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Culture, Music


by Hugh Upsher / 16.09.2015

How can you tell when a music act is truly blowing up? It seems like every other month a local act threatens to crack the elusive international market, but how close do they really come? Music bloggers are guilty of time and time again hyping acts as the next big thing to their readers. Romanticising and blind optimism sure is great, but let’s get real for a moment.

Judging the popularity of our local acts is increasingly difficult to pin down. Being a ‘signed’ artist means little in today’s market as the record industry is virtually unrecognisable from 15 years ago. The legitimacy of the SAMAs is put in question year after year. Almost no one is publicising how many album sales they’ve made because it would most likely be a very depressing number. An act’s Facebook and Twitter followers could be a fair gauge but when 18 000 Twitter followers cost $15, it is far from a fool proof system.

There is one measurement that is kept within the Google search engine, hidden from plain view but fully accessible if you’re interested. Google Trends displays comparative search volumes over time. This system is not perfect as it is purely based on how many people search a particular term using Google, but that in itself should tell a story.

Getting your bearing within the South African music landscape as a whole is impossible due the fact that it is still incredibly segregated by cultural lines, but I have laid it out below to the best of my white boy knowledge. To help me put things in numerical perspective I chose the most average artist I could think of to use as my yardstick: Toya Delazy. The following stats cover global Google searches from the beginning of 2012 to August 2015:

Indie Darlings
Petite Noir, John Wizards, Al Bairre & Matthew Mole
Even though these bands have got their feet wet in international waters, they stay mostly under the radar compared to your average South African pop star.


Indie Darlings

The Fokof Empire
aKing, Fokofpolisiekar, Van Coke Kartel & Die Heuwels Fantasties
Despite exhaustive tour schedules and branching out into craft beer, the Fokof Family seems to remain comfortably behind the boerewors curtain.


The Fokof Empire

Afrikaans is Groot
Snotkop, Kurt Darren & Booby Van Jaarsveld
The steady ship of Afrikaans pop sails along with Kurt Darren edging above Bobby Van Jaarsveld thanks to him making headlines by crashing his bakkie into a ditch after one too many Brandy and cokes. That’s one way to stay relevant Kurt!


Afrikaans is Groot

White Radio
Jimmy Nevis, Jeremy Loops & Beatenberg
This category illustrates that extensive radio play doesn’t always translate directly to Internet searches.


White Radio

White Hip Hop
P.H. Fat, Jack Parow & Christian Tiger School
Jack Parow is the first artist on my list to bust over the Toya Delazy watermark. P.H. Fat doesn’t seem to exist outside of being music festival favourites. While electronic producers Christian Tiger School remains firmly in the niche category.


White Hip Hop

On the Decks
Goldfish, Black Coffee, Oskido & Euphonik
This is where things start ‘popping off’. Oskido and Black Coffee having the strongest showing. Globetrotting jazz jammers Goldfish sit just below the Delazy line.


On the Decks

Hip Hop
Okmalumkoolkat, Riky Rick & Khuli Chana
Khuli Chana being accidentally shot by police in 2013 will most likely be what he is remembered by. The popularity of Okmalumkoolkat has been flying up due to the ridiculous amount of collaborations he has hustled together over the last 18 months.


Hip Hop

Huge Hip Hop
K.O, AKA & Cassper Nyovest
If you were wondering why AKA, K.O and Cassper Nyovest were not on the previous graph, it’s because they have flown off onto another level of fame that is incomparable.


Huge Hip Hop

National Heavyweights
Cassper Nyovest, Mi Casa & Zahara
To contextualise the rise of Cassper Nyovest, he is now on Zahara/Mi Casa levels of popularity. In fact, the last twelve months He has cruised way over these artists who make my Toya Delazy yardstick look like a blip on the radar.



International Fun Bag
Cassper Nyovest, Die Antwoord, Foals, Milky Chance

So we can now conclude that this Cassper guy is blowing up based on the interest he is receiving online. He is a big fish dominating a small and shallow pond. Let’s now lay it out on an international context from January 2014 when he started building up steam. For comparison, I brought in South Africa’s proudest export Die Antwoord, along with last years RAMfest headliner Foals, and this years Rocking The Daisies headliner Milky Chance.

I’d be lying if I told you I had a defined agenda with this, as I had no idea what the results of these experiments would yield. Feel free to do your own tests if you are wondering why I left out The Parlotones or Heinz Winkler. One conclusion is that exploiting American culture to South Africans (AKA) can be just as fruitful as exploiting South African culture to Americans (Die Antwoord).

Another conclusion is that Rocking The Daisies should take notes from Oppikoppi and consider making the circle a little bigger by squeezing in a couple more artists that are relevant outside the white comfort bubble. If they need help figuring out which trust fund baby’s creative project to bump off to make room, they can give me a call.

International Funbag

International Fun Bag

Images © Google Trends

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Am I the only one that saw Toya Delazy as a one hit wonder and never thought about her longer than three weeks after the single release?!

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you once again for boosting all the record label artists….(yawn) There are probably maybe two to 3 independent artists on this list so surely the labels push their marketing and thus Google keeps these stats and majority of the record labels pay for adverstising?!

    Did you know that artist or should I say labels pay for SAMA nominations (Fact)!! You should write an article about that.

    In fact you guys should spend more time researching the bullshit that is SAMRO and how much money they are stealing from this country or why they pay such huge royalty amounts to international collection agencies like BMI. Your magazine has such a huge audience in SA why not get someone to do proper research on how SAMRO is fucking this countries music scene up!

    Does no one find it strange that record label executives like Jay Savage sit on the board of directors for The South African Music Rights Organization? But wait let me read which SA musicians are actually famous!!!

    Start putting a couple more articles about why the SA music scene is struggling with royalty issues,entertainment licenses for venues and a few serious topics.

    Toya Delazy is famous……record label pop singer that supposedly stole her first hit from someone else and whos grandfather is Mangosuthu Buthelezi – Leader of The IFP ( Suuuure that didn’t help)

    The Fokof Empire-Is famous because they play to the same Afrikaans market in this country. Lets be honest have you heard some off these guys new music ( Die Heauwels, Van Coke, Aking. It sounds mainly like lame pop rock but wait If I add Van Coke to my name maybe it makes me a little bit harder! Also companies like Hill Top Live who book Oppi always use these lame Afrikaans bands…. Dont forget the power of racial biase that is still prevalent in SA music.

    AKA and all these other Hip Hop cats pretend to be American, lets not forget the AKA and Casper Nyovest lovers fight oops I mean Hip Hop Quarrel.. This must have boosted there views on Google.

    What I am trying to get at is If you use Google to see who is famous you are an idiot. These are the real reasons why a few of these people are famous.

    This has to be one of the worst articles I have ever read. As a South African music insider you truly dissapointed me with this lame article and to still say in your article “but I have laid it out below to the best of my white boy knowledge” Is just sad and pathetic and shows your backward race specific humor. You are putting an article up for public display.. make it relevant and do your research properly.

    All you did with this article was boost a couple of useless acts credibility even more. Why dont you write and article on the actual figures of how many people in this country that listen to music have access to the internet. I know the figures and you will be shocked………drops mic and walks off….turns around and flash my dick at you! suck it douche!

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  3. Sean says:

    As much as Toya de Lazy may be an “average” SA pop star an I agree with what you’re saying, I think we need to point out that Toya is signed to Sony and as such is part of a massive commercial machine that virtually ensures national radio play for at least 3 singles off her debut album. So perhaps its worth noting that it is in some more limited sense an important factor to be signed.

    In addition, I think an act like Petite Noir is likely to increase over the next few months. With a positive P4k review and an increasing overseas presence (and given the amount of money Domino have invested) he’s likely to be spiking much more (admittedly nowhere near Cassper Levels though)

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  4. Anna says:

    “Anonymous says…”


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  5. Mike says:

    South Africa’s search results are included there so still not the best proxy for international fame- if you look at “Die Antwoord” it seems to have generated a lot of local fame, and interest in a strange variety of secondary places (3rd most popular place… Belarus??!)

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  6. Hugh says:

    As a South African music insider I am sorry you completely missed the point. Your misguided comment is one of the worst I have ever read. The chips on your shoulder are weighing you down too much dude.

    I hope your band really does make it. Fuck the fat cat record labels pouring money into advertising to make people search their artists, fuck SAMRO, fuck being signed, fuck Google, fuck the man etc.

    Why doesn’t anyone listen to music that is actually Good? AM I RIGHT?!?!

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  7. me says:

    SAMRO definitely needs to be investigated. Royalty payout figures have dropped 2000% for some people who are prolific. They have a very shady thing going on there. Going from an NPO to a company; smacks of corruption. They moved to a huge new building, and they SUCK at administering copyright. Do a survey. Call up the best producers in the country and ask them how many times their pieces payed out. You guys will be shocked.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Yup about the Samro thing. Had a long conversation with Jonathan Shaw (he wrote the SA Music Business book) and he basically said that samro helps you Fokol but unfortunately it’s the best we’ve got.

    They no longer really protect copyright (apparently it’s more valid in a court of law to prove you released it first and so the internet is the best place to prove that) and they don’t actively monitor shit. Ard Matthews had to get his management to investigate 10/20 years of back logs to find where all his money went because they had filed everything incorrectly and as a result placed most of his compositions under miscellaneous.

    For those not in the know, you register with samro to get codes so that precise thing doesn’t happen. But, here’s the rub, if tracks are filed under miscellaneous – they get to keep all royalties until collected. This is how they make their money, by manipulating the system they created.

    That place is a load of shit. I’ve done SAMRO forms about 3 times in my career, none of which have ever been accepted (because they don’t explain what is properly needed, and if one detail is wrong they scrap your entry and don’t even inform you). So is the ICPA. the whole industry is very, very corrupt and as a final note most of our top arrangers and composers are leaving just so they have some way to control what they create (thanks to a lack of corruption in other countries industries.

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  9. some guy says:

    @Mahala: SAMRO needs to be investigated. Do you guys have the balls to take this on? Speak to SA producers. You’ll quickly and easily get many many stories about this theft of royalties.

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  10. just a dude on the loo says:

    I love reading how agrivated an article can make some individual’s. I guess all this online mag wants is active viewers.

    All this so maybe they can convince converse to run a campain, i mean who the fuck wants to read about tommy takies everytime they view this page.


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