27 October 2012

Long walk to success

From the Cape Town township of Gugulethu comes Driemanskap. The name suggests three, but the group has grown to four emcees since Redondo, one of the original three came back from the Pollsmoore prison, and his replacement Dla Da Last Born remained in the line-up. Redondo’s case has now been completely dismissed and he’s a free man, but before the justice system came to this conclusion he had spent a few years in tough prison conditions and altogether the case was hanging over him for a about a decade. That alone would be another story; a book or feature length film on how being in a wrong place at the wrong time can be life changing and how easily innocent young people are thrown into the depths of the gaol if they come from the township environment.

But as important as that story is, it is for someone else to write.  

Early in the new millennium Cape Town Hip-Hop activist and fine artist Mustafa Maluka had sponsored The Battle of Gugulethu mixtape which featured local guys Driemanskap and Ill-literate-skill (now known as Ill Skillz). Soon after, the Cape Town Hip-Hop aficionados learned about songs such as Itsho Into and Pitsa Zamadoda and of course the energetic – and that is an understatement – performances in many park jams, clubs and other events. Before being signed to the local indie label Pioneer Unit there was still volume two of the Battle of Gugs series and the inclusion of the song Intwe’nje on South African Hype magazine’s mixtape. Making the Pioneer Unit deal official was also preceded by testing the chemistries on Planetary Assault compilation, but things really started to happen in early 2009 when – and pardon me for using big words – the scene changing Igqabhukil’ Inyongo was released.

I remember this time well. I was in Cape Town and following these events very carefully. The excitement around the album had, like it so often in music does, two distinct aspects: it was liked a lot – really, a lot – but by limited group of people. In order for the masses to find this album, some visibility in local and national media were urgently needed and that is a lot easier to say than to do. Such are the idiosyncrasies of both the local and the national media ecosystems.

Besides being a fan of Hip-Hop I have always been interested in radio to such extent that I have basically spent all my time in academia studying and teaching it. Around the time of this album, I remember teaching music programming for radio students in the local university. In radio language that means how the music is selected and how often and in what order it is being played and I was feeling upbeat since I felt that the first single/video from this album – Camagu – was just the kind of track that had all the aesthetics covered for it to cross over yet remain credible in South Africa. I thought it was inevitable especially after the success of artists such as Prokid and Zuluboy; never even mind about Zola who under a banner of a different genre – Kwaito – celebrated similar styles with huge success. This seemingly inevitable breakthrough was however only too evitable. Metro FM, which is the youth-orientated station of the public broadcaster SABC responded to the Pioneer Unit / Driemanskap radio promo submission with a sort of kind, but confusing no thank you.

“The general feedback from the committee was that the music is satisfactory, however not unavoidably with the METRO FM music format”. The station starts its letter. “We however regret to inform you that after intense listening and careful consideration the songs submitted could not be placed on our playlist. We thank you for your interest in the station and look forward to more submissions from yourselves in the future.”

In Hip-Hop they say Nuff Said.

That was enough to lower the expectations even to the optimists, but what surprised me more than the fact that songs such as aforementioned Camagu was completely overlooked, was that the raw sounding street anthem – one of my definite favourites, but a song I didn’t see to have a lot of air-play potential S’phum’eGugs wasn’t. That video was actually included in one of the South Africa’s most viewed programmes Live! and from there, the tide turned.

Now the new album is on its way and yesterday the first video was premiered on national TV. The song Izulu Lelam can be freely downloaded as MP3 and the video is now also online. The main obstacle of being completely ignored has been crushed and we will see how the rest of the album is received by the media and by the people. And that is the question – as a fan I am biased, but making great music has never been a challenge for these four.   

No comments: