21 February 2010

Media vs. Cape Town Hip Hop: a few thoughts.

Nthabi 3
Photo: admittedly not excatly fitting to the story, but if you don't know why, then let's say it fits perfectly.

The complains are coming in. Not to me, I just see them everywhere. Hype Magazine – the self-proclaimed South African Number 1. Hip Hop magazine had the awards and who won and who didn’t? Did Capetonians win anything? I don’t even know. All I know is this; we must stop assuming corporate media to be representative for any culture. That goes for Hip Hop as much as, I don’t know, Country Western.

Hype Magazine is published by a South African publisher called Panorama. They also publish other magazines like Catslife, Animaltalk and South African Dog Directory (if anyone, animal lovers should have high expectations not Hip Hop heads). I haven’t checked, but I bet one of my kidneys that the business plan of this company doesn’t have a bit that goes “..to ‘keep it real’ with regards to the culture of Hip Hop and its practitioners”.

They are not into Hip Hop – they are into money. That is simply because they are a business and not a non-profit organisation.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not here having a go at them. I have no reason. I think that it’s just important that we all know that commercial media doesn’t really work for any other but commercial reasons – hence we call it commercial. It’s part of the kind of mixed economy most of us live in.

The same goes to a lot of broadcast media as well, although there should be more opportunities here as the SABC is the biggest broadcaster and they do have a mandate to serve the people. They do that as well, just not, at least arguably, all the people. And it’d be big job to serve everyone anyway in practice.

There are platforms within SABC that from a Capetonian Hip Hop fans perspective are failing us – Live on Friday night on SABC1 seemingly have forgotten the idea that music journalists (I use the term very loosely) could do some research as well. Some people know this already, but I am against my own will addicted to Live, so I am rather aware of what happens there and who gets air time, and it’s the most obvious Jozi nationalistic back patting of beer buddies with occasional Durbanites joining the senseless apparent “good time”.

I don’t know, because I don’t listen to it much, but as far as I’m informed Metro FM hardly is a platform either. I think I’d know if it was because I am connected to many artists in Facebook and Twitter so I generally get to know instantly what goes on for them.

I have always though that community media and especially radio should be used as a platform more efficiently. As a former community radio specialist music DJ, I think this is where the station and the scene equally fails to make almost anything happen. These stations actually have a mandate to serve you and they are places to start from.

Get organised, learn what their promise to you is (regulator ICASA fails us in this regard as they at the time of writing don’t have any records to display, even though they should), get to know how does the playlist work or is there one (or how else to get on some rotation). Remember that it’s not just specialist programmes that are supposed to play your music, but even the prime time. It’d be an interesting small content analysis to listen to shows that are supposed to play music with no specific agenda, and how much of that is local (most, is the promise) and how much of it is Rihanna and whoever else there are on the charts these days. These stations are often also training stations so the music might be selected by some teenager who doesn’t know much about the licence or the stations music policy, should there be one. There is a big chance that your song is not played, because someone rather plays the song that reminds them of last weekend’s wicked party (do people still say wicked?), and local musicianship weights almost as much as what’s the artist’s mother’s maiden name.

Don’t approach these stations as they must play your song or owe you something (although, they kind of do), but rather that you should have an opportunity to get your track played. That of course means that you’ve done your homework and made sure that it is playable. That means that the audio quality is decent, there is no swearing (this seems to be tricky thing to remember for artists), and that your CD or whatever format you use – and do find out what you should use – is properly tagged. In my time I remember seeing bare CDs with such graffiti-like unreadable scribbles that I didn’t even listen to the tracks. Like said, these are training stations for their staff (and theoretically) for the community, so use them as training stations for yourself; how to get your song played and how to give a good interview, do a freestyle in a Hip Hop show and things like that.

But hustle all you can and there’s no guarantee. It’s shame, but things in practice are never like they are in theory. How does Cape Town Hip Hop then get up from the ditch of national, or even local media blackout, being the underdog in the city to begin with? When they say, don’t hate the media, become the media, how does that happen?

I thought I could throw in a few thoughts even if no one would hear them or like them. To me it’s nearly all the same, because no matter what happens I am not going to eat from this. Probably not many will but if something, Cape Town has always had culture, and no one can deny this. Regardless of what the big labels and their propaganda says music is culture as well, not just business. Sometimes it takes honing the culture to find the business, not just trying to make money and using the culture as a get rich quick scheme. One thing to remember, and this is where Cape Town is at its strongest is the international reach. I doubt that from any other city in South Africa do the artist go overseas so regularly. That’s great, but not my focus here.

So what could be done? Cape Town scene seems rather fragmented as I check it from its outskirts (I, by the way, claim no authority in this or Cape Town Hip Hop or Hip Hop in general). What did the Durban Kwaito and House do so successfully – they claimed in their T-shirts and other merchandise in a unified front that it indeed is a fact that Durban rocks. That’s a great slogan in my books, but what they realised about the national media is that using their city as a brand, made it easier for the artists from that city to get recognised – for it to become a cool thing.

Where the traditional media fails the new media offers many solutions. Before I get more into this it’s worth mentioning that I am aware of the digital divide. In South Africa it means that many people don’t have access to the Internet on computer; mobile phones are a whole different ball game though. In traditional media, you have to be ‘big’ enough. At least it’d be helpful. You would have to generate a certain level of interest, but online, there’s no lack of space and the content can be more specialised. The geographical limitations disappear so you can become (potentially at least) global. From MySpace, to Facebook and Twitter you can contact people who are in your position in other countries and collaborate (which I think people should really do a lot more). There could, if someone would do it, be a sort of Cape Town blog where people could contribute and avail their music as free downloads to create some buzz. Do you know how many people around the world Google every day ‘hip hop from Africa’? I don’t, but I suspect many.

If there is spirit of coming together to do something that aims to improve everyone’s chances online, in a form of a small journal or a blog, then it’d be easy to make it printable nice package and copy it to be distributed on gigs and other places to people who wouldn’t see it electronically. Something to introduce artists, when are the gigs and what’s on its way otherwise. I am sure someone works in some office where they can sneak a few copies when no one’s watching.

Maybe a video platform like UK’s Grime Daily? It’s doing big things there, and I for one enjoy it tremendously. I do know that uploading and even watching online video in South Africa is effortful, but maybe there's something else that one could extract from the idea that would be more fitting here.

And offline, people spend a lot of time in taxis. I used to as well when I travelled from Wynberg to Salt River on that Main Road chaos every morning and afternoon for some time. In taxis the music is loud and it is what it is… so burn a CDs of your music and give them for free to taxi drivers at the rank. Maybe they’ll put it on, maybe not, but blank CDs aren’t that pricy that it’d be worthless experiment. Taxi drivers are the offline equivalent of music bloggers, with the exception that they actually, for better or worse, force their travellers to hear (even if not to listen) the music of their selection.

Some ideas might work better for others and some maybe don’t even work at all – I don’t know. I thought about throwing the idea there out in the open since I keep on seeing people frustrated about the media. To paraphrase Gandhi we must be the media that we want to see in the world.


Anastacia said...

Your views are SO true. And this doesn't only affect the hip hop community I must add. This is a really good post. Made me realise why I received so many copies of a band's DVD's to dish out as I please. They were thinking like you are. This confirms my thoughts on dish the music for free charge through your teeth for events and merchandise. What do you think?

As a further thought, I got frustrated as a fan trying to find information on artists and bands in south africa , available on the net. I just resigned my job last year to do full time creation of sites etc for artists and bands to become established on-line. I like your idea on the joint site to upload music but there is one available (listenup).

I don't understand the part when you say " I am sure someone works in some office where they can sneak a few copies when no one’s watching." what do you mean here?

Mikko Kapanen said...

Hi Anastacia,

well, I think a bit like that. I mean it's complicated, of course, but what happens in an online environment but also, because of it, in offline is that what traditionally has been the product - a CD - becomes less important. You can give the music because you're 'selling' the relationship.. a kind of fan relationship and fans will come to your gig and buy that T-shirt. But it also because it's difficult to get to radio and the way people buy music is always the same really; they hear the music, they like the music, they buy the music. Rarely does it work in any other order.. these aren't my ideas by the way. People much more knowledgeable than me have talked about them. Read more from, for instance http://www.musicthinktank.com/ and definitely downlaod the free ebook from http://www.newmusicstrategies.com/ebook/

Lastly, I mean that if there was a print version of a newsletter or so to be distributed on gigs etc, there's always someone who could make those photocopies at their work so no one would really have to budget.. of course it's a bit cheeky, but hey, I am sure it wouldn't be the first time ever for it to happen: )

Thanks for your comment and keep on reading: )