Local discontent

Mkhize, a columnist for yeahbo.net, is one of more than 1 200 people who have added their signatures to an online petition to increase South African music on radio.

Called the South African Music Quota Coalition (SAMQC), the group aims to gather as many signatures as possible, both online and off, to lobby the government for an increase in the current quota, which is set to change next week. With the arrival of South African Music Week the coalition brings the role of the quota to the fore.

The quota on South African music first took effect in 1997, as legislated by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), the predecessor to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

South Africa introduced the music regulations to develop and protect a national identity and to encourage an economically productive local music industry.

After a public enquiry into local music content, the IBA established a quota of 20% for radio stations, which would be reviewed after three years. The review process has now been concluded and, after consultation, Icasa decided to increase the quota to 25% for commercial stations and 40% for public and community stations. Them revised quotas officially come into effect on August 22.

But the SAMQC is not satisfied with the new figures and is pushing for 50% all round. It argues that to achieve the goals of development and to protect local music, a higher quota needs to be implemented and, more importantly, enforced.

SAMQC founding member, singer-songwriter Robin Auld is one of the people who took part in the review process leading up to the quota revision and found the outcome inadequate.

Auld created the coalition to assemble like-minded individuals who are discontented with the amount of local music played on radio and the effect this is having on the industry as a whole. Don Laka, Henry Ate’s Karma-Ann Swanepoel and Guy Battery are a few of the musicians who have joined, along with representatives from record companies and production houses, and concerned citizens.

The quota is due to be reviewed again in 2007. But the SAMQC believes this is too long to wait. It wants the higher quota to be implemented now so the benefits will already be under way three years down the line. Auld is hoping the increased quota will do for South Africa what it did for Australia’s cultural production.

“The Australian quota came in high but once the country had accepted that it wasn’t a colony anymore and it started to produce its own top-class movies and music, the quota didn’t need to be so high, because the change in mindset was there.”

Madoda Mditsha, SABC marketing manager and a firm supporter of the coalition, believes that radio plays an important role in perpetuating the “mentality that what we do is not good enough, by relegating local music to the early hours of the morning and keeping it outside the spectrum of what is considered popular”.

According to the Recording Industry of South Africa, the local industry sends hundreds of millions of rands in royalties each year to major overseas labels. The revenue these royalties generate could be going into developing the local music industry, says Mditsha.

He believes the quota has important economic implications: “[The] government needs to take an active role in the quota issue because it has positive spin-offs. Improving this sector means creating sustainable employment and poverty alleviation. That makes the quota issue a political ball game.”

For this reason, the coalition is on a mission to obtain at least 10 000 signatures for a petition to be handed early next year to Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology Ben Ngubane. It will also approach politicians this month to address the issue, taking the quota beyond its artistic and cultural merits into the realm of business and politics.

But the possibility of increasing the quota even further raises questions about quality and quantity. Although Metro FM often plays more than the prescribed amount of South African tracks, music manager Fistaz Mixwell believes a 50% quota is not viable. “Half of those songs aren’t going to be up to international standard and they will sound out of place.”

Quality is something musicians themselves need to be keenly aware of, says Yfm music manager Iggy Smalls.

Yfm currently plays 50% local music and Smalls sees it as a challenge for South African artists to bring out music that will meet the proposed quota. “Artists and producers need to get more serious about the music they release. To take it further, enough artists must get their game up to scratch.”

The coalition, however, believes an increased quota will stimulate the process that is vitally needed to bring the South African music industry up to global standards.

Sign up for the online petition.

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