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SAMA Old Bollocks

by Andy Davis / 21.04.2010

Say what?! I can't hear you

The SAMAs have come and gone and once again, and it seems the judges of South Africa’s premier music award have rewarded mediocre and derivative music at the expense of original creativity.

Judging for the SAMAs is based on 4 main criteria, all of which are far from empirical: Artistic Ability, Creativity, Production and Entertainment Value. The judging is done by a panel of “experienced and unbiased music industry professionals,” in the words of SAMAs CEO Jandre Louw. Although the Record of the Year award is determined by public vote and the Best Selling categories are also not adjudicated, the numbers speak for themselves. Everything else is decided on by the panel, which really means it’s based on their opinions. And since they had their chance to express theirs so publicly, backed up with a statuette, I’d like to share some of mine. Like how did the Blk Jks album After Robots end up a nominee on the coveted Album of the Year, when, really, it’s far too murky and inaccessible for even nominal mainstream success or even radio play? And besides, far better albums were released in the last year, say for example Tumi’s Whole Worlds or Tidal Waves’ Manifesto, which was disgracefully absent from the list of nominees.

And while we agree with the judging panel that Black Coffee was the rightful heir to the SAMA crown of Best Male Artist and Best Urban Dance Album, we have to ask why JR’s “Show Dem”, probably the biggest hit in South Africa in the last year (with a radically inclusive message in this time of racial tension) didn’t even make it onto the MTN Record of the Year shortlist? JR, astonishingly, also did not manage a nomination for the Best Newcomer award. He did however squeeze a Best Hip Hop Album nomination for Colourful, but that category was won by Tear Gas, who also pipped Tumi’s Whole Worlds. Tear Gas are talented, but their music isn’t exactly breaking new creative territory. It’s pretty straight up rapping in Vernac pushed mainstream with some catchy melodies. Still it’s a far sight better than the Urban Pop winners, Jozi, with their album Wild Life, which is possibly the most overhyped release of the year. In fact it’s hard to believe that’s Ma Brrr’s kid on lead vocals because Wild Life is a cheesy, faux-American schlock pop mish mash deriving most of it’s sound from contemporary hip hop and R&B, with lots of truetone included. In fact listening to it makes me feel nauseous. I cannot believe that album won out over the far more impressive, rootsy and original MXO release Sounds in Motion or even Kwela Tebza’s Made in South Africa. Absent in both Hip Hop and Urban Pop categories were the Pioneer Unit artists Rattex and Driemanskap. Oversight? Yeesh.

Now let’s take a look at the English Rock Awards. The only two nominees who ever stood a chance were aKing and the Parlotones, and you can guess who won it. But before we get there let’s share some incredulity at the also-rans. It’s hard to understand how New Holland, Voodoo Child and Cassette even made it onto the shortlist at the expense of say Rambling Bones (or is that Alternative? Doesn’t matter they weren’t there either), Taxi Violence, Isochronous, Desmond and the Tutus, Ashtray Electric, The Black Hotels (although they did manage an Alternative nomination). Now back to the choice between aKing and the Parlotones. The Parlotones took the prize… but egads what shit music they produce. The title track of their SAMA winning album, a duet with Freshlyground’s usually bankable and impressive Zolani Mahola, was abject, less than ordinary, yawn-inducing pop-rock with the most pedestrian lyrics and hackneyed melodies laid down in a studio, ever. I guess even Zolani’s superhero musical talent is not immune to that Parlotones kryptonite. Of course this is just my opinion here, but it’s strong, and the rampant commercial success of the Parlotones makes me ask some pretty fundamental question about the tastes, or lack thereof, in mainstream white South Africa. The Parlotones are without doubt the most overrated, undertalented wannabe globo-pop-rockers this country has ever produced. Their music is saccharine. Nooit, scratch that. Their music is phenylalanine, that stuff in diet drinks that makes you thirsty and gives you cancer. aKing are supremely more talented than the Parlotones, making authentic South African pop rock with great lyrical content, and in general offering a more innovative and original product.

Even though SAMAs CEO Jandre Louw swore that “the judges focus on the quality of the music rather than the popularity of the nominated musicians”. It would seem in the case of aKing vs the Parlotones, the judges bought into the Parlotones KFC snackbox toting hype over aKing’s more subdued Belville pop-rock stoicism.

Then the Alternative English category seemed to contradict that soundbite further, because it was scooped by the BLK JKS’ almost unlistenable debut album After Robots. Now don’t get me wrong, the BLK JKS certainly have a unique presence on stage and their live set is fascinating (if the sound rig does its job), but the only thing selling that album is the downright juxtaposition-fuelled marketing combo of a group of super-trendy and good-looking black kids playing leftfield alt jazz rock with subtle nods to kwela and mbaqanga, and their inherent promotional nous. I mean this is a band that the world were primed and ready to love, evidenced by the fact that The Fader stuck them on the cover when they had barely even launched their debut EP. So please don’t try that, “we don’t believe in the hype, we let the music do the talking” baloney. Because if that’s the case please try and explain why there were no nominations for all the bands we’ve mentioned like Tidal Waves, Kwani Experience and Rambling Bones?

Now I don’t want to be too dismissive of the SAMAs because MTN as a corporate sponsor do a lot for South African music with these awards, and with their MTN Xploaded initiative – that facilitate and support both young and established musicians to make a living through their music. And we really need a credible South African Music Award to support and reward the local industry. However, in short if the latest SAMAs (and here I’m specifically talking about the categories I mentioned above) were a barometer of South African musical success, we could infer that the current climate rewards musicians that pander to “international” trends and sounds at the expense of more original, homegrown creativity.

Interestingly, if you want to see where the real power balance in South African music lies, let me point you to the fact that the Best Selling Album was Bok Van Blerk’s Afrikaner Hart, the Most Downloaded Track was Kurt Darren’s “Af en Af” and the Most Downloaded Ringtone was Kurt Darren’s “Kaptein”.

From SAMAs Album of the Year: Big Nuz Undisputed

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