MK awards: Where are the black musos?

Are bands like The Brother Moves On destined to remain on the fringe of the alternative music scene, asks Melina Meletakos. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Are bands like The Brother Moves On destined to remain on the fringe of the alternative music scene, asks Melina Meletakos. (Paul Botes, M&G)


"MK is nie dood nie [MK is not dead]!" shouted presenter Jean Jordaan as this year's MK awards came to a close on February 15. 

This has been the message the television channel has been touting since it moved to an online platform in the middle of last year. 

When MK was started as a television channel on DStv in 2005, it played a role in offering alternative Afrikaans musicians like Fokofpolisiekar and Foto Na Dans exposure. These bands were thought to have given a voice to the angsty Afrikaans youth who rejected their conservative backgrounds and questioned their place in post-apartheid South Africa. 

But this era is over, or at least it appears to be if the winners at this year's MK Awards, which is based on a system where the public votes for the winners, are anything to go by. Gone are the days where the spotlight shines solely on the Bellville rock scene.
It's now the time of indie-pop rock bands like Shortstraw, Al Bairre and Jeremy Loops, who snapped up all the major prizes this year.  

While this shows that MK's audience has become more diverse, the music that the brand promotes and chooses to acknowledge has not. MK may pride itself on being the flag bearers of local alternative music, but it continuously fails to acknowledge that there are talented alternative black artists who deserve just as much recognition as their white counterparts. 

This year not one alternative black band or musician was nominated in any of the categories. When it came to the actual awards show, there were two black people who appeared on stage: the person who handed the trophies to the presenters, and Tumi Molekane, who performed as part of a collaboration with Jack Parow and Haezer. 

What was also puzzling was the inclusion of a new category for Best Afrikaans Band, which makes little sense if Afrikaans bands can be nominated in any of the other categories. 

I struggled to enjoy the award show as I watched this all unfold from my seat in the audience, because all I could think about was why someone like Nakhane Touré, whose debut album Brave Confusion was one of the best of 2013, was not being acknowledged?

And what about Bongeziwe Mabandla, who had one of the well-received sets at Oppikoppi last year? Are bands like performance art collective The Brother Moves On and afro punk-ska outfit Fruit & Veggies destined to remain on the fringe of the alternative music scene because they are not considered white enough to appeal to the MK audience?

The fact that there is a separate white and black music industry in South Africa is an uncomfortable truth for a country that likes to think we're not being progressive if we continue to include race in our public discourse. MK has the chance to blur these lines, but only if it chooses to become more than an exclusive club of the same people who get together every year to pat themselves on the back. 

Melina Meletakos is a freelance journalist interested in the arts

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