Have the Samas hit a lower scale?
When high priestess of Afro-jazz Simphiwe Dana’s name was omitted from the roll call of this year’s music achievers at the SA Music Awards (Samas), it knocked the institution 10 years back – the time when the Samas had to explain itself to everyone, and justify the choices made while defending its name.
Since she mumbled her way into our eardrums and hearts with Ndiredi in 2004, Dana has been eyed as a standard bearer.
Her recent album, Kulture Noir, was hailed by fans and acclaimed by critics for its musicality, high production values and avant-garde appeal.
It performed well on the European charts and last year earned her two Metro FM Music Awards. Basically, it was written in the stars that this was Dana’s year.
Lo and behold, this masterpiece was overlooked completely.
Dana’s disciples erupted in protest and demanded answers from the record company that was responsible for entering the album.
Their crusade continues as they question the inconsistency of the Samas and how “detached” the event is from the music-loving public.
Vista Kalipa, a follower of Dana, says Team Dana are disappointed. “We believe the album was strong enough to have made a number of nominations and it meets the criteria. Something internal may have happened. We’d love to hear from the committee.”
Another fan, Teboho Pheko, says he is convinced music politics are at play here.
“It’s dodgy that they would overlook Simphiwe and honour Chomee instead.
The panelists had a directive and they followed it. Simphiwe now has to decide whether she does music for awards or for the love of it.”
Jandre Louw, the CEO of the Samas, says the process is open to scrutiny. He added that Dana’s case had been investigated and that she just didn’t earn enough points to qualify as a top five finalist in the jazz category as adjudicated by the five-member panel.
While daggers are drawn every year over who should or should not be nominated, music followers tend to ignore the basic tenet of the Samas, which is expert opinion.
It is assumed that the five- (or so) member panel represents an informed and expert opinion of what makes a good album.
The formula for selection includes originality, production and entertainment value.
Matters of popularity, air play and sales are not taken into consideration. The Samas, unlike the Metro Awards, are not a popularity contest.
But that didn’t stop best-selling Shangaan disco king Thomas Chauke – now on his Shimatsatsa Volume 30 – from being nominated in the best Tsonga album category, which he is expected to win ... as usual.
Same goes for Rebecca Malope, another crowd-pleaser likely to earn her upteenth best traditional gospel Sama statuette.
The Samas are a different beast, pitched as the premier ceremony honouring the best of the country’s music, but it’s in the hands of a select few – 222 judges to be exact – who are profiled as respected opinion leaders in the industry selected by major record labels and the independents.
Yet again, the public votes sometimes do not necessarily reflect quality choices, and experts are wary of leaving such enormous career-making decisions to the “un-discerning” public.
The result is a disconnect between what the revellers dance to at clubs and pubs across the land, and the smart asses in their air-conditioned offices and lounges.
Over the years the Samas managed to shake off the detachment stigma when in 2008 hip-hop star HHP won best male artist.
Last year presented another watershed moment when Black Coffee became the first club DJ to win the best male artist award.
Past winners are so-called serious and earnest jazz singers such as Themba Mkhize, Zim Ngqawana, Jimmy Dludlu, Vusi Mahlasela, Abdullah Ibrahim and Ringo Madlingozi.
Big Nuz, whose album Undisputed was a party starter, was honoured with the best album of the year gong last year.
For once, the Sama was dancing to the same tune of all party-goers.
Typical of an award ceremony, the Samas may have snubbed Dana this year, but they have honoured popular acts such as Liquideep, Professor and, wait for it, Chomee, who is probably the first 999Music artist to be nominated since Arthur won song of the year with Kaffir in the mid-1990s.
Another eyebrow-raiser is 1980s bubblegum princess Patricia Majalisa, who cracked the nod for the best African pop album for Epatini.
Just when “expert” opinion was that she was banished to perform in Zimbabwe and Botswana because that’s where her tours make headlines.
Professor, of Durban kwaito fame, has ensured music lovers are on their feet with his string of hits, such as Jezabel, Imoto, Ijimaphi and Lento from his University of Kalawa Jazmee album, and he has been duly recognised with four nominations, including best male artist and album of the year.
Zakes Bantwini also swept the dancefloor with his dance craze and accompanying hit, Bum Bum. He garnered four nods, including best male and album of the year.
Liquideep enjoyed massive air play with their hit Fairytale last year and churned out anthems such as Alone and Angel. They too sit comfortably with two nominations, including album of the year.
Their best newcomer nomination was revoked on Thursday since Fabrics of the Heart is officially their second album after their debut, Oscillations, was released under the House Afrika four-disc compilation.
A replacement had not been announced by the time of going to print.
Controversies aside, the Samas have given rise to Nomsa Mazwai, the less known daughter of Thami Mazwai.
Her sisters, Thandiswa and Ntsiki, have carved a name for themselves in the local music landscape.
Her exceptional work on Nomisupa will see her go pound for pound with her elder sister, Thandiswa.
Tutu Puoane, whose release Mama Africa, a collection of songs that were originally sung by Miriam Makeba, has gone unnoticed. She won the best traditional jazz album for Quiet Now last year.
The face of the Samas has transformed from representing the stiff upper lip of the South African music hoi polloi to being about popular choices.
It has no choice if it aims to attract young music lovers.
Could Dana be the sacrificial lamb because she’s avant-garde and may fail to resonate with the young reveller who lives on a strict diet of Durban kwaito, booty-hopping house and rhyme-spitting hip-hop?
» ?Mofokeng is a Sama judge