Dream On Msholoziby Diane Coetzer / 25.11.2009
It was when the maskandi man clung defiantly onto the mic, boldly ignoring the calls of Minister Collins Chabane to, “give someone else a chance”, that we knew that Jacob Zuma’s appeal for unity in the music sector was falling on deaf ears.
The man’s unstoppable rant against the media’s disinterest in maskandi (at least I think that’s what it was because he spoke in Zulu and yes, I confess, I don’t speak the language) was probably spurred on by Zuma’s earlier statement that, “We have sent (sic) the potential of the rural music sector given the success of maskandi artists and others.”
It was just one of the nuggets of information dispensed by the president to those who had dutifully assembled in the Sandton Convention Centre last week. But most who appeared seemed too busy discussing the food on offer to caucus around exactly what they wanted out of, “the President’s interaction with the cultural sector”.
To be fair, the television sector seemed to have something approaching a unified presence at the gathering: Desiree Markgraaff of the Independent Producers’ Organisation (IPO) stood up in the Q&A session and passionately appealed to Zuma for an urgent examination of Intellectual Property and copyright issues in her industry.
But whether Markgraaff’s plea will make a dent was impossible to discern: astonishingly with the SABC’s financial meltdown directly causing the closure of many production houses who are owed big pots of cash and have no reliable work ahead of them, Zuma chose instead to rail against, “blood and violence and sex on television”. Clearly ignoring the mass of evidence that points to strong parenting as key to instilling values in individuals. Zuma was quick to hit easy emotional buttons by declaring television to be directly linked to South Africa’s problems with violence.
And he didn’t stop there: using a platform designed to, “open a conversation” with the creative sector, Zuma made a play for a moonlighting job as a commissioning editor by sternly saying, “the local content we want to promote is not scripts that misrepresent us as the South African people! Any misrepresentation of our culture for commercial gain is harmful and unacceptable. I need a full day to engage the industry on this matter and my concerns about it!”
Ouch! But then again, when she introduced Zuma, Minister of Arts and Culture, Ms Lulu Xingwana, described him as a, “musician and composer”. Oh yeah. We forgot until the audience started singing it that our president gave us the chart-topper, ‘Umshini Wami’ making him actually also part of the sector that he was there to address.
You would think then that, being a man of music, Zuma would get his references right but when that old chestnut came out it was confused. “We have heard the requests of our artists for government to assist with the protection of intellectual property rights,” said Zuma. Fair enough. “We have classic cases of South African artists being robbed of what is rightfully theirs, for example Linda Nsele and his famous “Mbube” song.”
Huh! Linda Nsele? Unless I’ve missed something radical, wasn’t it Solomon Linda who wrote “Mbube” with the Nsele surname belonging to his daughter Elizabeth? Then again, as the maskandi man seemed to suggest over and over again, what does the media know?
To his credit, Zuma brought a heavyweight lineup of backing singers in Ministers in the Presidency Collins Chabane and Trevor Manuel, Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa. They were there to answer questions around piracy, tax, IP rights, and more. All of these are pressing issues for creative workers.
But hang on, when it comes to government’s interaction with the creative sector – and specifically the music industry – creative workers really does seem to be code for black creative workers. Or, to be more politically correct, musicians representing traditional, gospel, jazz and late 80s township pop.
The closest the Sandton “interaction” got to a voice from the pop and rock genres was the image of David Bowie that adorned the back of some guy’s fashion shirt and it didn’t appear that the wearer was there to speak on behalf of bands that may take their inspiration from Ziggy Stardust. Not even white folk representative regulars – aka PJ Powers – made an appearance. It could be that it was a lack of interest that meant that for every Chicco, Penny Penny or Lebo M there was… um, no-one. And in the days after the gathering, everyone I asked if they’d known about the event said, with a wink, that their invite probably got lost in the mail.
Maybe youth is also the dividing line. Those always sharp looking Kwela Tebza boys seemed to be the only representative of the country’s young. Questions from the floor were dominated by older musicians and those with individual complaints about a studio somewhere that, dammit, has been bought by someone who doesn’t want to record gospel music anymore, can you believe it?!
Lebo M bemoaned the lack of proper managers or legal advice and Chicco made the insane allegation that, “there used to be five million people living comfortably from the music industry and now there are only 10 000”. Then making the (not so insane) request for a police unit dedicated to piracy.
Actually, Chicco’s figures could be right for all we know, but nitty gritty substance was woefully absent from the Sandton Convention Centre’s ballroom. In the end, Zuma’s interaction boiled down to a handful of genuine issues making it to the surface. For the rest it was an opportunity for small-minded individuals to moan and tussle about who would speak on behalf of the provinces that left even Zuma spluttering into his sleeve.
The shambolic representations from the floor also made a mockery of Zuma’s call for unity. “Government can play its part, but there is a lot of work that must be done by artists and the private sector to improve working conditions in the industry,” Zuma admonished those present in his opening speech. “We would like to urge artists to unite. It makes it difficult to work with the sector as there is no single structure that government should work with. Unity will also enable artists to engage the industry, especially recording company to discuss desired transformation. We know that this sector is very individualistic, but working as individuals will not improve your bargaining power. All the issues we have raised which require further work, necessitate the existence of an organised formation. We will therefore keep on reminding you about this need to organise yourselves.”
Dream on Msholozi.
In an industry where retailers are falling by the wayside (the ironically named but important Reliable Music, and MFP this year alone), where the SABC’s airwaves are stocked with DJs whose music world contains little more than their or their mate’s DJ mix albums, where Sarral is set to implode after one of their own members’ persistence resulted in a damning legal judgement, where collecting societies are scrapping over broadcast licenses, and where most artists and media are happy to work within a single, safe genre, there’s hardly room for much agreement and unity or even plain niceness. For a “sector” built on making ordinary folk feel good, the irony is plain to see.
To read Zuma’s full speech, click here.