Tuesday, October 22, 2013


This post follows criteria focusing on sound and music.

Last class we watched another multiple award-winning movie: Gavin Hood's Tsotsi. Released in 2005, this film represents a snippet of a thug's life in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was brilliantly adapted from a novel of the same name by Athol Fugard. In this post, I will explore how the soundtrack affected the tone and message.

Rated R for strong language and some violent content.

Tsotsi features Kwaito music, which has been defined as the modern music of South African townships. According to the film's main website, this genre was used to "add to the authentic feel of ghetto street life." To the ears of Westerners, this kind of music sounds similar to gangster rap and has been likened to American hip-hop with its violent beat, guttural tune, and primarily vitriolic lyrics sung in street-slang. Because of its origins in Johannesburg townships, Kwaito truly represents the urban culture through its local lyrics, which are present nearly everywhere amongst the youth of that region. Again from the website:

This is irrefutably linked to the film's story. One of the beginning scenes shows Tsotsi and his gang leaving his shack and making their way through town. We get our first taste of Kwaito with poet and musician Zola's Mdlwembe. Watching Tsotsi, Aap, Butcher and Boston make their presence felt within the community played well against the music. It did not define them; rather they defined it. Later in the film, when the gang (minus Boston) are headed toward the house owned by the baby's parents with the intention of robbing it, another song from the genre blasts from the speakers as they crest a hill. It is as though the music acts as their personal soundtrack—which, don't lie, everyone wants—meaning that it is not just an added effect but an important part of the characters' lives. The musical side of things was made even more interesting when I found out that Zola actually had a feature role in the film as Fela, the other gang leader. This illustrates just how well respected contributors to Kwaito music are. If you spread the music of the people, you help to give them a voice in all sorts of matters.

The Gang
Left to Right: Boston, Butcher, Aap, Tsotsi, Tsotsi's grieved reflection

In addition to this genre, Tsotsi features more melodic tracks created by Mark Kilian and Paul Hepker ft. the traditional folk vocals of Vusi Mahlasela. Stolen Legs, On the Tracks, and Bye Bye Baby are just a few examples. These melodic songs contrasted nicely with the harsher dance numbers. They represented touching flashback scenes and intimate moments between the main character, Miriam, and the baby. This allowed for much-needed lulls in an otherwise consistently violent story. It also added layers to Tsotsi himself: the hardened street kid hiding his desire for tender mothering. It is also possible that these tracks were laid down to highlight the struggle between 'iconic Africa' painted on the walls of the nursery and the modernistic age that has ripped apart the people via classicism. This is a theme evident throughout the entirety of the film.

Urban life v. the outskirts.

I am definitely not an expert when it comes to the analysis of music (which is why this post is a bit short). In addition to that, I presume no knowledge concerning African-rooted genres. Still, I was able to appreciate the stylistic choices and see at least a few connections between them and other messages weaved throughout Tsotsi. Even without a background in this area, you will most certainty still appreciate the film and its story.

Rubbish narration, but a good example of the two distinct styles of music.

For further information:


  1. Your "short" posts are incredibly detailed and developed. This is a fascinating reflection on the way the movie integrates music to support themes and social issues. You also, through visuals, are analyzing style. You do know you should be a famous blogger.

    1. That is very kind, Mimi! I try to cover all of my bases. It is actually very helpful that you supply criteria to work with - it gives me more of a focus.

      Haha, maybe a famous blogger one day. This course gives me that push to actually write. Once the semester is over, I foresee a decline in the number of posts. >_< I do love talking about film, though!