South African Hip Hop culture has grown so much that an award ceremony has been created to recognise the achievements of artists contributing to its development. But, in the age of 'swagger', and at a time when rappers really need to be extravagant to gain mainstream success, the South African Hip Hop Awards (SAHHA) lacked the flamboyance that defines contemporary Hip Hop.
Organisationally, the event was, to say the least, chaotic. I (along with other members of the press) found our JHBLive seats occupied by non-media personnel. There were no designated ushers, and there was no proper security. The stage was poorly lit and decorated with worn-out drapes, and the event started late. Very late. To top it all off, one oke, who appeared to be a loon, repeatedly went on stage to accept awards on behalf of the many absent award winners.
Before the ceremony had even begun, organisers of the event came under fire from some nominees for their poor communication, most notably from rapper Kiernan Forbes (AKA), who withdrew in a flurry of media. Forbes, who turned out to be the night's biggest winner, released a statement claiming he had only been notified of the event three days prior to its staging and could not fully engage his fans in the voting process.
Given the chaos on the night, it's no wonder many nominated artists snubbed the awards. Other absentees included Best International Brand winner Sprite, as well as Best Song and Best Collabo winner Khuli Chana.
These setbacks aside, the domination of male artists in all categories (with the exception, of course, of Best Female Artist) also stood out. South African female artists in other genres have been very successful, sometimes even more so than their male colleagues. So why the disparity when it comes to Hip Hop? Is it that the Hip Hop industry is possibly sexist? I asked some of the nominated artists (including best female artist nominees Nadia Nakai and Ice Queen) why this was so, and they all gave a slightly modified version of the same answer.
"The industry is not sexist, we just need more female artists creating more music, only then will record companies take us seriously and invest in us."
But if we're honest, maybe we need to admit that one of the traits record companies look for in Hip Hop artists is hypermasculinity. Maybe that's why this gig is so biased towards males? Just a thought. Nevertheless, the SAHHAs will surely give the shortlisted female talent a platform to have their work noticed, and will hopefully catapult the ladies to future commercial success over the long run.
The best part of the night was the performance from host Pule, the strictly vernacular speaking white comic, and his side-kick, playwright J Bhoboza. Pule (dressed in a floral shirt and cap and blood red shoes likely to have been purchased from a thrift shop) and Bhoboza parodied contemporary rappers' obsession with toasting their achievements - even when many have not attained any meaningful success. Their performance included a crash course, Swaggernometry 101, on how to make it as a rapper. "No one wants to listen to a humble rapper," Pule lectured the audience. Despite the fact that I could not understand most of what Pule, who performs primarily in Zulu, was saying (back off ya'll, I'm from Zambia), his delivery was so good that his ebullient gestures were enough to leave me in stitches.
The SAHHAs may have bombed this year on account of the poor organisation, but if the mistakes made this time around are noted and addressed, the SAHHAs might still become an important fixture on South Africa's music calendar in years to come. Time will tell.
Photographs by: Anele Khoza
by Nkandu Chipale Mwenge