A tune for the whole continint

2009-10-24 14:23

The question of what the role of the media is in a society is one that has the potential to explode into a finger-pointing, screaming and shouting brawl. In South Africa, the accusations of racism and bias are well-documented. What is often overlooked is the subtle control the media wields over arts and culture. Our society has long been centred on the ‘hits’. The best products and practices are those highlighted by the media; the rest are irrelevant.

Yet, the best is relative.

Before I go any further, I confess I am a conspiracy theorist. But I have never been approached to be part of some syndicate designed to focus attention on the mediocre few while ignoring the talented many. But, I do believe that we are all human and, therefore, make choices based on personal taste or bias. The problem arises when we do not recognise this and allow it to dictate what we put out there.

With that said, South Africa is in an interesting position as an economic and social superpower on the African continent. It has the potential to be great, but it also has the potential to act like, and be perceived as, colonisers, particularly in the popular culture space.

A couple of weeks ago, the second MTV Africa Music Awards took place in Nairobi, Kenya to acknowledge and celebrate contemporary pan-African music and artists. Hosted by Haitian-American Wyclef Jean, 15 South African, 15 Nigerian and six Kenyan artists garnered the most nominations and led the way with awards won.

On websites and social networks, there have been murmurings that there is a bias towards SA and Nigeria when it comes to music videos played on MTV Base and its competitor, Channel O. Whether factual or not, the above does give one reason to pause.

The Channel O Music Video Awards are taking place later this month and, while there does seem to be a broader spectrum of African artists nominated, there are mostly South African artists.

Now before anyone bursts a blood vessel, I do not have anything against the celebration of Mzansi artists. In fact, because these channels are based in South Africa, there is of course a natural tendency for their content to lean towards what is easily accessible. Which is only a problem as they are positioned as African channels.

I am not seeking to bash South Africa or Nigeria. I admire both nations for continuously pushing the envelope in the creative industries. Can one lament the fact that Nigerian artists work hard at pushing their music beyond their borders? No.

I respect their commitment. More and more, Nigerian artists are working with South African producers to put out videos of international standard.

But, as custodians of urban African culture and music, more could be done to ensure that a broader spectrum of the continent is able to benefit from these platforms. Channel O does have shows such as Emcee Africa and Dance Africa that have more reach across the ­continent.

MTV Base does film throughout the continent and has brought in VJs from different countries. I just feel that more could be done.

I understand there is a business imperative, but it makes sense to be the true home of African music by ensuring that your reach is as wide as possible. This creates a stronger relationship with more of your viewers. And the spirit of Africa is a collective one. Let us all build together without prejudice.

Write to Kojo on kojobaffoe@gmail.com

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