Moshito a cacophony of views

Last week’s 2012 Moshito music conference struggled to life under new leadership. However, the networking opportunities it offered South Africa’s aspiring industry were, as usual, top notch.

Some serious issues were raised over the three days, including the racial division inherent in South Africa’s music industry and what the industry will look like in future. Unfortunately, the volume of complaints overshadowed the fascinating debate on day one.

Some of the challenges that had new Moshito chairperson King Phatudi-Mphahlele scrambling were conference programmes that arrived at the end of the first day, wireless broadband that never materialised, hotels that refused to host international guests until payment was made and a band, booked to play the first night’s showcase, who claimed to have no contract for the gig.

To be fair, Phatudi-Mphahlele did not hide from the criticism and acted quickly to resolve problems, the majority of which were caused by the government’s tardiness in transferring the funds to run the conference to the Moshito board.

A source familiar with the funding dynamics of the conference said that some of the funds arrived after Moshito had already kicked off.

This caused embarrassment for the organisers, because it is difficult to sell its credibility as the major African music market conference when one has to run it for the first full day without knowing who is speaking where.

With the success internationally of artists such as the BLK JKS, Spoek Mathambo, Die Antwoord, Sibot and Tumi and the Volume, South Africa’s music industry should be riding the wave of global success, not struggling to save professional face.

“I think it went okay, despite the challenges we faced,” said Phatudi-Mphahlele on the afternoon of September 7, after the conference had wrapped up. “I mean, we had decreased funding and we received the funding late. I don’t know why it was late, because the agreements were signed a while ago. We are just assuming that it was government processes.”

The conference was hosted in the Sci-Bono Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg, for the second year. According to Phatudi-Mphahlele, the scaled-back programme was not a result of funding issues, but rather about restructuring the panel sessions to allow for more networking between delegates.

The conference even introduced a two-hour speed dating session in which aspiring artists, managers and promoters sat face to face with heavy hitters in the global music industry and picked their brains for a few minutes.

This was the seventh Moshito music conference that the Mail & Guardian has attended over the past decade and it was fascinating that only in 2012 did the issue of race raise its head. It happened in a panel discussion titled The Status of the Artist in the 21st Century, in which  The Brother Moves On vocalist Siyabonga Mthembu said that decisions with racist undertones were taken on a daily basis in the local industry.

Many black music industry types nodded in agreement and many white music industry types shook their heads, which seemed to reinforce Mthembu’s point that there were two industries working side by side, not together.

“Yes, racism does exist in our industry,” said Phatudi-Mphahlele. “Just look at the attendance. The people who control the business do not attend Moshito, for whatever reason.”

In a not so subtle way, Phatudi-Mphahlele was referring to white executives from major record labels, who have never taken part in the conference.

When the Recording Industry of South Africa pulled out of Moshito about five years ago because, according to Phatudi-Mphaleke, the organisation wanted to control the space and could not, this resulted in a lack of involvement from the major labels.

Phatudi-Mphaleke said a Gallo Records executive team had attended Moshito this year, but the other majors were not represented.

“I think we should do more than discuss race in the industry. We need to go inside record companies and look at their black economic empowerment status on paper and in practice,” he added.

The question remains whether there is racism in the industry, or whether it is merely an industry divided along racial lines, given that different race groups generally enjoy different music genres.

Phatudi-Mphahlele said that genre tastes play a role in keeping audiences divided, but a band such as The Brother Moves On has popularity that transcends race.

Mthembu made the same point during a panel discussion, saying that audiences were already starting to mix racially and were actually ahead of the industry.

On the whole, the Moshito conference may have experienced some administrative problems, but it still had healthy debate, great music showcases featuring artists from all over the continent and some great international guests.

Let us hope next year the government comes to the party and secures the funding well in advance to allow Moshito to become Africa’s premier music market, one that can compete with the best in the world.

“We want to be the ultimate African market,” said Phatudi-Mphahlele. “If you want to be a top player in the global music industry you must want to be here … It’s going to take time, but it will happen.”

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Lloyd Gedye
Lloyd Gedye
Lloyd Gedye is a freelance journalist and one of the founders of The Con.

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