Antidote Music, an indie house music label from Eswatini, has a knack for spotting musical talent. This is evident in their wide catalogue to which they recently added the compilation The Vault Unlocked: Eswatini Dance Compilation. The project, which debuted on number 18 on Apple Music’s Top Albums Chart, features artists and producers such as !Sooks, DJ Stig, Slotta, Audio Syrup, Neww Black.
“Unearthing and showcasing talent from Eswatini has been part of our vision from day one and we took the first step with The Kingdom Vault Series that we released back in 2017,” says Mmely “Groove Dokotela” Hlanze, who co-founded Antidote Music alongside producers and deejays Sakhile “Brainz” Mkhonta, Sizo “Dideo” Hlophe, Tebogo “Soul Secured” Mojapelo and Samkeliso “Sam K” Shongwe — collectively known as The Antidotes.
In 2020, Antidote Music partnered with Beat On Beats, a local music editorial which was in charge of their public relations, on creating a project that would give much-needed exposure to unknown talent from the kingdom. “Moreover, we saw it as the perfect opportunity to create a digital music market for local music which will increase Eswatini’s digital footprint and consumption of local music digitally and enhance the chances of global discovery,” Hlanze elaborates.
The label has been exemplary in an otherwise underdeveloped digital infrastructure owing to the country’s high bandwidth costs, which have led to Eswatini’s artists putting less effort in their online presence. Eswatini artists have to overcome such challenges without government support in their up-and-coming stages — only household brands are afforded that support. A large portion of artists are forced to hold down day jobs as Eswatini’s entertainment industry doesn’t pay well enough for them to survive solely on music proceeds.
The Vault Unlocked
Being the powerhouse it has become, Antidote Music has, over the last decade, been able to secure government funding for the compilation. The Vault Unlocked: Eswatini Dance Compilation was financially supported by the Eswatini National Council of Arts & Culture (ENCAC) as one of the government’s several creative industry initiatives aimed at supporting artists during the pandemic. “The pioneers of the project have been able to identify gaps within the industry through this project”, says Harries Bulunga, Eswatini Minister of Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs.
Recorded and produced remotely in each of the featured producers’ bedroom studios, The Vault Unlocked features 10 melodic tracks ranging from deep house to soulful house, as well as Afro house to amapiano — curated by Antidote Music’s A&R team.
The varied sounds give the compilation a high replay value, perfect for both a chilled session with your friends and your party-starting playlist. “Eswatini has grown not only in the quality of the music, but also in the variety of the production. So, we wanted to definitely showcase that. But in all honesty we didn’t expect it to be so eclectic,” Hlanze explains.
Renaissance of House Music in Eswatini
The kingdom of Eswatini has experienced a renaissance of house music, subsequently being one of the kingdom’s chief music exports, with a number of local artists like !Sooks, Slotta, DJ Cup, Parcel SWZ making waves not only in Africa, but some parts of Europe, Brazil and the US too.
The Antidotes are arguably Eswatini’s greatest and major house music export. Their rise to eminence was with the release of the local hit “Imiyalo (The Antidotes Chill Out Mix)” (2014), receiving massive airplay and helping them secure a number of gigs and exposure locally, and beyond. The song, which was a remix of soul artist Nomalungelo Dladla’s 2010 hit “Imiyalo” was also licensed to House Afrika, which earned them their first music video and debuted on number 12 on MTV Base Africa Top 20. It was also released on a compilation by Divine DJ and DJ Zino The Neck Breaker in 2012 .
Prior to forming Antidote Music, the artists had worked with well-renowned labels in the industry such as Adaption Music (UK), Smooth Agents (USA), Peng AfricaB(SA), Nu Deep (France), Dolls Comber Records (Italy) and Open Bar Music (USA). Eswatini people gravitate towards dance music more than any other genre as southern Africans generally love to groove. This has led to the growth in popularity of the country’s house music scene.
Since the genesis of house music in Eswatini in the mid-2000s, artists such as the late DJ Peace, DJ Foster, DJ Simza, +268 and S-Tone have all played an imperative role in the growth of the genre. Belonging on that list of pioneers is, of course, The Antidotes.
The Antidotes’ blend of soulful, deep and tech house is well-complemented by a wide and versatile range of artists whose projects they have released. The label has unearthed the likes of !Sooks, who won Best Underground Record at the South Afrcian dance music awards in 2019, Secret Souls, Parcel SWZ who have all released music that has been well received by Eswatini’s dance community and beyond. These artists’ careers have since taken off and they have performed at notable events such as the MTN Bushfire Festival, And Club, Spring Fiesta, Deep Town Jozi and Mozambique, just to mention a few.
As The Antidotes gear up to celebrate a decade in the industry in 2022, they have introduced Antidote Indie, which is an artist development and management agency focused on unearthing and showcasing world-class African talent. The agency has released music from the award-winning Mzwaa and super talented rapper Grixxly, with more releases expected from Parcel SWZ, !Sooks, Mzwaa, Sarnilo this year.