By Siphumelele Zondi
I was listening to radio on Thursday and heard a feature called Urban Africa Thursday on a national radio station in South Africa. For thirty minutes they play music from the rest of the African continent and talk about African entertainment and travel. In the past, I have heard another radio station dedicate an hour to music from the rest of the African continent through a chart show. I then wondered why Africa is a trend that can only be celebrated once or twice a week on music stations in South Africa. Music from the rest of the African continent is still not treated as mainstream in South Africa — at least not in the way we hear South African music and are fed American music.
The last decade has certainly seen a rise in the amount of exposure that pop music from the rest of the African continent is getting on television. This has happened mostly through the television station MTV Base and at times Channel O and now Trace TV as well. This has also resulted in the changing sound of South African music, as local musicians have been trying to appeal to other African markets. Mafikizolo collaborated with Nigeria’s Davido on Tchelete (Goodlife); Kwela Tebza worked with Femi Kuti on Aye; and AKA worked with another Nigerian, Burna Boy, on All Eyez on Me.
These songs get airplay on South African radio, but Davido is not played when he is by himself nor is Femi Kuti — and I can bet that very few South Africans know a Burna Boy song that doesn’t feature AKA or another South African. This is because South African radio stations have pretty much ignored music from the rest of the continent unless songs feature South Africans. If anything, we would hear these songs in May as that is Africa month or if there is an awards show that aims to celebrate African music.
Growing up it seemed this trend was changing in a South Africa that had gained democracy and many of us, as kids, could find out about the rest of the African continent through music. There was a time Benin’s Angélique Kidjo would be played in between South African and American songs on radio and didn’t need an hour or half an hour dedicated to African music to be played. You would hear her Agolo and Wombo Lombo on any ordinary day. It was the same with Burundian Khadja Nin’s Wale Watu and Sambolera, as it was the case with Nigeria’s Femi Kuti and his Beng Beng Beng. Suddenly, that stopped and then there was almost no music from the rest of the African continent on radio.
Now, as music from the rest of the continent has made a return to South African radio because of continental music television, it seems that it is being placed in little corners and segments that are far and few in between. Radio producers and compilers seem to be struggling to playlist the music throughout the 24-hour radio clock so it, too, gets the same prominence that music from Europe and America gets in South Africa.
This also suggests that entertainment from the rest of the African continent is not good enough for South African eyes and ears. People consume what they are fed by radio and television. If radio and television decided that the rest of Africa, through entertainment and especially through music, was good enough to be aired on breakfast shows as people drive to work or on early evening slots as people wind down, then listeners would also take those different genres as mainstream.
If this was to change, then maybe South Africans in their teens or even younger could learn more about the rest of the continent, like how I found out in my pre-teens about the West African country of Benin because of Angélique Kidjo and got to know bits about Burundi because of Khadja Nin being featured in between local and international music.
Siphumelele Zondi is a senior producer and anchor of Network, a technology programme on SABC News. Twitter: @SZondi