More of the Sama

Flabba—last year’s winner of the best rap category—told me something that was quite revealing about the South African Music Awards (Sama) and the warped attitudes that drive them.

A record executive who came to congratulate him after his “unlikely” coup apparently told him that had more meaningful acts—such as Tumi, Zubz or Proverb—won the category, hip-hop in this country would have taken a few leaps “backwards” and receded into the unprofitable territory of head music.

The long-term benefit of a commercial, yet lyrically capable, artist scooping the awards might lead discerning listeners to other artists.

Tumi, at any rate, was elated to be nominated.
He referred to his presence at the awards as “showing face”. It makes even more sense that the comments came from TK Nciza of TS Records—a label all about pushing units, but one that has also signed streetwise township rapper Prokid, who is up against Slikour, Molemi, Jub Jub and the predicted winner, Hip Hop Pantsula, this year. What is sad is that his sentiments seem to echo the general trend of the awards.

Let’s agree. You have to portray some everyman “kasi” image to win the rap award. Generally the Samas are a royalty-manufacturing ceremony that has little to do with musical innovation.

The Samas are about celebrity.

This year the awards can best be summed up in two words: Jimmy Dludlu. Every time the man releases an album he gets nominated into every category possible. This year his name appears under four categories—including album of the year—one less than two years ago when he had five nominations and walked away with two awards (best male artist and best jazz album).

Because the Samas unashamedly emulate the Grammys, it is small wonder that the artists who are routinely rewarded are those who represent what critic Gwen Ansell politely terms the zeitgeist. This reference was applied to Simphiwe Dana, who cleaned up last year.

Dana thanked President Thabo Mbeki rather ambiguously for being “a great subject” as she picked up one of her statuettes. She then turned up at the Union Buildings a few months later to serenade him with Bantu Biko Street at the National Order Awards, while he looked on pensively.

A glance at the nominees in other categories this year might suggest that we are stuck in a time warp as a society. The best duo or group category, for example, points to this.

The appearance of Freshlyground, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Malaika, Seether and Soul Brothers in this slot suggests that we haven’t mined worthy talent in this country for at least five years, which was about when Malaika first appeared on the scene.

All these groups are known for sticking relentlessly to what is an already predictable script.

Had Mafikizolo not split up and released an album on time for the ceremony, they would have kicked out the token white band from their spot. Still on anachronisms the R&B or soul album section has morphed into R&B or neo-soul, 10 years after the latter catchphrase first surfaced, only to be rejected by the new soul set.

And if you’re wondering how these additional categories have made life easier, Keke, Joyous Celebration and Benjamin Dube all turn up in the best traditional or African adult contemporary DVD category—and again in the sprawling gospel categories. If it doesn’t fit at the Samas, trust me it will be forced to fit.

The judging remains as shadowy as hell. Certain “experts” are given music to listen to; it is judged on a scale of one to 10, in aspects that include vocals, production, creativity and the overall package. A board selects the nominees based on the scores, from which a winner is decided.

One of the people involved this year acknowledged the extreme subjectivity of the whole deal, suggesting that musicians should themselves come up with suitable criteria to adjudicate the music, so they can be hanged by their own rope.

Although that might have its own set of problems, it sounds a lot better than reading in press releases that airplay, “record company input” and “research” (nobody knows by whom) has a lot to do with how the most popular song of the year category (now respectably named MTN record of the year) is finalised.

Sounds like payola and arm-twisting to me.

No wonder the Sama landscape has hardly changed: the same powerful record labels push the same artists, who collect the same awards, year after year.


What do you think of the Sama awards?

“I don’t like the statue,” says Len van Heerden, drummer of Jesus Saves.

“I haven’t even watched them before,” says Stephen Timm, drummer of The Buckfever Underground.

“It’s a bunch of crock, they should actually get real judges,” says Earl Joseph, guitarist with UJU.

“I’ve never heard of them,” says Jan-Henri Booyens, drummer of Avant Car Guard.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” says Johan Auriacombe, drummer of kidofdoom.

“It would be a pretty useful award if it could open doors for me; I have always wanted an award that could open doors for me. Luckily The Buckfever Underground know how to open doors for themselves, unless they’re locked of course. If the Samas were a key for the doors that were locked that would be pretty useful,” says Gilad Hockman, bassist of The Buckfever Underground.

“The awards these days are very overrated, with the same people every time,” says Angola Badprop, DJ for Radio Sonder Grense.

What do you think of the fact that bands have to pay to enter the Samas?

“You have to be a successful band to have enough money to enter, so it’s a great way of weeding out all the crap; if you’re a crap band you won’t have the money. Doesn’t it make total sense?” says Righard Kapp, guitarist of The Buckfever Underground.

“I think it’s bullshit that bands have to pay to enter. You can’t call it an award if you have to enter it like a competition,” says Angola Badprop, DJ for Radio Sonder Grense.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous, you shouldn’t have to pay to get recognised,” says Wandile Molebatsi, drummer of UJU.

What do you think about separating genre categories by language?

“I don’t think categories should be language-based. I think it has a lot more credibility if you do it by genre; obviously they want fewer people to go home empty-handed, but it makes the awards more valid if it is not language-based,” says Angola Badprop.

The MTN Samas will be held at Sun City on May 2 and 3. Tickets for the main awards ceremony on May 3 can be purchased from Computicket. The awards will be broadcast live on SABC1 from 8pm. Visit

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo