Hey, how about some music from the 21st Century?’

Mar 01, 11 Hey, how about some music from the 21st Century?’

Recently we were lucky enough to be graced by the presence of the omnipotent Bono and his equally illustrious gang collectively known as U2. For weeks radio stations were abuzz with U2 fever, and in good ol’ Bono fashion, we were bedazzled by his political insights and obvious agenda. It’s so refreshing when ‘Pop Stars”, give us their two cents on politics that have little to do with them. I suppose we knew the risks when we invited U2 to visit our shores.

The U2 concert was a resounding success, replete with parades and the latest must-have accessory “The Guest Politician”. The overwhelming impression, was that those that attended felt that not only did they get their money’s worth, but also bonded with their fellow man. I’m sure lighters, I mean cell phones, were held aloft while gently swaying from side to side. The Highveld breakfast show hosted by the aptly named “Whackhead Simpson’, was awash in starry-eyed accounts the following morning. One would be forgiven for thinking that they’d missed out had they not forked out the R300.00 needed to buy this once and life time experience. But-have no fear! I have no doubt that in another few years when the U2 coiffeurs are looking a bit skinny, they’ll be back with yet another once in a lifetime experience.

I may be accused of being a crotchety old cynic, but if we settle for less that’s all we get. Less. It’s probably a running joke with performers and bands alike that when they’ve milked the Western World, they might squeeze in a visit to the dark and beguiling continent of Africa. But only when everyone else gets sick of them and they have retirement to think of. Bands like Alpha Ville, A-Ha and Crowded House have also recently paid us a visit (a mere twenty years too late.) Let’s not forget Sir Elton John who also recently visited us for the first time (Or so he says when we all know that he played a concert at Sun City during the ‘bad old’ days).

When will South Africans acknowledge that we deserve better?

What’s with us? We settle for second best all the time. Not only are we viewed as a destination that welcomes washed up has-beens who’ve long since outlived their relevance, but we also settle for sub par so-called ‘local musicians’, that leer at us from the front pages of our weekly favourite, the YOU magazine. So bearing in mind that the likes of Danny K, the Parlotones and countless other manufactured pop groups are what Sony South Africa sees fit to spend it’s time promoting, no wonder we chomp at the bit for an international act, albeit one past it’s prime.

I am dumfounded at the extent to which the local music scene is befuddled with people who quite frankly would not know star quality if it hit them square in the face. People are actually making a living out of being average. Here in South Africa, we embrace a culture of mediocrity. Acts such as Die Antwoord and Locnville, found fame online long before Sony South Africa was able to lay their grubby, mediocre little paws on them. If a lesson is to be learned here, perhaps it is that local record labels stand to gain far more if they keep their acts local. In other words, as long as South African music remains sub-par and marketable to the average Joe, record labels never have to worry about losing them to International labels. I actually feel like a ‘bad” South African if I don’t somehow find it in me to support local music. After all, be a patriot, support local music, even if it is pretty terrible.

The sad truth is this. There is a small minority in this country, which is desperate to bring current international DJ’s and bands to South Africa. However, most are under-funded and due to the fact that many South Africans don’t support underground or ‘alternative’ music, many acts will never get here. Some little known international musicians do slip in under the radar and can be found in small clubs frequented by the few with a thirst for the new. Ultimately, however, it’s as if we cannot look past bands we listened to in high school, or bands that 5 FM says are acceptable to support.

At the end of the day, as callous as I may sound right now, all I want is for us to want more. To realise that we deserve better. In fact more than that, we deserve the best that the world has to offer, and we deserve it now, not in ten years time or even in two years time. So hurry up Kings of Leon, already you’re about three years too late- but it’s a start.

Image by Fillmore Photography



  • Ironically, Rammstein’s recent concert (on the same weekend) saw a massive, sold-out joburg crowd (tickets were gone after a few days), and the group, at least within hard-rock/metal circles, is far from washed out. That they chose to come here at arguably the pinnacle of their careers was great to see, as was the South African reception.

    It’s a sub-culture, for sure, and is largely drown out by Metallica, U2 and the host of tail-spinning bands now seeking unfished waters, but it was a hint of the potential for big bands still successful by their own right to come here and put on a world-class show.

  • Annabel

    I think until South Africans have better internet access and begin to engage actively with resources like Spotify and alternative cultural information resources, this sad state of affairs will continue.

    The media doesn’t know better and the middle class doesn’t make much effort to find out any differently.
    Some of the most famous South African artists internationally are little known at home – people like Vusi Mahlasela hardly draw the U2 masses domestically.

    I would add that the music issue reflects an immaturity in the social culture in general – at least in the money wielding middle class where one must elect to categorise one’s self in the mainstream or the backlash, each with it’s packaged ideal dress, social venues and music. Beneath it all is an absence of critical thinking that compells us to relax into old habits of “good taste” and pre-judged pictures of what category X of people are like.

    PS. With all due respect John (and there is much due) while Rammstein has continued to produce music into the 2000’s, they remain a popular outlet of a particular genre of the late 90’s. I would hardly call them innovative in the 21st century of music. Lest we forget that when Rammstein comes, it’s the very U2 crowd (with notable exceptions like yourself) who don their black Tshirts and marvel in their diversity of music preferences as they headbang with glee, waiting for that one song they loved that made it to late night 5fm.

    (ok, let me have it john….)