SAMA Old Songby Dave Durbach / 25.05.2011
The country’s annual music awards were arguably a fair reflection of the industry’s current status quo – poorly organized, often segregated, humdrum with occasional glimpses of class. If nothing else, it was a chance for shiny-suited and top-heavy celebs to pat each other on the backs and, apparently, complain.
With a few notable exceptions, most of the industry players made it out to Montecasino for the 17th annual South African Music awards. Besides music, recent victories for Pirates and the ANC were on many people’s lips. As Julius Malema gazed on approvingly, several winners, including Kwela Tebza (Best Urban Pop), gave shout outs to the ruling. DJ Cleo had this to offer: “What would the Samas be without Cleo? What would soccer be without Pirates? And what would democracy be without the ANC?” Successful?
Friday night’s proceedings recognised winners in some of the so-called “smaller” categories – including jazz, traditional, reggae, Afrikaans, kiddies and gospel – and was held in a half-empty Teatro. By the end of the show, most of the guests had already called it a night. There were live performances from piano prodigy Kyle Shepherd, Goldfish, Boo!, Van Coke Cartel, Freshlyground, soul sisters Leanne (Best R&B/neo-soul), Tutu Puane (Best Traditional Jazz) and Nomsa Mazwai (Best Alternative African), as well as Afrikaans oddballs like Wicus van der Merwe riding the zef train and Jay with his dizzying array of man-accessories.
Saturday night in the Sama Dome was a far more glamorous affair, broadcast live on TV and the internet. Performances included some interesting duets: Vusi Mahlasela with maskandi legend Ihashi Elimphlope and Wrestlerish with Kurt Darren. Die Antwoord did a limp rendition of “Enter the Ninja”, Waddy kicking things off as a robed, monk-like conductor, while wifey flies in slowly over the half-interested crowd. Later they accepted an award for Best International Achievement. Others like The Arrows, Kinky Robots and Zebra and Giraffe were tolerable if unimpressive. The best were saved for last – JR doing ‘Make the Circle Bigger’, Zakes Bantwini’s ‘Shake Your Bum Bum’ and crowd favourite Professor nearly bringing the whole inflatable banana-dome down.
Behind the scenes however, it was a different story. Weeks ago, when the new venue was first announced, many lamenting an end to Sun City star treatment predicted the worst. And as it turned out, they were spot on. Food for all guests amounted to bowls of chips, nuts and biltong, with a few elusive buckets of Heineken floating around. Reliable sources claim to have spotted award-winners queuing at Steers afterwards. Publicised reports surfaced of nominees being promised accommodation, only to find that not only had none been arranged, but they also had to pay for tickets for their plus ones. Some even claimed that their wallets, phones and cameras had been stolen during the ceremony.
By late Sunday night, the organizers had issued a luke-warm apology: “Events of this scope and magnitude tend to attract their fair share of challenges, particularly when a venue change forms part of the process. The SAMA organizers acknowledge that there were a number of operational and logistical challenges in the lead-up to the event that led to the inconveniencing of many guests attending the event. The SAMA Organizers would like to extend an apology to all guests who experienced difficulties with ticket collection and/or accommodation. Despite these challenges the organisers embrace the decision to bring the awards to the new venue. The organisers are committed to ensuring that these kinds of issues do not happen again.”
My personal beef isn’t with the lack of freebies (I was never in line for those) but rather with the categories. South Africa is blessed with a unique diversity of musical talent, so the event’s organisers have no choice but to offer awards in many different categories. But for the most part the event suffers from too many categories. DJ Mzi and Cleo, for example, earned three Samas for their song ‘Nababantwana’ – for Best True Tone, Best Selling Ringback Tone and Best Selling Mobile Music Download. Do they really deserve three Samas for this, even if they had to buy their own tickets for the show?
And while gospel remains a hugely popular genre here, do we really need so many categories: Urban, Traditional, Afrikaans, Contemporary Christian, African Contemporary and Traditional African Acapella? Having so many categories simply devalues those who do win. And by separating everything into English, Afrikaans and “African” (not including the “Global” awards), most of the awards are either white or black, with not many categories where all musicians can compete against each other. So although the awards claim to be about celebrating the diversity of SA music, they can’t help but be guilty of window-dressing.
As far as the winners go, there were too many to mention. In the Afrikaans categories, Peach van Pletzen was a happy man after Van Coke Cartel (Best Afrikaans Rock) and Bittereinder (Best Afrikaans Alternative). Mzansi’s most reviled moegoe Steve Hofmeyr won Best Adult Contemporary while Juanita du Plessis got Best Pop.
The English winners were a sorrier bunch. Freshlyground took Best Adult Contemporary, Prime Circle got Best Rock, Jax Panik took home Best Pop, while Best Alternative went to overseas born and based Yoav. Tattooed emo rockers Versus The Wolf got best packaging, a notable achievement considering the band did the design work themselves. Not to be outdone, the KFC Parlotones won Global Chart DVD, Best Music Video (they got two nominations) and Best Selling DVD.
Stimela was awarded Best African Adult Contemporary, Best Remix (by Black Coffee) and Best Adult Contemporary DVD. Theo Kgosinkwe took Best African Pop. In the new Reggae category, Jah Seed won for his solo album No Retreat No Surrender. Goldfish won best Global Dance. In the traditional categories, the Soul Brothers won Best Mbaqanga yet again, while the late Bekhumuzi Luthuli won Best Maskandi. Sesotho outfit Morusu made the most of the night by performing on the yellow carpet before the event and later being named Best Sotho Album.
Too few categories allowed for nominees across race, language and genre lines to compete against one other. One of them was Best Duo/Group, where the nominees were Flash Republic, Kwela Tebza, Liquideep, Prime Circle and Tumi and the Volume . Liquideep took home the prize – fair enough considering how huge and ubiquitous songs like ‘Fairytale’ have become. The duo also walked off with Album of the Year, not to be confused with Record of the Year, which went to Professor, who also won Best Male Artist and Best Kwaito. The brothers Locnville picked up Best Selling Album and Best Newcomer.
Hosts Bonang and Phat Joe did a decent enough job, especially considering that their entire routine was allegedly canned by the organisers at the last minute (and the hosts were only informed of this by sms). Joe took a swipe at Tumi – “I pirated your CD cos I couldn’t find it in stores!” It became a running joke throughout the evening. Whatever Joe’s intentions with the remark, not enough was done to address the real challenges facing the industry. While most just wanted to give shout outs to the ANC and Pirates, only Slikour had the balls to stand up and tell it like it is. While presenting Album of the Year, he urged SA radio and broadcasters to “start looking after SA musicians – we are struggling!”
Industry stakeholders lament the downturn in CD sales and the ongoing scourge of piracy both online and on street corners, while government and cops offer little but lip service to their cause. Yet on the biggest night of the year, the only question most people can ask is “Where’s my swag?” It’s hardly a surprise that the SAMAs’ credibility continues down its slippery slope.
To the organizers – in future, why not cut the categories down to a manageable number, make the awards one day-long affair, communicate ahead of time, put some signs up so people know where they’re going, hire competent lackeys instead of FHM models, and more than anything: don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
It’s a pity that despite the outstanding performances, the slick production and the overall purpose of celebrating local music, this year’s event will go down as a failure. While many had a great time, most of those who mattered on the night – the nominees themselves – did not. Nomsa Mazwai was all over the place – presenting, performing, accepting awards for her sister Thandiswa, as well as winning one of her own. “Some winners are more equal than others” she told the audience on Friday – just about summing up the entire weekend, and the state of our musical meritocracy in general.
*All images © Dave Durbach