33 1/3 Author Q&A: A Closer Look at South African Popular Music

Welcome to our latest author Q&A, where we chat to the writers behind new and upcoming 33 1/3 books! Today Lior Phillips talks to us about her addition to the Genre series: South African Popular Music. She tells us more about what it was like writing this book and recommends the best songs ‘to help soundtrack your quest through South African pop music history’.

How would you describe your book in one sentence?

A bold, stereotype-severing, and historically immersive collection of scenes across the history of South Africa, exploring the sounds and impact of popular music in all its glorious, evolving genres.

What drew you to this genre?

As a South African born in the late ‘80s, my coming of age coincided with the convergence of a paradigm-shifting political movement and a compelling moment in popular music. And, sadly too often, both halves of that equation get glossed over in the larger, global sociopolitical and musical conversation.

If you were introducing someone to this genre for the first time, what would you recommend they listen to?

I put together playlists for each chapter in the album, as well as a master playlist which acts as a sort of compendium to help soundtrack your quest through South African pop music history!

What was it like writing the book? Did you learn anything new about the genre that you didn’t know going into the project?

Connecting through music to this constant, exhausting urgency helps reach undeniable highs, reaching through the past via inviting melodies and intimate realities. Along the way, we faced a pandemic and I became a parent at the same time that I lost one; throughout it all, writing this book grounded me home, and I’m honored to tell stories of South African artists who softened the hard world around them. The writing process was full of surprises, and it was a joy and thrill to lend an ear and shine a light on artists often left waiting in the world’s wings.

Are there any interesting stories/points that didn’t make it into the final book? If you got the chance to write a 33 1/3 on one other album or genre – what are you picking?

Attempting to capture the entire history of any genre will leave tons of material on the cutting room floor, and this was certainly no exception. Even among the artists I was able to highlight, there were added details ready to be explored further.

In fact, if I were to write another book for 33 ⅓, I’d be able to compose a second volume exploring another set of scenes from South African popular music history. But if I were to narrow it down, I’d love to dive deeper into the story of the always awe-inspiring and world-changing Miriam Makeba’s 1960 self-titled album. (Though there are a handful of powerful women in non-South African music that I’d be thrilled to explore as well!)

Lior Phillips is a South African music and culture journalist originally from Cape Town, now based in Chicago, USA. She writes about music, film, art, and more for international publications, including Dazed and Confused Magazine, The Recording Academy, Variety, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, The Quietus, NPR, The Guardian, Consequence of Sound, and GQ South Africa. In addition, she is the creator, producer, and host of This Must Be the Gig, a podcast dedicated to artists’ vital memories of their first gigs and passion for live music and performance. You can find her on Twitter @LiorPhillips.

South African Popular Music is out now and available in bookshops and online (including at

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