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Kwela Music

A collection of pennywhistles.

Kwela is an form of music which originated in southern Africa. It is believed to have evolved from marabi, a style of music from the townships of South Africa. The word itself is believed to have come from the Zulu word meaning “get up,” an invitation to dance. The style was further influenced by Malawian immigrants to South Africa. In their Chichewa language the word for “to climb” is very similar to Kwela.

Kwela is characterized as jazzy and with a skiffle-like beat. It uses a I-IV-I-V chord progression. (Some authorities add additional chord progressions and others say there is no typical chord progression at all, but this is the most common view.) Kwela is usually played on a pennywhistle. This is likely the instrument of choice because they are inexpensive and portable and can be played solo or in an ensemble.

The style came to international prominence in the 1950s. It is featured prominently in listen to the albums “A Swingin’ Safari” by the Bert Kaempfert Orchestra (1962) and “Graceland” by Paul Simon (1986).

Prominent Kwela artists include:

© 2018 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.

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Written by Gary J Sibio

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