Music conference inspires ‘digital conversation’ in Durban

South Africa is considered an international hub for house music - and dance music in general enjoys a large amount of airplay on local radio. A significant force behind the rise of house music in the country, now in its 11th year, the Southern African Music Conference (SAMC) took place recently at Clermont township in Durban between Thursday 2 July and Sunday 5 July.

Greg Maloka. Photo: afropolitan.co.za
Greg Maloka. Photo: afropolitan.co.za

The annual event was founded by South African DJs and entrepreneurs Fresh, Oskido, Vinny Da Vinci, Christos and Greg Maloka, who together go by the moniker Deejays Unite or DJU. These legendary five, big names in their own right, are pioneers of the country’s booming house music scene. Fresh, on 5FM, is a prolific DJ and producer. Vinny Da Vinci, on Metro FM, owns House Africa Records (one of the biggest local importers of vinyl) and has helped bring deep house into the mainstream. Oskido, part owner of the long-running and influential independent label Kalawa Jazmee, along with Christos, helped to define the kwaito sound and cultivated the growth of homegrown dance music by grooming the likes of Boom Shaka, Mafikizolo and DJ Black Coffee. Maloka, currently a media marketing guru now with Kaya FM, inspired a number of DJs in the early days of influential youth radio station, YFM.

In this context, the SAMC can still be seen to focus on dance music, although Maloka explains it is broader than that. “The conference was inspired by the Miami Music Conference, which has been running for 30 years. It was started by DJs but the background of the individuals is broad. We have grown our brand in the last 10 years and have been able to grow brands such as Shimza, DJ Tira and Black Coffee, who are game-changers in dance music. For the first time, this year we have extended our platform to feature hip-hop, which is doing very well in the country right now. And the issues and content that we tackle in our panels are not limited to dance music; they are universal and go beyond any genre,” explains Maloka.

The name of the conference lends itself to regional partnerships and in its early days it attracted guests and audiences from throughout the Southern Africa region, with people coming from Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia, for example. For the first few years the conference was based in Johannesburg. It was held in Bloemfontein once and for the past four years it has been held in KZN. Of the four years in KZN, it’s the second time the conference has been held in Durban’s townships. This is a deliberate move to reach and empower the youth in their own backyard. With sponsors like the Department of Arts and Culture, the City of Durban and the SABC, it has evolved into a free conference.

“The purpose of SAMC is to be a knowledge factory and to ensure the dissemination of that knowledge,” says Maloka. “Over the years we used to flood the conference with a lot of info. We’ve learnt to curate the event according to what’s relevant and what people want to know. This year we’re pushing the digital conversation.”

Of course this “digital conversation” is a highly relevant one. The global music market has changed in terms of how people consume music and the digital space is the catalyst for this development. In South Africa specifically, cellphones play a big role in the consumption of music. More than 75% of low income groups who are 15 years and older in SA own a mobile phone. The music business is moving to mobile phones and traditional music stores are closing down because of this. Revenue is now coming from digital rather than physical sales, with an estimated 70% of this is coming from caller tunes or welcome tones on cellphones.

In the last five years, DJ Cleo has been a South African Music Award (SAMA) winner in the Best-Selling True Tone Download of the Year and Best-Selling Ring-Back Tone of the Year categories and other musicians are following suit. Hip-hop sensation Cassper Nyovest was a case study in how to maximize your social media presence to market your music and brand. With no radio airplay and no album to his name, Nyovest started out pushing his singles ‘Gusheshe’ and ‘Doc Shebeleza’ on social media. They became huge hits and he got a massive following that when he finally did release his album, he blew up, winning numerous major awards.

Looking ahead, Maloka hopes for the involvement of cellphone companies and for the conference to cover the whole continent. “Because of where the digital movement is heading in terms of music consumption locally, I think it’s imperative that cellphone networks take an interest in platforms like this. As a brand we’re toying around with changing it into an African music conference. We’re already doing some work with artists on the continent,” he says.    

Judging by the lack of questions from the floor after the digital discussion, it’s obvious that many haven’t wrapped their heads around the subject yet. It’s a conversation that needs to continue.

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