Catalyst or Detonator? Local Music Quotas and the Current South African Music 'Explosion'Gary Baines
Department of History
Originally published in "Social Dynamics", vol. 24, no. 1 (Winter 1998), pp. 66-87.
A journal produced by UCT's Centre for African Studies.
Reprinted here with kind permission of the author, April 1999
A number of commentators have recently claimed that South African music has come of age. The quality of local music is said to be improving and the quantity increasing. Indeed, it is regularly reported that the country is experiencing a music 'explosion'. However, this is not the first time that there has been talk of a music 'explosion'. The phrase was also bandied about during the 1980s. Top 40 magazine, for instance, proclaimed the start of a local music explosion at the end of that decade. That proved premature. Now the monthly music magazine is once again carrying features on the South African music 'explosion'. Is this merely media hype or is the country's long-heralded music explosion finally upon us?
In the past few years there has been a spate of new signings of local artists by the record companies and a plethora of new releases. There are undoubtedly far more local titles available in music stores than was the case previously. But such observations are not conclusive proof of a music explosion. Is there data to establish whether there have been changes in the purchasing patterns of consumers, and whether they are buying a greater proportion of local music than a few years ago? What exactly is the extent of the current boom in the music industry? And, in astronomical parlance, will it prove to be a big bang? Will it cause sustained growth in the music industry?
Aside from seeking to verify whether there is a boom, the paper will seek to understand the causes thereof. Is the South African music 'explosion' possibly due to the reregulation of the broadcast industry and the introduction of local music quotas? Despite the apparent vindication of those who advocated local content, any correlation between the introduction of quotas and the South African music 'explosion' cannot be simply assumed; it must be proven. Did the introduction of quotas provide the catalyst for the South African music explosion? Or is it simply one of a number of causative factors? Is it contingent upon changing economic, social and political circumstances in the new South Africa?
It is probably no coincidence that the music 'explosion' has accompanied South Africa's transition to democracy and fully-fledged membership of the international community. These changed circumstances may not have contributed directly to the music 'explosion', but they have created a general climate conducive to the construction of a new national identity. Citizens have developed a pride in South Africa's achievements and accomplishments, whether on the sports field or stage, or in the theatre, music or other arenas. The African National Congress (ANC) government has signalled its intention of adopting an "arms length" approach to the promotion of South African arts and culture. The Department of Arts, Culture, Science & Technology (DACST) sees itself facilitating and enabling civil society (with the co-operation of the business sector) to develop cultural industries, including the music industry.
While cognisant of the wider context, the discussion which follows will focus on the respective roles of the recording companies, the media, and the broadcasting sector in the South African music industry.
The role of recording companies in the music industry
Despite South Africa's political isolation since the 1950s and the United Nations cultural boycott during much of the 1980s and early 1990s, the country has been situated within the global capitalist economic order and communications network. Like 'smaller countries' the world over, South African markets are flooded by a disproportionately high volume of Anglo-American musical products (Wallis & Malm, 1986). The competition from overseas experienced by local artists was compounded by conditions under which they laboured at home. The impediments imposed by the apartheid regime, especially on black artists, included restrictions on movement such as pass laws and curfews, as well as restrictions on where they could perform. Apart from being excluded from certain venues, black and white artists were also forbidden to perform together when laws such as the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act was on the statute books. This led to many farcical situations where artists conspired to subvent the letter of the petty apartheid laws. In some instances this might have been comical, had it not been for the fact that the state violated the basic human rights of South African musicians.
South African recording artists were also defrauded of their intellectual property rights by record companies and their personnel. Crooked agents, promoters and producers often took advantage of the ignorance of artists about copyright law. This resulted in many musicians, especially illiterate black artists, being grossly exploited by these companies. They were invariably paid once-off session fees for making recordings and signed away copyright of their songs. This was the case with many artists who recorded for Gallo Africa, the oldest locally-based recording company. According to one source, the local industry has been guided by the maxim: "Record as much as possible as cheaply as possible, and see what works". Successful artists' earnings were seldom commensurate with sales. It is only in recent years, through the offices of the Association of the South African Music Industry (ASAMI), that efforts have been made to trace and provide restitution to the rightful owners of published music for lost royalties.
Aside from exploiting them, the local recording industry has not been prepared to invest in South African artists. In fact, local record companies with contracts with the major labels and international artists have relied heavily on sales of overseas artists in order to generate turnover. It is estimated that 80% of royalty revenue leaves the country annually through licensing agreements that South African recording companies have with international ones. It is alleged that a local subsidiaries of international record companies channels most of their profits into offshore investments. Music industry insiders contend that elsewhere in the world there is a preparedness to make a long-term commitment to an artist; to develop careers; to expend time and money promoting an artist. But South African companies were loathe to plough their profits from the sale of international artists into the promotion of local ones. Instead of having to launch a career from scratch, they preferred to participate in a worldwide campaign to promote an international artist by simply doing their bit in the distribution of promotional packs to radio stations, as well as music retail outlets. This was because overseas stars were more likely to ensure a profitable return on investments than a South African artist.
Given the economies of scale, South African artists have always measured commercial success in terms of being able to record an international 'hit' or, at least, secure a recording contract with a major overseas label. There have been occasional international successes for South African artists. Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes reached #2 in the UK charts in 1958 with the kwela number entitled Tom Hark, Four Jacks & a Jill had a US Top 10 hit in 1968 with Master Jack, the all-girl group Clout had an international hit in 1978 with their cover of Substitute. Since the 1980s a few artists such as Johnny Clegg and Prophets of da City have secured recording contracts with international labels - and not merely the South African subsidiary. Likewise, the reggae artist Lucky Dube has recently signed a lucrative contract with Motown. But for the most part, local artists have had little chance of an international breakthrough. Despite having "paid their dues" (for which read: they had gone through a long period of acquiring experience and expertise as performers on the local circuit and deserve recognition and success), South African artists have invariably failed to achieve star status abroad.
Yet, South African musicians made their mark upon world markets long before the invention of 'world music'. Between the 1950s and 1980s a number of South African musicians went into exile to escape the political repression and economic hardships of apartheid. The country lost the talents of some of its most promising artists, some of whom managed to establish fairly successful careers for themselves whilst in exile. These included vocalist and anti-apartheid activist Miriam Makeba, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, and pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly Dollar Brand) who all came to be highly regarded amongst the international jazz fraternity. Masekela holds that some South African artists are better known overseas than in their own country. Many exiled musicians of his generation received lukewarm responses from local audiences upon their return for they were virtually unknown to the younger generation. Even those musicians who have remained domiciled in the country, have often received greater acclaim on overseas tours than from audiences at home. Johnny Clegg, for instance, attracts much larger audiences in France where he is known as Le Zulu Blanc, than he does in South Africa. Johannes Kerkorrel sells more albums in Belgium than in South Africa even though his lyrics are in Afrikaans. This would seem to bear out Masekela's contention that the true worth of homegrown South African musical talents - like prophets - is not always recognised in their own country. It also suggests that local recording companies do insufficient to promote South African music at home.
During the period when the UN cultural boycott was (supposedly) enforced, South African recording companies missed an opportunity to promote local artists. Although the 1980s saw the emergence of some new acts such as Lucky Dube, Brenda Fassie, Sipho Mabuse, and Ray Phiri, this owed more to the growth of a new generation black township audience with some buying power than to active promotion by recording companies. Most foreign labels still continued to license their artists to local companies which did not have to develop local content as a matter of self interest or sheer survival. The producer and impressario, Grahame Beggs, maintained that during the years of sanctions "everybody had their comfortable arrangements, where they knew that none of the major companies was likely to move from an existing manufacturer or record company represented in this country". Thus there was no need for South African record companies to have to develop local talent because there was no real danger of their licenses from overseas being terminated or restricted, or the overseas artists refusing to have their records played in South Africa. In fact, not many overseas artists complied with the cultural boycott and refused to have their records sold in South Africa. A few such as Peter Gabriel, Midnight Oil, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Peter Tosh, and Little Steven (van Zandt) proactively supported the boycott. The lastmentioned organised Artists United Against Sun City to distance themselves from fellow artists who were prepared to perform at the bantustan venue in violation of the boycott. Despite such attempts to promote solidarity on the issue, by far the majority of artists took no steps to prevent their records being distributed in South Africa.
It has invariably been the independent record companies that have 'discovered' local artists and given them their first recording contract. The Durban-based Third Ear Music was one such independent company which put its limited resources behind the promotion of South African music. The Johannesburg-based Shifty label was responsible for launching the careers of Amapondo, James Phillips, Jennifer Ferguson, Johannes Kerkorrel and other artists. Certain artists in the Shifty stable were regarded as controversial because of the 'politically sensitive' nature of their lyrics and subject matter. They endured harassment and victimization by the apartheid regime. When the law could not silence these artists, state agents employed 'dirty tricks' to ruin concerts and public performances. The irony was that the more vulnerable independents had to take political and financial risks precisely because they sought to promote South African artists, whilst the more secure bigger record companies played it safe by not alienating the government of the day.
For historical and demographic reasons, South African music markets are divided along lines of race and language, as well as age (and gender?). Given the size and segmentation of these markets, sales are seldom large in absolute numbers. An album must sell in excess of 25 000 units to be certified 'gold' and 50 000 units to become 'platinum'. The biggest selling South African album ever is Lucky Dube's Slave which is said to have sold some 500 000 units. But it is usually only acts which sell to black and Afrikaans-speaking audiences which attain platinum status. Popular gospel singer Rebecca Malope's album Uzube Nam' won the 1997 South African Music Award (SAMA) category for the best-selling album. It was the only album to achieve multi-platinum status. Other recent big sellers have been releases by Leon Schuster, Laurika Rauch and Steve Hofmeyr, all of whom sell to a predominantly Afrikaans-speaking market. The sales of Schuster's previous album Hie Kommie Bokke looks set to be eclipsed by his latest offering, Gautvol in Paradise, which is the first South African album to have advance sales of 100 000 units. Schuster's brand of novelty muzak-humour might be slated by the critics, but such sales are as important to the development of the music industry as those of critically-acclaimed artists.
Apart from being segmented by language, the white market is relatively small in absolute terms. Until recently even the most successful white rock band had little chance of selling more than a few thousand copies of an album. Even in instances where such acts received considerable airplay on the national English-language music station 5FM and was top of their playlist, they seldom sold more than a few thousand units; and then such 'hits' were few and far between. But this appears to be changing. Just Jinger has recently been awarded a 'gold' album (for sales in excess of 25 000 units) for All Comes Round. This is apparently an unprecedented feat for a white rock group. There is also a pack of bands led by the likes of the Springbok Nude Girls, Squeal, and Arapaho which notched up considerable sales with their debut albums (or EPs) and appear set to improve on these figures with their subsequent releases. It is only in recent years that white students and teenagers have been buying local music in sufficient quantities to fuel expectations of a South African music 'explosion'. Whilst I have not been able to obtain a breakdown of current sales, anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been a turnaround from the low of 1993 when sales of South African music comprised a mere 17% of total sales in 1993.
Local repertoire is sold primarily in the form of cassettes tapes. The pre-recorded cassette is bought mostly by black consumers as it is cheaper than the CD format. But a significant shift towards CD is occurring. CD sales comprised over 62% of total international repertoire sales in 1994. This market is primarily the white middle and upper-income groups who have sought to replace their vinyl collections. It is unlikely that their purchasing patterns will shift from the familiar overseas acts and 'golden oldies' which are the staple fare of certain radio stations. But music consumption patterns are gradually changing. The percentage of local repertoire sales in the CD format increased from 4,8% in 1992, to 7,97% in 1993 and 13,57% of total local repertoire unit sales in 1994. This seems to suggest that an emergent black middle class with disposable income has entered the market for CDs. It is also possible that the younger generation of consumers - both black and white - have begun to change formats. The production of the CD plant known as Compact Disc Technologies (CDT) has increased from 1,7 million units in 1991 to nearly 9 million in 1995, which accounts for 85-90% of the domestic CD market. CDT is jointly owned by Gallo Africa, Tusk Music and EMI Music (SA) has recently obtained an international award for the quality of its product and invested in its own mastering unit. Having virtually reached full capacity, CDT will be shortly supplemented by a Sonopress plant owned by BMG Entertainment.
One would expect that the music 'explosion' would show a concomitant growth in the industry. Have the number of employees in the record industry increased of late? The indicators appear ambiguous. On the one hand, international record companies have increased their commitment to South African acts. BMG has taken on new staff to cope with promoting its growing stable of local bands and Polygram has closed down its South African subsidiary, Teal, for it intends releasing local albums on the label of the parent company. On the other hand, the South African recording company, Gallo, has absorbed its subsidiary Tusk which has resulted in the down-sizing of its operations. But a perusal of the recently published Music Africa Directory 1997, an extensive although by no means exhaustive list of studios, companies, retailers, and so on, suggests that South Africa's music industry is entering a growth phase.
Historically Johannesburg has been the centre of the local music industry as it has been home to the better-equipped recording studios and record/tape production plants. But the current 'music explosion' seems to have been accompanied by a shift in the industry's centre of gravity. Recently, there has been a proliferation of independent recording studios and labels in centres such as Durban and Cape Town. Indeed, it has been reported that as much as 75% of 'recorded local content' emanates from the region of KwaZulu-Natal. Durban has been billed as the country's 'rock capital' on account of its club scene which has produced numerous bands which have come to national prominence. This reputation has been furthered by the release of the C-Weed compilation which brings together nineteen previously unrecorded bands marketed as exponents of 'Durban Rock'. If Polygram's sponsorship of this project is anything to go by, it appears that major record labels are actively recruiting and signing local bands. Sony has signed a million dollar deal with the Springbok Nude Girls who are being promoted as the 'next big thing'. The Nude Girls are only one of a host of acts from the Boland which have been celebrated by the recently released compilation CD Wingerd Rock which have been recorded in Stellenbosch's independent Trippy Grape studio. It has seriously been suggested that the Stellenbosch scene has the potential to become South Africa's equivalent of a movement in the American city which produced the 'Seattle sound'. It is difficult to imagine this dorp and erstwhile bastion of Afrikaner conservatism as a musical hub in the new South Africa. In any event, it is clear that the 'music explosion' does not have a single pulse for developments are occurring in many centres throughout the country. The decentralisation of the industry means the emergence of local music scenes with their own distinctive sounds.
Independent record producer, David Marks, is of the opinion that live performance - which he regards as the lifeblood of the music industry - is being neglected at the expense of the recorded product. Since the lifting of the cultural boycott, visiting overseas stars have filled sports stadiums and other large venues. Yet up-and-coming local acts still struggle to make a living as professional musicians playing the local circuit. Night clubs and bars which offer live acts are seldom paying propositions. There is no real campus circuit to speak of and most students seem to prefer raves with its recorded music rather than live shows. Shebeens have sprung up in some city centres and even white suburbs but these are patronised by those intent on drinking rather than listening to music. Still, groups such as the Springbok Nude Girls headline major concerts and do not merely support international acts. A recent national tour which featured Just Jinger, Amersham and The Usual sold out fairly large venues. These groups have built up considerable followings and play to wildly enthusiastic crowds. The appearance of a cross-section of local bands at the 1997 National Arts Festival programme in Grahamstown confirmed that they are major drawcards in their own right. And the estimated 15 000 people who attended the recent Oppikoppi Festival of Rock reaffirmed that there is a growing audience for live South African music on the festival circuit. The Splashy Fen and Rustler's Valley music festivals have also become features of the local musical calendar. It seems safe to say that there is an unprecedented demand for live performance in South Africa right now.
Is local lekker? South African music and the media
There have been attempts by the music industry to promote South African music in the past. As early as the 1960s, the slogan "local is lekker" was coined to contest the view of many white South African youths that "if it is foreign it must be better than anything local". The campaign sort to counter the widespread conviction that most forms of local culture were pale imitations of British and American originals. It was not very successful. But nowadays similar campaigns are able to capitalise on the growing pride in South African music. This is illustrated by the 5FM slogan which reads as follows:
We Don't Support
South African Music
Because It's Local
We Support It
Because It's Good.
Thus the current "local is lekker" campaign is making the case that the quality of South African music is every bit as good as that produced overseas.
Despite the existence of some accomplished and innovative South African musicians, local artists have invariably been compared - often unfavourably - by the media with overseas acts. Thus in the late 1960s and 1970s rock groups like Freedom's Children which produced it's own form of progressive rock music was rated by comparison with overseas counterparts. But local music - even that played by white artists - is not necessarily imitative. Whilst the music of Amersham might show the influence of Britpop or that of Just Jinger echo some American post-grunge sounds, these groups are far from derivative. The same is true of black artists who borrow from abroad. Lesego Rampolokeng's dub poetry set to a reggae beat might have the ring of Linton Kwesi Johnson about it but the Johannesburg patois and lyrical content make it distinctively South African. Indeed, most of the up-and-coming artists and groups are producing wholly original South African music. The recently coined phrase the new wave of 'rainbow nation rock', aptly describes the surge of South African acts which blend indigenous and international musical forms.
The promotion of local music - live or recorded - owes a good deal to publicity. The Australian city of Sydney, for instance, has three or four weekly magazines devoted to its vibrant live music scene and these are distributed free of charge. No South African city to my knowledge produces its own weekly - let alone monthly - gig guides. Neither is there a local edition of Rolling Stone as is the case in Australia. Nor can South Africa boast rock critics of the calibre of American writers Robert Christgau, Dave Marsh, Charles Shaar Murray or Eric Weisbard. Apart from the contributors to the Mail & Guardian's arts section, the music press in this country is relatively uninformed. An attempt in the late 1970s to publish a tabloid based on the format and style of British music sheets New Music Express and Melody Maker which went by the name Music Maker proved to be short-lived (Andersson 1981: 53). The longest-established specialist pop magazine, Top 40 provides superficial coverage which is typical of a fanzine with a mostly teenage readership. Its coverage of local music in its first decade of publication (the 1980s) was cursory and confined mainly to the already established artists rather than the new and up-and-coming ones. This has improved in the last few years and recent issues devote far more space to South African artists. The bi-monthly Music Africa, which serves partly as a trade journal, is into its third year of publication and appears to have found a niche in the market. It is, by the editor's own admission, insufficiently critical of South African music and, to my mind, pays too much attention to overseas superstars for a publication supposedly committed to promoting homegrown talent. The music boom has resulted in the appearance of a number of other new publications but it remains to be seen whether they will gather sufficient subscribers to become viable. A group of enthusiastic Rhodes journalism students have produced two issues of bandScAn which is devoted to "discovering and promoting South African music". The self-proclaimed "bible of South African music", eVibe, seems to have survived the exposure of its questionable journalistic integrity. Yet, the appearance of eVibe and other magazines devoted to promoting local music is in itself an indication of the extent of support South African musicians currently enjoy by the press and public alike.
The South African music industry obviously needs stars in order to boost sales. The media can make or break an artist's career. Artists - particularly high profile ones - are public figures and live their lives in the media spotlight. However, they often have themselves to blame for becoming casualties of the media. The one-time darling of the local media became her own worst enemy. Brenda Fassie grabbed much media attention because of the excesses of her lifestyle and earned the epithet the 'Black Madonna'. She was even accorded the dubious distinction of having Madonna's words slightly twisted and credited to her in a trumped-up interview. The local media fed Fassie's over-sized ego whilst she fed her insatiable appetite for sex, drugs and designer clothes. Her 'fall from grace' has been accompanied by a loss of creative output, declining record sales and almost all her possessions. The price of fame in South Africa, as elsewhere, is that stars become public property and are unable to escape the scrutiny of the media. And the alienation of the media can provide the death knell for an ailing career. Public relations requires professional handling if the media is to be persuaded to promote South African musical celebrities.
If the increased attention given South African music by the print media reflects growth in the music industry so, too, does the explosion of South African music on the internet. Gus Silber has noted that it has been the bands and artists themselves who have led the local music industry onto the web. The medium is particularly well suited to affording acts without significant resources or the backing of major recording companies the means to compete for the loyalty or money of those with access to cyberspace. The result is that a considerable number of artists and groups - mainly in the idioms of white rock and so-called 'alternative' music - have set up web sites. This ether network is still for initiates and is not unlike the underground music press of yesteryear. Certain sites are little more than electronic fanzines and enable artists to engage in self-promotion. A few recording and production companies have sites which provide information on acts contracted to them. There are also some fledgling electronic magazines (ezines) which seek to promote South African music in general rather than specific acts. And then national and campus radio stations - such as 5FM and Rhodes Music Radio (RMR), respectively - host sites which promote local music. And recently it was announced that the SABC, in partnership with American music producer Quincy Jones, would be launching Q Radio on the internet. This channel will target overseas audiences and has the backing of the recording industry. All in all, the profile of South African music on the internet might well provide additional international exposure - and complement efforts to promote it locally.
That all powerful medium, television, does not yet play a major role in the promotion of music sales in this country. Local record companies have invested little time and money in making music videos. Unlike First World countries where MTV is ubiquitous, in South Africa it is only seen by an affluent few who can afford satellite dishes and the subscription. Even if the mooted MTV channel to promote African music is launched, the vast majority of the South African public will be precluded from viewership. The amount of broadcast time allocated to music vidoes on SABC TV channels and pay-station M-Net is minimal. By contrast, most radio stations devote a much greater proportion of their transmission time to music. And because radio is able to overcome the literacy and financial barriers of print and TV respectively, it is the medium via which the majority of South Africans consume music. It has been estimated that the average daily radio listening time in South Africa is as much as three hours, or five to six times that of the USA. Despite high levels of pirate TV viewing, radio is still the primary medium for broadcasting music. Therefore we shall now turn our attention to the part played by radio in the South African music industry.
The broadcasting monopoly and South African music
The state of the local music industry has been significantly shaped by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)'s monopoly of the airwaves. The national broadcaster was extremely wary of the 'pernicious' moral and social influence of early rock 'n roll, especially as its foremost exponents were African-Americans. White teenagers of the late 1950s and 1960s were fed a diet of sanitised covers of this music. Censorship was employed against both overseas and local artists who were deemed politically subversive, whether in their recordings or public statements. And the only acts which received extensive airplay were those who imitated their British or American counterparts. Ironically, more South African music was to be heard on the independent Lourenco Marques Radio, which catered primarily for white teenagers, than on SABC stations such as Springbok Radio. When LM Radio went off the air in the 1970s and Radio 5 was established on South African soil to target the former station's audience, local music actually received less airtime. And the post-1976 generation of black youths rejected the ethnic programming of Radio Bantu and increasingly tuned into stations which played mainly African-American soul, disco and R&B (Hamm, 1991). Initially, these included Capitol Radio and Radio Bop which were based in the Transkei and Bophutstswana bantustans, respectively. Radio Metro, which was transmitted in urban areas, targeted a young urban blacks.
By the early 1990s, the main types of music radio stations were as follows:
- contemporary hit radio (CHR): English-medium stations which cater mainly for males in the 16-24 age group (eg. 5FM with a listenership of about 1 million primarily amongst the white population);
- adult contemporary: bilingual (English/Afrikaans) stations which spin a lot of AOR (adult-oriented rock) and golden oldies for the 24+ age group (eg. Highveld Stereo, Radio Jacaranda);
- urban contemporary - English the main medium and plays fare of rap, r&b, soul and some jazz (eg. Radio Metro with a listenership of 2,5 million mainly young urban blacks);
- Afrikaans - repertoire consisted mainly of boeremusiek and other popular Afrikaans musical idioms, with a smattering of English mainstream music (eg. Afrikaans Stereo);
- vernacular - targets ethnic/language groups and plays neo-traditional, as well as contemporary music (eg. Radio Zulu, Radio Xhosa).
Audience profiles were fairly stable. The figures for the number of listeners to radio stations which operated under the old dispensation are given in the Table: Estimated Current South African Music Levels on Radio. By far the greater number of radio listeners preferred to tune into stations which used the vernacular of specific ethnic/language groups (including Afrikaans). The total audience for these stations amounted to some 17,4 million in September 1993 compared to the 6,2 million of the English-language (EL) stations. The vernacular stations also tended to play greater percentages of South African music than their EL counterparts. Their combined percentage for the period May 1992 to April 1993 was 26,63%, whilst that of the eleven English-language stations was an average of 3,17% for the same period. The figures for the largest of the EL stations, namely Radio Metro, shows a decline in the percentage of South African music played. In this case, constant rotation of African-American genres became the order of the day. This was in keeping with a general trend whereby the average percentage of South African music played declined from 19,9 to 17,37% for all radio stations between May 1990 and April 1993.
The selection of songs for radio playlists is still often based on overseas music publications and agents. The highly competitive urban stations in particular base their playlists on information (sales figures, promotional hype, etc.) provided in the main from the USA, with Billboard magazine perhaps the most notable example of such sources. And some of the personnel working for these stations are not convinced of the intrinsic merits of South African music. It has been contended that djs and programmers, many of whom are foreign born or trained, are not too familiar with the local musical scene. This is because they do not make any effort to attend live shows nor do they bother to make the time to listen to new, untried acts. They either reject approaches to play South African music out of hand or wait until a new song is on the playlist before airing it. Before the advent of computerised playlists there were reported cases of payola, especially on the vernacular stations. The ubiquitous playlist may have put paid to payola but it has led to formulaic programming and saturation play of the Top 40 hits by commercial radio stations.
The viability of commercial radio stations hinge on the generation of advertising revenue which, in turn, depends on the size of their listenership. This is monitored by periodic market surveys. Listeners, for their part, are free to tune into stations of their choice, indulge in station hopping by simply turning the dial on their radios. Representatives of commercial radio hold that if too much 'poor' local music was played then listeners would either switch off or channel hop for they were free to turn the dials on their radios to another station. For this they coined the phrase "democracy of the dial". In submissions to the IBA, representatives of commercial stations insisted on being given a free hand to establish a certain niche in the market by promoting a particular format with appropriate playlists. They reckon that niche markets entail promoting particular formats aimed at certain age, ethnic or language groups. The proprietors argued that regulations which sought to enforce local music quotas would imperil their ability to establish a niche market.
A spokesperson for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) holds the view that radio formats were a type of market segmentation which provided the listener with the option of selecting a station which was known to cater for specific musical tastes. The IBA obviously concurred, for it explained its decision to sell off regional radio stations because there was a need to allow different kinds of radio for different audiences, with relatively light regulation that allows stations to format in a way that caters for a range of tastes on different stations.
Such diversification was seen to be consistent with the country's cultural diversity. Programme content should be accessible to as many groups as possible as South Africa is a multi-cultural society. However, the Manager of Radio 702 reckoned that formatting was not about cultural orientation but was simply good business practice. He stated that:
Formats are market driven. They arise according to the needs and taste of the market. It's not something one imposes.
In his view radio formats were determined by audiences and not at the behest of station managers and djs. But there is sufficient evidence to show that radio stations cultivate as much as they follow the choices of its listeners.
With local music being marginalised by EL radio stations, this arguably contributed to a sense of cultural inferiority harboured by some South Africans. One observer has alleged that this cultural cringe has not only affected the South African public but has been integrated into the programming, play listing and strategic planning of South African radio stations.
The impact was particularly evident amongst those of European descent. It would seem that many English speakers - more so than their Afrikaans counterparts - (sub)consciously adopted an attitude which regarded European and - by default - American music as superior. But this was not only the case amongst predominantly young white audiences. The aforementioned young black Radio Metro listeners identified with African-American performers who become their role models. Hugh Masekela reckoned that "our children walk with a hip hop walk and they think they are Americans". He referred to many black South African youths as having "an African American reject personality". This obviously overstates the case for the argument that we become what we consume but it shows that the appropriation of foreign music may play a part in the construction of hybrid South African cultural identities.
In 1994 the government of national unity (GNU) appointed a statutory body to conduct an inquiry into the protection and viability of public broadcasting, cross media control and local content. Although independent in name, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) was answerable to parliament and the taxpayer. It's report of August 1995 proposed legislation to provide for the protection of South Africa's infant music and television production industries. Following the apparently successful model of Australia whose quota system of homegrown music on its airwaves resulted in a thriving record industry, a local content programme was proposed for South African radio. The IBA ignored suggestions that local music compete in the free market but sought to level the playing fields so that the industry was afforded some protection against imported music products. As I have argued elsewhere (Baines 1996), the IBA regarded quotas as a means to affect reconstruction and development in the music industry; in other words, music for the sake of the RDP.
In spite of the IBA's financial mismanagement, it has reregulated - rather than deregulated - the broadcast industry. On the one hand, it has opened up the airwaves but, on the other, it seeks to exercise some control over programme content to ensure that South African music is played by broadcasters. The former SABC-controlled regional radio stations have been privatised and an array of commercial and community - including campus - stations have been licensed. The end of the SABC's monopoly has opened up broadcasting to newcomers. But the expanding number of local and regional radio have to comply with the local content quotas. Following a six-month period of grace, the 20% local content quotas became mandatory in October 1997 for all broadcasters which devote at least 15% of their programming to playing music. Although the IBA had not released its first monitoring report at the time of writing, early indications suggest that community and public (regionally-based) broadcasters are meeting quotas whereas commercial radio stations are struggling to do so.
Conclusion: the Future of the Music Industry
In my view, the quotas were a catalyst of the music 'explosion' in that once it was known they would be introduced this set in motion a new set of dynamics in the industry. Quotas provided the push needed to overcome the inertia within the major recording companies to sign up and invest in local artists. At the same time, radio stations started to play more South African music in order to prepare for the implementation of quotas. Yet, whilst the introduction of local content might be crucial to stimulate the development of the music industry, it cannot sustain its growth. Moreover, it will prove punitive for broadcasters and counter-productive for the music industry as a whole to enforce quotas that are too high. The targets of 40% and 55% local content envisaged for commercial and public/community radio, respectively, are excessive. They seem to be modelled on the blanket quotas imposed by the Australian Broadcaster's Association (ABA) in the early 1970s, rather than the more format-driven approach which has been in place since the 1980s. By international standards the quotas recommended by the IBA are inflexible and anachronistic.
Understandably, the IBA would wish to see the South African music industry emulate the success of its Australian counterpart, but quotas should be regarded as a temporary expedient rather than a long-term solution. In fact, Australia no longer relies on legislation to enforce music quotas. Instead, the ABA relies on the voluntary observation of guidelines for local content which vary according to a particular station's size and music format. State intervention in the broadcast sector has been superseded by a co-ordinated programme by government and industry to develop new audiences and markets. Based on the Australian experience, the General Manager of AUSMUSIC (Gillard 1997: 10-11) has proposed the following measures for building the South African music industry:
- create an environment to encourage primary investors to invest in local talent
- build the skill base in the music industry
- initiate regional music clusters to build live music activity and local audiences through education, government and industry co-operation
- build the broader live music sector
- establish a national music industry body
- establish a long-term strategy for breaking into the international music marketplace
These measures should not be regarded as a template but rather as guidelines to be adapted to suit the needs of the local industry. With the right mix of incentives to stimulate and consolidate the growth of the South African music industry, it can have significant economic spin-offs.
Right now there is a window of opportunity for the major players to develop the South African music industry. Instead of recording companies and broadcasters prolonging their adversarial relationship of the past, these stakeholders need to develop their mutual interests in the industry. A symbiotic relationship between the parties can create a common commitment to promoting local music. Such synergy in the industry can only redound to the benefit of all concerned, including artists. Investment by recording companies should be complemented by airtime for deserving local acts and critical but supportive media coverage. In the final analysis, promotion is preferable to protection. South African music must stand on its own merits in local and world markets.
Andersson, M. 1981. Music in the Mix: The Story of South African Popular Music. Johannesburg, Ravan Press.
Baines, G. 1996. 'An RDP for South African Music? Local Music Quotas in a Historical and Comparative Perspective'. Paper presented to the Australia-New Zealand International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) Conference, Auckland University, New Zealand.
Gillard, S. 1997. 'Economic Benefits of the Music Industry in Australia andOpportunities for South Africa'. Paper presented at the Standard Bank International Conference on the Economic Benefits of Arts and Culture, Grahamstown.
Hamm, C. 1991. 'The constant companion of man': Separate Development, RadioBantu and music, Popular Music, 10 (2): 147-173.
Wallis, R. & Malm, K. 1986. Big Sounds from Small Peoples: The Music Industry inSmall Countries. London, Sage.
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