Melo Magolego
Melo Magolego

Death by sokkie musiek at corporate functions

Yet another award ceremony, yet another corporate weekend away. So, what shall be my mask this time? The history of power in corporate SA still looms large in the boardrooms of present-day South Africa. The black face needs to be masked by fluency in an institutional culture which, it is assumed, is ahistorical. That is, a culture assumed not to have been crafted by people over the past of the company but the way things are. So, here we are at yet another awards ceremony, yet another corporate weekend away, yet again we are being pummelled with B-grade sokkie musiek. This is cultural imperialism.

Many have come to know Kurt Darren’s A-grade pair, Kaptein and Loslappie, as the bookmarks to many corporate functions. There are other bookmarks such as the international anthems, for example, Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams and Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day. These bookmarks do become part of one’s fiction; after all, Stockholm syndrome does not play games. Ask any evangelical atheist or champagne socialist if you doubt its effects. But in all fairness though, I do truly enjoy Mr Brightside by the Killers.

Back to the point. The problem with these songs is that it cannot be, that only such music is played the whole night. It cannot be, that some of these international anthems are assumed also anthems for everyone else. It cannot be, that there is always an elephant on the dance floor; it cannot be, that the black employees are not recognised.

Not recognising black music tastes is cultural imperialism. Twenty years into our democracy it is disconcerting that we still need to have debates about music selection at corporate functions. It is worrying that we still need debates about the need to accommodate each other within our formerly exclusive worlds.

Firstly, corporate social functions offer employees the opportunity to interact outside of the strictures of day-to-day meetings. They create relaxed atmospheres wherein employees may form new relationships and strengthen existing ones. These functions are relevant to the bottom line of the corporate to the extent that improved relations lead to more productive employees. When there is a situation where black employees feel excluded because of arbitrary issues such as music, it becomes difficult for them to enjoy and thus endure such events. This lack of enjoyment has a very pernicious effect.

In my observations I find that a lot of black employees opt to leave early. This is bad because it robs blacks of an opportunity to interact. This is important because there’s more than drinking and chit-chat going on at these events. What on the surface appears to be drinking and chit-chat, on a deeper level is actually the social side of negotiating power. The results of this negotiation often manifest in day-to-day work meetings where it seems that there are cliques and cabals driving decision-making. This is the result of power already having been negotiated elsewhere (in social settings). What then is visible in these meetings is members of a “clique” being happy to defer to one another (if not actively support each other). If one is not aware what is happening one is often lead to mistakenly suspect conspiracy.

Secondly, this monopoly of music choice is a way of asserting power through cultural imperialism. This imperialism is oftentimes re-inforced when that one token black song is played. This occurs by having the power structure leave the dance floor at this juncture and go for a “smoke break”. As a black by choosing to endure such cultural imperialism it is a concession that you recognise the cultural power wielded by the power structure. Yes, I am aware blacks don’t have uniform or monolithic music tastes.

Once you refuse to be party to this cultural imperialism, you create an existential problem for the power structure. This because of the way power operates. The one side of the coin is that: the way social power is re-inforced is through granting opportunity at official power. That is you get to be in on official decision-making if you assimilate into the social imperial setup. The other side of the coin is that: official power is re-inforced through granting social opportunity. That is you get to be accepted as part of the social group if you defer to (not challenge that is) the official power of the group. Once you choose to eschew either the social opportunity or the official one then you disrupt this power-wielding mechanism. Choosing when to assimilate and when to disrupt this mechanism is an existential contradiction for the black.

This contradiction in described by W.E.B du Bois in his 1903 The Souls of Black Folk. He writes

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness. One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face. This, then, is the end of his striving. [I]t is the contradiction of double aims. The double-aimed struggle of the black artisan could only result in making him a poor craftsman, for he had but half a heart in either cause.”

The ultimate challenge described by du Bois is how one reconciles having both Via Orlando featuring Dr Malinga and Kaptein by Kurt Darren in a single head without a nuclear meltdown. Once you realise the need for this two-ness, you are then in a position to trade one for another. It can never be only one because this would stifle your progress.

The degree to which one understands this trade-off will help one make sense of reality. The manner in which one negotiates the trade-off will determine one’s politics. The extent to which one embraces the trade-off will determine one’s success.


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    • RollPlayer

      Quite right, in so many respects. This sounds like many I have attended.

      But let’s be clear: it’s the boss who typically tells the function arrangers what s/he wants. The boss should be setting the tone, so to speak.

      Also, instead of backing away, why not jump up and twerk or Harlem Shuffle your way through Loslappie and all the others? They’ll soon realise it doen’t matter what they play, you are going to have a good time in spite of their playlist.

      There are many DJs for corporate functions who play decent stuff and have a better chance at getting the event to be both a riot (in the wild party sense of the word) and inclusive. It’s not easy, but that’s the country we’re trying to change.

      Also, not all companies are like this. Where you find a higher number of staff who are not white, and who are young — such as places with big call centres — the dynamic is quite the opposite and the handful of older white people are the ones who leave early.

      Also, the minute the formal proceedings end and the boss has uttered his / her final words of “motivation”, groups form largely, but not exclusively, on racial lines. No idea how you fix that. It seems less of an issue for the under-30s, so real integration could well be another generation away.

    • skerminkel

      You have it all wrong. When Kaptein starts playing, everyone must leave. Otherwise your brain will implode. It’s a sign from your boss.

    • Momma Cyndi

      This is a VERY difficult one. I know black people who cannot stand the sound of kwaito and I know black people who have no appreciation for the great Hugh Masekela. It isn’t an homogeneous group. I know white people who have no appreciation for heavy metal and I know white people who would rather poke their ears out with a hot knitting needle than listen to Celine Dion. That is also not an homogeneous group. When arranging a function, you have to go with what nobody really likes but nobody really objects to.

      Ironically, it is often the likes of Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder and various other black musicians who are hauled out at these events. I suspect that it is more of an indication of the age of the top management than any attempt at ‘imperialism’.

    • Conrad

      Hey Melo,

      I get where you are coming from, and think that you speak for many out there. Therefore my response.

      Ive been to many functions where the overwhelming choice of music was ‘black’ music, without this bothering me or any whities claiming that they feel culturally marginalised. They go with the flow and enjoy themselves. Those that don’t stay away, like the other guys you mention.

      I’ve also experienced a typical sokkie event where a group of DRC guys pitched up and within minutes everybody was following their lead in some or other kongolese dance, grid dancing style. Dik old boeretannies trying to jive. Hybridity rules in this country of ours.

      But here’s the problem: the more polarised a general situation becomes (like now before elections), the easier it becomes to read all kinds of evil intent into situations, even when these are actually just folks getting on with their lives, doing things that people do, unthinkingly and unconcerned about wider heavy issues. In this respect I must admit to an alergic reaction when I start seeing the academic terms beginning to populate/pollute the ‘discourse’. We lose the specific and real life experiences in all the structuralist theory and stultifying academic ‘insights’.

      A bit less heaviness and more openess to pleasure and diversity would do us all a world of good. Let’s jive our troubles away.



    • Nonku

      The solution is to altogether scrap corporate functions. The point of being a colleague is that those relationships stay at the office. These kinds of problems occur when we insist on crossing that very clear boundary line.

    • Gavin Came

      A “Spot on” comment. All these big corporates have a marketing department that crawls around ensuring that their “boss” is happy. Influence them, you will find that they and their boss are not thinking.

    • bernpm

      “He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.”….so you imply it is a black problem???

      Check the previous comments and it will be clear that it seems more a corporate problem. The corporate staff trying to please the corporate top who forks out the money for the event.

      My opinion? If corporate motivation has to come from these kind of parties,,,,,,,no wonder production suffers.

    • Stephen Browne

      If it helps, I’m white and I think all the music mentioned is atrocious. The corporate world is ridiculously shallow in any case, what were you expecting? Just add on another layer of fake and pretend to be moved by Summer of 69.

    • Moses Taylor

      Usually, whoever arranged the function will have told the DJ what music to play. Also, it’s a numbers game. Quite often, it’s the organisers perception of what people will enjoy that dictates entertainment. The largest cultural group at any corporate function will be catered for.

      It’s why David Kau won’t get booked for an Afriforum function; and why Barry Hilton won’t do the EFF fundraiser.

    • GrahamJ

      Two things are happening:
      1- I know an ex-DJ who gave it up because he was threatened by both blacks and whites when not playing ‘their’ music. He said it was common and it had become too dangerous.
      2 – As a result of this common state of affairs many companies are no longer having such after parties. It just isn’t worth it.
      So a phase of our past crumbles into history…

    • john b patson

      The solution? Loud Oliver Mtukudzi singing in Shona.
      Both sides will be wondering if he is making fun of them, but cannot help but dance….

    • nguni

      Oh, boo-hoo, get over yourself. All this nonsense about cultural imperialism sounds so pathetic. If there were more blacks working at your company there would be more ‘black music’, As you are the token black they only play the token black song, as you pointed out. To quote some old fogey from 1903 to validate your point doesn’t help matters. To cater for YOUR taste the corporate functions must now be adapted, how PC it that?!

    • JannieJammergat

      1.Where do you folk work?, where i work there are no parties!

    • JannieJammergat

      2. He who pays decides….want to decide, then you pay for the next party, simple really!