3rd Ear Music 3rd Ear Music
Hidden Years ArchivesHidden Years ReiussesNews ForumLyricsProjectsGallery - Musicians & EventsAbout 3rd Ear MusicOrder PageLinks
 The South African music industry in crisis

South African culture is being undermined writes Angus Kerr:
The commission who listened to kwaZulu Natal musicians
The commission who listened to kwaZulu Natal musicians are (left to right) Carol Steinberg (Minister Ngubane's advisor), Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse (SAMRO) and DACST officials Andre le Roux & Zwelakhe Mbiba.

It was with much hope and anticipation that the ANC election victory in 1994 was greeted by people involved in the South African music industry. For the first time in years, there was a sense of commitment and support for our musical heritage and culture from political leaders. Their hearts were in the right place. Most of the industry had reason to be optimistic: The Independent Broadcasting Authority was established with a clear mandate, and legislation was drafted that required broadcast media to include a minimum of 20% South African content in their programming. Until about 1998, the demand induced by the legislative requirements created a massive explosion of music and local artists, and the standard of these artists increased rapidly until they were truly world class.

Now, in the year 2000, the South African music industry is teetering on the brink of collapse, reeling from a number of crucial blows:

  1. The Independent Broadcasting Authority proved to be ineffectual in enforcing legislation;
  2. Extremely cynical individuals in broadcast media used the lack of enforcement to sideline local music, as a host of 'international consultants' advised them to engage in more mainstream, American style programming to increase their listenership. Although some their broadcast licences were granted on a development ticket, commitment to development was quickly side lined in order to increase profits by running purely commercial programming. The 20% quota was flouted when radio stations realised that the lack of enforcement meant that they could 'get away with it' with impunity.
  3. Negative, unsupportive, attitudes formed as a consequence of the previous government's propaganda campaign designed to discredit local music for political reasons, continue. Many of the people directly involved in the music industry are just as infected with these attitudes as the general public. This ingrained perception of inferiority results in an unpatriotic prejudice. For a long time South African music was portrayed as inferior in the broadcast media. DJ's regularly make patronising comments like: "Not bad for a South African band", "I don't know much about music, but I think that South African bands must get their act together", "Here's a track from local band XXXXX", the 'local' word thrown in to mean 'not so good'. DJ's and TV personalities to this day take on phoney, imitated American and "Brit" accents. This says a lot about their own feelings of cultural inferiority, and their misguided belief that in order to appear sophisticated, they need to forsake the very essence of their own cultural identity and ape a culture and accent which is totally foreign. To turn the argument around, American and British DJ's don't copy anybody, they are who they are and they talk in the accent that they normally speak in. They don't know or care about South Africa: why should we give them credence? Our radio broadcasts must sound ridiculous to them. Unfortunately, still, our DJ's have a large influence, particularly on the youth, and until pressure is brought to bear, this disturbing trend will continue, and the cultural erosion will continue.
  4. Satellite channels such as DSTV broadcast music programs such as M-TV which only feature eurocentric/American artists and are not subject to any commitment to South African, or even African music. MTV is beamed to many of the venues where young people hang out, and it is natural that their desire to be 'hip' and 'cool' will result in them associating themselves with the artists, music and culture portrayed on M-TV. Not only is this completely unfair on South African music, it is seriously undermining South African, and African culture. It should be of concern to every African that in the era of 'African Renaissance', African culture is under the most serious attack from foreign media. DSTV has a huge range of programmes available, as well as a large range of music channels only. None of the channels have any commitment to the culture of the continent of Africa, and are purely Eurocentric in nature. This needs serious attention. If this cultural erosion continues unchecked, South Africa will become more and more an outward looking society that apes American and European cultures, at the expense of our own very rich cultural heritage.
  5. South African record companies have severely cut back their spending on South African music production, mainly due to lack of sales resulting from a lack of commitment, lack of air play, and most importantly, a lack of passion on the part of the media. A number of top artists have been dropped from their catalogues and will not have any new albums recorded or released. Again this is due to a lack of commitment and regular air play from the broadcast media, and as a result of that, falling sales and attendances at live performances.

What can be done in the future to prevent total collapse?


Some kind of development program needs to be put in place in order to address skills development. Musicians need skills in management, marketing, performance, song writing, audio engineering, arrangement and production. A good idea is to establish conservatories in the major cities. They could be financed by the national lottery but run as non-profit business units with the focus primarily on development. World class recording facilities could be provided as part of this and marketed to international artists and top local artists, as part of an 'African Experience' package that includes a tourist experience. The funds that this facility generates could be channelled into development programs that would produce world class performers, recording engineers, producers and arrangers who would become stars in their own right.


South African music facilities are limited, and many are operated on a shoe-string budget simply because there is not much demand due to the current status quo. The high cost of equipment is also debilitating. (Costs are high because most equipment is imported from Europe or America. This is a problem in itself since South Africa has the electronic and manufacturing expertise to manufacture, but this is not part of this discussion). Unless a sustainable demand is created by legislation and the enforcement thereof, the industry will continue in its death throes and hobble from year to year without any significant growth. It is the feeling of many musicians and players in the industry that the local quota should be increased to 40% and rigidly enforced by the imposition of heavy penalties for transgression (i.e. loss of licence or a heavy fine payable into a national music development fund). It is unrealistic to expect that South African artists who record albums on shoestring budgets can compete with international artists backed by companies with resources in the multi-million dollar league. They are able to afford marketing and promotional campaigns that result in exposure on virtually every media type that exists - in effect a global cultural onslaught.


South African music needs to be marketed to South Africans themselves. This requires public statements of commitment by prominent persons (i.e. politicians, sports personalities etc.) and an advertising campaign. After all, when South Africa plays rugby against New Zealand, South Africans do not support the opposition. They are zealous patriots. The same should apply to our culture - we should passionately support it. Unfortunately, this type of campaign will need to sustained over a number of years in order to counter decades of anti-South African propaganda produced by the apartheid regime.

Political commitment, leadership and support

It is the perception that the political commitment to the South African music industry has waned over the years to a state of indifference. South Africans look up to their leaders and often take their cue from the politicians, and it would be great to hear some passionate, rousing speeches by some prominent leaders.

I Love South African music, and the beautiful people who make it. What's wrong with everybody else?

Angus Kerr is a musician, producer and the owner of Tropical Sweat Studios

If you have any comments about this article, please drop us a line.

back to top
This Web Site is designed and maintained by Art Arena