Culture + Style

How House Music Took Over Johannesburg

When Chicago House music producer Vick Lavender visited Johannesburg, South Africa, for the first time in 2010, one of his long-held dreams came true.

“I remember getting in cabs, and they were playing my record on the radio,” Lavender said. “And they were playing my record in its entirety. I had never experienced that in Chicago. ”

House music fans also recognized him at the airport — another first for Lavender.

Lavender’s experiences in Johannesburg shouldn’t be a surprise, however. House music is big in South Africa. The deep, soulful kind of house music dominates the bars, clubs and taxis in Johannesburg. So a visit to Johannesburg wouldn’t be complete without a true South African house music experience.

I can tell South African house music by the way the drums are programmed. You can hear the African influence in the beat.

Vick Lavender

There are myriad options for tourists to enjoy the music, whether it’s attending a weekend house music festival, eating at a BBQ restaurant in a township or sipping a cocktail at a swanky rooftop bar in downtown Johannesburg.

House music, characterized by its prominent four-to-the-floor beat, is electronic music that Chicago gifted the world in the early 80s. In the early 90s black South African DJs played imported house music at packed parties in black townships. The music unified a young generation of people who were anticipating the end of apartheid.

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DJ Black Coffee leaves a mark on house music around the globe. (Photo: Getty Images)

When apartheid ended, those same youth began to celebrate by creating their own version of the music. Kwaito, the most popular form of South African house music, is characterized by the influence of traditional South African rhythms.

“It just made sense that [house music] wound up in Africa where it started,” Lavender said. “I can tell South African house music by the way the drums are programmed. You can hear the African influence in the beat.”

By 2010 South Africa’s house music had gone international — DJ Black Coffee rocked music festivals around the world with his hit song “Superman.” Today South Africa is considered the world’s largest house music market per capita. This isn’t an underground music scene. It’s a musical way of life that dominates the country — old, young, black and white.

For those unfamiliar with the type South African house music played in Johannesburg, Lavender recommends sampling the following artists: Black Coffee, DJ Vinny Da Vinci, DJ China, Trevor the Japanese, DJ Claude and DJ Thobs.

The best time of year to enjoy house music in Johannesburg is summer (November to February) when music festivals dominate the calendar. The international Ultra music festival takes place every February as well as recent arrival Afropunk.

Here are five of the best places in Johannesburg to enjoy South Africa’s house music scene.

House 22

When tourists ask for house music club recommendations in South Africa, House 22 is often the first suggestion. This legendary club is located in Pretoria, an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, and it’s known for specializing in deep soulful house music. An added bonus is the great African food.

The Living Room

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The Living Room offers a chill vibe for food and tunes. (Photo: Alamy)

Rooftop bars offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg.

Rooftop bars offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg. The Living Room, a popular bar in Maboneng, does this with a twist — healthy food, nice cocktails and good house music. The best days are Sundays, when the popular Market on Main takes place in the neighborhood.

Kitchener’s Carvery Bar

In the daytime Kitcheners is a pub, and by night it transforms into a club playing the best old-school deep house music in Johannesburg. DJs from across the world and country play at the venue, which sports one of the best speaker systems in South Africa. The vintage architecture may be a mismatch with the young and trendy crowd, but the vibe is perfect — relaxed and chill.

RockerFella Soweto

This indoor and outdoor pub plays commercial music and hip-hop music, but it’s the soulful house music that draws in the crowds. Locals pack the place after work ,and clubbers come for special DJ nights.

Zone 6 Venue

This megaclub in Soweto is the perfect party option on a chilly winter night in South Africa. DJs often host their launch parties because the venue can hold at least 3,000 people. Any South African venue that hosts Black Coffee has to be legit.


Find Your "Place of Light": A Weekend in Maboneng, Johannesburg