SAMA Smack Down: Twenty 13

POSTED: By MILES KEYLOCK & DIANE COETZER

Can The Muffinz outgun pop starlets Toya DeLazy and ChianoSky? Who the hell are Blackbyrd. And is Kelly Khumalo really a contender? Rolling Stone breaks it down

     

Female Artist of the Year

ChianoSky - Hungry

Kelly Khumalo - The Past, The Present, The Future

Lulu Dikana - This is the Life

Maleh - Step Child

Ntokozo Mbambo - Filled

What We Say

Crushed. Let's face it, it's been a middling year for female artists actually releasing records – but to omit the wondrous Tailor and startlingly inventive Cama Gwini in favour of any of the five nominees here is like choosing machinemade soft serve over bespoke Italian gelato. It's not that talent's lacking in Maleh, Dikana and Mbambo's records, or that Ms Khumalo's comeback stiffed. But, aside from ChianoSky's sassy pop punch (and we're being generous), there's truthfully not much here that hasn't been done before.

Who Sould Win

CHIANOSKY. As we say, she's the best of a middling bunch, but at least the model had the suss to assemble a crackshot production team for her debut effort.

Who Will Win

KELLY KHUMALO. In a year in which her tale of triumph and redemption turned up in a book, Khumalo's patchy The Past, The Present, The Future got more attention than it deserved.

Male Artist of the Year

Arno Carstens - Atari Gala

Elvis Blue - Journey

Khuli Chana - Lost in Time

ProVerb - Fourthwrite

Reason - Audio3D

What We Say

Now we're talking: a straight-up Rap vs Rock showdown. So, who's got more game: a triple-play of cunningly linguistic emcees with their fingers on the schizophrenic pulse of Mzansi hip-hop (Chana's vernacular-rap parables, Reason's battle-rapped punch lines, ProVerb's literate lyrical flow)? Or a veteran modern rock godfather and a radio-rocker proving there is life after Idols? Well, comebacks from veterans who've been on hiatus always strike a chord with the judges, so Arno Carstens can expect to add another SAMA to the several already in his trophy cabinet for Atari Gala. ProVerb's inspirational FourthWrite is a dark horse.

Who Should Win

ARNO CARSTENS. Decadent rock'n'roll daydreams, fucked-up relationships, forgotten friendships and bold, bruised, string-driven James Bond theme tunes about surviving 20 years in the music business seldom sound as convincing as Arno's rocking celebration of being married and a dad at 40.

Who Will Win

ARNO CARSTENS. "There's no survivors".

Newcomer of the Year

Bongeziwe Mabandla - Umlilo

Khaya - For You

Tailor - The Dark Horse

The Muffinz - Have you Heard?

Toya Delazy - Due Drop Deluxe

What We Say

At last a Top 5 category with substance. Any list that pays tribute to two of 2012's best records – Tailor's The Dark Horse and Bongeziwe Mabandla's Umlilo – at least recognises that not all releasing artists play to the middle ground or the demands of commercialism.

Who should win

TAILOR or BONGEZIWE MABANDLA. The intensity of Tailor's debut was impossible to ignore, as was the transcendent beauty of Mabandla's long-awaited release.

Who Will Win

THE MUFFINZ. Look, we're not saying that Have You Heard? wasn't good for a first volley over the net. But the clever hype generated by a band of black kids who "like, actually play, can you believe it!" is likely to seal this deal.

Album of the Year

Kelly Khumalo - The Past, The Present, The Future

Khuli Chana - Lost in Time

Maleh - Step Child

Ntokozo Mbambo - Filled

The Muffinz - Have you Heard?

What We Say

Kelly Khumalo's airbrushed adult contemporary urban pop biopic, The Past, The Present, The Future, probably hit more headlines than bona fide hits. But narcissistically baring and sharing all is not necessarily a SAMA-winning album. Vernacular rapper Khuli Chana's comeback, Lost in Time, and The Muffinz's street-smart debut, Have You Heard?, both spawned high radio rotation, if not bootloads of bona fide hits. And let's not forget Ntokozo Mbambo's double-disc whammy of evangelical gospel gold.

Who Should Win

KYLE SHEPHERD's South African History !X. No, wait. His revolutionary jazz rallying cry is bizarrely not even nominated in this category. Ah, well. Let's not forget the SAMAs is predominantly a pop production. Khuli Chana's (r)evolutionary Motswako mix of kasi-fied raps mainlines a much-needed consciousness into this category.

Who Will Win

KELLy KHUMALO. She'll never have Simphiwe Dana's gravitas or Thandiswa Mazwai's fire, but Kelly's glossy lucky packet of retro soul-baring ballads, midtempo house seductions, candlelit Afro-pop lovers' jams and MOR English radio-pop rockers should strike a chord with tabloid junking judges.

Duo or Group of the Year

Blackbyrd

Desmond & The Tutus

DJ Vetkuk vs Mahoota

Freshlyground

The Muffinz

What We Say

If you landed at Sun City from outer space and wanted a snapshot of South African music's much-touted "diversity", this would be the category to check out. Sure, Blackbyrd's country-pop might have you thinking you'd landed in the U.S. and The Muffinz's evolving funk rock might not stop you in your gravity boots. But DJ Vetkuk vs Mahoota's party-inducing kwaai-house, the Tutus' smart irreverence and Freshlyground's shaken and reinvented Afro-pop could only have been hewn on homegrown soil.

Who Should Win

DESMOND & THE TUTUS or FRESHLYGROUND. For a delightful sonic turnaround that never betrayed their roots, this award should go to the Freshlies, but who can give up on the Tutus' taste for impeccably-produced fun?

Who Will Win

THE MUFFINZ. Let's be frank here – in a competition with a judging pool as diverse as the SAMAs', The Muffinz have the best chance of scoring large.

Best Rap Album

Khuli Chana - Lost in Time

Last Days Fam - Eternal Effect

PRO - Continua

ProVerb - Fourthwrite

Reason - Audio3D

What We Say

Swagger-boy schtick of buppie-rappers Last Days Fam aside, this is a tough category to call. Khuli Chana, Pro, ProVerb and Reason all have mad lyrical skillz. Damn, sounds like we got a stalemate. Nah, the only real question is whether consciousness or conshizzle holds the most currency with the judges.

Who Should Win

PROVERB. While Lost In Time may have got the Motswako hip-hop massive bopping, here's a thought: when was the last time a rapper who championed literacy and family-friendly values walked away with the "Best Male Artist" award? ProVerb's FourthWrite does precisely this.

Who Will Win

KHULI CHANA. Like the Grammys, the SAMAs is all about rewarding the prime movers and shakers, right? If so, then there's a fantastic case to be made for Khuli Chana's Lost In Time winning hands down. No emcee mapped the evolutionary emotional landscape of the "born free" hip-hop generation with such a stream of consciousness.

Best Kwaito Album

Bhar - Morning Bang

Kabelo - Immortal Vol. 2

L'Vovo Derrango - The Headmaster

Professor - The Orientation

Teddybears - Teddybears

What We Say

You could see this category as some kind of Old School (Kabelo) vs. New School (Bhar, Teddybears) arm-wrestle for the King of Kwaito crown. Kabelo's exercise in adult contemporary self-pimping had its moments. Afrotainment's new poster-boy Bhar showed he's got game. L'vovo got his groove back. But sonically speaking, there's still only one artist worthy of kwaito's heavyweight championship crown. Professor's The Orientation deserves to win for its sprawling cast of A-list collaborators alone.

Who Should Win

PROFESSOR. The method in the madness of Professor hiring an all-star cast of kwaito, house, hip-hop and Afro-pop collaborators including Ringo, Character and Oskido, Ishmael, Stoan, Zakwe, Selwyn, Zola and more? Brand consciousness 101 for a SAMAwinning player looking to build his brand, right? Fo' sho.

Who Will Win

PROFESSOR. No other kwaito artist is able to lubricate new converts in both inner-city clubs and township taverns. The Professor isn't pushing mere summer hit sedatives either. It's the message shadowing minimalist kwaito mating game "One Night Stand" (featuring Busiswa), maskandi-trance rapped epic "Baphi" (featuring Speedy) and soulful Afro-house serenade "Shoba Shobane" (featuring Avante, SBO and Ray Phiri) that rewards with repeated listening.

Best Rock Album

Arno Carstens - Atari Gala

Desmond & The Tutus - MNUSIC

Prime Circle - Evidence

The Plastics - Pyramid

Zebra & Giraffe - The Wisest Ones

What We Say

Competition rules! While the contenders all deserve their nominations with albums that range from classic autobiography (Carstens), anguished conceptualism (Prime Circle) and quirky youth biographia (Desmond & the Tutus) to moody doomed romance (Zebra & Giraffe), for the judges artistic gravitas is always the key, and Atari Gala is the only album that has this in spades.

Who Should Win

ARNO CARSTENS. The only bona fide rocker with enough gravitas to convey the fear and loathing of trying to make peace with being a South African rock star who's growing up gracefully.

Who Will Win

ARNO CARSTENS. The Springbok Nude Girls' golden years may be a scanner darkly, but damn if there isn't some DNA left in their corpse for Arno to use to sidestep any midlife crisis. He gets his mojo working with a bold, ambitious autobiography that romps between power-ballad ruminations on the whole rockstar schtick and indie-rocked meditations on mortality, spirituality and faith.

Best Jazz Album

Herbie Tsoaeli - African Time

Kyle Shepherd - South African History !X

Lindiwe Maxolo - Time

Steve Dyer - Ubuntu Music

Tutu Puoane - Breathe

What We Say

Bass-, piano- and sax-driven albums battle it out with a pair of vocal songbirds for a SAMA ... given South Africa's fertile jazz history, surely they should have separate categories? Ah, well. Double-SAMAwinning songbird Tutu Puoane's skill as a lyricist in both vernacular and English infuses Breathe with a sincerity that leaves the listener with the sense that there is always purpose driving this artistic process. Ditto premier bassist Herbie Tsoaeli's brilliant exercise in post-bop architecture, African Time. But, young jazz pianist and composer Kyle Shepherd's South African History !X is a revolutionary artistic rallying cry.

Who Should Win

KYLE SHEPHERD. Like Malcolm X, Shepherd's South African History !X is a multilayered, resonant symbol. It's an exclamation; a liberation; a reclamation that seeks to reinvent South African history through music. What is important to Shepherd is not the reiteration of the actual past, but an improvised history, history as a live experience rather than the stasis of petrified forms and dead languages.

Who Will Win

KYLE SHEPHERD. Communal, oracular, sermonic, deeply personal, polyrhythmic and polyphonic, Shepherd's !X is both a simultaneous subversion and reinvention of the poetics of identity. Lilting marabi migratory melodies are recast as jazzy urban cityscapes, lost tribal click songs become ambient soundscapes; langarms are danced in eddies and whirlpools of piano improvisations, goema grooves bleed into fractured godspell hymns, and volksliedjies reimagined in a cascade of minor keys remind us that history always lives in the breaks. This is improvisation as a search for freedom, "freedom-from" yes, but also "freedom-to", a key to unlock the doors of music-making in the future.

Best Dance Album

Black Coffee - Africa Rising

DJ Pepsi - Royal House Collection Vol. 2

DJ Vetkuk Vs Mahoota - Dinaledi

Oskido - I Believe

Pascal & Pearce - Passport 2.0

What We Say

A roots-music cocktail of mbaqanga, jazz and R&B reimagined as stadium-house classics for a 24-piece orchestra, live band and guest vocalists (Black Coffee)? Or another aspirational blend of spirituality and mirrorball karma that percolates between Afro- Latin conversation in bass'n'brass-driven polyrhythmic kwaai-jazz, '70s township discofunk and minimal-tech hypnoses (Oskido)? What about a triple-disc all-star concept album (The Fire, The Earth, The Water) that shrugs off the catatonia of four-to-the-floor Euro-house for a shapeshifting celebration of the kwaai-house revolution in multiple-party harmony.

Who Should Win

DJ VETKUK VS MAHOOTA. Dinaledi is a widescreen evocation of the retro-futurist sonic DNA that's kept Kalawa the kings of kwaai-house for the past two decades. Their summer smash "iStokvela" (featuring Oskido & Professor) is a swaggering block party of trance-y synths, slo-mo broken beats, praise poetry, barked raps and titillating cheerleader ululations. Uh-huh. Mzansi house music is a mating game, geddit? Dinaledi is not just about hedonistic shebeen hero worship though. There's also some gospel house gold, Afro-Latin jazzy house ballad hook-ups and soul-hop songs of love and redemption featuring the likes of Thebe, Winnie Khumalo and Mr Selwyn. The message? Free your ears and your ass will surely follow.

Who Will Win

BLACK COFFEE. A truly Afropolitan house game-changer that swings between jazzy house hip-shakers ("Superman", featuring Bucie), hypnotic funk workouts ("Crazy", featuring Thiwe) and kinetic kasi-disco jammers ("Juju", featuring Zakes Bantwini, "Rock My World", featuring Soulsta). African and cosmopolitan, home-brewed but trendsetting.

Best Alternative Album

Bittereinder - Die Dinkdansmasjien

Fetish - Little Heart

iScream & The Chocolate Stix - The Paradox

Tailor - The Dark Horse

Yoav - Blood vine

What We Say

How did ISO's Piece by Piece get overlooked here? Did iScream & The Chocolate Stix's craaazy name bamboozle the judges? That said, the battle is fierce, with Fetish's comeback with heart, Yoav's immaculately detailed album, Tailor's psychologically seductive debut, and Bittereinder's cerebral dance-rap record giving the category some real heft.

Who Should Win

TAILOR or BITTEINDER. Two radically diff erent ends of South African music, but no less thrilling for it.

Who Will Win

FETISH. Nostalgia for a bygone era of South African alternative music might just hold emotional sway here. Still, we wouldn't be sad if an expectant Ms Breeze and her gang get the gong.

Best African Adult Album

Bongeziwe Mabandla - Umlilo

Cama Gwini - Re-Birth

Kelly Khumalo - The Past, The Present, The Future

Maleh - Step Child

Nomfusi - Take Me Home

What We Say

A curious category ("African Adult"? What's that?) that turned up a surprisingly strong field – aside from Khumalo's limp comeback and Maleh's middling album. Dominated by women, the category takes in the range from Mabandla's fired-up folk to Nomfusi's exportable roots-soul.

Who Should Win

CAMA GWINI. Give him a few years and we might plumb for Mabandla in this category, but Cama Gwini's fearless rock reinvention has no match.

Who Will Win

KELLY KHUMALO might just take it here too, but who should win Nomfusi's trad-soul should have the edge.

Best Music Video of the Year

Benza, AKA - "Jealousy"

Salomon Ligthelm, Gangs Of Ballet - "Hello Sweet World"

Warwick Allan, Prime Circle - "Evidence"

Jolyon Ellis, Spoonfeedas - "Attack Of The Hadedas"

Claudio Pavan, The Parlotones - "Honey Spiders"

What We Say

We said it last year and we'll say it again – did Die Antwoord and Spoek Mathambo not enter? In videos like "I Fink U Freeky" and "Stuck Together" there's no matching their visual inventiveness. Still, there's no doubting the rising standard of South African videos – just check out the superb styling and effects on Spoonfeedas' crazed clip and AKA manfully steering a new take on the standard cars, girls and bling combo that lazily dogs most rap videos made on the continent.

Who Should Win

The moodiness of PRIME CIRCLE and GANGS OF BALLET's videos do what winning videos should do – elevate the song in ways you didn't imagine.

The nominated artists for MTN Record of the Year are as follows:

B.O.P - "Wa Muhle"

Black Motion - "Father To Be"

ChianoSky - "Walking Away"

DJ Vetkuk Vs Mahoota - "Stokvel"

DJ Zinhle - "My Name Is"

Donald - "I Deserve"

Elvis Blue - "Lifeline"

HHP - "Bosso"

Kabomo - "Colour of You"

Khaya - "Move"

Liquideep - "Still"

Lloyd Cele - "Hero"

Mi Casa - "Heavenly Sent"

Oskido - "Tsa Mandebele"

Riot - "Thetha Nami"

Sfiso Ncwane - "Kulungile Baba"

Teargas - "Wake Up"

Toya Delazy - "Love Is In The Air"

Zahara - "Umthwalo"

Zonke - "Feelings"

What We Say

Who can mobilise their fans best? Record of the Year is not about the hottest single of 2012 (if it was, ISO’s “No Fire”, or The Plastics’ “Stereo Kids” would be in the running), but about artists whipping up a voting crowd and using every available platform to do it (remember when Mzekezeke’s “S’guaqa Ngamadolo” took it in 2003 and everyone was moaning about DJ S’bu using YFM to do it?).

Who Should Win

HHP. Imagine writing a song that can become part of our collective lexicon. HHP did just that – and it kicked!

Who Will Win

HHP. Who's your boss? The message is the song itself. Form is both content and suggestion: with "Bosso" HHP has succeeded in problematising, however slyly, power relations in times of gender, race, technology, environment and economic crises in Cry The Be-fucked Country and the world over.

 

 


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