The South African Music Awards (Samas) recently broke their usual protocol when they published a full list of entries for this year’s show. The decision was largely influenced by the organisers’ desire to spark a public conversation about who will be on the final nominees list when it’s announced next Thursday, said Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSA) CEO, Nhlanhla Sibisi. RiSA is the company behind the Samas.

The decision was also influenced by situations in the past where the public expressed discontent about their favourite artists not being nominated when the artist themselves had not entered their music for consideration. This was the case at last year’s show when Cassper Nyovest sparked controversy with his absence from the final nominees list.

The most obvious take-away from this list is the significant spike in entries compared to last year - from 470 to 700. “The campaign we put together to try and get people to enter paid off because entries this year have almost doubled from last year’s number,” Sibisi said. “There are obviously some concerns because although the best kwaito album has seen a marginal increase, it is still marginal. One needs to start to look at why we are receiving less and less kwaito entries.”

Sibisi recently conducted preliminary discussions with the likes of kwaito legend Oskido and other industry bigwigs in which it was observed that kwaito artists are now focusing on releasing songs as opposed to albums; it generally takes longer to release albums. It was also observed that some kwaito artists are starting to reinvent themselves as hip hop artists. Sibisi said: “We are going to continuously engage with the kwaito community to get the answers and see how best to shape this category so that it caters for the kwaito community. Kwaito is a truly South African brand and genre and we can’t afford to see it slowly getting out of the awards.” 

With only six entries, kwaito was the least represented genre across the board. Meanwhile best collaboration, which had 106 entries, is the most competitive category, followed by best produced album with 72 entries. The best dance album leads genre-specific categories with 27 entries, closely followed by best rap album, which boasts 25 entrants.

All entries were submitted between November 2016 and January 2017 and had to go through a vetting process that involved officials from RiSA and record company representatives. Panels of independent experts drawn from radio, TV, newspapers, blogs and the recording industry will adjudicate on the final nominees list, which will comprise five nominees in each category. It’s a stringent process that’s designed to provide as accurate a list as possible.

Earlier in the year, after the contentious Metro FM Music Awards (Metros), which saw widespread accusations of system manipulation and corruption, there was a cloud of uncertainty over the state of the South African music industry. Sibisi explained the distinction between the two awards: “When you have a panel of experts sitting and listening to music and then judging it individually, it creates an environment where people are able to actually listen to the album and judge it accordingly.

The other distinction that is very critical is that it would be impossible for the Samas to be voted on because most of our categories are album based. So if you start going the voting route you will end up with albums that have one song that is kwaito and the rest jazz winning a kwaito category.” Steering clear of a voting system is also a means by which to avoid popular songs diluting the system as voters can often vote for a specific album based on a hit song they enjoy on it. Sibisi believes this year’s show, at Sun City, will be yet another memorable occasion.