“South African House music (in its current form) has been referred to by a myriad of terms called Afro House, Deep Tribal, Ancestral, however it’s only now in recent years that it has culminated in a hybrid ensemble of indigenous sounds fused with international trends.” Glenn Underground.
Wow! No way! You lie! This? There’s no way this can be a local production. You can’t even tell hey.” This statement has been uttered by many mouths in this country of ours with regards to South African house music. Even I myself have been found guilty of such utterances. Honestly, I even found myself carrying out PhD like research to ascertain whether the likes of Mi Casa and C.9ine were really local outfits, and even then, once fully satisfied, I still have those ‘pinch me I’m dreaming’ moments when I listen to the quality of their productions.
The issue is, if we as a sovereign house music nation have doubts about our own music, why is it that when Glenn Underground posted a statement on his Facebook page with regards to our music, everyone felt like he had blasphemed the House music gods and cast evil spells on their loyal disciples from the southern tip of Africa? Everyone took shots at the musical legend. It was a free for all on blogs, twitter timelines and Facebook news feeds, but few people took the time to analyze and dissect what exactly was being said by the house music veteran.
For those who do not know Glenn Underground or may have missed his statement, he is an American producer, hailing from Chicago ‘The birth place of house music’.
On 12 February, he posted the following statement on his Facebook page, quoted here verbatim;
”Let me be the 1st to say that South Africans Need To Learn About Black American Music, Esp House Music which is not that African Sh*t, get it right you all are youngans to an old sound, and yea i said it, that’s why all picks i see of sum of your parties are in backyards and if you don’t like what ive said then delete me beat it”
Now although the statement is rude to say the least, Glenn has a point. Simply broken down, the issue is not about our music as a sound, but the quality of the product. Our sound as a nation is unique, it’s fresh, it’s loved the world over. But the quality of our productions leaves a lot to be desired. This doesn’t refer to the Black Coffee’s and DJ Christos’s of this industry, but to the younger individuals who make up this blossoming musical fraternity of ours.
The release (or more honestly, the mass availability of bootleg copies) of Virtual DJ and FL Studio, has made music production available to anyone with regular access to a computer. But in the same breath it opened a Pandora’s Box filled with Culoe De Song and Boddhi Satva wannabes.
The key issue is, although productions by the abovementioned artists’ music may seem somewhat simple to make, the layering of those basic percussions and harmonies still requires a well learned ear. The younger talents entering the industry sometimes forget that those who we praise on the local podiums may have quit their jobs or dropped out of school, but still strove to have some form of music knowledge, even if it was attained through apprenticeship rather than a formal institution. And this is what Glenn Underground was pointing to when he stated “South Africans need to learn about black American music, Esp House Music”.
I must emphasize though that no one is advocating an exodus to American sounding house, but rather a need for musical development within our own spheres. The classic example is the Soweto Gospel Choir, who’s music is uniquely African but worthy of Grammy nominations. That’s the standard which they set and the house industry should attempt to emulate. But it must also be noted that South Africa is a young nation on many fronts, the most important fact being the financial weight of black South Africans.
Simply put, the average person with above average talent and drive usually doesn’t have the money for a lot of the tools required for high-end studio quality productions. We are probably the capital of bedroom producers.
All that aside, it still begins with our mindset, for its no secret that we get better every day. All that’s required is for us to humble ourselves in the face of criticism, and soon enough we won’t be able to tell what’s local and what’s not, and it certainly won’t even matter.