The music died
Last year Mandoza released an album, I don’t know what it’s called. It’s true testimony to the fact that Kwaito in South Africa is not what it used to be. Dickie’s and All stars have fallen out of favor, Cavella’s are in season. The Kwasa Kwasa is now archived in the minds of those who grew up in the nineties. There are only shallow memories of Boom Shaka performances and unmissable Selimathunzi specials. Music has lost its touch, we would rather download emailed jokes and read cereal boxes>
A decade ago Mandoza (of Nkalakatha fame) was one of the hottest artists in South African history. Today he is no longer relevant. The airwaves are now flooded with so much variety, that the monopoly that some musicians once enjoyed is no longer to be spoken about. It seems that we have to accept that, if there is something that South African artist’s lack, it is not arrogance or bling (can anyone say L-Tido) but rather it is longevity. There are few South African musicians who have long enough shelf life to outlast the CD racks at Musica.
On average (and when I say average, I mean most of them), many South African artists will release one hit album or two if they are lucky. And after that they will be relegated to doing corporate gigs or becoming call center agents (Shout out to Mr Selwyn). Many of those that are in the spotlight are often there for the wrong reasons, such as Steve Hofmeyer with his rants and raves. Please note that is the only time I will mention his name in this column.
And many of those who are in the business for extended periods of time often die as broke as Zimbabwe. Its seems that its not just American’s who are living beyond their means. But all jokes aside there is a distinct lack of seriousness amongst musicians in the South African industry. In fact the term “industry” is used loosely as the current financial models do nothing to warrant it being called an “industry”. The are very little means of job creation and wealth distribution in the sector. And no one is more victimized by this that the artists themselves. Unfortunately this is as a result of their own disempowerment . Many of us grew up with “Hollywood like” dreams about being a struggling artist, who is discovered by an influential person and then shooting to fame. Those ideas are just fables that are currently as relevant as Thabo Mbeki.
The reality is that South African musicians need to start looking at their talents beyond just the creative spectrum. They need to see it as a business as well, because although South Africa’s are very kind the last thing we want to do is to have to send some SMS to donate R10 for your burial fund.
Recently I saw an interview on Hype Magazine with Slikour. And for the first time I read on in amazement as I heard the ideas of music as a business being fully articulated by a young (black) person. Someone who is in the industry. It only stands to reason that everyone one wants to make money, but unfortunately a lot of people do not know how. Many South African artists want to release an album, have a few singles on Metro or Ukhozi and sell a minimum of Ten Thousand copies and then sail of into the sunset.
Unfortunately this is hardly ever the case. Especially the part about the ten thousand copies, because lets face it South African’s don’t buy music. So it is up to the creative parties to take up the saddles and ensure their own viability as a brand. Worryingly many of our local Idols often leave this in the hands of agents and promoters, not realizing that this is as important as the music itself. The result is a mixture of bad corporate promotion and middle class thinking. The campaigns never reach the masses.
Part of the reason why South African artists find themselves in this debacle is because there is a lack of bravery amongst them. I think that many of them know how mediocre they are and as a result they want to be attached to a label, in order to make up for those recycled vocals and sampled beats. The market is tired of repetition.
There is much to be said about the culture of independent music. in fact some of our best artist are/were independent. Do you remember Skwatta Kamp singing Rau Rau. Back when hip hop was still illegitimate and Lebo was rapping on the back of a Donkey cart in the middle ofSoweto. It was not great and it would not receive an MTV nomination. But it drew attention. Subsequently they released Mkhukhu Funkshen and blew up big time. That is the kind of thinking that makes the makes people pay attention. At the risk of using a cliché we need South African musicians to “think outside the box” because if I see another music video with a rented Lamborghini I am seriously going to cancel my Chanel O subscription.