The politics of SA awards shows
Politicians are never far from the red carpet at South Africa’s award ceremonies, writes Therese Owen.
Johannesburg - All award ceremonies are political,” stated S’bu Nxumalo, then SABC1 commissioning editor. And he should know. As the official broadcaster of South Africa’s biggest annual entertainment event, the South African Music Awards, Nxumalo was right in the thick of things.
This statement sprang to mind a few years later when watching, or rather enduring, the marathon that is the South African Traditional Music Awards (Satmas).
It was a veritable Nkandla of Zumas. Not only did all three of the president’s wives present awards, but so did the giggling man himself, as well as his daughter, Gugu. At the time she was making a cringeworthy attempt at acting on SABC3 soap Isidingo.
The Satmas were held in Durban for the first few years, which meant that the eThekwini mayor and the KwaZulu-Natal premier were also in attendance.
Very political indeed.
The awards were started in a reaction to the Samas collapsing the traditional music categories, which included all the official languages, putting English into one category. This was spearheaded by Idols judge Randall Abrahams, who was then head of the Samas. It caused a furore among powerful players in the industry.
However, Abrahams stuck to his guns. He believed that with more than 60 categories, the Samas were way too clumsy.
The counter-argument was the Samas had to acknowledge and represent the rainbow nation of music, hence the large number of categories. Well, the Grammys also collapsed categories, sniffed Abrahams. “We’re not Americans,” was the retort, “so voetsek.” Hence the birth of the Satmas.
It was also around about that time that the KwaZulu-Natal government and the city of Durban were positioning themselves to be the top entertainment venue in South Africa and they welcomed the Satmas with open arms and pockets.
The SABC also thought the Satmas were a great idea and agreed to broadcast the show. However, it could never be broadcast live, as traditional artists and their people have less concept of time than the entire Kalawa Jazmee stable put together.
The show, from the red carpet to the final awards, is slow and arduous.
The Metro FM Awards, however, are just the opposite. For the past four years, they have been broadcast live on SABC1 and the performances are world class. It is a fun, fast celebration of South African music culture. The idea for the Metros behind the Metros, or MMAs as they are now called, came from Baby Joe, producer of South Africa’s most popular and enduring entertainment show, Selimathunzi.
“Romeo Khumalo was the general manager of Metro FM at the time,” recalls Baby Joe. “In conversation, he said he needed to find a way of marketing the radio station. As a joke, I suggested a music award. He liked the idea and we went ahead. The first MMAs were held in the Pyramid in downtown Joburg. There were no seats and by the end everyone was lying down.”
Since those days, the MMAs have grown into the biggest music event outside the Samas. They were also the first to realise the value of getting municipalities on board as sponsors, the first being Durban. It was a wise move, not only financially, but because people outside Johannesburg are not jaded. They go crazy when they encounter their favourite stars in the flesh, which adds to the atmosphere.
After courting Port Elizabeth and Mbombela, the MMAs have returned to Durban – one of the many award ceremonies hosted by the city.
The downside of having municipalities as sponsors is that the politicians insist on making speeches. Unfortunately, our current crop of leaders persist in emulating Number 1, which means they speak really slowly about absolutely nothing.
This does not make for good television.
While the KZN government appears to have fallen out with the Satmas, it is hosting South Africa’s biggest advertising award, the Loeries. They were held at Sun City for years.
The city of Durban is planning to make use of not only the Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre, but the central beach promenade for the myriad parties that happen over the Loerie weekend. There must be many smiley faces on the thoroughfare formerly known as Point Road. The Loeries take place next month.
Staying with Durban, the MTV Africa Music Awards happen on Saturday and, like last year, they are expecting a live television audience of half a billion. Yikes, well done, Durban!
The Mamas’ inaugural show was in Abuja, Nigeria. It was a diabolical mess of chaos, chaos and more chaos.
The following year, MTVbase moved them to Nairobi and it was much improved. Then politics hit the Mamas when their sponsors insisted they return to Nigeria, as it was their biggest market. However, Boko Haram’s violence was affecting the country and MTVbase was not willing to risk lives. They had to wait out the contract, which meant no Mamas. Last year, they turned to the safety of Durban and its beaches, luxurious hotels and the advanced technology of the ICC.
Another award ceremony sniffing around eThekwini is the Samas. After being rather unceremoniously dumped by its chief sponsor MTN, it is looking for a large cash injection.
The biggest problem is the cellphone company branded the event so well, that when you think Samas, you think yellow. This means a massive rebranding exercise would have to take place for any sponsor interested in naming rights. According to the Mercury’s sister paper, The Independent on Saturday, the Samas have asked for R66 million from the KZN government and eThekwini Municipality. Hmm …
Politics also hit the Duku Dukus, which celebrate the achievements of SABC TV. The ego of the then head of SABC1, Ray Nkwe, found the awards too frivolous and replaced them with the short-lived Stars of Mzansi in 2007. This was to be his vision, his legacy in the TV industry. However, when he left, Stars of Mzansi left too. And rightly so. Like the corporation’s leaders, it was bloated, directionless and clueless.
So we welcome the return of the Dukus, which are set to take place in Johannesburg at the end of the year.
Baby Joe, who is also the founder and director of the Dukus, promises the awards will be as much fun as we remember them to be. “It will be tongue in cheek, but it will also be serious in recognising the new talent and old-timers,” he said.
The Feather Awards are also the brainchild of Baby Joe. These gay-friendly awards are political purely because of their stance. They recognise achievements in the entertainment industry by gay people and by people who are highly respected by the gay community. However, they take it a step further by also recognising the amusing antics of politicians.
A few years back, an irate Julius Malema demanded that they un-nominate him in the category Drama Queen of the Year. He huffed that he had never studied drama, nor was he a queen.
In 2013, Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane won the award for Diva Extraordinaire - and went on stage to accept the award. It impressed many, but, then again, it was a few months before the elections. These stories propelled the Feathers into mainstream media.
At last year’s Feathers, Kelly Khumalo made her first public appearance on the red carpet since her lover, Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa, was murdered in front of her. Her appearance - looking like a black widow spider - so soon after his death, made headlines.
Despite being only five years old, The Feathers are as well known as their more established counterparts. This is because they have realised the simple fact that an award ceremony is only as big as the media coverage it gets. So, while the Naledi Theatre Awards made headlines due to Lebo M’s temper tantrum over seating arrangements, it does not garner the same level of interest as the Feathers.
This is not to take away the importance of the Naledis. It’s just that no one else is really interested. Indeed, all award ceremonies are political.
* Theres Owen is one of SA’s leading music journalists.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.