HOUSE Afrika has been at the forefront of dance music since its inception as a record shop back in 1988.

Says Kaya FM’s station manager, Greg Maloka: “If it were not for House Afrika, there’d be no house music in Africa. House Afrika were and are significant as they were part of all the facets that were imperative to the success of house music. If house was a house, House Afrika would be the roof.”

Tim White, who founded the brand, is far more modest about their achievements.

He first got into the industry by carrying gear around for a friend who owned a mobile disco. He then saw a gap in the market when he realised that finding imported 12-inch dance records was virtually impossible. He then met a neighbour who was an airhostess and asked her to bring back five records each time she flew overseas. This then grew to 50 and finally White was going around to clubs and selling them to DJs before their sets.

In 1988 he opened a little record store called Mega Tracks on Louis Botha Avenue in Norwood, Jozi.

Around that time he met a 16- year-old DJ called Christos who worked for him. Christos also had a Saturday job in a clothing store that catered for the black market. This gave Christos an insight into the black music market.

Realising an even bigger opportunity, White changed his target market from white to black.

White also began creating music for the black market. He worked in a studio where a very young dancer and sound engineer by the name of Arthur Mafokate had just started working.

White would take samples from international tracks and slow them down and then together with Mafokate’s understanding of African beats and what was popular, they would work together on tracks.

They would put the tracks on cassettes under the label, Groove City Records, and drive around the country selling boxes of them.

“We would return with like R10 000 in our pockets which, in those days, was a lot of money, particularly because we were still very young,” he says.

However, White refuses to lay claim to the beginnings of kwaito.

His partner in House Afrika, Glenn van Loggenberg, explains that with the beginnings of new music genres it takes the form of a zeitgeist. This is certainly true in terms of the birth of kwaito.

At the same time, M’du and Spikiri were experimenting late at night at Coolspot Recordings with a similar sound, as were Bruce Dope and Thebe.

House Afrika became the place where these young producers and DJs, who would go on to become legends in South African dance music, met to hang out and consume music.

“Then 1994 happened and we were free,” says White, taking up the story. “Suddenly there were all these new radio stations like YFM and they were playing the music f the people. This increased the public demand for house music in particular.”

Again seeing a gap in the market, House Afrika decided to take another chance and put out the very first house music compilation – Fresh House Flava Volume 1. It was done in 1998 in conjunction with DJ Fresh who was YFM’s drive time DJ at the time and immensely popular.

“It sold over 100 000 units in a very short time and it surprised the hell out of us,” admits White.

Realising the huge demand for house CDs, they released compilations with Vinny da Vinci, also a partner at House Afrika, as well as Oskido’s Church Groove series.

Says Oskido: “Tim and Vinny have always been the leaders in the house genre, first by supplying the music via the shop and then via the label. This is what shaped our music industry. Elements of kwaito come from house so therefore without us gaining access to those records via House Afrika, I don’t know how we would have been inspired. We bought the records from them and these records were instrumental in shaping the way music is today.

“People like myself, Glen Lewis and DJ Fresh all collaborated with them and not only did they sell big, they also got the nation dancing.”

Fast-forward to today and van Loggenberg believes that House Afrika’s strength lies in the fact that they remain a specialist boutique label which “will not put s*** out”.

They carefully select the tracks for the House Afrika 5 album which highlights new South African talent. Their latest release has 44 new producers all of whom have recorded “house gems”.

Says van Loggenberg: “South African house music is a beautiful, free, raw emotion. If it becomes too commercial a sound, we will steer away from that.”

House Afrika 5 is a big festive season release.