/ 17 September 2022

Award shows need a serious shake-up

Makhadzi Ed 398640
Makhadzi at the South African Music Awards at Sun City last month;

The hype around this year’s award season feels different. The South African Music Awards (Sama) and South African Film and Television Awards (Safta) took place over the past two weekends but it’s as if fans stumbled upon them, instead of waiting in anticipation. 

Across the ocean, the MTV Video Music Awards didn’t deliver those moments one has grown to expect. 

It seems it’s been unanimously agreed something is inherently wrong with award shows. 

The 28th Samas were disappointing. Emtee tweeted, “Just came from a comedy show,” after the event which was held at Sun City, as usual. 

Zakes Bantwini, who won his first two Samas in his 15-plus-year career last weekend, expressed his disappointment in a lengthy Facebook post:: “Regrettably the Samas have broken our trust, they have devalued the honour and prestige which the awards once stood for, there is no integrity in the way at which the show is being produced, the planning, the awarding of artists and in extending the basic courtesy of respect to the artist.” 

Zakes Bantwini performs at the South African Music Awards at Sun City last month.

The first criticisms of this year’s show were the subpar sound quality and the lacklustre performances during the live broadcast, which is unacceptable for the most esteemed music award show in South Africa, our equivalent of the Grammys. 

Then there were some questionable wins, the most shocking being the coveted Artist of the Year award, which went to Haksul Muziq. The relatively unknown artist beat superstars like Makhadzi, Musa Keys and A-Reece. 

Haksul Muziq, who has 84 subscribers on YouTube and whose most-watched video has less than 5 000 views, responded to the backlash in an Instagram. He explained how he won: “We have a lot of events in Katlehong and I made sure to go to most of the events and ask for votes. I even campaigned at events held by political parties. I made pamphlets and handed them out, encouraging people to vote for someone that’s local trying to make it big.” 

Haksul Muziq with his award at the South African Music Awards at Sun City last month.

Public votes are important but the judges need to exercise discretion, especially when it’s been speculated for years that some artists deploy aggressive guerrilla marketing tactics to garner votes, which opens the system to inconsistencies. 

There isn’t a single box an artist like Makhadzi doesn’t tick — the people have voted by streaming the music videos and songs and attending the sold-out shows. 

Responding to Makhadzi’s grievances, delivered in a series of since-deleted tweets, Sama spokesperson Lesley Mofokeng said streams don’t count when it comes to the Samas; only radio airplay is considered. This is a travesty in 2022 when artists are breaking streaming records every second month. When will the country’s flagship award show adapt?  

The Samas, like the Saftas, weren’t marketed that well, which meant they relied heavily on the artists for exposure … The same artists who have lost interest in the awards. This means only artists who ran campaigns for the public vote categories stood a chance. 

A large number of Sama winners did a no-show. “The lack of attendance by artists nominated is just one sign of what the artists think of the Samas organisers and stakeholders!” Bantwini wrote. 

Blxckie, who won Best Hip-Hop, wasn’t around. Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa, Young Stunna, Toss, Black Coffee and many others didn’t show up. At least Black Coffee did send a message of thanks. The rest had better things to do with their time than attend an event that has become an insult to local music. 

Lady Du explained their absence in a Twitter rant: “Do you know why a lot of us didn’t go or even perform there? Because we already knew who was going to get what!!! The set-up was too obvious.” 

Amapiano is having a moment right now but, looking at the nominees list, one would never guess. Many artists didn’t even bother submitting, as they suspect the awards are rigged. Others condemn them as out of touch. Both point to a bleak future. 

When the Samas lose credibility, everyone loses, even the artists who win. It devalues their accolades the same way as graduating from an unaccredited institution does. It takes away from the hard work, dilutes the moment and just stinks of disrespect for culture. 

Twenty-eight years since their establishment, the Samas’ decline is not an isolated event. They exist within a country that is itself deteriorating. Bantwini said the award show depicted a “looted state-owned enterprise” and “reek(ed) of nepotism and traces of bureaucracy”. 

South African award shows have been criticised for years. The turning point was when Riky Rick spoke out at the Metro FM Awards in 2017. During his acceptance speech, he mentioned receiving the award with a “heavy heart” and went on to call out the corrupt music industry. 

“Shout-outs to the kids that never get on radio — they can’t get their songs played on radio because they don’t have enough money. Shout-outs to the kids who put out music videos. They never get their videos played because they don’t have the money,” the late rapper said. 

He rapped “And if n*ggas can pay for these f*cking awards, then, my n*gga, I don’t want ’em” in his mega hit Sidlukotini, released in 2016. 

Payola is an open secret in the SA music industry. Artists will tell you it’s almost become a crucial part of the promotion budget, just like “cold drink money” is factored into your fee at driving school: South Africa is corrupt through and through and the music industry isn’t immune. 

As they are run by people, award shows operate within the bounds of the society in which they exist. It’s for this reason the biggest criticism of the Oscars has been their favouring of whites and males, as they exist in a deeply racist and patriarchal society. 

It was in 2015 when the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was birthed after the academy had awarded all 20 acting nominations to white actors. It was impossible to escape the hashtag and it opened the industry up for conversation about race and gender. 

The positive — inclusion became crucial in Hollywood. Blockbusters like Get Out, Coco and Black Panther were hailed for their inclusivity and confrontation of the racial bias in Hollywood. The latter became the first black superhero movie by Marvel and one of the highest-grossing superhero movies of all time. 

It started with a hashtag directed at the biggest award show in Hollywood. That is the power of social media. Today, the people’s voices can be as loud as those of celebrities. 

This has fostered a culture of speaking out. For instance, the ripple effects of Kanye West’s infamous interjection into Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards are still felt today. It was a moment when an artist acted like a fan; throwing a tantrum because their favourite artists didn’t win. The difference was he had access; he was sitting a few metres away from the stage. West was us watching award shows at home — honest and visceral in their reaction. 

Speaking out at awards has since become more prevalent. When Adele was announced the winner of Best Album at the 2017 Grammys for her album 25, she told the audience, “I can’t possibly accept this award. I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful but Beyoncé is the artist of my life.”

The academy has been more careful with its awards. At times, it has overcompensated. For instance, hip-hop artist Nas’s first award was last year for his 14th studio album King’s Disease. It was not the strongest album nominated, but a Grammy was long overdue for one of the world’s most iconic rappers. 

Back home, it doesn’t seem Riky Rick’s speech moved organisers of award shows, particularly the Samas, which have continued to disappoint fans and musicians alike. This year’s show, however, was blatant in its mediocrity and saw the Samas taking the most backlash in its history. Despite this, the organisers are still sounding defensive and there hasn’t been promise of change. 

Fewer artists will submit and attend, and the event will lose more credibility and clout. We can only hope they listen to the people and restore the prestige of what was one of the most eminent award shows.