Paying tribute to fallen South African musicians cannot only take the form of words uttered on their passing. Too many of our greatest talents die the death of paupers. If we really want to honour their talents, the way forward is clear.
When I heard the news early on Monday morning that well-known Cape Town singer Zayn Adam had passed away, I resisted the temptation to do what we normally do in these situations nowadays: go onto social media to see what people are saying.
The reason is that I wanted to reflect for a moment on this man with the beautiful voice who had given me so much joy through his music. I must have heard him sing ‘Give a little love’ dozens of times, but every time he sang it, it was special.
Zayn had a special kind of voice, one that did not grow old with him and, even though he became frail at times over the past few years, his voice remained beautiful, especially when he sang ballads. There were so many songs that had previously been sung by others that he had made his own.
He passed away at the age of 68 in a Groote Schuur hospital bed early on Monday morning after a short illness. He was buried according to Muslim rites on Monday afternoon.
He had done well in recent months and had been booked to do a few major shows over the next few weeks, including a reunion with his bandmates in Pacific Express, one of the Cape’s top bands in the 1970s, at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival next month, and as a supporting act to overseas artist PP Arnold next week.
Whenever one of our talented musicians die in South Africa, I always think about how we don’t really appreciate them while they are in good health and in their prime. Too many of our musicians die penniless with their families struggling to pay medical bills and funeral expenses.
I decided a while ago that I no longer want to attend benefit concerts for musicians who have fallen on hard times because the nature of our support should be such that our musicians, if they are talented enough, should be able to sustain themselves through their performances and recordings.
Part of the reason for our musicians’ struggles could be our obsession with overseas and particularly American music. We tend to think that music is only good when it comes from America. Yet, South Africa has some amazing musicians who could teach the Americans a thing or two.
But if you go into any music store, you will find more sales of American music as opposed to South African music. If you go to clubs and theatres, you will find people support overseas artists and productions more than they support local productions, unless, of course, the locals do cover versions of American music.
We also seem to appreciate our artists more once they have “made it” in the United States of America.
Government does not help either, with support for local musicians being almost like an afterthought. A good friend, who has achieved huge musical success overseas but remains committed to South African music, believes that you only have to look at what music our ministers listen to in their cars to understand the problem. He believes that you are more likely to find the music of Beyonce in their cars than, say, Ringo Madlingozi, Vusi Mahlasela or Abdullah Ibrahim.
The best way to pay proper homage to someone like Zayn Adam – and the others who trod this path before him, like Miriam Makeba, Winston Mankunku, Robbie Jansen, Basil Coetzee, Brenda Fassie, Sipho Gumede and Hotep Idris Galeta, among many others – is by making a commitment to support local music.
This does not mean that we should not support foreign music. However, we need to support our musicians by attending their shows and buying their music. Otherwise all our kind words on their passing will be nothing but platitudes. DM
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Ryland Fisher has more than 30 years of experience in the media industry as an editor, journalist, columnist, author, senior manager and executive. Among his media assignments were as Editor of the Cape Times and The New Age and as assistant editor at the Sunday Times.Fisher is the author of Race (published 2007), a book dealing with some of the issues related to race and racism in post-apartheid South Africa. His first book, Making the Media Work for You (2002), provided insights into the media industry in South Africa. He is executive chairperson of the Cape Town Festival, which he initiated while editor of the Cape Times in 1999 as part of the One City Many Cultures project. He also runs a consultancy focusing on media and social cohesion.
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