“Gloom and despondency have never defeated adversity. Trying times need courage and resilience..” Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, 2008 September Presidential Resignation speech.
Let’s just say I was a fish out of water. I traipsed through the darkness over the railway line in 6 inch thin Wedges to get to the other side of the tracks in order to arrive at the entrance of the Tenth Annual Channel O African Video Awards in Kliptown, Soweto. I was there at the invitation of Mr Bob Nameng, director of the Soweto Kliptown Youth Centre (SKY) in old Kliptown. The center featured prominently during the show part of Channel O social responsibility initiatives. The channel build a music recording studio at the center to help train aspirant musos and the youth of Kliptown some years ago.
At the entrance I received my orange tag, tightly tied around my right wrist and was swiftly greeted by two crew members one of whom informed someone via the intercom that “We have another screamer” coming in. I asked one of them “screamer? What does that mean?” I soon found out at the entrance to the main venue when I was asked for a card or ticket which I didn’t possess. “Wait here” they said seemingly confused about where I should go. After I was let in and showed to the “screamers” section I realized what the confusion had been about. I was not dressed like the “screamers” – a word which here is meant to describe die-hard, star-struck largely young(er) people who would stop at nothing to see their favourite artists up-close and personal and so are placed standing around the stage to shout and scream at the performers throughout the live show. I was with those guys that the “stars/performers” shake –hands with on stage, who they throw their pieces of clothing or accessories to. Some did too, a pair of sunglasses and a hat were thrown to the “beloved” screamers “without whom the artists would not be the stars they are” (sic)
I laughed at my own presumptuousness. I had actually asked for a chair, but realized that my orange tag only afforded me standing room in a cage –like – Kraal among screaming fans. Seated on the gallery were Very Important People (VIPs): the stars, musicians, artists, performers, Music industry leaders, managers, producers, the media with their wives, friends etc. I even spotted Randall Hall, the famed Idols judge whom everyone loves to hate, sitting in the front row seats at the gallery his demeanor unchanged from what Idols audiences have become used to. I had been spoiled by the “perks” of being a member of the press, though admittedly I have never in the past (nor presently) used my press card to gain access to events I was not assigned to cover or invited to. Tonight I was here as myself – Jedi Ramalapa – and that only provided access to the fan section – which in production terms is equivalent to the role of an extra, without benefits (food and refreshments).
After I settled into my standing “Screamer” position and taking pictures with fellow screamers. I took out my notebook with a view to writing about the Awards from a very different perspective. Soon darkness descended inside the Marquee erected on Walter Sisulu Square of Remembrance as the countdown to the live show began.
Fire-works, Lights, Stage Smoke erupted around the stage which lite up the dome in a spectacular fashion. The fire works though were dangerously close to the “screamers” raising alarm from my side about our safety. Soon Red, Green, Yellow and Red laser lights blitzed, whizzed on the stage revealing two statuette-like figures of two well-built men, who were to be the main MCs for the show. Naeto Super C and AKA, names and faces which were until that very moment were unknown to me.
BLACK & GOLD
The fashion theme for the show was overwhelmingly black and gold. Black Military-esque outfits, suits, body hugging evening dresses for the female presenters and Vjs embellished with thick gold chains and an assortment of jewelry from tooth to toe. The show was fast-paced and I soon discovered the advantageous position I was in as I could see the performers up close and also had a view to the scripts they were reading through the tele-prompter. From my standing position one could observe the demeanor of the performers and presenters as they propped themselves up for a cue to action and read from the set-script. Many of them improvised, made up their own words as they went along and some did a poor job of reading which meant that had I been sitting on the main gallery, I would not have had a clue of what they were saying. The stars read as if spitting a rap tune, but I understood this as they were in-fact artists who are more often than not prone to go off the script and perform whenever the mood arises. No one is perfect.
“I am just one poor woman among millions, in their name I want to greet a freedom fighter” Belgian Woman to Patrice Lumumba following his release from prison and arrival in Belgium.
THE ASS (ET) FACTOR.
What I found most interesting (read disturbing) about the show was the prominence and dominance in all music genres of male artists. Female artists were mostly supporting acts – dancers who gyrated half-naked, limbs in the air, massaging the floor with their thighs and buttocks in half-twerking-twists and splits behind King-Like- Male artists. My fellow screamers were in heaven. The women among us faked fainting and made comments to the tune of “he looks so delicious” – all is equal in love and war. The Men wanted to leave “ let’s go and have a drink somewhere” It was indeed a live show true to what Channel O music videos are about – the trusted old script of the Male lead supported by half-naked gyrating women behind them. It made me think about what it is in fact that make male artists more “successful” or prominent, hard work, less time looking after the family? Fraternal brotherhood? Has nothing at all changed? I suppose women aspire to be background dancers because that is what popular culture sells to them, advertising excessive sexuality on the dance floor as a way to get in, be seen and admired by men and envied by other women. I have often had my doubts about whether or not it would be prudent to force commercial entities such as Multichoice which owns Channel O to provide “diversified” forms of entertainment thinking that it would be better for us to do our own thing on the side.
But “we” independent artists who function on the fringes of the mainstream do not have the platform, and one can’t influence popular culture if we don’t go were young people are – which is the Channel O and MTV’s of the world. So how do we change? Change does take place yes, is taking place, but at a much slower pace – ultimately we’ll have more young people aspiring to those forms of entertainment as career options than we’d have true artists who have a real message or craftsmanship. Independent artists need to infiltrate the established mainstream ultimately. How?
The performance by South African DJ Ganyani of her hit song Chibombo ( a former supporting act for Thembi Seete of Boom Shaka) was perhaps the only powerful female led performance act, which brought to mind images of the late 80’s singer Paul Ndlovu and Brenda Fassie in one tiny package. Admittedly non-gyrating-fully clothed male and female music duos received a resounding reception from the audience particularly a performance by The Soil. The audience stood up to sing with the artists word for word. Mafikizolos’ 2013 hit song “Khona” also received a warm reception as it brought the show down to a close with more fireworks, dancing Africans, stage smoke and confetti, to a spectacular close. Even the ever popular Alingo – by the Nigerian duo P-Square; which got me moving one Sunday afternoon, though popular did not generate the massive support. It was altogether a night for South African artists, which also made me wonder where the African(ness) was in the awards.
All things being equal, I imagine that certain sections of the public are also slowly getting tired of the male on top type music videos and are also looking for performances that are much more substantial – though the latter still dominates.
Michael Jackson was alive at the Channel O African Video awards, with almost all dance choreography mimicking the pop-legends infectious moves. This is also true to worldwide mainstream dance acts from Beyoncé to Chris brown. The show left me wondering if this generation has anything “original “to offer? Perhaps it’s time I considered adjusting my expectations.
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