When Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde – the former lead singer of Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens – died on the 27 July 1997, South Africa experienced yet another case of someone from the creative industry dying poor.
Here are three astounding facts about Ntate Mahlathini:
- He started recording the Mbaqanga music from the early 1960’s, and continued all the way, with some breaks in between, until the very year of his death. So, he was “in the game” for more than 3 decades.
- He has, both as a band member and as a solo artist, collaborated with many other artists, including world-famous Paul Simon and The Art of Noise.
- What was also astounding about Ntate Mahlathini is that he and the Mahotella Queens were one of the few “world music” bands from South Africa who performed to global audiences for more than a decade until the late 90’s.
Despite the commitment to his art, the staying power, the many music records, the lucrative live shows, the accolades, and the global stature, the ‘Lion of Soweto’ died penniless. Why? In the words of Angelique Kidjo, another ‘world music’ African icon from Benin, many old artists do not own the rights to their recorded music!
The dawn of the democratic era in 1994 birthed arguably the first hugely and sustainably successful black independent music label, called Kalawa Jazmee. This label, originally founded by six members – Oscar ‘Oskido’ Mdlongwa, Don Laka, Mandla ‘Spikiri’ Mofokeng, Emmanuel ‘Mjokes’ Matsane, Zynne ‘Mahoota’ Sibika and Bruce ‘Dope’ Sebitlo – is credited for the massive success of the Kwaito genre (think Boom Shaka, Bongo Maffin and Mafikizolo), and played a key role in the growth of local hiphop (many of Hip Hop Pantsula’s hits were produced by Mandla Spikiri) and house music (DJ Black Coffee owes his success to Oskido’s encouragement and support). Kalawa Jazmee continues to have an indelible influence on the local music scene, almost three decades since it was established. This includes the current genre called Mapiano.
There is no argument that Kalawa Jazmee and the other Black-owned independent music labels that came shortly before and after it have been directly responsible for phenomenal success of the local music industry, an essential vehicle for the shaping and expression of the cultural voice of all nations across the world.
So, what is the relevance of the South African independent black music label owners to BANA – the association for 100% Black-owned MAC agencies – that was launched just over a month ago? The colour of the skin, of course. But, there is something more substantive.
First, is the common denominator and that is the creative industry, which both the music and the MAC sectors fall under. This enhances the relevance and expedites the transfer of lessons that Black agencies can learn from, and hopefully do something about.
Second, is ownership. All who know about the stranglehold the mostly foreign owned major record labels – Universal, Gallo, EMI and Sony – used to have on the local music industry, at the centre of which were, the financial resources, undue influence on the music distribution channels, and unlimited music ownership rights of the creative works of the likes of Mahlathini, Margaret Singana, and Brenda Fassie, will agree that this contributed in the economic state of these creative artists whose music continues to be enjoyed long after they died poor.
Third, is the resultant growth of the industry. There has been an explosion of growth of the local music scene since the 90’s, and the entertainment industry at large. This is thanks to the pioneers such as Kalawa Jazmee. Music artists of today own their music rights and have the leverage when negotiating music distribution deals with the major labels. In addition, entrepreneurial music artists, including DJ Tira, DJ Zinhle, DJ Shimza and Casper Nyovest, are not only enjoying the fruits of their creative talent but are also branching out into other business ventures that increase their revenue streams and turn them into wealth magnets.
There are lessons aplenty for black MAC agencies who operate in an industry that is still under the stranglehold of the likes of WPP and Publicis – mainly the multinational conglomerates that are not stimulating the local industry, but are instead driving the much-needed black creative talent away who are not prepared to become ‘bakhaphi’, but want to be in the driving seat in the telling of the South African stories through advertising and communications.
Getting to the point, it is my belief that, when the slice of the MAC industry’s economy – estimated at less than 2% of the reported R58 billion in 2021 – grows for Black agencies, this is going to entice the brilliant Black creative minds to enter the industry and stay; and this will in turn contribute in the improvement of quality of the creative product that the Black agencies are able to deliver as the growing financial resources enable them to do so.
What will unlock this?
The changing of the MAC Sector Codes are the secret source. There is a need for the government to relook the current transformation scores that are failing to achieve the intended outcome: the economic transformation of this industry. This is where BANA can play a meaningful role, by building a robust business case for changing the MAC transformation sector codes, actively lobby the key industry stakeholders to get behind the business case, and ensure the government adopts the proposed changes.
Bra Willy Seyama is founder & chief explorations officer of eNitiate – a Pan African data-driven digital content marketing solutions company that has been in operation for more than 13 years. He is also one of the founding members of BANA. Bra Willy is better known for his love for analysing digital data coming up with useful insights and publishing them in the eNitiate blog, which can be found on this link: //enitiate.solutions/blog/