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 David Groucho Marks - Shooting from the lip Music and Censorship

Apologies if you receive this in error; it's lengthy, but it could relate!?

South African Music Week - August 25th 2002; But Music Censorship still Prevails This is not what our listeners want to hear?

David Groucho Marks shoots from the lip and asks Why Not a SAfrican Sports Week?

Musicians who can afford to record & Independent Record Labels - and there are hundreds in Southern Africa today - come across this Broadcaster's gem, all the time: This is not what our listeners want to hear! This old clichéd excuse may be OK for (so called) independent and community radio and for the record industry & ICASA to endorse - but surely our National Public Broadcaster (the SABC) needn't take this market drivel mainstream line?

The SABC has a lot of important music history in store. What are they hiding or afraid of? They could produce a series of magic hidden history music programmes each week - astutely politically incorrect, but enlightening none-the-less. That doesn't mean regurgitating retro hits of yesteryear, inherited for free from the commercial record industry, or off the library shelves; they could do like the sport industry:- go out into the wide world and with a little research they are bound to stumble over roots and onto our colourful hidden history. (Not another agency driven pop idol or talent search, please!!) We need to know who we are and where we come from before we can hear where we are going. The world doesn't have room for another perfect 10 British or American Vocal Gymnast. It's embarrassing, given the misdirected talent and hidden potential that we do have.

Trying to fathom out this phenomena - why it is that the supposedly progressive and (relatively) integrated music and record industries (pre-1990) lag so far behind the (supposedly) conservative (and formerly segregated ) sport industry in terms of developing and transforming a viable and internationally recognised music industry - is interesting; a challenge within it itself.

Perhaps we first need to understand the simple and obvious? Making music and producing records (CDs) is not one and the same thing as our Radio so fondly keep imagining. They are two extremely different disciplines....and if the media, the broadcasters, the record industry & ICASA cannot tell the difference - or refuse to acknowledge that there is one - what's the point? Why even bother celebrating South African Music for one week a year when the clubs & concerts are at odds with Radio & TV for the next 51? I think we have a fundamental problem here. But all is not lost. (We hope!) And all is not that serious either. Let's try and focus on radio - in general.

The Great Guru of all FUNdamentalists, the Swami Beyondananda, once taught us to remember what his Guru once taught him. Baba Oom Mow Mow - the main Guru of Rock 'n Roll had this FUNdamental golden rule: Do Wop unto others as you would have them Do Wop unto you.

Lest we forget, the Swami Beyondananda says (in his wander-full book of teachings - Driving Your Own Karma) that we all suffer from Truth Decay from time-to-time:-Scientific studies show that when people think too much - particularly when they think heavy thoughts - thought-particles tend to get stuck between the ears. This leads to a condition called truth decay. Symptoms of Truth Decay include feelings of leadheadedness, worry, guilt, fear, negativity and a preoccupation with time. Truth decay can begin in one small area of your life and, if unchecked, can spread from one domain to the next - until you have a full-blown case of domain poisoning.

For instance: There's no doubt that the majority of people in this country are sick and tired of the moral decay that Mike Van Graan talked about recently on ArtsLink. Artists have become cowards in the face of a national moral crisis, claims van Graan.

Poets and some theatre people do stand up to the challenge, but musicians and all these (so called) powerful and successful independent radio stations are, I'm afraid, a bunch of Sissies. Just a few years ago the SABC and the sport industry screamed - you musicians are revolting! You can say that again we shouted back proudly! The folk music of the era - rock 'n roll and Jazz - was (and remains) committed; it's not just a made-up and pierced weekend commercial hobby that listeners and viewers, who have grown up in cultural isolation, can judge in between the sport scores.

So instead of making the noises we (musicians) think we should make to become rich and famous, we should first see if we can help here; get rid of corruption & truth decay at the root. But, unfortunately, we seem to want our Cake-Walk, and eat it as well. An easy way out to the top of the fame and fortune PC tree - or so we are led to believe.

We need proactive rather than retro-active talent and commitment from artists to help guide and inform a nation that is still struggling to grow out of the shadows of the past. We can not just aim for the hit parades and bright lights on our own, anymore than we could say to hell with what we think our listeners want to hear. If we're good enough, they'll listen anyway - provided they, and we, have some freedom of choice. And that, I'm afraid is the problem with SAfrican music on Radio (and TV). With all these unique civil and social tools and skills that we have at our disposal, there's more to music than boy meets girl. Popular musicians can help drag us out of the dark ages and the current muddy mainstream of moral and truth decay. But first, who are we?

South African Sports Week - With apologies to Midi Trust for stealing the idea.

Midi Trust is doing fine work to promote and support SAfrican Music. They now include a little history that doesn't just come to them via the glossies & the record industry; even if it is only for one week a year. (While radio and TV resolutely stick to their retro-active pre-recorded music quotas and information, force-fed to them by the advertising agencies & commercial Record Label Pee Aahs for the other 51 weeks? How good and patriotic and secure does this make us musicians feel?)

It is embarrassing to realise that there is not one Music Radio Station in the country that produces or features a program of SAfrica's colourful and entertaining hidden history outside of what the records industry feeds them - with respect to the many talented and dedicated record and radio people who have been trying to combat this truth decay. Listening to most independent radio stations - and in particular "The Home Of The Hits" down here (Beast Coast Radio country) - one can be forgiven to think that they are primarily a Sports Support Club and a record industry shop-front. Hits may as well mean balls and bats and jackpots and the right spot for the nail on-the-head and so on!

If the selection of pre-recorded music product & the coaching of professional recording artists, by the commercial record industry, is what radio means by a level playing field, then patriotism, as they say, is truly the last vestige of the scoundrel. Or as the bard of Rock and Roll (Bob Dylan) put it: They say that Patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings. Steal a little and the throw you in Jail; Steal a lot and they make you King.

Relating or comparing sport to art is often considered odious by many artists at the worst of times. Many of the clever, the creative (?) and the cute arts and culture entertainment academics believe that most sport is for bullies with no brains. They would have been right not too long ago - in the daze when broadcasters and sports' bodies would chorus: hey we cannot not mix sport with politics. Now it's the music media who fall over blackwards to be PC. But the situation has changed rather surprisingly.

It's Sports people who seem to be far more pro-active, sensitive, creative and caring about transformation and development than do the previously integrated and (so called) progressive music and record industry. There's a marked reversal of role-play here. No longer do Folk 'n Jazz musicians shout for the foreign sport teams - we back our boys and girls now - 52 weeks of the year. (Perhaps the old squint-eyed arty view of sports had something to do with the regimentation of the people who followed it, rather than those who administer and play the game and who seem to be genuinely working for change these days?)

Anyway, let's do a little theatrical exercise and reverse the art vs. sport roles in the New SAfrica. Imagine if you will that the commercial arts industry (music and radio in particular) has got its progressive act together. Let's try and assume for the moment that it's the conservative sport industry, its advertisers, sponsors, media and broadcasters, trainers, managers and participants who have refused to attend the development and transformation ball. That it is the record industry, without any prompting and legislation, who decided to use their massive profits and influence via the broadcasters, to support music education programmes - history and training in administration, copyright, management and performance - not just one week a year, but every week, if not every day, for an hour or so. Due to their relative history of non-racialism, on the factory studio floor- pre-1990, and because they have always claimed to be so creative, cute and clever, imagine that they are investing large amounts of encouragement to entertain and enthrall us all with our (colourful) Hidden History and the potential of our future within the international community. From pre-school to universities, from church halls to Technikons. Meanwhile, on the side-lines we sadly see the sport industry still waves the vierkluer, refuses to scrum down together and needs a kick up the proverbial backside. With the power of music and towers of talent, our campaign for the transformation and development of sport, will go something like this:

Attention all broadcasters, programmers, sponsors, the media & educators - we proudly announce South African sports week. One week each year when we can get together & cheer our local heroes; then for the rest of the year you will be free to return to normal (or is that abnormal, pre-1990?) - giving your viewers & listeners the right to see what they want to hear; support the foreign teams while government aims to force you to show at least 50% local content: The Springboks, Bafana Bafana & The Proteas along with re-hashed retro-games recorded in the 60's, 70's and 80's. Crazy? No not at all if you think about it! What would those games and scores and heroes and stars mean to anybody if we had no past to refer too, for better or for worse?

But, let's wake up. Snap out of it! it's not sport that needs to transform and develop. They are doing what they can - or so their sponsors and the media sometimes say. It's the record and broadcast industries; the record labels, the broadcasters, the music media, musicians and the public who are in the dark out there and who need to know where the light switch is. Us poor suckers who are being led to believe that one can only make music in the vacuum of a recording studio.

The objective? Freedom of choice! Haven't we all suffered enough (and collectively) from this 50 year international cultural black-out? We need to catch up and make informed decisions and creative choices or else we will forever be playing with ourselves in the dark; and you know what that can do to you? Makes you deaf as well I believe!!!

Would the Provinces - educators, sponsors and young people involved with sport - get involved and caught up with transformation and development of sport only because Radio and TV broadcast games that featured fulltime professionals of today and recordings of racially divided teams of yesterday? To hell with the other 99.99% of the people who play sport in this country? Let them eat Cake-Walk!

Let's say, for arguments sake, that 250 SAfrican musicians recorded CDs during the year 2001/2002; musicians that were good enough - on merit, talent & commitment - to be picked for the "A" Teams in their specific genres, and to represent the country via their community radio. Let's add to that 500 or so retro-commercial re-issues made over the past 30 years; OK, so lets be generous & say 1 000 odd re-issues for the week. That would still be less than 0.1% of SAfrica's musicians who will be eligible to participate in South African Music Week through Radio and TV.

South African Music is Better Than It Sounds

SAfrican musicians perform in concert, clubs and festivals in Europe, The Far (out) East and The USA and their shows are usually sold out and critically acclaimed. But this interest never translates into record sales. Certainly not in quantities that can vaguely be comparable to international productions and to cover basic set-up costs. The Record and Radio Industries seem quite content to throw money into the final recorded product here at home, rather than into the foundations and infrastructure that we need to sustain a viable music industry - in the hope that something will stick! But what? And when? Forcing radio to play 50, 75, 100% local recorded content isn't going to help!

Another important forgotten point that truth decay tends to hide. If these commercial recordings (the % enforced local quotas) are as good as radio and the record companies claim, how come the multi-billion rand record & broadcast industries - with the support of the government through ICASA - have failed to export, produce and record one international SAfrican hit song, CD or band from these shores since 1994? In fact it's been 35 years since a locally written, produced & recorded SAfrican song ventured onto the International Hit Parade.

We just never seem to learn from history! (As they say, in order not to make the same stupid mistakes in the future, we must pay some attention to the past). The R2 Million Rand information song? The winners of the SAMA awards? And now we are led (by the ears) to believe that those poor Pop Idols will fair better as industry Puppets in the big wide world, without roots? The weird thing is that we, South Africans, not the industries involved, have coached, selected and paid for all these indulgencies with our taxes, our cell-phone votes, our Radio and TV Licenses. And we get nothing for it in return. No feedback, no transparency in an industry that turns over billions of rands at our expense?

So if it's not the talent and the music, the technology and the budgets that are letting us down & producing this good looking shallow forgettable waste, then it must be the material, the infrastructure and the management.

The coach or the coaches MUST go!

Problem is, that unlike sport, we have no idea who the coaches and the selectors are! We can't even write rude letters or throw stones at them. Who do we address them too? And the Toyi-Toyi is a dance of the past.

Music Censorship is not sunk. It lurks in the prevailing mainstream.

As far as the vast voiceless & silent majority of musicians in South Africa are concerned, nothing has changed. Peter Human - who used to be the Boss at the old Radio 5 when they took over from the snap, crackle and pop of LM Radio - fondly thought that he was our main coach and prime selector. He, like his listeners, believed that Radio 5 (5fm) was independent? Has anything changed? Human surveyed the scene from his 17th Floor Auckland Park Radio Tower Office Block in the high 70's, sweeping his hand like Rommel over Johannesburg from under his thinning blonde hair and sharp Blue Eyes - or were they Green, perhaps Grey? - and reading from his little black banned book, explained to a delegation (who had come to ask why Radio 5 does not get involved with SAfrican music - not records - MUSIC) that this music is not what my listeners want to hear.

JB Vorster was Prime Minister; Jimmy Kruger was minister of justice.....

If anything, the selection of musicians and the censorship of South African music have gotten far more ridiculous, insidious and destructive. Now we have bored-rooms of hip bureaucrats and control freaks who can coach, select and call the tune from the pockets of the commercial record industry, with the backing and blessing of ICASA - as long as they play a percentage local recorded content - is less than 0.1% of the music made in South Africa? Broadcasters are happy hiding behind our (supposed) freedoms - of choice and of speech - as they career down the mainstream of market driven forces, claiming to represent SAfrican Music. It seems that 50 years of international isolation has really taken its cultural toll. Are we now officially stoned deaf as well? Ignorance may be bliss, but it's a lie to claim that if the people out there are happy, that you needn't tell them! Who's happy? In the A-daze most musicians knew who the control freaks were and what mind-fields - more-or-less - to cross or avoid if we had to. Self censorship may have been self-destructive, but nobody other than the creator was being cheated.

(State control didn't stop 3rd Ear Music recording and promoting South African music and musicians - of all classes, cultures and colours - in the 60's and 70's. It didn't matter that we couldn't press every live recording into an album. And if, as we did on the odd occasion, raise the money and issue an album, at least we knew who to avoid for the sake of sanity and cents. We never knew if the phone calls to the security police were coming from the EMI factory or the SABC. But it didn't matter - we knew were we stood if we knew where the selectors and coaches were crawling.)

Now in the 00's we do not. We have radio programmers who, in unison, chorus one or all of the following collected clichés: we are not here to promote your artists; nobody deserves air-play - this is not the sort of music our listeners want to hear; and a classic new one from Capetown: this is white-male rock (do tell....); it's not what our audience wants...But let's have a little more Dire Straits or Clapton and don't forget the PRS forms!!!! Peter Human would have been proud of you all.

What on Earth is going on in this country?

South Africans are world champions in almost every sphere of life; from sport to politics, from science and technology to theatre and literature....in everything but contemporary music? And as we say, South African Music is better than it sounds; please believe us!

Without a Yesterday there can be no tomorrow (Zolani Mkiva - Nelson Mandela's praise poet)

The commercial record labels and radio have done nothing to help inform, educate, transform and develop a viable local music industry - outside of what they invest in their own recording artists, staff and companies. Nothing wrong with that. But then how can we - the sponsors and listeners - bestow upon them the mantle of music and allows them to claim that they represent or are the SAfrican music industry? Not one person, of the 5 000 odd employed in the record industry, is a musician!

Whatever the record industry and their bottom line may say about economic hard times - and despite the damned many good-times they have given us on record - they have had it relatively easy. They are the only industry that gets free advertising for their product. At roughly 50% local content - sometimes 120 x 3 to 5 minute advert / jingles per day per station? And now through a new phenomenon - Needle Time - they and professional recording musicians will get the broadcasters to pay them for play as well?)

With respect to the good intentions and wonderful work done by Midi Trust, celebrating SAfrican music and musicians for one week a year won't mean much for music and musicians; despite the talent, the potential and the technology, without us getting to learn why and how all these things happen around us. So what to do instead of opining and whining? It's simple really.

For a start, Midi should use it's expertise and commitment to lobby ICASA to make certain that the broadcast industry includes live performance, information, roots, tradition and history as part and parcel of their obligation in South African content; not as an affirmative favour but as a genuine attempt for us to learn and understand who we are and where we come. We are not who the commercial record and broadcast industries claim we are just because they can afford to make us feel, look and sound so good sometimes. It's obvious that the rest of the world doesn't agree. They aren't listening! And no matter what we say and play, they've seen and heard it all before.

We still know less about Hillbrow and Sophiatown that we do about Liverpool and New York. ICASA aren't listening and nor, so it seems, are us 250 odd musicians who make CDs. We all seem quite happy to claim that SAfrican music is doing OK because Radio is forced, by law, to play our recorded music. I'm OK Master Jack- I'm on the charts!

The fact of the matter is, that had music Radio and TV helped us get our house in order - musically speaking - and at least tried to level the playing fields back in 1994 rather than just promote CDs, we wouldn't be in this predicament where government has to legislate a percentage of radio play and force South Africans to programme and listen to our recorded music. 3rd Ear Music should not have to rely on foreign & National Arts and Lottery Funds to keep us going; a small, important piece of hidden history. We could easily survive as a commercial venture. No big bucks - but a reasonable turnover.

If the National Public Broadcasters heard the light & started producing historic weekly music programmes today, it would not work. We do not have a level playing field and if we were to perform in front of an invited or selected audience (that may not want to be there in the first place) for one hour a week while we celebrate SAfrican Music for one week of the year, then I don't want to play...it would be embarrassing without the necessary foundations, without which it'll turn into a quick fix in the mix short-cut academic Pop Idol or talent search. So we'll just have to stay here in the dark, pretend we're doing OK until somebody in power sees the light.

Maybe its time look and listen how the BBC in the UK and NPR in the USA do it? If we are so quick to copy the rubbish that they have to throw away, why not look at the real thing? Our National Public Broadcaster, the SABC, should not be trying to compete with independent commercial radio for (so called) market share, they could be doing what the BBC and NPR do for their people - and the world. (The British and American Tax-Payers would not foot the bill for such independent indulgences, why do we?) The quality of the BBC and NPR programmes is entertaining and informative. Without being patronizing and pious, they are world leaders in audio art and they certainly do not necessarily give the world what it is we think we need to hear - despite the attraction and the power of market driven mainstream forces and the self interest that surrounds the corporations along its banks. The Pop Idol world is for people who have a choice. We don't!

Classical Music, Jazz, Folk, Rock, iSicathimeyia, Maskandi, Chutney are considered no longer viable because that's not what the market share want to hear they say? Bullshit! These forms and styles may not be quick hit and run cash-cows - because they do require a lot more work and commitment than our broadcasters and record company executives are used too - but they are certainly popular. And besides we can all adapt. Isn't that what transformation and development is all about? Sport is proving it.

It will be exciting to perform on the international stage where we can hold our own, create jobs, develop an infrastructure through experience - that young musicians and broadcasters so badly need - and so saying give us all a little hope with a song or two to dance to and a tune to whistle while we work!

However in order to be saved from the flood of corporate greed and to be aware of being used as a dumping ground for cheap imported pre-packaged toxic cultural waste, we need some of that hidden history to hold onto - roots and tradition - or else we will continue to sink or float along like so many empty noisy vessels, or be blown away by truth decay. Who is really listening?

David Marks - 3rd Ear Music Company (Est. 1969) / The hidden Years Music Archive Project (Est.1969)

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