The basest sentimentality of a deadbeat South African music industry is that there will never be substantial enough money to sustain musicians in the global spotlight consistently as Hollywood does.
The music industry here is founded on the premise of glory and authenticity coming from a quintessential ethnic sound. Whether this is in Rock, R&B, Kwaito or Hip Hop, hearing the elements of traditional sound are what producers looks for and what the consumers are conditioned to adore.
Apartheid is a heady influence of the way the industry functions today. Imagine a time when the state suppresses every aspect of your identity. It is often said that “music liberates the soul”; “music speaks where words fail” and “music is liberation”. It is understood, as it was during apartheid, that music would be the one to send the world the message of how the South African non-whites were being oppressed. To authenticate the mournful sounds was traditional sounds. The drums spoke of a past that echoed generations born to the cradle of mankind, colonised and never given the time and opportunity to truly bask in their innate desire to exist a certain way. Singers like Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie are recognised as the voices of black people’s soul, defying political mandates to sing songs that called out the state on their governing policies. They were world renowned, possessing unshakable emphatic souls and had incredible voices-uniquely African. They made money, but never enough to, today, being recognized as formidable and powerful figures, though they were. Today, money talks.
Goodluck, AKA, Freshlyground, HHP ,Locnville, Prokid, Lira, Micasa, Parlotones, Tumi & the Volume, Toya Delazy, Seether etc. are some acts that have achieved incredible success both in South Africa and abroad. However, they have immense followings in Europe and USA specifically.
Seether is considered one of the leaders in rock music in USA, being one of South Africa’s earliest exports with an intense heavy metal-meets-Daughtry sound.
The Parlotones are Germany’s favorite repeat offenders; often touring the nation regularly as their ‘Panic at the Disco’-meets-Arno Carstens sound is beloved.
Acts like Goldfish and Goodluck are two different bands that have taken South Africa’s house genre and infused pop music using rave-adjacent mixing methods, and now tour the globe with their songs now recognized as party anthems.
Nonhle Beryl is a powerful South African-born performer who resides in Germany and after her success with the touring world production “The Lion King”; she is now a contestant on the German version of “The Voice”.
Freshlyground uses orchestra instruments with traditional rural rhythms and lead vocals that have garnered a Grammy nomination. They are truly wonderful and songs like “Potbelly” and “I’d like” are considered SA gems. When South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup and needed an anthem, Freshlyground worked alongside Shakira to make “Waka Waka” which was a melding of the world, as seen in the video.
Hip Hop acts like HHP and Prokid are rappers who utilize their “mother tongues” to better lead Hip Hop in South Africa into a path of non-conformity.
AKA is an arrogant controversial rapper who opened for world acts like Snoop Dogg and Kanye West, and despite twitter rants and obnoxious public statements, he is talented.
Locnville is descendant from the great Charlie Chaplin and are considered American starlight’s despite being South African. They opened for Justin Bieber and are regularly featured on Billboard Top 100 and MTV Music Awards.
Thandiswa Mazwai is one of South Africa’s most recognized musicians. She physically manifests as the epitome of contemporary African indifference and a person who revels in her traditional culture. Her music is all over the globe and she has performed alongside Stevie Wonder and other greats too , like Hugh Masekela.
Toya DeLazy and Tumi & the Volume are two effervescent hip hop acts with the enunciated American gloss. I love their music though I know their true success will only be recognized through their eventual international acclaim. Last, but certainly not least is MiCasa and Lira, two acts who performed at United States of America President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. How gnarly is that?! The simplest way to describe them: Wonderful.
Okay, after all that my point was that these are just the known acts in South Africa recognized through a disparity between the “successful” and “up-and-comers”. The money doesn’t come predominantly from CD sales because South Africans seem like they have a weird aversion to legitimate buying, and piracy is a huge issue here. (God Bless iTunes right?) Street brands and event companies hire musicians for brand-building party events (think “Stay Fresh Saturday” by Head Honcho) that emphasize maintaining the South African motif. Money comes from those ticket sales. It would seem like one needs to imitate or ride the fumes of international acts to get to the top of the ladder, tour abroad to spread your name and sound, or have substantial endorsements to promote your brand. I guess one can say the saving grace of our music industry is our radio shows: specifically 5FM and Metro FM.
One of the successes of music industries abroad is their MANY music festivals. My dream in life is to attend these festivals because of the many new acts that pop up, specifically in the Indie/Folk. Rock/Alternative genre:
Glastonbury Music Festival
Rock in Rio
Ultra Music Festival
Made in America
We have the:
Up the Creek
Color Me Crazy
Cape Town International Jazz Festival
Rocking the Daisies
Pink Loerie Mardi Gras
Grahamstown National Arts Festival
Despite all this, remember only this: South African music is unique and it sounds really good if you take the time to listen to it. Think of this as your time to adopt a Hipster mentality-Defy the norm and listen to SA music!