I couldn’t see anything. People were screaming and jumping around and the music was blaring, but I couldn’t see anything. I looked around in terror, wondering if it was because I was older than the Tweeting, Instagramming, attention-of-a-flea, reality TV wannabes next to me. But, nay, they and the other real journalists were just as peeved. The South African journalists were placed wa-hayee above the teensy, weensy lil’ stage at the fourth MTV African Music Awards (Mamas) held at the ICC in Durban on Saturday night.
Yet again, as a South African music journalist, I wondered why MTV had bothered with us. I thought back to the first Mamas which were held in Abuja, Nigeria, and two words came to mind – “Cultural Imperialism”.
At those inaugural awards the British media were allowed all-access to the event. The Kenyan media were invited, but only had access via television in a tent provided outside the event. The South African media contingent were invited to watch from inside and (how, sweet) were also given the option of watching from within the outside tent as well. It didn’t make any sense except for, well, maybe, logical conclusions, like Cultural Imperialism.
This year, the City of Durban agreed to host the event. It was apparently watched by 50 million people worldwide.
As a Durbanite I was so proud. My sweet town was hosting something almost as big as the Fifa World Cup. Wow, my country has come a long way in 20 years.
But it all fell apart with a sharp slap of MTV reality. South African journalists were placed so far away from the stage that it was physically impossible to see when our darling Mafikizolo won their awards, somewhere so far away that we cannot report on how beautifully Uhuru performed Y’Tju Kuja. As with the first Mamas held in Abuja, it begs the question: why did you bother to invite us in the first place?
The MTV Africa Music Awards (Mamas) brought local, continental and international stars together as they battled for accolades in the various categories. Tipped to air live to the world, this was looking like the gig of the year. But not all was right. In fact, there were mixed feelings about the event.
What they got right
While the organisers might have been tempted to take the event to Joburg, they opted for Durban and it worked. It is freezing cold in Joburg and Durban, as usual, is
a little warmer. The city gave our visitors, especially the Americans,
a Florida vibe with its sunny beaches. When the Americans return home, they can confirm
that while there are no lions roaming the streets, South Africa
is a really scenic country.
The other thing the show’s organisers got right was the nominees’ list. South Africa was well represented and although the likes of AKA and Donald walked away empty-handed, the country’s image was saved by Mafikizolo and Uhuru who walked away with two wins each. For once we have nothing to complain about when it comes to winning at a continental awards ceremony.
Being held in Durban, it also helped that some of the presenters were from KwaZulu-Natal. We saw Celeste Ntuli, Nomzamo Mbatha and Nondumiso Tembe all do their thing on stage with their local fans cheering them on.
Bringing in Marlon Wayans made sure the international audience would tune in. Let’s get past our pride, Hollywood is big and if you rub shoulders with it, the world will pay attention to you, too. Yes, we could have used our own presenters, but the reality is the event would not have attracted as many people on a worldwide scale. This is purely business.
What needed work
To begin with, most press members had seats that were far from the stage so it was impossible to see clearly what was going on. This was not a big problem because the same happens at concerts and there are ways around it which MTV did not make use of. On either side of the stage were huge screens which were meant to show large images
of the action happening on stage. This was not the case so most of
us had to squint to see what was happening on the stage which was about 80m or so away.
Every event manager knows that when it comes to the performances, you can play with
anything else, but not the sound. Unfortunately, someone did not get it right on the night and the height of it all was when Trey Songz sang his hit song Nana and the mic constantly failed him.
The idea of bringing out US rapper French Montana was
great, but not to close an African showcase. This is simply because the song Ain’t Worried About Nothing is not bigger than say, Khona or Y’Tju Kuja in these parts. From reading the body language of the audience, you could tell they had been happier earlier in the night. Next time, should the producers want to stick with
international musicians they should find someone with a song bigger than our own so that we all sing along and end on a high.
While Wayans was funny, he could have used an African co-host (IK, Trevor Noah, Azania Mosaka, Anele Mdoda, Simba Mhere). This would have balanced out the show with a local flavour.
Here’s to a more memorable showcase next year.