South Africa: 7th MTN SAMA Awards Overshadowed By Controversy

By Own Correspondent with support from change of venue and a big dose of controversy were the distinguishing features of the 17th annual MTN South African Music Awards, held at Montecasino in northern Johannesburg on the weekend.

Held over two nights, this year’s ceremonies were ambitiously split between Montecasino’s Teatro (on Friday night), the open-air Piazza and a massive dome tent constructed especially for the gala night on Saturday. Moving the event away from its traditional venue, Sun City, seems to have incensed some and delighted others – as has practically every other aspect of this year’s SAMAs.

Taking advantage of the public presence at Montecasino, the organisers built a fan stage in the Piazza, and the awards’ live performances alternated between this stage and the inside venues. The chance to include members of the general public is one of the things that drove the organisers of this year’s awards to make Montecasino the venue, and the hordes of screaming fans lining the “yellow carpet’ and watching the acts on the Piazza stage certainly gave the SAMAs a much more public face than they have previously had.

According to a SAMA spokesperson who MIO spoke to on the night, “While the SAMAs at Sun City were a wonderful weekend for media and industry to go and party, it was very exclusive, and it wasn’t accessible to the public… people want to be able to see the artists, and this is the closest event to something like the Grammys that South Africa has. You can’t grow something if it’s so exclusive and so far away.”


Kwaito, and more specifically Professor, cleaned up this year, with the artist taking awards in the Best Kwaito, Best Male Artist and Record Of The Year categories. Liquideep were not far behind, scooping Duo/Group Of The Year and Album Of The Year.

The Chapman brothers of Locnville picked up Newcomer Of The Year and Best Selling Album Of The Year, achieving yet another couple of notches in their belts in what is proving to be a meteoric rise to success. Best Female Artist went to Thandiswa Mazwai, and rockers Prime Circle took Best English Rock Album for their latest, Jekyll and Hyde (for a full list of winners click here).

There has been growing controversy in the wake of the awards, including claims of problems with accreditation, which saw tickets for media and VIPs arriving late and some apparently not at all – even for artists. It seems that some who attended the live event struggled to collect their tickets on time, and others ended up losing their seats due to double bookings.There were also issues with some guests’ accommodation, with bookings allegedly being changed at the last minute without the relevant parties being informed. The public response to this year’s SAMAs has been thoroughly mixed; on the one hand, many of those who attended the event agreed that as a live show it seemed well produced and executed; on the other hand, those who caught the awards on TV had to put up with embarrassing hiccups such as mis-timed cues and switched off microphones.

The typically reactive social media sphere has been ringing with accusations and condemnations of everything from the ticketing issues to the what many felt was a boring and lackluster show, the change of venue and even the presenters’ outfits. A quick sampling of the comments on the SAMAs Facebook wall: “The gala event sucked BIG TIME”; “This year’s awards lacked spark and time and again I was falling to sleep”; “You totally lost the plot this year”; “The opening act was nothing but noise pollution. Monte Casino was beautiful, but I think moving the SAMA’s from Sun City just made them lose their Exclusivity. I really would like the organizer to put their heads together, and prepare for next years awards right away”.

Praise for this year’s SAMAs has nevertheless been forthcoming from some quarters; an industry AV specialist who has worked on the SAMAs before (and wished to remain anonymous) declared that in his opinion this year’s ceremony was the most ambitious and best staged of all the SAMA’s which have taken place. No doubt many members of the public also appreciated the unprecedented opportunity to get a glimpse of so many of their favourite artists in the flesh and participate in the excitement of such a star-studded event.

However, public sentiment regarding this year’s awards seems to be overwhelmingly negative, and it seems as if RiSA shot themselves in the foot this year by not properly managing the logistics of what was inevitably going to be a massive challenge – a change of venue and an ambitious format for the show. A statement issued by RiSA the day after the event acknowledged some of the problems, an excerpt of which reads:

The SAMA organizers acknowledge that there were a number of operational and logistical challenges in the lead-up to the event that led to the inconveniencing of many guests attending the event. The SAMA Organizers would like to extend an apology to all SAMA and MTN guests who experienced difficulties with ticket collection and/or accommodation. Despite these challenges the SAMA organisers embrace the decision made to bring the awards to Jo’burg at the new venue. The organisers of the Annual South African Music Awards are committed to ensuring that these kinds of issues do not happen again.

But while there has been a lot of heat and noise around the failings of the event itself, much of this has little to do with the reason for the awards – local music. While there will always be some differences of opinion and taste, the majority of the award recipients were applauded heartily and the hard work of many in the sector was acknowledged. From an industry point of view perhaps the most telling remark came from renowned local rapper, Slikour. In a brief departure from the script in his duties as one of the presenters for the evening, Slikour made an impassioned plea to local radio stations regarding their support (or their lack thereof) for South African music, saying in effect that the glitzy image projected at such awards ceremonies is a facade which belies the reality of most artists’ daily lives.

Most musicians who try to make a career out of their art struggle to survive in South Africa, and being trotted out for a couple of nights a year and treated like celebrities generally amounts to little more than a PR exercise for the sponsors, and can be misleading to the public; more controversial (and many would argue more important) issues such as radio quotas and corporate and government support for the arts, over which there really should be heated debates, are easily swept under the carpet.

These issues aside, RiSA and its associates who helped to put together this year’s SAMAs have some work to do if they hope to regain popular support for what should be an event that both artists and the public can be proud of.