South Africa is a country that is incredibly rich with musical talent and we always appreciate having international bands perform here. However, the assumption that South Africa remains silent when there are no international acts is not true; this ‘gap’ is instead filled with local acts that are  just as incredible as anyone overseas. But is it possible that we are the only ones who know of the talent that so many South African musicians possess? The loss of South African heritage in artists who are successful internationally is making this a definite possibility. The United States is where everyone makes it big, but sometimes, it is also the place where musicians forget where they are from.

A friend of mine decided that to make her singing and acting career a reality – naturally she had to go to the USA. On her first visit back a few months later, she still had her South African accent and told us that her manager thought she should keep it because it “made her different”. On her next visit here (about a year later), however, her accent was the strongest American accent I had ever heard. Apparently being South African wasn’t working out for her musical career after all.

Like my former-South African friend, Seether is a band that has taken on American attributes. The band was started in South Africa in 1999 and by 2002 they had reached international fame. Since then, Seether has been based in the USA and have only come back to perform in South Africa twice, in 2006 and 2008. “Well first we’re just going to Europe then we’re going to countries we haven’t been to before we’re going to Australia [and] New Zealand and then after that we hook up with 3 Doors Down in Europe and we finish the tour with them and we come back  [to the US] and we do a Nickelback tour in April and June I think,” says Seether’s front man, Shaun Morgan, on their 2012 tour. Hopefully one day soon South Africa will feature in one of the band’s ‘world’ tours.

Like Seether, Civil Twilight is also a band that seems to have lost touch with their roots. Formed in South Africa but based in Los Angeles from 2005, the band had their ‘big break’ in 2007,  and since then the only time they have stopped by for a quick concert was in October 2011, at the Rocking the Daisies festival in Cape Town.

I’m sure if either of these bands could justify themselves, they would argue that it was the gaining of success that made them abandon their heritage. To get to where you want to be, sometimes you have to make certain sacrifices and give up things you don’t want to give up. In the case of Seether and Civil Twilight, they are both rock bands and have no particularly unique aspects to them that could make them stand out. Their genre is a genre of the Western world and to be successful in that world, they have to live and breathe Western culture. But is it worth it to have worldwide success when you don’t have your country standing behind you, for the simple reason that many South Africans do not even know that these bands are originally from their home country?

Die Antwoord is a band that seems to be doing incredibly well internationally even though most of the global audience can’t understand their lyrics, let alone their name. The band’s uniqueness is what got them an act at Coachella in 2010 and what makes them one of Fred Durst and Katy Perry’s favourite band. The uniqueness I speak of is their completely weird music, which could be placed under the genre ‘Zef’. Zef is Die Antwoord, Die Antwoord is Zef; there is really no other way to explain it. In a nutshell, Die Antwoord’s South African-ness is what made them so well-known around the world. Now isn’t that a treat?

And then there are artists, such as Paul Simon, who aren’t even from South Africa originally but have used huge parts of South Africa’s genres in their music. Paul Simon’s album, Graceland, was released in 1986, and was a huge hit. Simon included many South African aspects in this album, such as the Zulu Isicathamiya singing style and the Mbaqanga style. He worked with the internationally recognised Ladysmith Black Mambazo as well. It was a perfect mix of American and South African styles. Not only was this Paul Simon’s most successful solo album, it also won several Grammy Awards and reached number 3 on the US Billboard 200. A classic example that South African music is not only limited to the South African audience, but internationally, it is enjoyed just as much, if not more.

The only way the music industry in South Africa is going to be noticed is by musicians who take the world by storm and let everyone know where they are from and that they will always remain Proudly South African. Bands like Die Antwoord, Freshlyground and GoldFish are bands that are not giving up on their country, and still call South Africa their home. That’s not to say that Seether and Civil Twilight aren’t completely wrong in ignoring their roots, their genre demands the taking on of western culture. But maybe it’s possible for these bands, in their next few albums, to start bringing aspects of South Africa into their music. The South African fan base would love it and they would probably make many more fans in their home country, fans that may not even particularly like their music, but will support them because they are South African; they are part of a community.

That friend of mine who went overseas to reach her dream? Well, I think if she wanted to tell the world she was South African, she could. I doubt that this would make her any less successful than she would be taking on this American persona. Surely it’s better to be known as the “21-year-old South African girl with a voice like gold” than “just another American teenager who is exactly like every other female artist out there”? It’s about being noticed, standing out. Fitting in doesn’t get you noticed, you just become a part of the crowd: a tiny drop in an ever-growing ocean.

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