Since the days of Ben Sharper and Tumi (even before the volume) South African artists have played a very prominent role in the international music community. From the rebellious Bra Hugh Masekela and the infallible Abdullah Ibrahim to the mystical Miriam Makeba. South Africa has always produced an incomparable level of quality musicians and performers. Ever so often, this combination of qualities exist simultaneously within a single individual to produce an artist the likes of Lebo Mathosa.
The question that arises is;how does a small, culturally diverse country keep churning out such incredible talent? Talent of an international standard… The reasons are certainly not isolated. Social dexterity, general globalisation, cultural exchange – either through travel or life experience – pop-culture and even economics are just a few of these reasons. But, these factors occur all over the world. Why then does this have such an incredible effect on the art coming out of our country?
The historical part of South Africans using art not just as a medium of expression but also as subtle communication. Struggle heroes would write poems to their loved ones containing encrypted messages meant for the discerning eye to see. Many protest songs were birthed in the womb of oppression, songs of pre-destined triumph were sung by miners, teachers and blue-collar workers of any kind. Protest art is one of the cornerstones of the South African art history. From painters to musicians, dancers and actors… Every artistic soul wanted to share the struggle story through any medium that they could.
It is in this womb, the birthplace of the artistic expression that the current vibrancy of our entertainment industry was born. A strong historical story-telling culture could be another catalyst for many of the genres indigenous to Mzansi. Kwaito for instance, is a local sound. Much like hip-hop is considered social commentary in America and reggae is in Jamaica – to me, Kwaito serves the same critical role in Mzansi, musically and socially.
Another point to be mindful of is the general-globalisation taking place in South Africa. The influx of foreign nationals into the country brings an additional and external musical and aesthetic influence that adds to the already socially and culturally dense population.
That brings us to our current diaspora of locally produced artists that have garnered critical acclaim on a global scale.
International record labels are investing in South African talent, signing them in their country of residence while creating buzz abroad. Okmalumkoolkat is one such artist – he recently returned from Europe where he was performing at large festivals alongside well known international acts (Travis Scott and Hudson Mohawke) promoting his long awaited solo project Holy Oxygen I.
The tour is backed by Austrian record label Affine Records. This comes at at the pinnacle of an auspicious time for South African artists on the international music scene…
South African artists are getting booked for gigs all over the world and the beautiful thing about it is that they are not appearing at the whim of Arts and Culture dignitaries who call on them whenever they need to book “African artists” for some “Africa Week” on broadway. Talented, hard-working artists are being booked on merit of the quality of their work. Copious others come to mind when you begin to consider the wide range of genres that our artist delve into.
DJ Spoko established a name for himself with the help of independent New York record based label True Panther, who secured Spoko shows all over the US including a major festival in Central Park in New York. DJ Spoko is also the DJ for Fantasma – a collective of South African creators culminating to create a sound that can be described as afro-techno rap.
Tumi from The Volume is another great example of a talent export. He even has a song on the playlist in a FIFA 2008 console game. Enforcing a colourful mixture of sounds that time after time ooze mass appeal. He has also been playing shows in Europe long before he was signed and has fortified his career so strongly that his record label (Motif Records) serves as a platform for similar talent scouting and export.
The Brother Moves On have, for the longest time, had a strong connection to Europe, oftentimes playing gigs in Paris or Berlin spreading their unique post-alternative rock sound and mother tongue lyrics. With their version of social commentary entertainment.
Aside from South African artists. Nigerian artists have also gained substantial critical acclaim, on the global music scene. The Nigerian music industry is one of the largest in Africa, mainly because their music is support in their home countries. but also because of artists like P-Square and Davido who have made major moves abroad on merit of performance, talent and ability. These artists now rival international artists in monetary value and in craft, making their export extremely valuable.
African artists have come along way from protest art. Social commentary is still a big part of who an african artist is, but the role has now expanded into a creating a more comprehensive all round artist who is often a lucrative, musically astute professional performer. Musicians and lyricists are connecting to the globe at large with their combination of ethnic and world sound. It’s about time that we start paying more attention to our local talent and make more purchases of their music rather than downloading it. We should also attend the shows that usually cost about R50, because somewhere out there, there are over 4000 people waiting for our artists to hit the stage.
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