Chaka Chaka, Masekela, Worried About African Music

Talented songstress and Grammy-nominated Amel Larrieux closed the 16th Cape Town International Jazz festival with a heart-wrenching and emotional performance of her old famous and newer songs.

She is a founding member of the Groove Theory duo, mostly known for songs such as Tell Me, Never Enough and Hello It’s Me , among others. However, while performing at the festival, she mostly sang songs from solo projects including Sweet Misery, For Real, Don’t Let Me Down and No One Else; she had such a rich repertoire that kept the crowds at the Manenberg stage on their feet for two hours.

Amel was just one of the international artistes that graced the festival; authentic jazz performers including Basia, Al Jarreau, Courtney Pine and Gerald Clayton also hit the stage.

But before the merrymaking on the final day of the festival, African legends such as Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Hugh Masekela and the Mohotella Queens had put African music under a microscope.

The South African greats said the current crop of African artistes cares more about impressing America and Europe, forgetting their roots. Because of this, originality and culture have been sacrificed.

No wonder, for an industry that has produced artistes such as Mafikizolo, Lira, Zahara and Freshly Ground, among others, none were given the honour to perform on the Kippies main stage. Even the few artiste from the new generation that graced the festival failed to up the ante for fans to want to see them on the main stage next year.

Donald had been the most anticipated young artiste at the festival, owing to his good performance on music channels including Channel O and MTV Base; just last year, he was nominated for the highly-conveted BET Award – Best African act.

He was expected to raise good dust at Manenberg, only for him to hit the stage and glorify Maxwell and friends. Evelyn Kehmuile, a youth attending the festival for the first time, said it was painful getting on a plane from Johannesburg to come see Donald cover Sam Smith. Donald did eventually perform his own hits, but his fans had already migrated to other stages.

Yet the tendency to westernise music is not crushing South Africa alone, but the African music industry at large. Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Uganda have rappers singing about pimping, using guns on the streets and driving Ferraris many of them have never seen outside a glossy magazine.

On a normal day, differentiating an African song from an American song can be a hard task, since Africans now sing in English, and produce, record and shoot their videos in America. According to broadcast consultant Joel Isabirye, identity is not fixed; it is in a state of flux.

“We cannot say African music has lost identity since there are multiple identities in music and in life,” he said.

He, however, notes that African music has lost authenticity.

“It is no longer unique, because it has borrowed a lot from everywhere due to globalization,” he said.

The only concern here, according to Isabirye, is the fact that African music is not borrowing from sounds of African heritage. It could have been the reason Mohotella Queen’s front lady Hilda Tloubatla, felt the group and its music have been left in the cold especially by the urban youth. The group has performed for the queen of the United Kingdom and former American president George Bush, yet they are not really celebrated in South Africa.

“We don’t have to wait for some French artiste to come and use our sound and then we have to pay through the nose to watch him perform our music,” she said.

American rapper Kanye West, who in 2008 raised his African status after his single Love Lockdown sampled jembe drums commonly used in West Africa, and polyrhythm that is profoundly Ghanian.

BeyoncĂ© borrowed kwaito moves by Tofu Tofu dancers to complete her Girls opening sequence. Both songs were successful and just like Tloubatla was worried, Kanye’s performance in South Africa was costly; fans parted with at least R750 (Shs 180,000) – almost R350 more than what indigenous AKA, HHP, Khuli Chana or Lira would charge. BeyoncĂ© could not even perform in South Africa, because she was too expensive.

Jazz icon Hugh Masekela, who has performed in Kampala before, bemoaned the death of music as an art form, saying “lawyers and accountants have taken over the music industry and made it only about the number of units sold”.

He noted that radio presenters today only play what is preloaded for them by programmers, not what they believe is good music.

“This gave us a chance to be heard and known. Today, record companies are run by technology and if you don’t have money to shoot a video, you are not going to be seen,” he said.

Masekela feels with technology, people are stealing music and before long, anyone can become a sensation such as the wildly popular, but truly artless Korean hit, Gangnam Style, which he calls a sad era for music.

Source: All Africa

Author: MC World

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