SA hiphop lyricist, Kwesta decided to write an open letter to 5FM and this was just after 5FM turned down one of his singles.
Kwesta's Open Letter to 5FM
On Wednesday the 5th of February I addressed a matter I’ve been grappling with for the longest time… I echoed the thoughts of many people and engaged in, a now much publicised, debate with members of the 5FM music committee who generally agreed that things needed to change at 5FM but also wanted it to be acknowledged that things have changed. With that being said one thing that still hasn’t changed is the notion that 5FM is a so-called “white station” and as a public broadcasting platform that is regrettable and unacceptable, considering what this country has been through and given the youth’s responsibility to de-racialise our country, as well seek to create a single national identity living up to the promise of the rainbow nation, which is still a myth in my opinion for various reasons.
What I can say though is that there are people within 5FM who are fighting our battle on our behalf and doing their utmost to help deliver programming that is more inclusive and representative of the youth as a whole but what disappoints me is the sense I get that there is a unhealthy and seemingly malicious force that is resisting change and thus denying 5FM to black masses. We can’t deny the problems we have with race relations and they stay largely unresolved. Waiting for transformation is not going to get us anywhere if we all don’t have our shoulders to the wheel in a pre-emptive to bring about integration.
I’m trying to bridge the racial divide as far as my music is concerned by giving the township perspective to an audience that was either raised to fear the hood and it’s black people and at the same time to those of us grappling with the inferiority complex that comes with knowing that we’ll have to find our place in a “white man’s” world. My feeling is that 5FM could do a lot more to lend itself to this cause by bringing young people from all walks of life together and that’s why I took to twitter to address the elephant in room. The problem with twitter though is that you have a 140 characters with which to bring your point across to an audience that might not get the full scope of your argument and what is actually a relevant contribution to on going public discourse aimed at resolving issues that hold our society back but are ignored because over-time the rate at which change is happening desensitises us and we end-up accepting because we give-up the fight for the greater good, can be turned it to something else quite spectacularly. This is why I wanted to qualify my remarks with a full statement so people don’t dismiss the concerns as a self serving attack on an institution which I feel has the power to change this country and help us realise our African dream. From the bottom of my heart I hope that we can find the strength within ourselves to nationalise the minds of the youth and achieve the common goal of rebuilding our nation free from the bondage of the racial divide, which is one of the haunting remnants of our painful past. That responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of our generation. There isn’t a nobler cause to serve and together we need to get to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. To all the young people of this country I say if we are honest with ourselves and critical of our shortcoming then this change that we all want is not only possible but also it is with reach, in our lifetime.
I would hate this to end up being miss-characterised as a misguided rant and I hope you see the sincerity of my impassioned plea for the National Broadcaster to meet its mandate specifically where youth radio programming is concerned. What I was aiming to do was to show that as the only national youth radio station 5FM has an obligation to deliver radio programming that “informs, educates, entertains and supports the public at large.” The public at large in this case means the masses, 79% of whom are black and generally of them opinion that 5FM is a “white” radio station. It cannot be accepted that such a perception is shared by the overwhelming majority of our young people, thus rendering the only youth centred mass media platform an institution that effectively alienates itself from the majority of our population because it doesn’t represent the broader youth culture adequately…
Where urban Hip-hop is concerned there is obvious disconnect with the public at large because the play listing does not reflect what most young people are listening to for various reasons and this results in a glaring colour divide that doesn’t sit well with me. The truth is that is one of the many ways that our social disunity manifests itself. Black and white people in South Africa generally lead parallel lives and there aren’t enough points of intersection. When the World Cup is over too many of us run back to our old ways because that’s what we know and are confortable with, unfortunately. You see it on school playgrounds, university lawns the office cafeteria and anywhere else you look. The fact that we are so divided is clear in our musical taste with few exceptions and this is why the music that is not being played on 5FM has us black artists feeling overlooked even though we represent to majority of the youth. What we’d like is some more representation on this youth platform and the brand perception to change from what it currently is to what it should be and that is the voice of South Africa Youth. I feel that if research on tastes of the youth at large were done it would show that 5FM is inadvertently misrepresenting the young people of South Africa to a certain extent and if this can be addressed as a matter of urgency we’ll all bare witness to the true “Power of 5″ as a platform that has the free youth dancing to the same beat.
In my opinion the music committee does not consist of enough people who are passionate about the advancement of our booming street culture and/or that have intimate knowledge of the taste, styles and sounds growing in prominence and this deficiency cripples 5FM which is the market leader in youth media but in this regard they lagging behind and out of touch. What pains me is that this very same 5FM is very quick to respond where there are white faces involved, where as Teargas is overlooked but a Bittereinde will come from nowhere with a chart-topping hit that’s not resonant with what’s really happening on the streets at large. To this I take exception because they all should have a place on 5 because that is the variety we need to show off that famed diversity that we sell our country on. I’ll make an example with Jack Parow who released “Blou Bek,” the first single off his new double album. It’s has been play listed and I can almost guarantee it will be making its way up the chart in the coming weeks while on the other hand 5FM has only recently play listed iFani’s Milli which has been the most played South African Hip-hop track in the country for months now in what can only be described as a delayed reaction to what the music loving youth are responding to. I doubt it’ll make the Top 40 chart but I guess it should be commended that iFani was not completely overlooked right? I for one am not satisfied with this status quo and anyone with any knowledge of what is happening on the streets would agree that they are simply being ignored by our youth station. I know from personal experience that when Boomshakalaka had already reached it’s peak on various radio stations and long become the most downloaded rap track in the country I still had to carry out the research myself and collate data to prove to the music committee that the song was worth playing even though as I was told that there was too much vernacular in the lyrics for the “5FM listener” to which I responded so Afrikaans must be the only African language that is palatable to the “5FM listener” because at the same time Jack Parow’s song was getting enviable airplay, unjustly so considering how I was being snubbed, which begs the question who is this 5FM listener? Of the things the 5FM listener could be is it thus inconceivable that he/she could possibly be a young South African like me, from the hood like and black like me, amongst other things? In the end I didn’t give up and Boomshakalaka made the play list eventually thanks to the people in the music committee who had to lobby for it… Although grateful I was unhappy with the lengths I had to go to, to have my song played and I never got to get over what I was subjected to because it persists to this day which prompted a change in my attitude towards 5FM. I don’t even sample them with the same singles that I send to other radio stations hence I released High On Life and shot a video for it purely because I knew Thul’ Ujayive stood no change of playing on 5FM but when this effort proved to be unsuccessful and I asked why I was told it wasn’t catchy enough something I know is not true because I have crowd tested my singles months before I released them and this just showed me that the people who say that are not at my shows when people are singing along to every word, they don’t follow the comments on social media where people are quoting my lyrics and evidently the young people my music appeals to are not the desired 5FM listener. I guess I just don’t get the message.
I’ve been thinking to myself for months now: why is it that I have to prove that my music is popular by performing to thousands of responsive young people around the country and spend thousands of Rands on music videos before my songs can break onto on 5FM’s play list when, they are supposed to be a “new music” station and introduce new sounds to their listeners? I have no problem with going the extra mile for myself but when it’s not only me who is left dumb founded when considering what exactly it is that 5FM wants knowing how much work artists like iFani, L-Tido, BlackLez and the likes are putting into their craft I thought maybe it’s time I speak on our behalf and show 5FM that we have a significant following that are not happy with not hearing enough of our music on the only national youth station.
On Wednesday morning I saw Cassper Nyovest tweeting about a struggle I know all too well… How to get his song play listed on 5FM? His song, which has dance-floors filled from Mafikeng to Cape Town and I thought maybe if I create enough noise around it maybe someone, would take notice. I saw history repeating itself and realised that we generally share the sentiment that 5FM doesn’t acknowledge the work we’re putting in, outright. I addressed the facts and painted the true picture of what we experience and people contributed their own experiences, which were all the same.
I felt that maybe if I could rally up my followers, who are always vocal about our common interests, then maybe the forces of resistance within 5FM would have no choice but to respond to the calls of our people. Later that night Cassper Nyovest’s song was played on 5FM for the first time and I went to bed happier. What happened the next evening (6 February 2014) was completely unexpected. V-Entertainment covered the debate we had on twitter and spoke to Cathrine Grenfell who was the one person who I know for sure was instrumental in my singles Pump It & Flava getting play listed when my debut album came out some 4-years ago. I’ll be the first to admit that things at 5FM have changed a lot but at the same-time the whole world has changed and it has changed faster than 5FM has. I feel that if the music committee was in touch with the broader youth and was just as passionate about South African Hip-hop as they are about indie-rock & EDM which dominate the play list and chart unfairly so then they’d attract a wider audience…
The only other SABC youth radio station is TruFM in Bisho and it doesn’t even have coverage in the whole of the Eastern Cape. Metro FM is not a youth station, Ukhozi FM and the likes are not youth stations either so as far as the SABC is concerned all we have is 5FM and although it’s a commercial station it still needs to meet the mandate. 5FM can no-longer be characterised as a “white station” that plays music for “white people & socalled coconuts.” As the only national YOUTH radio station it needs to be cognisant of it’s obligations to the youth of South Africa as a whole and play it’s part in social integration by fairly representing the views of the youth and serving to break the racial divide by making more of an effort to reach out to the majority of young black people because they have been largely overlooked and robbed of an inclusive platform that represents their interests as well as those of other youth groups in an effort to create a more unified national identity amongst the youth. We’re almost 20-years into democracy and although there’s noticeable change, right now the Black Youth of South Africa want & need the Power of 5FM but we’re left out in the cold and I just feel like it’s “either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood…”
For these I reasons I can say that what is clear is that 5FM is failing to live up to it’s brand promise which is detailed in the profile pictured below, by marginalising the majority of our diverse youth culture and although there are strides being made toward uinclusive programming there is not enough progress and this must change!