‘Question is: how can we make jazz cool?’
A new awards show puts less popular genres centre stage, writes Munya Vomo
The one thing we are yet to grasp in the South African music industry is how to celebrate our artists’ achievements. You could argue that we have annual award ceremonies, but music purists, like jazz sensation Swazi Dlamini, feel that there is still more to be done. This is why she and her partners have created the South African Music Genre Awards (Samgas).
“The idea came from me being actively involved in awards, either as a nominee or presenter. I observed how awards are done in South Africa and saw the trends in the past five years which showed that the artists which these awards represent are unhappy with a whole lot of things. You would get complaints like the mismatching of artists in categories where, for instance, a jazz artist can be entered in something called Adult Contemporary. It’s really confusing,” explained the singer.
“Then there is the issue of certain categories being almost reserved for particular genres. Take the Best Male award in other awards, a DJ or a rapper is certain to win it and the jazz or gospel guy who was also in the same category loses,” she added.
For her, this upcoming award ceremony is not about clashing with what’s already in existence, but recognising the work of unsung heroes and bringing to the fore what we wouldn’t ordinarily see at the South African Music Awards (Samas) or the Metro FM Awards.
“I am not really looking down on other genres, but I am pointing out that other popular genres dominate our current awards at the expense of the others. For instance, we are in a hip hop era, before that there was house music, which had taken over Afro-pop.
“There hasn’t really been a jazz era and the question is, how can we make jazz ‘cool’? I thought it was time that we have awards which are genre-driven in the sense that because jazz is such a broad subject, there is a need to pay attention to it and fragment it into different categories so that people can understand it more. It doesn’t help that people go to jazz festivals where you’d think they would learn more about jazz because there you will find rappers and DJs on the line-up, defeating the entire purpose,” said Dlamini.
Given that radio and TV generally dictate what we listen to and even our spending habits in music, the Samgas seek to highlight the many musical forms which the broadcasting media choose to neglect.
“The South African Music Genre Awards are about educating people and placing music in the categories it was made in. So you will have jazz instrumental albums go up against each other. A jazz male artist should not be pitted against a DJ, because you don’t speak to your audience and your craft doesn’t require the same amount of input. So that situation is skewed from the onset. Let’s respect the genres on their own. I must commend the Crown Gospel Awards which have a lavish array of categories, and it is just gospel.”
Since these are humble beginnings, Dlamini and her team are going to start slowly and concentrate on a few categories.
“We are starting with jazz, gospel and soul (R&B) because they are the genres that I have been able to crossover into in my career. I think it’s the best place to start because you stick with what you know first. When we grow we will add more genres because we would have found specialists in the respective genres who will help us unpack their genres.”
Also, those baby steps mean that even the sponsors are yet to fully support the project, but Dlamini is undeterred.
“These awards have been in the pipeline for a while and we will be hosting them in July. We are looking for sponsors but we have still decided to jump in and go with it. They will take place in Joburg at a venue yet to be finalised,” she said.
As with any maiden voyage, Dlamini is expecting some challenges, the big one being justifying if we really need these awards.
“I know we will face some sort of resistance from people who will be like: ‘Oh no, not another award show’, but if you did your research you will realise that the US has so many awards. Here, in gospel alone, we only have the Crown Gospel Awards and if an artist doesn’t win at those awards, then what? You can’t tell people that they have done well enough,” she said.
So what happens when she is nominated at these awards?
“Naturally, my husband (Tshepo Mngoma) and I can’t enter these awards because of the obvious conflict of interest,” she said.
• The South African Music Genre Awards will happen in July, date to be announced.