319 13/03/2014 JR from Micasa was nominated yesterday(thursday) at the 20th SAMA nominees held at Carnival City Brakpan. Picture:Nokuthula Mbatha

Johannesburg - Two decades ago, the first SA Music Awards successfully took place in the then new South Africa. The dominant sounds at the time were predominantly Kwaito and Afro-pop, and the likes of Arthur Mafokate and Brenda Fassie ruled the land of music. Many believed they would rule for ever.

Twenty years later, with the latest Sama nominations announced this week, it is evident that there has been a significant shift in South African musical tastes. While genres like kwaito and Afro-pop seem to be dying a slow death, other “newer” and “urban” genres in South Africa like rock and house music appear to be the current favourites. In fact, in recent years the Sama body has stripped off the African Pop category, opting to go with Best Pop, where, for instance, the likes of Mafikizolo will contest with acts like Danny K.

This speaks volumes about how much the genre is struggling to make its mark on radio and in sales like before, and failing to stand as an autonomous category at the awards.

To support this theory of the shift in musical tastes over time is the fact that the two top-nominated groups this year, both with five nods, are rock band Gangs Of Ballet and house act Mi Casa. Of interest is the fact that Gangs Of Ballet are a new band and on their first Sama attempt their album, Yes/No/Maybe got them nominated in the Duo or Group Of The Year, Best Newcomer, Best Rock Album and Best Producer categories.

Mi Casa’s sophomore album had them also sweep an incredible five nominations in the Album Of The Year, Duo or Group Of The Year, Best Dance Album, Best Music Video and Remix Of The Year categories. A delighted J’Something, the frontman of the group, predictably expressed his elation at the group getting the most nominations.

“We come with a whole lot of confidence. As Mi Casa, we know we have put out a good project, so the fact that Jika was the most played song in South Africa for 13 weeks, most played song on the African continent, and No 1 in the UK all mean we did something right. That said, anything can happen at these awards, so we are not going to be complacent,” he said.

Surprisingly, he believes that, although they came out tops among their peers, five nominations were not enough.

“They haven’t announced the Song Of The Year category yet, and so we hope we are there too,” added J’Something.

Hot on Gangs Of Ballet and Mi Casa’s heels is Nakhane Toure, Naima Kay, The Parlotones and Mafikizolo, who have four nominations each. While Naima Kay will remind one of classic Afro-pop, Mafikizolo has dumped that sound on Reunited to give a more universal sound saturated with east African influences.

Toure, on the other hand, is another classic example of how the musical landscape has changed. Winning four nominations for his alternative album Brave Confusion, the newcomer took brave steps to experiment with a sound that is presumably not popular in South Africa. Even he could not believe that South Africans welcomed his unorthodox interpretation of music.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet that I got four nominations. I never made music hoping for any of this. In fact, I would never do that because that’s where people lose their true meaning and purpose in music. I just felt like making music that I would love to hear and, surprisingly, it was acceptable to the people out there, and here we are,” said the somewhat introverted Toure.

Customarily at the Samas, quite a few genres are represented in the Album Of The Year category, and these were kwaito, Afro-pop, house and gospel. In the 2014 installation, still signalling the deviation of either the judges’ preferences or what music stables are pushing, or both, we have house, pop and one alternative. Nominees include DJ Kent, Mi Casa, Mafikizolo, Naima Kay and Nakhane Toure. This kwaito-less line-up would have been laughable five years ago.

That said, the fiercest competition in this category will be between Mafikizolo and Mi Casa, where experience goes up against genius. By rights, Mafikizolo should take it, as they reinvented themselves in a way no one expected, but we can’t ignore the milestones that Mi Casa’s Su Casa has made.

A few years ago, if you talked about duos or groups, you would mention acts like Bongo Maffin, Boom Shaka and TKZee. While some disbanded and others passed on, none of them is still actively making music.

Bongo Maffin has been threatening to make a return for the longest time, while TKZee made a mild comeback (they were recently in the news for a fist fight between Zwai Bala and Tokollo Tshabalala), but it is highly unlikely that any of these trendsetters will be releasing any new material. This explains why the Best Duo category has the likes of The Parlotones, GoodLuck, Gangs Of Ballet, Mi Casa and Mafikizolo.

This is a second round for Mafikizolo and Mi Casa to have a go at each other, but we can’t underestimate previous winners The Parlotones and Sama 2014’s obvious favourite, Gangs Of Ballet. Mi Casa should take this one just on the basis of Jika’s unmatched local and international success.

The future of South Africa’s sound is usually seen each year with the calibre of newcomers we have selected in the Newcomer Of The Year category. This year, the lot falls on rapper iFani, pop group MuZart, Nakhane Toure, pop singer Naima Kay and rockers Gangs Of Ballet.

After getting an impressive four nominations at the recent Metro FM awards, and walking away with nothing, it might be a good gesture to give this one to Naima Kay. However, that is not how things work at the Samas, and so the KwaZulu-Natal singer will have to cross her fingers once more and hope for the best. Her biggest competition on the night, apart from Gangs Of Ballet, will be iFani, who has managed to do with local hip hop what Eminem did when he started out. This ability to let even non-hip hop fans relate to his sound, with infectious anthems like Shake and Ewe, gives iFani a crossover advantage over niche artist Naima Kay. If there is any justice on the night, then the accolade should be his.

Zahara may attempt to rekindle her past glory at the Samas by clinching Female Artist Of The Year, where she faces Judith Sephuma, Dear Reader, Naima Kay and Rebecca Malope. If this was Loliwe, then we could safely say she would win with no qualms, but since Malope is to the Samas what Meryl Streep is to the Oscars, Zahara has no chance.

Things are a bit hazy in the Male Artist Of The Year category, as every one there stands a good chance of winning. Connell Cruise is the country’s answer to Justin Timberlake, and his self-titled album did quite well, so much so that at one point his hit single Not Just Friends topped Timberlake’s Mirrors on 94.7 Highveld Stereo’s Top 40.

Nakhane Toure has been discussed a bit in this article, but it is worth mentioning that Brave Confusion has also broken some records on radio. Matthew Mole’s claim to fame was when he became the first South African to enter the South African iTunes album chart at No 1 with his debut album, beating the likes of Jay-Z, The Rolling Stones, Michael Bublé, Robin Thicke and the huge compilation series NOW That’s What I Call Music.

That alone should place him on top. But with more competition coming from rapper and singer Kabomo, who has been to the Samas before and left empty-handed, there is a chance Mole will have to take second place.

If Kabomo were to win, his victory would not only be against the aforementioned male artists, but against guitar maestro Vusi Mahlasela, who is no stranger to the Samas. His rather constipated vocal tone is appealing to many, so he has been in business for decades. Based on merit and perseverance, this one should go to Kabomo.

On a disappointing note, the exclusion of new house sensation Heavy K in any of the categories leaves a lot to be desired. This is the man who was responsible for the recent festive season parties with his chart-topping hit songs like Wena, Respect The Drumboss and Beautiful War. None of these gems got nominated, and most probably the Sama office will, as always, plead the fact that they were released after their October/ November cut-off time.

This is silly and a gross oversight, because the same happened to DJ Vetkuk and Mahoota’s Via Orlando, which slipped through Sama’s fingers while it was hot only to be forgotten in this year’s run.

To be fair, it’s a little too late to be talking about Via Orlando in March 2014. This is why something needs to be done about when artists can submit their material, so that we have a current nomination list that reflects music that is still fresh on radio and in stores. Let’s be honest, no one will celebrate Heavy K’s current work a year from now, as new hits will be on rotation then.

While we speculate on what the outcome will be, the results are always a different scenario, as we shall see on the night of April 28 at Sun City.

* For more information on SAMA 20, visit www.samusicawards.co.za. Get hold of the nominated albums now at iTunes.com/SAMA

Sunday Independent