Illumination Boyz

A bluffer’s guide to gqom

It’s the South African dance sound that’s come from the townships and is taking over the world. Time to bone up on gqom.
Written by Phillip Williams
2 min readPublished on
Red Bull Music Academy’s H∆SHTAG$ returns this week for a second series – and one of the music genres that gets the deep-dive treatment this time round is gqom. Watch it below – or scroll down to learn about the music.
Gqom is a DIY sound... most of the producers use bootleg software
Tonic Jazz, Illumination Boyz
What is gqom?
It’s a club sound that hails from the townships of Durban, South Africa. Bringing together elements of hip-hop, kwaito and house, gqom is characterized by its minimal and spacious feel, broken beats and raw, lo-fi production. “Gqom is a DIY sound,” says Tonic Jazz of Illumination Boiz. “Most of the people who producer gqom music come from townships, most of them use bootleg software.”
Citizen Boy in his studio

Citizen Boy in his studio

© Red Bull Music Academy

How do you pronounce it?
You say it like “gomm”, but there’s a click of the tongue at the start.
Where is gqom popular?
In the Durban townships, pretty much everyone – young and old, clubbers and taxi drivers – listen to gqom. In South Africa’s urban centres, gqom is often looked down on as unsophisticated. “I think it’s the way it started,” says Seazy XXL. “It makes makes people say, oh gqom, that music’s garbage.”
But a new variant on gqom, known as sgubhu, blends gqom with more conventional house sounds, and is finding its way to radio for the first time.
Where can I hear gqom?
In South Africa, you won’t find gqom music pressed to CD or vinyl. Producers generally upload their new productions to mobile phones and spread them via Whatapp groups, or upload them to MP3 sites like Kasimp3. 
Getting gqom pressed to vinyl is a rare occurence

Getting gqom pressed to vinyl is a rare occurence

© Red Bull Content Pool

But increasingly, the gqom sound is spreading. The label Gqom Oh! – a collaboration between Rome-based DJ and musician Nan Kolè and South Africa-based manager Lerato Phiri – released a stand-out compilation Gqom Oh! The Sound of Durban in 2016. The UK label Goon Club Allstars have also released singles by DJ Lag and Rudeboyz, while gqom productions have found their way into sets by forward-thinking DJs like Kode9.
How do you dance to gqom?
However you want, but popular dances in Durban include the Jack Bang, the Gwarra Gwarra and the Ivosho. "When you see people move to gqom, it makes a lot more sense," says Joe Howard of UK club night Cotch International. 
Find out more about RBMA's series H∆SHTAG$, including episodes about grime, kawaii and health goth here
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