Ask anyone born in southern Africa or raised in a majority black community in the United States of America in the 1970s and ’80s what the sonic staple of their elders was and you’ll hear a resounding: R&B. Rhythm and Blues, a direct descendant of jazz, the blues and soul music has captured the spirits of many young folks who inherited these sounds.
From discotheques and wedding celebrations to easy Sunday listening to the national broadcaster, the steady evolution of the genre makes it fit for all occasions. Thus, when the Strictly Soul team sought to reach beyond the borders of South Africa, they knew that the music would do the talking for them.
Founded by Akio Kawahito, Strictly Soul is an event series that focuses on playing hip-hop and R&B for a community that will listen. Now in his 14th year as a DJ, Akio used these genres to bond with the project’s videographer, Bongo “Beno” Kabingesi, as they staged virtual hangouts during lockdowns. With movement and gatherings restricted in Johannesburg, the birth of Strictly Soul Thursdays via Instagram saw the pair pull a humble audience of 150. But after word got out and the walls went down, the community initiative has carved itself out as a safe, soulful space on an upward profitability trajectory.
Just like the Morning Gloryville sober raves that started in London, UK in 2013, Strictly Soul holds conscious clubbing in high regard. Morning Gloryville’s growth to becoming a global phenomenon provides a case study for innovation in music-based recreational activities. Having moved from a rooftop in Johannesburg to rocking Cape Town, the organisers are resolute about “creating a space where womenfolk can feel comfortable and free to enjoy themselves”, according to Anita Makgetla, the Host and Event Coordinator. This femme focus was not abandoned for the debut international imprint at Zest Restaurant in Gaborone. DJ Spinz, whose initiative Banyana Republic shares a similar point of departure, was joined by DJ Frostbite in holding down the fort for Botswana DJs on the programme.
The egalitarian approach to curating the event has Akio declaring: “There is the VIP area,” adding that even with the presence of celebrities and international acts ,“when you’re with us, we are all equal”. In an industry with a value forecast of USD6.7 billion in 2023 in South Africa alone, according to Statista, this equality is what will propel the brand, whose business collaborations and endorsements are showing consistent growth, onto platforms and into destinations they’ve earmarked for expansion.
On the slate are Kwa Zulu Natal and Eastern Cape in South Africa and a foray into Namibia. Speaking of Botswana, DJ Spinz opined that he too would “like to see more considered events that grow into recognisable brands” that can catapult “our artists like Mpho Sebina, Dato Seiko, Titose, Jordan Moozy and more”. With the recent trend of stadium events, it is only a matter of time until the mainstream live entertainment sector is able to make moves like Strictly Soul. Now is the right time for stakeholders from various sides to invest in this expansion.