Can foreign locals become lekker?

2010-04-10 11:34

Tune into most radio stations in South Africa and, chances are, you

will hear music from the US. The music industry has its base there, and the

American music machine is structured to push out that music to the world

relentlessly. Artists from all over the world spend much time and energy trying

to break ­into that market, which is ­immense, as the country itself is.

In a lot of ways, South Africa ­occupies the same space for

Africans with its infrastructure and the presence of top record companies.


many look to America as a place to achieve their dreams ­(despite the economic

challenges and the low success rate), many on the continent look to South Africa

as a country where you can achieve much, as long as you work hard and grab


For many within South Africa’s borders, there often seems to be a

lack of opportunity for the ordinary person, with a small segment of the

population taking all of the cake. But for someone coming from other African

countries, this is the opposite. I was chatting to a Ghanaian rapper who left a

burgeoning career in Accra to make his name in South Africa. The first question

I asked him was “why?”, to which he responded that while in Ghana, he had felt

that it would be easier to be signed in South Africa.

Things haven’t panned out the way he had envisioned, so now he is

working with a small label he has set up with a couple of friends, and is using

whatever contacts he (and they) has to create a space for himself. He did,

however, lament that it seems to be even harder for a foreign African national

to break into the music industry in South Africa.

Has South Africa become the America of Africa? How often does one

hear of artists making it in the US market? Estelle, from the ­UK, broke into

that market on the back of John Legend when he signed her to his label. She is a

talented artist who had a career in the UK and ­Europe before John Legend came

along, and yet it took that relationship for the US to ­recognise her


I could be wrong, but in South ­Africa, for artists to grow a

career it seems they need to assimilate. They need to keep their “foreignness”

under wraps and project themselves as South African, representing South Africa.

Is there a glass ceiling for the foreign artist in South Africa? If artists are

­involved in the development of the music industry in South Africa, can they

benefit from the various grants and the like that exist?

Are foreign African

nationals setting themselves up for punishment and failure by coming to South


It doesn’t seem to be the case for the foreign football player,

­although many are often just passing through, using this space as a platform to

launch international careers. There are a lot of people from across the

continent in South Africa contributing positively to the development of the

country in their own small ways, including musicians. At what stage do they

become local and their creative output lekker enough to be considered part of

the South African landscape? Somehow, there seem to be more questions than


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