This issue really makes my blood boil. South Africa does actually have a 25% local music quota but according to the South African Music Quota Coalition, it is regularly ignored, “due to loopholes such as playing local content in the early hours of the morning, non-enforcement, and being allowed to use gig guides and interviews to offset their quota.”
The government needs to wake up and realise that without a strictly enforced local music quota (personally, I think 70% would be good), they are promoting and sustaining a culture of inferiority around local music and creating conditions that make it almost impossible for our talented industry to grow. A quota imposed on our media would force the majors in South Africa to invest in our local product.
We have been conditioned to believe that ‘local’ is inferior because we are brainwashed by foreign concepts of what constitutes good music. It wouldn’t be so bad if niche music was being imported, but we are subjected to the worst kind of lowest common denominator pop music from overseas.
The local music industry takes the path of least resistance. The ‘big four’ aka the ‘majors’ (Sony BMG, EMI, Universal and Warner) are more than happy to keep subjecting us to this barrage of foreign mediocrity because it’s easy money for them. All the hard work has been done overseas (the slick production, the expensive videos and the marketing campaigns). They are simply maximising the return on their investment and who can blame them?
Total domination of our media is ensured by the fact that our media relies on the major’s content to survive. In effect, the South African media works for the majors. Impose quotas on the media and the majors will be forced to invest locally or die.
The foreign domination of our media also means that South African niche music is effectively marginalised out of existence, distorting our local music industry and killing creativity. Only the most mainstream and superficial South African music has any chance of competing and surviving.
The more effectively you copy the foreign imports, the more likely you are to gain acceptance in this paradigm. Just look at two of our most popular RnB singers, Danny K and Loyiso – they are simply imitating a tried and tested formula from the US.
When the majors do get involved with local music, it is often done with no vision or commitment. Look how ineptly Pro Kid, one of our brightest South African Hip Hop talents, was treated. Gallo half-heartedly marketed him (only producing 1 video for Heads and Tales) before putting out DNA, a rushed second album with even less promotion – no video, no tours and limited radio play (I still haven’t heard one track from that album). Pro Kid is now signed to TS Records, an independent label, where hopefully he will enjoy more success.
It’s a vicious circle of the most simple and effective kind. Our artists struggle to get their music played on radio or TV, therefore the potential fans don’t know their music is out there, therefore they don’t buy it. Distributors won’t support local music because ‘it doesn’t sell’. It doesn’t sell because people don’t know it exists. Only quotas will break this circle.
The problem is definitely not that we don’t have the talent. We have artists on Pioneer Unit whose music is played regularly on the BBC in the UK, and who have performed at Glastonbury (amongst other places). Influential radio DJ Mary Anne Hobbs, who has been likened by many to the legendary John Peel, described our own Ben Sharpa and KONFAB as “two of the most inspired and agile lyricists in the world today” yet neither can get their music played on SA radio because it ‘doesn’t fit the format’.
So what can be done?
You can go to the South African Music Quota Coalition website and sign their petition.
You can also join their Facebook group.