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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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