more to the forefront, and more producers come out of the UK. I don’t think there’s enough producers from the UK who’s kind of pushing the boundaries in that way… Now there’s amapiano and all these sounds coming out. I would like to see the UK…come with something that’s new and not be afraid to say, ‘Well, this is our sound. This is what we’re coming with and this is our take on it.”

“Remember that the music might be rooted in South Africa, but the music is now made everywhere,” said Dawn. “So yes, South Africa is the heart, and it’s the centre, that will always be the centre. And it’s important to maintain that connection to South Africa, and the roots of the music. But if it’s just about the music, the music will ebb and flow and the location for what’s current will move. As long as you’re respectful to the past, because I think that’s all Black music has ever asked for is respect your origins.”

When it comes to the origins and terminology, Khaya Deep is forthright with his opinion on the Afrohouse tag: “It was created not by the southern Africans who were creating the music. It was created to fit into a society so that certain people could relate to it and it be marketed. I’m not saying it came from a bad place. But I’m saying no one elected for it… I could be wrong, but I’ve never been somewhere in SA where I’ve seen it advertised as Afrohouse.”

Denis of Aluku Rebels agreed, highlighting the way in which any artist of South African origin is labeled as Afrohouse. “There were a lot of African artists that were producing techno tracks, progressive house tracks, electronica, but for some reason they were always getting thrown into Afrohouse,” he said. “So that confused the market with Afrohouse and what it actually is. You had all these different sounds and, to me, it’s quite ignorant. Because these guys were coming from South Africa they were getting classified as Afrohouse, but then when you listen to the music, it was straight techno.”

How southern African electronic music is handled and represented is critical to preserving its integrity and ensuring that those who are operating on the ground in the Motherland are compensated. South African radio host and tastemaker Da Kruk (who has a show on Drums Radio) highlighted this essential component in the global transmission of the music and culture, “Misrepresentation is probably the biggest killer of African art because it really just takes one person to say, ‘Hey, OK Da Kruk, you remain the artist and leave the selling to us.’ I’ve always had a problem with that because how you present the art and how you sell it should go hand in hand,” he said. “Personally, that’s one of the reasons why, up to now, I’ve maintained my independence because I realise that half the guys that you speak to from labels just don’t get it.”

There are still plenty of questions. Considerations around education; the way in which the music is presented for global audiences; when and how to collaborate; and how to pay respect to the originators and those who are creating at grassroots level in South Africa. But the foundations are there: the collectives and DJs, the promoters, the radio station, the labels and producers. What happens next is reliant on thoughtful, open discussion and a coming together of ideas. Afrohouse is food for the soul, direct from the source, the motherland; its remarkable ability to lift spirits merits a much larger global following. With the right support, the Afro sound will achieve the success it deserves, in the UK and the rest of the world.