FOR YOUR DIARY AUGUST-OCTOBER

This received from Aymeric Peguillan. Especially useful for readers outside Joburg who do not see some of these bands as often as they’d like:

Dear all,

Hope this finds you well-

You might have tuned in last Sunday to check the new series on SA Jazz produced by Militia Broadcast and broadcast on DSTV´s Channel 321 Sunday afternoons at 4pm.

This series of 13 episodes of 48 minutes each will present for the next few weeks some of the best young talents on the SA Jazz scene currently. Expertly crafted and with high standards of production, each episode proposes a live set of original compositions by a lead artist and his/her band with cuts into interview with the band leader. The series was shot at a beautiful private location in downtown Johannesburg (By Library Gardens) on the 8th floor.

Eban Olivier is the founder and artistic director of Militia Broadcast. It is under his direction that this series was produced. We (Eban and I) had the pleasure to first collaborate on the 1st anniversary of The Orbit Home of Jazz in March 2015 when we filmed the entire week of the festival that took place at the time. Following this great collaboration, Eban Olivier approached Aymeric Peguillan of PEGS MUSIC PROJECTS to executive produce with him the series. We are hoping to make additional series in the future to document the fantastic dynamic that exists on the local Jazz scene at the moment.

The series will air every Sunday for the next 12 weeks with a repeat the same day later in the evening.

Artists in order are as follows:

06 AUG – Nhlanhla Mahlangu ́s DaniMali (passed – last Sunday )

13 AUG – Vuma Levin Quintet
20 AUG – Benjamin Jephta Quintet

27 AUG – Siya Makuzeni Sextet

03 SEP – Mandla Mlangeni & Friends

10 SEP – Mkizwana Ensemble

17 SEP – Sisonke Xonti Iyonde

24 SEP – Newskool Sextet Ft. Tsepho Tsotetsi

01 OCT – Andre Petersen Quartet

08 OCT – Africa Plus Fet. Sphelelo Mazibuko, Prince Bulo and Lungelo Ncgobo

15 OCT – Keenan Ahrends Quartet

22 OCT – Luyanda Madope and H3 featuring Mthunzi Mvubu

29 OCT – Africapella featuring Titi Luzipo

 

Produced by Militia Broadcast.
Directed by Eban Olivier.
Executive Producers – Eban Olivier, Lance Stehr and Aymeric Peguillan
Sound and Backline: Smack Entertainment
Editor: Greg Pereira
Final Mix: Marius Brouwer
Production Manager: Willem Van Der Walt

https://mzansimagic.dstv.com/video/mzansi-magic-music-brings-you-downtown-jazz-sessions

 

Women in music – not just ‘the singer with the band’

 

August is South African Women’s Month: another excuse for opportunists (from all political parties, and none) to celebrate deeply stereotyped gender roles, shed crocodile tears about gender violence, and ignore South Africa’s ingrained, institutional patriarchy. Elle magazine has chosen to mark the month with a special edition on Women in Music. That’s a decent gesture, and, within its limitations, the magazine does a decent job.

Linda-Tshabalala
Linda Tshabalala, reed player

Unsurprisingly, like most of what appears in the consumer/lifestyle media, any feminism is fairly lite. Paging through, we encounter Amanda Black as cover star; the fashion editor’s reflections and riffs on Ma Brrr’s sartorial style; an interview with US showbiz stylist June Ambrose; and mini-profiles of 13 other female musicians including Thandi Ntuli and Zoe Modiga. There’s also some consideration of women poets, and a back-page track listing that name-checks Makeba, Aretha (Respect, of course), Joni Mitchell, Madonna, Queen Latifa, India.Arie and Beyonce.  South African music dominates, there’s demographic and genre diversity, the interviewees don’t seem to have been forced into hideous clothing, and nor are they asked any of the obviously dumb questions, or limited (except by the brevity of the edited stories) in how they might respond. From a fashion magazine, it’s as good as – if not somewhat better than – what we might have expected.

lindelwa
Lindelwa Dalamba: music scholar

Except. (There’s always an ‘except’ or two.) Though the inclusion of DJs and a stylist offers slightly more career diversity than we usually see, Elle still reinforces the role stereotype haunting every female instrumentalist, composer, roadie, sound engineer, music writer, music scholar, lighting designer, organiser, manager, arranger, conductor and producer in the industry: ‘Can you sing?”

 

There have been many superb female vocal artists in the history of South African music, and in jazz more generally. (Please don’t call them ‘divas’; the term originated in opera but now carries sackloads of unpleasantly stereotyped gender baggage.) But as the small and arbitrary – there wasn’t room for more – selection of images accompanying this column illustrate, song is not the only thing women can do in music, and the singer/band set-up too often places women in a subordinate role, subject to the musical decisions of male musicians  – and also too often compulsorily trussed up in tight dress, cleavage and crippling shoes. Check the boys’ club bias of most instrumentalists’ ‘jokes’ about singers. Ask any women vocalists you know about costume rules and audition practices (“Wear something low-cut”; “Can you bleach your hair”; “Let’s see you from the back…”; “How about we go out later..?”).

©Masimba Sasa
Clare Loveday, composer

In most musical roles women face such pressures, but prejudice and exclusion are more marked outside singing. As blogging sax player Roxy Coss points out (https://roxycoss.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/never-enough/ ) learning to be an instrumentalist demands behaviour that runs directly counter to conventional female socialization. And until at least a third of the people in any band room are female, it’s harder than it should be to fight that. Less than a third of the women featured on Elle’s pages are non-singers; the context itself creates a subtext of ‘odd one out’.

Classical composer Sarah Kirkland Snider (http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/candy-floss-and-merry-go-rounds-female-composers-gendered-language-and-emotion/) also points out how women are pigeonholed as producing only music that directly accesses and expresses emotions – and then dissed for doing just that. In truth, some women do produce personal, emotional music. So do some men (often attracting, as Snider notes, the same kind of gendered disrespect) – and some don’t. Possibly the worst insult offered to women’s music that doesn’t fit the mould is “You compose/play like a man” – particularly when the moron offering it believes he is paying a compliment… Whether music is ‘good’ or not does not inhere in the music’s emotionality, or lack of such, or depend on the gender of its creator.

roshnie
Roshnie Moonsamy, music organiser

The discourse of the Elle interviews with female artists focuses intensely on the personal and the emotional. It would have been nice if some of the conversations had focused on the ‘how’ questions around music that any skilled professional loves to answer: ‘Tell us how you compose a song?’; ‘How do you shape your sound?’; ‘What’s it like, leading a band?’ and so on…

Interestingly, one producer does seem to have been asked those kinds of questions. He’s a man: Sketchy Bongo, filling the whole of the magazine’s regular ‘Unplugged’ arts page. The same hardworking journalist interviewed both him and the women musicians.

Nothando_migogo-200x300
Nothando Migogo, Chief Executive of the South African Music Rights Organisation

Of course, women are in music in offstage roles too, as the interview with Ambrose indicates. We have some extremely high-profile female music executives in this country too, such as Nothando Migogo pictured right.

But some roles never get written about. Think of the kitchen, cleaning and bar-service workers who keep the wheels of club life and live music oiled. It’s unglamorous, hard work, and often extremely perilous, as a 22-year-old, pregnant club worker discovered back in May. Walking home through central Johannesburg in the early hours – safe as she could manage, in the company of her brother – she was dragged off the street and gang-raped in the notorious ‘Mnyama Ndawo’ building. Her boss expressed astonishment: “It’s really painful what happened. She is a nice girl, she hardly goes out…”

And so stereotypes win out again – would it have been any less ‘painful’ if she had not been, by his definition, ‘a nice girl’? But this time, there’s a healthy added dose of willful employer blindness. He himself (or his boss) put the young woman and all her co-workers in harm’s way by not arranging safe transport home for people toiling for highly unsocial hours. Perhaps these other faces of women working in music deserve a few magazine features too?

Wms Day History
Where it all started…

And perhaps they’d get them, if we rejected, once and for all, the pervasive, reductive, pinkification of the collective fighting spirit that ought to be what we remember on August 9. Then we could sing, too…Vukani Makhosikazi

Happy Women’s Day. 

 

Stop burning libraries: what do we do when a musician dies?

There have been too many deaths in the past few weeks: Johnny Mekoa, Ray Phiri, Errol Dyers. Better if they had not happened – but they did, and stirred up reflections on our collective national response. Because “when an elder dies, a library burns” – and given apartheid’s deliberate erasure of culture and memory (forced removals, with families permitted to carry little with them; re-tribalisation under the shadow of a whitewashed parody of “tradition) those libraries are becoming impossible to restore.

Politicians respond – sometimes timeously, sometimes slightly too late – with boilerplate tributes that often sound like the same track on repeat. There may be references to how the departed “died in poverty” – as though this was surprising, despite it being the condition of a majority of South Africans, particularly those in freelance, precarious and poorly-paid occupations like music. They rarely draw a link between musicians dying in poverty and the absence of, say, universal basic income grants, or more favourable tax, zoning and subsidy arrangements for live music, or a host of other music-specific and general measures that are the policy responsibilities of those same politicians. Without political will, more libraries will burn.

The media respond with obituaries. Or they do sometimes, at least: we all still remember the shameful silence of almost every major platform on the passing of the world-famous Pinise Saul and Lucky Ranku last year. Often those obituaries are as boilerplate as the political eulogies, showing signs of, at best, a quick trawl through Google for an album title or two. If, as was the case with Dyers, Google carries little, the obituary is perforce a short one. In most newsrooms there are no specialist reporters, and increasingly no in-house archive of interviews and profiles to consult. Past stories have not been digitised; current stories are hardly being commissioned or published. The Business Day Life page no longer even carries the word ‘music’. Alongside ‘books’, ‘theatre’ and other genres is merely the word ‘entertainment’, signalling how music has been stripped of any discourse beyond commodification. In newsrooms, there is already no music library to burn.

The academy – our universities and colleges – responds hardly at all. Dead politicians get libraries and research institutes named after them; graduate students are encouraged to research the minutiae of their lives and publish prolifically. Dead musicians? Not so much. When the last playing partner or fan who remembers Errol Dyers also passes, his memorabilia will have been scattered and his life and legacy will be reduced to that handful of not entirely accurate Google entries. That library has already burned.

So of course, we have to do it ourselves. Here’s the start of a discography for Dyers, compiled from what little public information exists. With the Cape’s flowering of young bands in the 70s and 80s, I can’t believe he didn’t participate in any project between District Six in 1976 and Mantra Mode in 1991. Can any readers of this blog add knowledge – not for any commercial purpose, but just so this particular library doesn’t completely burn?

_________________

Errol Dyers: a short discography

UPDATED ON AUGUST 3,4. Thanks to Nigel Vermaas, Attiya Khan, Rafs Mayet and Jonathan Eato who provided additional information. And now to Terrence Scarr and Patrick Lee-Thorpe too. More, please!!!

(As leader)

  • Sonesta 1997 (Sheer Sound)
  • Koukouwa 1999 (Sheer Sound)
  • Best of Errol Dyers & Friends 2003 (Sheer Sound)
  • (with Hilton Schilder and Steve Newman) All In One 2009 ( Swett Shoppe)

(As contributing musician)

  • Remember – District Six 1976 (CBS)
  • Vastrap Island 1991 – Robbie Jansen (Sea Records/EWM, CDSEK 101)
  • (with Abdullah Ibrahim) Mantra Mode 1991
  • Cape Jazz 2 compilation 1997 [Mountain Records (MOU 75020)] duo Errol Dyers /Basil Coetzee : “Majietas
  • Molo Africa 1998 – Winston Mankunku (Nkomo Records / Sheer Sound, NK0010)

(with the Sheer All Stars):

  • Indibano 1999
  • Live at the Blues Room 2002
  • The World in A Guitar (DVD) 2002 with Tony Cox and Steve Newman at the Market Theatre (ANYBODY GOT FURTHER DISCOG. DETAILS ONTHIS?)
  • Dudula 2004 – Winston Mankunku (Nkomo Records / Sheer Sound, NK007)
  • Nomad / Jez 2005 – Robbie Jansen (Mountain Records, CD MOU 4484)
  • Cape Jazz 3 compilation 2007 [Mountain Records (MOU 4488)] on “Sonesta”, and with Robbie Jansen on “Alabama”
  • Musical Democracy 2013 – with the Cape Jazz Band Mountain Records MOU4747

And here’s some video too – starting with this, originally posted by Tony Cox (thanks & respect!) of him & Errol at the Officers’ Club, Claremont, in 1986. The first clue to the thing no biographies currently tell us: about his work and collaborations in the ’80s. ASTOUNDING guitar solo:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxsBSk4wPeU (at the Green Dolphin)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wixH4iQ36fE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DnfRaV091s (at Kaliedoscope Café)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DnfRaV091s (at the Market Theatre with Tony Cox & Steve Newman)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSG3ZgFenG8 (at the Crypt)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iju-uLM_zjU (with Jonathan Rubain, for Bush Radio)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPNL6f5vpos (the All in One collaboration wih Hilton Schilder and Steve Newman at the Alliance Francaise)

 

 

 

Looking back; looking forward. Salim Washington’s new album, and Paul Hanmer’s old one, both mine history to re-vision the future.

SLM-sankofa cover-13.jpg
The Sankofa album cover: art by Mzwandile Buthelezi

The sankofa bird, which lends its name to Salim Washington’s current performing ensemble, was named in the Twi language of Ghana: “Go back and fetch it”. Or, to flesh that out into a proverb: “It is not wrong to return for those [important] things you’ve forgotten.” Sankofa is one of multiple adinkra symbols, printed on the traditional cloth of the Akan people as a stylised heart shape, and it’s easy to see the linear echoes there of the bird turning towards the egg it carries on its back. Threading through all that symbolism, the message is clear: don’t forget the things in the past that can help us unfold a better future.

sankofa-Heart-Shape-Symbol
Adinkra sankofa symbol

I’ve often written in this blog about toxic nostalgia and how it infests our cultural landscape. Toxic nostalgia emerges when commentators resist change. You see it when Helen Zille hankers for a mythical, whitewashed, unproblematic past that never existed. You hear it when ruling-party politicians memorialise a Sharpeville without Sobukwe, or when opposition politicians erase Mandela the soldier and the armed struggle. The message of the sankofa bird is the opposite of that. Its beady eye looks back for precious, important things, but without illusions.

salim playing with scarf
Enter a caption

This week also marks the start of the anniversary period for another musical outing carrying a very similar message: it’s 20 years since Paul Hanmer gathered some musical friends together to take a Train to Taung (https://www.amazon.com/Train-Taung-Paul-Hanmer/dp/B0002TB35A ) the birthplace of humankind. Let’s look at how past and future come together in both.

Saxophonist Washington’s Sankofa outing features a quintet of musicians: another reedman in Leon Sharnick; trumpeter Sakhile Simani; pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, bassist Dalisu Ndlazi and drummer Ayanda Sikade (with a guest spot from Tumi Mogorosi). There are multiple generations there already. Though Washington is the elder statesman, let’s not forget that Makhathini and Sikade are not such youngsters either; they speak for the jazz era of Zim Ngqawana. Ndlazi, meanwhile, is very much of today: a member of the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band. Then there are the voices – not only young operatic voices, but the fierce poetry of Lesego Rampholokeng, now a veteran of the South African spoken word scene, but in his time a youthful prophet of ‘80s revolt with COSAW and Horns for Hondo. On this album, with Tears for Marikana, Rampholokeng brings righteously angry wordsmithing that would not have been out of place in Staffrider to bear on a too-recent atrocity: “Fire on the mountain no metaphor/But matter for more/Than just thought/Lives sold and bought/for platinum dreams…”

Lesego
Lesego Rampholokeng

What else does the CD carry from then to now? Well, repertoire, and compositions that are recognizably ‘in the tradition’, for one. Washington and Makhathini originals mix with historic tracks by Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Kirk is a good choice. Not only did he write tunes that can give any reedman a joyous stretch-out, but his mission, like Washington’s was to use good music – music for grooving or celebrating – to make people think as well. This, after all, was the bandleader who could kidnap the most banal of lyrics (“I run for the bus, dear/and while running I think of us, dear”), add gunshots, and turn I Say a Little Prayer into a mournful, angry, compelling reflection on the murder of Martin Luther King (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6-yhIUPyGM ).

Sankofa has compelling tunes of its own: the edgy Imlilo; the classic three-quarter-time Uh Oh with its expansive reed solos; Makhathini’s Supreme Light with its evocation of Trane, and more. That last is a live recording, taken from Sankofa’s Orbit session in January 2016, and conveys just how exciting the band is on stage.

But all these implicit acknowledgments of jazz tradition – references in both style and form, as well as the impressively tight yet flexibly empathetic playing – don’t get in the way of innovation. The track Oshun (another nod to that more distant past) uses voices in ways that challenge and stretch the boundaries between jazz, classical, traditional and sanctified vocal expression, creating rich, intriguing textures. Such music, serving for celebration, intellectual inquiry and social critique takes us right back to those court and community griots across Africa; the best of whom were never – ever – merely “praise singers.” And the best of them, like the Sankofa crew, still aren’t.

taung

Asserting that the old could also be startlingly new was equally pianist Paul Hanmer’s mission when, in 1997, he brought together guitarist Louis Mhlanga, drummers Neil Ettridge and the late Jethro Shasha, bassists Dennis Lalouette and Andre Abrahamse, and percussionist Basie Mahlasela for the album they christened Trains to Taung. What Hanmer’s imagination drew from the most distant of pasts was precisely those ‘dreams of forbidden landscapes’ that I wrote about a few weeks past (https://sisgwenjazz.wordpress.com/2017/07/17/let-us-dream-you-forbidden-landscape-the-storming-project-sings-change/ ).

Paul.jpg
Paul Hanmer

Taung was both a place where the earliest people came together, and the place from which they dispersed across the world: a place of Africa, not merely of the colonially-boundaried ‘South Africa’. That’s heard in the pan-Africanism of personnel and idioms: Mhlanga’s Zimbabwe-meets West Africa guitar; Mahlasela’s universal percussion; Shasha’s encyclopedia of drum styles and sounds (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IpmU5kzd7c ). Women were central to those early societies; their meetings were praised (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CozAQpN3xsE ). And yet that train was also the engine of travel, and change, and in its isitimela incarnation, suffering and separation, in the more modern history of Southern Africa. All those imaginings were on that album, which went on to be one of the longest-lived of the post-liberation jazz releases. It was also possibly the first ‘crossover’ success; not in the sense that it diluted genres, but in the sense that its discourse defied borders, in the very same way those earliest travelling humans did.

Trains to Taung gets its first 20th anniversary celebration at the Orbit on Friday July 28th, but there will be more…

 

 

“Write our own stories; own our music; be graceful.” Errol Dyers in his own words

This is a little different from the usual formal obituary: Errol Dyers’ life and music are far more poorly documented than his importance and musical skill merit, and that fragmentary story has already appeared in the press. I’m trying to compile a complete discography, but that will take time. For something much better and more personal than what’s in the papers, try to catch up with Gary van Dyk’s radio tribute, broadcast on July 22 on FMR. But in late 1999, one of the interview team for the ABC Ulwazi radio series Ubuyile interviewed Errol Dyers in Cape Town for the programme. The guitarist had a quiet, gentle voice, the tape was made in his living room with the window open to street sounds, and the ensuing tape wasn’t very radio-friendly, so we couldn’t use it on-air. His contribution, however, was precious for the context it provided. So, to add to the memories and the historical record, here, drawn out of the transcript of that tape, is an edited  (it was a long, discursive conversation) excerpt about the story of his life, in his own words:

DSC04234

 “…It’s very important that we write [the history], not let the industry write it for us. We have to write those stories; we have to do that. I’m looking at where I come from, where my grandfathers – both of them – played traditional Cape Town music, from the coons [Cape carnival troupes]. It’s my culture. It’s who I am: that’s making me who people think I am…Without the people, there’s no me. And of course without God there’s no me, because I have to look at the higher powers than me.

“…I can’t remember so far [back] how I got into music. Ever since I was alive, I was into music. My family, we were always into music: both sides. My mother’s father played guitar, he sang, and he played violin. Charles Randall. I never met him – in fact, [the] two of them I never met. My other grandfather, Jim Dyers…er, Christian Dyers. He played a banjo…As far as I can remember, before I went to school, we used to make our own trophies for musicians. Out of silver foil… Before the end-of-year festivities in Cape Town. We were too young to be in the real coons or anything like that yet, so we used to make-believe. We used to save our money also: first prize; second prize; and you’ve got to give the money.

“We used to take a Cobra [shoe polish] tin and knock nails through it… almost the same way that you used to make that tin-can guitar – and you just put a little thing there, and knock it there, and make a sound. And I think ever since that day I thought that I’m a musician.

“I liked the sound. I liked performance. I just liked it, you know, because I belonged. And it’s very important to belong. So I’ve never gone far way from that sound, from who I am, and from who the people are…It’s very important for me to be on the ground with the people, playing the instruments that they did; playing the Khoisan bow and singing.

“…There was a guy who was thrown out of our district and he was, you know, part of the Khoisan language…he used to sit there on the street, and then my mother said to him, come and live in our [backyard]. Pooe was his name. So Pooe came here…and then, three-o-clock at night, he used to have this big tin can, singing to his ancestors. I mean, this is an old guy – and never mind how old he is, his culture is older, brother: we’re talking about 50 000 years with him, or more. The first people: know what I’m talking about? The first people are from here. And we let them die, just like that. I’m part of the first people: part in blood, but mostly in spirit…

“…I’ve been listening to Xhosa music my whole life, because I love the people; love the culture. I mean, I’m just sad that I don’t speak [the language] as I would like to speak it. That’s why I don’t speak it to a Xhosa, to offend him.  But we get on…I couldn’t live in Gugulethu, because I wasn’t ‘black’ enough, but I did go and play there. I played with all those musicians, and went to jail with them…When I was 20 or so I got out and dropped somebody there – Winston, or Blackie, or Ezra or whoever was playing with you at that night. Then the cops get you, and “Kom!” You, just on purpose, they put you into a cell. The next morning they let you [out]. I mean, that is not cool, you know?

Dyers spent much time in the interview considering the exploitative nature of the mainstream music industry, and how, much as he respected the work his label was doing (“I like what it does for the music“), he felt a loss of artistic control and agency when someone else produced his work. 

“…If I could change things, I would not have recorded [Sonesta or Koukouwa]. You have to own your own culture, otherwise you lose it. But [the industry] just hears something and the thing [cash register] goes ching-ching-ching. But it’s not about money: it’s people’s culture. We have to build it up ourselves. And if you’re always going to put money into the equation, we’re also going to lose.

“Because we have to take our time and think. I mean, I look at the old beautiful songs that were recorded and that made no money for the artist: Mackay Davashe, Dudu Pukwana,Spokes Mashiane, the Elite Swingsters, Manhattan Brothers – yoh! I mean, that must show us. That’s before me and I am using that as a yardstick for the younger generation…Don’t just play anything man. Although you can play, it doesn’t make you a musician – where’s your sound, where’s your thing?

“You know, we have something here that we can call our own – and let’s keep it jealously. Even compete with the US, compete with the Europeans. You have to do that: show your passion. Show it in a graceful way. You don’t have to always fight… What I want to work on, without remorse or fighting, is just simply being graceful and do what I do – and if people like it: fine…All we have is music.”

support concert poster June
“All we have is music”: musicians came together to support Dyers last month when his health fell into crisis

Errol Charles Dyers 1952-2017

It was with great sadness that this blog learned of the death of one of the most important custodians of the Cape jazz tradition and most accomplished players of jazz guitar,  composer and teacher Errol Dyers, yesterday. I’ll post a full obituary later this weekend. In the meantime, please feel free to use this space to post your own memories and tributes if you have no other platform.

Our condolences to go out to his family, friends, and musical family. Hamba Kahle.

An Open Letter to the new SABC Board

“You have to invest in that local content. While on the drawing board, the SABC should come up with ways to raise money for the development of the content they want to serve to the public. Otherwise you keep hearing the same thing…For example, in a nation of more than 50 million people, we don’t even have 50 decent theatres or halls for people to go and enjoy music. Where do you go as a South African when you want to watch a live band play? Also, where do you take your visitors from overseas to watch a South African band play indigenous music? We need to be serious about the basics before we implement quotas that are not well researched.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/2017/05/18/ray-phiri-says-motsoaledis-90-local-quota-was-bound-to-fail-h_a_22096907/ )

Dear new SABC Board,

You’ll notice that once more, the late Ray Phiri provides the epigraph to this blog. His recent death reminds us just how woke (before that term was even invented) he was: he understood music, politics – and the way the industry worked. In mid-May this year he told the Huffpost that the 90% local quota had been bound to fail. Unlike many of his peers, he understood precisely why: no planning, no research, no investment in development, no understanding of the music ecosystem.

Now you have gone back to the drawing board. You’ve said you plan to revisit the process by which the revised 2016 ICASA editorial policies were drawn up, after complaints and a finding that there was inadequate advance public participation.

There’s a massive irony in all this. One of the 2016 ICASA findings was that there needed to be a significant increase in local content on the public broadcaster. As I noted during the earlier Hlaudi-led controversy:

731fba23d9024ba99e549e3c1baca785
Motsoeneng: the song is ended but the legacy lingers on

“… in the current ICASA local content review document, published in March this year (http://www.gov.za/sites/www.gov.za/files/39844_gon345.pdf ), the SABC is quoted as supporting an upgrade to a 35% quota for commercial radio and objecting to a 70% quota for public radio, proposing 60% and recommending ‘that this quota be implemented in stages as this will ensure that the audiences do not experience a sudden change in their experience of the radio station. SABC is of the view that increases of the local music quota should be based on music research with the public thereby ensuring that radio stations respond to listener needs. The SABC was of the view that 70% is high and will lead to loss of audiences. This proposed quota will hinder the growth of the public broadcaster.’” (https://sisgwenjazz.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/ninety-percent-local-music-on-sabc-too-little-context-too-big-a-number/ )

So, even without additional public consultation, everybody was aware that local content needed to grow but that it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s a pity the debate didn’t remain about the process and the figure; unfortunately, it was pre-empted by an act of ill-considered, dictatorial, political grandstanding.

I spoke at one point to somebody involved with musicians’ lobbying of SABC. Yes, he conceded, their initial demand had been for 90%: “But that was a negotiating position. We didn’t realise we were negotiating with idiots.”

It would be truly tragic if the new consultation process derails or moves backwards from that terrain of 60%-70% local content. There is easily enough fresh, original SA music around to more than meet that figure, and still leave room to contextualise it with what’s happening in the rest of the music world. Because exposing and discussing music from elsewhere forms part of your mandate to inform and educate, too.

All those arguments have been dealt with in detail in my earlier blogs on the subject (https://sisgwenjazz.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/why-south-african-musicians-wont-be-better-off-under-motsoenengs-sabc/ ; https://sisgwenjazz.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/sabc-90-quota-curioser-and-curioser/ ; https://sisgwenjazz.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/nationality-is-just-a-piece-of-paper-its-90-local-time-again/ ). Let’s now change focus to consider those music-industry ecosystem issues so intelligently raised by the late Ray Phiri.

First, development. Most broadcasters run some kind of talent contest, and hold this up as a development activity. It isn’t. At best, it provides a showcase opportunity, and some artists have leveraged this to significant career advantage. But development is a process, not a series of events, however glitzy. It demands investment in the continuity of music education at every level, in every genre, and at every point on the music value-chain.

Some of this requires considered partnerships between a public broadcaster serious about local music development, and policy-makers in DBE, DHE and DAC. You cannot do it alone, and your relationship with government should mean more than simply asking for money.

But it also includes SABC’s in-house development of DJs and producers, so that it’s not only a few, dedicated experts who know what good new music already exists. One of the most shameful aspects of 90% implementation was the continual, shoddy, re-treading of old (and often bad) music. And music broadcasting does not only involve playing tracks. How about more new music documentaries too? All this means more investment in staff consultation (to tap the experts you already have) and training (to grow more).

Second, the relationship with live music. It is unarguable that a live circuit, with opportunities for performers to grow from small to larger stages, is an essential element of music development. Creating live venues is not your responsibility at SABC. That rests with local government, as discussed in the recent ConcertsSA report (http://www.concertssa.co.za/event/launch-new-research-report-it-starts-with-a-heartbeat/). But, again, local music broadcasting is not merely about playing tracks. News features could discuss related issues and events – they are no less ‘newsy’ than any other economics and business topics. Note also the words ‘features’ and ‘discuss’. Your heavy reliance under Hlaudi on talking-head apparatchik commentators and media releases, rather than exploratory news features, has to end in the area of cultural coverage as in every other area. Why did I need to watch AlJazeera last week to see a news report (not just a performance in a pop show) on the phenomenon of gqom (http://www.aljazeera.com/video/news/2017/07/south-africas-electronic-gqom-music-global-170716120321942.html )? Why has the your SABC not told me about the current achievements of vocalist Vuyo Sotashe who, after his 2011 SAMRO Scholarship, went on to be second runner-up in the prestigious Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition, and has just wowed London audiences in This Joint is Jumpin’?

THIS-JOINT-IS-JUMPIN-4-left-to-right-Mathis-Picard-pianist-Vuyo-Sotashe-vocalist-Mark-Kavuma-trumpet-Ruben-Fox-tenor-saxaphonist-Michael-Mwenso-vocalist-MD
Vuyo Sotashe (2nd left) in This Joint is Jumpin’

Yes, more knowledgeable reporting costs more money. Fewer, smaller, pay rises at the very top, and better accountability over how money is spent might make more available, while more attractive programming might draw some of your fleeing advertisers and their revenue back.

Third, the meaning of ‘local’. Another shameful aspect of 90% implementation was the near-disappearance of African-continental music from general music shows. That must end. Not only is it bad politics, but it reduces the prospects of cross-continental music collaborations which can grow the industry and employment. Additionally, ‘local’ is not only a label for popular, traditional and jazz musics: as one example, the massive prestige that Paul Hanmer is accumulating as a classical composer in Europe has received no attention from your SABC; South African New Music is rarely broadcast or covered in features.

The myth on which Hlaudi’s 90% local fiat was founded is that broadcasters are gatekeepers, who can control what an audience thinks by limiting what they can see, hear and learn. The digital world means this is no longer so (and it never fully worked: even in Cold War Eastern Europe people took huge risks with clandestine radios to listen to the US jazz played by Willis Conover). The latest figures suggest that 1 in every 2 South Africans can now access the digital realm. They don’t have to watch or listen to your music choices. So what you need to do, in terms of music programming, is to entice more people to want to listen.

Oh, and by the way, to avoid disappointing – again – all those still-impoverished South African musicians who believed 90% local meant their royalties income would rise, you really need to ensure the efficiency of those administrative systems by which airplay is recorded and reported, and the speed of those systems by which artists are paid. For all his hot air, Hlaudi did neither.

But Hlaudi and his minions are gone. You do have the chance to make changes. And literally millions of us who believe in a national (not State) broadcaster living up to its mandate to inform, educate and entertain, will back you wholeheartedly if you do.

Sincerely.

 

Send your views to the SABC by 31 August 2017. Current SABC editorial policies can be reviewed at http://www.sabc.co.za/wps/portal/SABC/SABCDOCUMENTPOLICY. Written submissions can be emailed to editorial@sabc.co.za.or posted to SABC Private Bag X1, Aucklandpark, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2006; or call 011 714 9111 or 011 7149797, or fax 011 714 4508.