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Zakes Bantwini

SAMA Old Song

by 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.

Die Antwoord

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.”

kyle shepherd

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.

Van Coke Kartel

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.

ihashi elimhlope



Julius Malema

Wrestlerish and Kurt Darren


*All images © Dave Durbach

12   3
  1. Tom_D says:

    Best ringtone and best packaging?! Is this some kind of witty satire?

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  2. gideon says:

    best packaging went to Versus The Wolf.
    as far as i know Versus The World couldn’t make it.

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  3. hot air says:

    Durbach criticising the SAMAs is a bit like Justin Bieber saying that the Eurovision Song Contest is crap.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Not enough is being made of Waddys acceptance speech, and everything it implied:
    ‘We’d like to thank the people in the overseas for helping us win an award in SA’.
    they were used purely for hit value, and I believe the same extends to all the acts nominated and involved.

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  5. Andy says:

    hot air… why the personal dig at Durbach’s integrity… or are you just trolling?

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  6. JM Koet$ee says:

    Good piece, thanks.

    The proliferation of categories seems to be a global practice in many spheres of culture, answering to the needs of ego-gratification for the post-baby-boomer children, the ‘my parents always told me I’m special’ generation.

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  7. Shoula says:

    Sounds like I missed a joll of note, re KFC Parlotones, you can now get Parlotones wine at Woolworths Yay next a dugga strain named after them?

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  8. FML says:

    best album packaging is such a phony category. SAMA = South African MUSIC Awards.

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  9. fresh air says:

    good piece thanks for reporting on the trailor park of sound

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  10. Etienne says:

    I think it’s “Versus The Wolf” not “Versus The World”

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  11. Andy says:

    i thought i changed that

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  12. jantjies says:

    hey shoula they already did its called “jut”

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  13. ShlongDong says:

    The Grammys actually have a best album packaging award as well. I think it’s quite a credible award, a lot of bands put effort in to giving a complete package to the listener, and that includes rad artwork, album design etc., Pearl Jam’s Vitaology and No Code albums for example. Although I’m guessing a lot of people just download or buy music online nowadays so they probably don’t care.

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  14. ShlongDong says:

    That being said, there are way too many crappy other categories. Did I hear wrong, or did the group that won best group or best album win based on an album that was actually re-released in deluxe form or whatever this year, and was more than a year old already? If so, what the fuck?

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  15. Urk says:

    the packaging will always be a wonderful enriching part of the music experience. i subjectively feel diferent about ripped albums vs the visual and tactile experience. there was a mistique about albums that were taped by 17 people before you, and finally getting to see what the real deal looks like. i show my age…

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  16. dudie says:

    oh, so if the grammys have it then it’s cool?
    the thing with pearl jam is that they actually make good music too … did anyone hear versus the wolf? what a joke.

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  17. Kap net aan... says:

    The SAMA’s has gone from ‘Proudly South African’ to ‘Typically South African’.
    What should be celebrating the best of the best, has turned into a watered down cacophony which borders on the laughable.
    Don’t get me wrong, most of the winners are justifiable –
    but over the years (this did not happen overnight) the SAMA’s has gone from an award to be proud of, to an award which is (almost) pointless.
    In my opinion, the sponsors are playing a key role in turning something fantastic, obsolete.
    And RISA’s not helping…

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  18. ShlongDong says:

    I didn’t say the Grammys were cool, I think they lost credibility sometime in the mid 90s when they decided they could sell compilation CDs and tapes of the nominees and it became a popularity contest instead of a quality one. I was just using it as an example to show the best packaging award isn’t just a SAMA thing, it’s pretty much a standard award world over. I don’t have a problem with Versus The Wolf winning, whether you like the music or not they’re tight and put on a good live show, they put a lot of effort into that album and they got rewarded for it.

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  19. OptionalTarget says:

    Thorough YAWN…South Africa, SAMAs, the debate…tell me this article won’t be written again same time next year. SAma old story indeed.

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  20. Leila says:

    “slick production” really? I watched it on TV and the production was shocking! The presenters missed their ques, the sound was terrible, the bands who performed all sounded out of tune, adverts played in the middle of performances and we could hear the presenters trying to liven up the audience after ad breaks. It was embarrassing!

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  21. jon monsoon says:

    err.. was the call for an alternative music awards event ever louder? Every other country where music is played has its standard, industry wristie-giving awards bash, sure, but then they also have an awards ceremony curated by people that actually live and LIKE music. Where categories are meaningful, the awards are achievements and the sponsors are relevant (MTN and original music?? Anyone remember how well the company that knows a lot about cellular telephony but a lot less about music’s previous foray into music went? it X:Ploaded into thin air. WHY they’re still holding this event is a detail lost on most.)
    Whatever. As usual, the SAMAs recognise best the categories that appear the most prominent in national sales charts, at the expense of the genres that are loaded with real creativity (electro and its offshoots), fuelled by real passion (metal) and representative of what’s really going on in the minds of the FANS (remember them, MTN?)
    Happily, in a turn-about of the ol’ “well if you’re so unhappy about it why don’t you do something about it” ethos – we are doing something about it.
    Who’s in?

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  22. Roger Young says:

    We’re in Monsoon. Tell us what you need.

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  23. jon monsoon says:

    @ Roger Young: just your nominations and in which categories

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  24. Kaylee says:

    Jon Monsoon, did you even arrive at all to take your media ticket to watch the event?

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  25. pointless says:

    ALL awards ceremonies are entirely about marketing and have nothing to do with merit – whether they be the Oscars, Grammies or the Samas. Paying attention to this shit means you are looking to someone else’s pre-packaged and commercially manipulative notion of merit rather than your own instinctive appreciation of an artform. That’s right, an artform, not hollow entertainment. Is it just me, or are these awards ceremonies becoming more like a Nuremberg Rally with extra irony?

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  26. jon monsoon says:

    well exactly my point..err..pointless. IF we had an alternative something to focus on, we wouldn’t be paying attention ” to this shit”, but as people that are involved in music, that like music, that support local music, we are drawn to the only public ceremony of recognition that exists. And are frustrated at the lack of choice. It’s like having only one radio station to listen to. (and let’s remember how radio is little more than “someone else’s pre-packaged and commercially manipulative notion of merit”).
    That we are forced to grumble and moan about it afterwards means we have (again) come away disappointed and in the case of the fans – feeling somewhat cheated, cos afterall music, as you say, is art, is something LIVE and vibrant and exciting, or at least it should be, or at least it used to be, before it became the music BUSINESS, before the big brands got hold of it and shaped it into their own likeness, molding it into a tool to sell more of whatever it is they are selling (incidentally – not music).

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  27. pointless says:

    No Jonny Rainstorm, we are not saying the same thing and your argument is fraught with contradictions.

    You argue that the best way to counteract corporate propaganda in music is to indulge in exactly the same narrow-minded marketing tactics that they employ. This is the same machine that wants to confine our attention to a very small number of bands and albums – so that they can sell as many units of the same thing as possible. That’s what those horribly contrived orgies known as awards ceremonies do for us. They make us lazy and complacent, arrogant in the belief that if we latch on to this broadcasted wisdom we will somehow connect with the apex of quality and creativity as a shortcut.

    The real beauty of music (and art in society overall) lies in it’s diversity. It lies in the fact that there are differing degrees of insight, wisdom and spirituality in most offerings, whether they be well-marketed or not. But to connect with this requires a bit more initiative and imagination on the part of the listener.

    Fortunately we now have the internet and the ability to draw on the opinions and preferences of many specialised tastes in a well aggregated and more expertly correlated manner. Music now has the ability to connect with each individual in a more specific and a more special way, provided that they are able to find those bands that speak to them as commercial pulp has never managed before. But it is important to acknowledge that this will be different for each person and that newer and more sophisticated means of “marketing” will be required, techniques less concerned with globally agreed merit and more in tune with art’s ability to speak more intimately to the individual. Once this means of dissemination takes hold you will see the music “industry” grow as never before, because many more people will start to see music as a more intimate part of their lives and not just something that matches the decor in their homes or immediately draws approval from their friends. That’s the kind of thing that people will willingly spend more money on.

    Ask anyone with a more consuming passion for music, anyone who spends several times the average on procuring music, and they will tell you that awards ceremonies are the last thing that they consider when deciding what next to investigate.

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  28. Kap net aan... says:

    Pointless… what the ‘rainman’ is saying is that:
    -better categories which represents an even broader scope of the ‘industry’
    – an unbiased judging ‘model’ , not based on record companies strong-arm and sponsorship interference
    is essentially what’s missing and needed.

    It is great to be recognised for your work, I know, but it does not help when there is no channel through which this could happen and it if it does, some way or the other, be absolutely meaningless.

    The ‘point’ is simple:

    Fans who admire your work should be given an opportunity/channel to show their approval.
    (currently it is record companies (embarrassingly) trying to make the last of their “selling” artists look like gods’ gift to music)

    And you, if awarded, should be proud of being recognised (not winning) and not f’kng embarrassed to be part of such a contrived shit-show.

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  29. pointless says:

    There’s a difference between getting sincere recognition for your art and having your ego stroked in a gratuitous wankfest. There’s something fundamentally problematic in elevating one artist above thousands of others as a gesture of singular merit, as a sign of absolute superiority.

    The kind of “recognition” that musicians need and which nourishes them is far more basic – good attendance at performances by people who respect and appreciate what they have to say – not some drunk numbskull who expects a raucous party because the media told him that this crowd is the latest embodiment of “the shit”.

    For decades South African music has lacked depth and diversity – a groundswell of differing ideas and approaches that can coalesce to provide substance for a unique and globally accepted national identity in contemporary music. The last thing we need right now is a vulgar kneejerk approach to “merit” which dumbs-down our ability to embrace that diversity.

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  30. Kap net aan... says:

    We’re in Monsoon. Lets’ hope to hear more soon.

    Pointless, …see you at the after party.

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  31. pointless says:

    No thanks, I’ll be at a gig of someone who wasn’t nominated.

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  32. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like Jon Monsoon wants to start a white people award show. You forget the small minority rock and metal encompasses in south africa. like, 10 percent, maybe?

    Also, with regards to the best packaging award: I got no problems with the band winning if the band created the artwork. But if I was the designer who created the artwork and then sat at home and watched some other guys go up and accept an award for it, i’d be a bit bummed.

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  33. KillaOpinions says:

    Opinions are like arseholes…….everybody’s got one!

    Packaging: the designer gets repeat business and money rather than an ugly ornament.
    Categories: raised every year but never changed nor resolved. Metal and hard rock are generally in the Alternate category. Should we include an emo category and a split between male and female rock etc? There is no argument that supports ADDING categories when almost everyone wants the number reduced. The award is devalued by the proliferation of SAMA awarded and SAMA nominated artists/designers etc.
    Judges: do we have any qualified music critics and journalists in SA. They are the judges that award the SAMA’s. If one journo dislikes you personally, your combined or aggregated score will be impacted (rubbish word, I know!). Consequently a single ass could eliminate an otherwise good submission. Unfortunately this is not provable and no example springs to mind – just an opinion.
    Critics: seriously.. go read the music reviews by international experts. Can even one of you produce a single, intellectual, accurate and musical apt review on any damn CD of your choosing that is 100% your own intellectual property/work and achieved without consulting Wikpedia or google?

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  34. KillaOpinions says:

    Sorry, just a question: what was the reference to FHM models about? I unfortunately / fortunately did not see the show, so perhaps I am missing something obvious?

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