SA artists vent fury over airplay payola

Some of South Africa’s most famous recording artists, including singer Johnny Clegg, have accused the country’s public broadcaster of demanding bribes if they want to be heard on air.

”It’s a very crazy situation … that we local musicians have to pay to get airplay on radio stations,” said Clegg, who is nicknamed the White Zulu.

Clegg said he had been particularly angered by Ukhozi FM, a Zulu-language South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) radio station, which recently demanded R13 000 ($1 900) for an interview after he was honoured at the South African Music Awards for his new album One Life.

”What makes me angry is I have to pay, legally, R13 000 from my own pocket, in my own country, singing in Zulu, on a Zulu station, to have my song played, whereas international artists get played, without any effort on their part, singing in English,” he said.

”It makes me feel like a foreigner in my own country. It’s a very, very bad situation,” he said from Germany where he is promoting his new album.

Poet and musician Mzwakhe Mbuli, who has refused to pay up, recently announced he would stop recording in frustration over the lack of airtime.

”Payola in South Africa is rife … and the SABC encourages it with impunity,” said Mbuli, who is best known for performing at former president Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994.

”It is the same as match-fixing. It is a crime, except in this case the criminal is not arrested.”

The SABC is by far the biggest broadcaster in South Africa, operating 18 radio stations around the country.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said an investigation was under way into the accusations levelled against Ukhozi FM but he denied the practice of artists having to pay to get their music played was sanctioned by the broadcaster.

”We hear people saying they paid payola to get airplay. It is difficult to investigate because it’s a private deal between individuals done secretly,” he said.

Kganyago did however acknowledge there were payments for some interviews.

”When we call an artist into the studio for an interview, we obviously don’t make them pay, which is different from when a company releases a new album and buys space to promote the album which involves interviews with the artists, where they pay,” he said. ”It’s the same when promoting a music festival.”

Local gospel music producer and record company owner Tshepo Ndzimande said it would be difficult to reverse the practice as musicians were sometimes the instigators.

”It is a very difficult thing to fight. As much as the SABC is wrong, more blame should also be put on the musicians because most of them do approach the DJs and propose payolas for their songs to be played, especially if they know they have stiff competition outside,” said Ndzimande.

”Now when it’s out of control, they complain. Why do you pay a bribe if you know you have a good product?” ‒ Sapa-AFP

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