With all the negative press going around, it’s nice to have something really positive to look forward to. The SA Music scene (and the music scene all over Africa) was alive this week with the news that Black Coffee won a Grammy for Best Electronic/Dance album. A first for Africa, and especially important as it means more than many SA based artists potentially reaslise, and here’s how.
Black Coffee is a DJ from KZN, who has worked incredibly hard and had some amazing opportunities which he used to his advantage throughout his career. He continually seems to be pushing toward greater things, and this drive and perseverance has lead to the win at the 64th annual grammys.
But beyond the young DJ from Umlazi, what has happened is a far more important thing with greater consequences.
An African has ousted every producer across the globe for one of the most coveted awards the music industry can give, meaning that the door has, for the first time, been opened to the international stage, for an award which isn’t just an international recognition. Instead, it’s recognition that the largest music industry has acknowledged outside artists, and more importantly, an artist from a developing nation. What many people might not realise is that this move by the American music industry has not been one which happens often, if at all. More importantly are the names associated with the award. They are stars like Basement Jaxx, Skrillex, La Roux and even Madonna. (Yes, you read that correctly, Madonna).
So what is in the future for us as artists in SA and how does this affect us?
Directly, an award like this isn’t going to have an effect. Most award ceremonies aren’t remembered even 6 months after the fact (Who won the award for best actor last year again?) But indirectly, the fact that a South African is pushing international attention means that our burgeoning industry is beginning to make waves ‘across the pond’, and if Black Coffee can do it…
Our industry has stories of its own to tell, and music which is unique and filled with what we South Africans see day to day and experience. This inherently bleeds into our national sound, with aspects of complex afro- rhythm and specifically African instruments feeding into the sounds which we like, and which we use. Our music history is a rich one, which started as soon as we could stretch animal skin over a wooden drum, but aspects of that history, from mbaqanga to bubblegum pop, kwela, kwaito and amapiano, feed our national soul. For the first time in our history, these are being recognised by international listeners, meaning that the stage is set for South Africans to make a far greater impact on the international level.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, listeners will be more open to hearing the music we create. It seems that the single direction that the music we listen to is coming from, is slowly changing, so that instead of us just taking on all of our music from the media giant that is America’s music industry, we have the opportunity to start gaining followings from listeners in the US whose ears are finally being opened to our SA flair and sound.
In the long term, what this may serve to do is to widen the way in which the music industry accepts more African media as a whole. We have already seen international attention being given to Asian TV and film, especially after the huge success of Korean hit, Squid Game.
What we may be seeing for the first time is a recognition that while the US has held the monopoly on “What’s good”, we might be recognised for what’s even better.
I remember giving a TED talk at Rocking the Daisies a few years back, where I coined a phrase – I called it “the circle of audience mistrust”. What it means is pretty simple. South African media is seen by South Africans as not being as good as the internationals. In turn, the labels and production houses won’t always give us the resources, and that leads to us not having everything we need to really make great music. This creates a circle. And if you don’t think it exists, think about the amount of times you’ve said “wow is this artist from SA!?”.
What this Grammy means for South African audiences, is that we can finally rest assured that we CAN do it, and that our music is just as good as anything that comes from anywhere else.
In short – Black Coffee has opened the door, and that open door is set to enable us to start getting our music out there to an audience that is hungry for something different.
Let’s be that different.