The saga of the two amapiano awards shows

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A still from the 2008 performance 'Burning Piano' by legendary Japanese Jazz pianist, Yosuke Yamashita. (Photo: Still from Burning Piano)
A still from the 2008 performance 'Burning Piano' by legendary Japanese Jazz pianist, Yosuke Yamashita. (Photo: Still from Burning Piano)

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“I want to categorically state that there will not be two awards. The only awards that will be staged will be ours, which is the authorised Amapiano Awards. The rebranded and unauthorised SA Amapiano Awards will not be staged, to the extent that if they do not by consent, remove and withdraw the awards, we will be approaching the court on an urgent basis not only to interdict those awards but for their removal in completion.”

These are the firm words of lawyer Kevin Smith at an urgent press briefing held by the Amapiano Awards on Monday.

Last week, City Press spoke with Qness Ndlovu, head of communication for the SA Amapiano Awards, after nominees were announced for their event scheduled for later this year.

At the urgent media briefing on Monday, it was alleged that Ndlovu stole the idea for these awards. A cease and desist letter was sent to all the nominees by the Amapiano Awards, who claimed that Ndlovu, after being a member of their team, stole the idea and his awards are illegitimate.

Ndlovu very calmly dismissed all the allegations against him: 

The sad thing is that person [Faye Omar] has never reached out to our office or anyone from the SA Amapiano Awards.
Ndlovu

“They started saying what they are saying on social media. Our legal department reached out to them for substantiation. They haven’t been able to substantiate that claim and have been ignoring our counsel. They are busy doing this on social media.”

The media briefing was held via Zoom and in attendance were Amapiano Awards directors Faye Omar and Brandina Ngcobo as well as their lawyer Smith.

Ndlovu, a well-known DJ and media practitioner, has been on a media run speaking to people such as Mac G on his podcast, punting what is allegedly a stolen idea. That interview as well as the one done by City Press now stand as evidence or as Smith put it “a paper trail of theft of intellectual property”.

With the amapiano genre picking up as much steam as it has, this will be a hotly contested lawsuit.

Said Ngcobo: “It is unfortunate that we have to introduce ourselves in this situation. Basically an unfortunate situation has happened. A member of our team has taken up an idea of ours and has made it his own. We are here to clarify that situation.”

Omar added: “A big part of the awards was established in 2019. The Amapiano Foundation was then established last year. The dream behind the awards was to always to instil knowledge in the youth of South Africa and the world at large. To educate the world about the music that is born in our motherland. The genre of amapiano was born in somebody’s yard.”

READ: Mzansi’s first amapiano awards have social media abuzz

She then explained how the Amapiano Awards or any awards show is usually a private limited enterprise where a company can make money out of it.

“When we registered it [the Amapiano Awards] we made sure to make it an NPC [non-profit organisation] as this is for the people, by the people. Our vision was to redefine the genre and music space itself. Amapiano is about celebrating oneness, the kasi culture and ubuntu. We also wanted to give back and what better way to do this than with skills and youth development.

“Making sure our youth are able to sustain themselves, whatever money that was made or accumulated, the Amapiano Awards was giving back not to the directors, but back to the musicians that work hard on the genre.”

Omar continued: 

On April 29 I had a discussion with DJ Qness who I was introduced to by somebody we both know. This discussion was about the awards, the foundation and the SMS voting line. Our legal team is well aware of all the key points we discussed, and our WhatsApp conversations. My ex-husband and father to my kids passed away and on June 14, which was our last discussion, he [Ndlovu] even gave me his condolences.
Omar

They wanted Ndlovu to be on the team as a director as he had skills as a public relations specialist, Omar said.

“I knew that he didn’t have any ties with amapiano as a genre as he was a House DJ. On that day we were supposed to meet face to face but then I had to go to Durban. I told him this.”

Ndlovu responded: “It seems like a social media spin. They are trying to get attention using our awards, it’s sad. I have never met that woman [Omar], or the directors and I have never met her neither has she ever met me.”

Last Wednesday Omar returned from Durban to congratulatory messages from people in the industry as the news was all over social media. A friend alerted her to somebody running with an amapiano awards idea on the popular Podcast and Chill with Mac G.

“I still didn’t know at that point that it was DJ Qness. I sent him a WhatsApp and he never responded.”

READ: Uncle Vinny’s adolescent arrogance 

“We brought someone into the group, and they saw an opportunity and perhaps thought we were sleeping,” Ngcobo added.

Their lawyer Smith made it clear that possession was nine tenths of the law. He said Ngcobo and Omar had established their possession of the intellectual property of the Amapiano Awards back in 2019.

“That’s when registration [of their organisation] had taken place. Prior to registration there were discussions, stakeholder meetings and planning for the awards taking place. The Amapaino Awards are not a new idea or concept, it is something that this team has been working on for years,” said Smith.

A verbal agreement was struck between Omar and Ndlovu and it was going to be formalised on June 14. But it wasn’t due to Omar attending the funeral in Durban.

“In subsequent weeks we saw the announcement of the rebranded SA Amapiano Awards. This came as a surprise. Once we discovered who the people behind the SA Amapiano Awards were, we sent them a cease and desist notifying them that we do know of the infringements of intellectual property law that have taken place.

“We gave them the opportunity to remedy the situation. Not only that, but we wanted to bring them to the table to discuss a way forward.”

He reiterated that from their inception, the Amapiano Awards had an egalitarian focus and were an upliftment initiative.

The foundation was established to fund state-of-the-arts studios built in underprivileged communities where the sound comes from, to generate a pipeline of talent for the global stage.

“Our fight is not over the awards show but to protect the community development initiative that we have established,” Smith explained.

He added that their stakeholders, both national and international, had planned to organise an international tour for all the winners at the Amapiano Awards.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic put a large dent in this plan which is why neither the event nor the tour have taken place.

“This breach has put us in a position in which the community development initiative – which was supposed to be the focus of the Amapiano Awards – will be lost if this idea is stolen from a member of the planning committee.”

Smith said when someone who is privy to that much sensitive information, chooses to use it for their own gains it is an act of circumvention and is legally protected, such issues can be fought by litigation. This was what the Amapiano Awards body intended doing.

“We have given them the opportunity to sort this matter out amicably, they have failed to come to the table. We submitted to them all the relevant registration documents proving the legitimacy of our organisation. We have asked them to do the same,” the lawyer said.

The SA Amapiano Awards organisers are yet to do so.

The cease and desist letter was sent to the SA Amapiano Awards as well as notifications to all their members and the nominees. The artists need not fear litigation should any of them feel unsettled when they come across the email from Smith’s law firm Gani Mayet Attorneys.

Asked if he knew that all the nominees for his awards had been notified of a cease and desist Ndlovu said: “I am not aware of that. All, I know is that our legal team [asked] and they never provided substantiation.”

Smith explained: 

The extent that he [Ndlovu] has gone against the cease and desist is actually creating a trail of evidence that will increase the level of claim we have against him.
Smith

Only one SA Amapiano Awards nominee was at the briefing although an invite was afforded to all.

TikTok sensation and dancer Jessica Mashaba asked: “Does this mean we need to retract all the information we have sent on social media platforms? I’m not sure what I would say to my audience as it isn’t that clear at the moment.”

All the nominees were also notified of the pending litigation and that they should either realign or distance themselves from the SA Amapiano Awards to protect their brands and reputation. Importantly, these nominees need not fear any litigation against them.

The SA Amapiano Awards have not been registered with the Companies, Co-operatives and Intellectual Property Rights.

City Press has seen the notice letters and correspondence between the Amapiano Awards body and the SA Amapiano Awards.


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Phumlani S Langa 

Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
Phumlani.Sithebe@citypress.co.za
www.citypress.co.za
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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