Artists must bear the world ...

2011-04-22 09:26

Last Wednesday I received two important pieces of news which got me thinking – the first being the announcement of this year’s SA Music Awards nominees; the other the death of a man who was gunned down while asking for a better life for all. We will remember him as Andries Tatane of Ficksburg.

These events reminded me of an old friend I know who credits the soil and his crimson libations for the colour of his skin. About music he always says: “For our talking drum to lose its dum-dum, healers must renounce the scent of our soil for the special hollers of Dollars and Rands. So we must pray that their palms will always long for the lovely bruise of hope’s rhythm.”

My friend’s words, along with Tatane’s death, stalked my impressions of the Samas. I noticed that many of the nominations are unconcerned with the social truths of Tatane’s death. In other words, there’s no soundtrack to the raging service delivery protests, but partying music is plentiful.

This is not to say all our musicians are indifferent to our troubled body politic. There are artists like Kesivan Naidoo whose album, Instigators of The Revolution, is an admirable creative experiment with authenticity. Simphiwe Dana too – though not nominated – is also clearly struggling with the meaning of being a sincere artist.

But this bunch seems like a minority that is drowned out by the deafening din of jive; and here jive refers to the embrace of trivial joys.

Further, I’m bewildered by the Samas’ many categories. Separations like best Afrikaans gospel, best African traditional gospel and best contemporary Christian music album baffle me. Is Afrikaans not African and is contemporary Christian music not gospel  I think the appeal of being accommodative has won over creative rigour on this one.

So we have to ask ourselves what the Samas must mean for us as a nation, including artists and consumers. The answer must involve our expectations or standards for music as art in a time when people can die while demanding a better deal from the state. We should be alarmed when musicians are vying for tenders to compose jingoistic jingles for the head of state and his mates. Otherwise who will compose critical poetics against the abuse of power?

If we agree that Tatane’s murder, no matter its finer details, marks an epoch-changing moment in the contemporary story of our nation, our artists must then reflect it with better dashiki dialogues.

As Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri writes in the book A Way Of Being Free, our musicians must “be like the tortoise: bear the shell of the world and still sing your transforming hymns woven from our blood, our pain, our loves, our history, our joy”.

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