Maverick Life


New architecture is needed for Africa’s music to ignite the world

New architecture is needed for Africa’s music to ignite the world
Nobantu Vilakazi and Sir Trill at the First Annual South African Amapiano Music Awards on October 23, 2021 in Sandton, South Africa. The award ceremony celebrates acts in the Amapiano genre. (Photo by Gallo Images/Oupa Bopape)

The notion of ‘the bridge’ – which suggests the two-way traffic of musical expression and reception – is nowhere more significant today than in Africa, where the output of music remains tremendous in quantity and terrific in quality.

REMost, if not all, great music starts out as folk music, music borne of a community and nurtured by and descriptive of that shared experience. 

We see that in jazz and blues and country music. We see it in punk and hip-hop and all the music they opened the doors to. 

We can see it in bossa nova, or mbaqanga, kwaito, gospel or reggae.

When folk music ignites the wider world’s imagination, we say it crosses over. That crossing is over a metaphorical bridge and it suggests the two-way traffic of musical expression and reception. The bridge that became known in the early 1960s as the “British Invasion” was crossed first by The Beatles to the everlasting delight of US and worldwide audiences, and fundamentally lead to pop music as a global phenomenon and industry.

The impact of — among many many others — The Sex Pistols, Louis Armstrong, Run DMC and Eminem, Bob Marley, Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon was achieved through reaching out, crossing over and catalysing their music and creating the foundations for more — much much more — to be produced and embraced and carried onwards and upwards.

The notion of the Bridge is nowhere more significant today than in Africa where the output of music remains tremendous in quantity and terrific in quality. Great pathways have been beaten and the current success and worldwide appeal of Afrobeat and amaPiano, to name only two of the dizzying range of genres from the continent, suggests the rich possibilities of the future. We could skip from mbalax to marabi and highlife, from soukous to benga and desert blues, from Chimurenga, to Maringa and kwassa kwassa and we are barely scratching the surface of African song.

But it is the engineering of a suitable Afro-purposed 21st century bridge that needs to be urgently attended to. 

Industry efforts need to be geared towards bolstering this engineering; opportunities are visible everywhere but protocols and strategies, along with professional practices, need to be strengthened. 

Rights issues also need to be embedded in the architecture of a bridge to the rest of the world for African music that prevent the structural flaws of historic exploitation. 

A new dynamic formulation is required — not the imposition, repetition and selective gatekeeping of a sterile Western-minded system that has, to date, plundered yet also obstructed full and deserved access by Africa and its music to a world that is crying out for the healing rhythms, beats, melodies and voices from the soil and of the soul of the continent. DM/ ML

Jay Savage ran Sony Music Publishing in South Africa for 16 years; he is a consultant in the entertainment business and is co-Director of The Good Times Co.  He wrote the above column for The Africa Rising Music Conference (ARMC) which is taking place in Johannesburg from 24 May until the end of the week.

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