Protecting our music heritage

By Lynne Brown

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OVER the years, the Western Cape has acquired a well-deserved reputation for economic innovation.

We have, for instance, done some amazing things to showcase our wines; we’ve built our film industry into a multibillion rands business – and our ever-developing marketing plan for our heritage and scenic tourism attractions continues to draw in visitors from far and wide.

We spawned one poor relation, though … a nice, but snotty-nosed cousin called music.

For a long time, both government and those in the know in the private sector have been aware of the massive potential of the Western Cape music industry.

The evidence has always been there for all to see….

The Cape Town Jazz festival has become a regular port of call for star acts and aficionados from all over the world; the Nuwejaar Minstrel Carnival is a Cape Town institution; the steady flow of nostalgia musicals suggest that Kaapies can’t get enough of this genre; and the interest in the long-hidden Karoo blues type of music has been exhilarating.

And yet, for some inexplicable reason, we have not made the best use of the opportunities flowing from these events.

While I have always accepted that (music-wise) talent plus effort equals considerable listening enjoyment, there’s a missing element that needs to be urgently addressed: proper monetary reward for the musicians and “backroom” staff.

The reason for this is obvious: far too many people have been pushing and pulling in far too many directions.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a single body – to do all the pushing and prompting, to provide support and advice, to organize a mentorship system, to plot roadmaps into the future and to deliver the verbal slaps when these become necessary?

Here’s the good news: we launched just such a body this week. It’s a Section 21 company called the Cape Music Industry Commission (or Cape MIC) – and it is the brainchild of the Department of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism.

It is the first commission of its kind in South Africa – and it confirms (yet again) the Western Cape’s reputation as a pioneer of economic development in this country.

I hope that after the news of this venture is absorbed by the industry, those who want to make a living from music, will begin a process of interaction with Cape MIC.

Like tens of thousands of my fellow citizens, I’ve always felt a strong affinity with local music. And I’ve often agonized over the plight of many of our top musicians.

And so, while the advent of this new body should herald the start of a brighter future for new generations of performers, I want to reflect for a few moments on the generation that did so much to produce the type of music that has been hailed as unique across the world and which will now be marketed much more effectively….

For many years, through some of our darkest days, these artists brought joy into our lives.

Through their Kaapse-flavoured langarm tunes … their Cape jazz compositions … their goema liedjies … their blik kitaar Karoo blues … their Zayne Adams-Give-a-Little-Love-type ballads … their Afrikaanse Hip Hop … their musicals … their Gospel … and their Kwaito, they got us to smile when, on countless occasions, we wanted to cry.

These very special people were (and, in many instances, continue to be) exceedingly generous in sharing their talents with us – for our enjoyment.

Some even sacrificed their health to put a song in our hearts.

In this respect, I think of Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee, who gave us so much pleasure, but who died a pauper. I think of Robert Sithole, the legendary pennywhistler, who died penniless in hospital.

I think of the Karoo blues artist, Jacob Jaers, the master of the homemade blikviool, who died while riding his new bicycle to visit his girlfriend.

I think of the incomparable Robbie Jansen, who gave new meaning to the term “struggle musician”.

I think of Ricardo, who many years ago persuaded boys and girls to look at their daddies in a new light, but who in more recent times (before he developed a throat problem) was regarded as one of the Western Cape’s top Gospel musicians.

I think of the keyboardist, Tony Schilder, who is living in the shadow of an aneurysm on the brain….

I think of our Weekend Special, Brenda Fassie. And I think of many, many others, who may not have hit the headlines, but who pulled in the crowds at countless community halls throughout the province.

In many ways, the struggles of the musicians of our struggle generation have contributed to the formation of Cape MIC.

A few years ago, one of our local musicians, Joe Schaeffers, said: “I’ve yet to meet a rich musician.”

He was speaking about local performers – and he was probably right. While the advent of Cape MIC is unlikely to produce a flood of music millionaires in the Western Cape, I believe that through its guidance, programmes and mentorship systems, it will help local professionals to make wise business decisions.

And wise business decisions will, at the very least, enable them to make a comfortable living.

To enable you to understand why I’m so excited about this venture, let me give you some facts about the South African music industry….

In 2006, the trade value of the South African music industry stood at more than R1-billion. Of this, about R996-million went to the recording industry and about R50-million to digital sales.

In 2006, South Africa was ranked the 19th largest music market in the world; a year later, it had shot up three places – to 16th.

We’re a market on the move – and the reason for this is simple: few other countries have marched to the tune of the digital revolution as comfortably and as enthusiastically as we have.

And the future of music is … yes, digital. So watch this space.

The latest estimates are that the music industry in the Western Cape employs approximately 2,000 people – about a tenth of the national figure.

Up to now, Gauteng has been regarded as the “heart” of the South African music industry – and for a long time many talented local artists and industry players have had to relocate north to access the infrastructure and music machinery that their talents required.

Fortunately for us, time and technology does not stand still….

The rise of the digital era, as well as other technological advancements, has presented the Western Cape with unique opportunities to challenge the status quo.

New methods of distribution and digital management systems are shifting the traditional balance of power in the music industry.

A groundswell of enthusiasm is beginning to emerge among industry players in the Western Cape, of which the MIC is determined to take advantage.

Although the provincial government has invested significantly in the establishment of Cape MIC, the support of various industry stakeholders has been a key factor in getting it off the ground.

Cape MIC has set itself the following targets: to position and market the Western Cape music industry; to support and develop music industry businesses and entrepreneurs through skills and enterprise support; to disseminate and become a reliable source of data and information; and to harness the potential of technology and innovation to place the Western Cape industry at the forefront of development.

The Western Cape will never be short of music talent (give or take a sound engineer or two). In the coming months, Cape MIC will be helping budding artists (in whatever area of the industry) to more than just dream about success.

It will offer these artists the guidance to enable them to get to where they want to be – and to make them feel that they are helping to grow the Western Cape.


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