kagablog

September 14, 2006

the kwaito story: Penny Lebyane interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 12:47 pm


prominent dj personality penny lebyane
(photo hens van rooy)

aryan kaganof: You have stated publicly that there is too much sexism in the entertainment industry.

penny lebyane: Yes, music, radio, television, it’s all a big boy’s club basically. The deejays are men, the station managers are men, the advertising executives that deal with the radio stations are men, the programme managers are men, the camera crews are men, except for the makeup artists, sometimes, are women. But I’ll focus mainly on broadcast radio which is what I do. Magazines, which is an extension of the entertainment industry, you do find a whole lot of females there. Newspapers in the newsrooms, entertainment sections, mainly men, you get one female out of four guys. When I need to do an interview it will be mainly males doing the interviews, covering the stories. On the radio station which I work for, which has about five million listeners, broadcasts 24 hours nationwide, there’s only one female during the day 9 to 12, and then another one is at twelve midnight to 3am. Don’t ask me why.

aryan kaganof: But surely the only way to change that is by moving into the industry, as women?

penny lebyane: I’ve been in the industry for seven years, and in the seven years that I’ve been in, my goodness, how many females like me are there? None.

aryan kaganof: So what makes you so different from the average woman?

penny lebyane: I don’t know. I don’t think I’m different from the average woman in South Africa.I started out at community radio, there were four or five women at community radiio and out of all of them I am the only one who has made it as far as commercial radio. And it wasn’t easy for me to get to this level, I mean the station that I work for is the biggest, it’s nationwide. When I started out there were only community stations and regional stations and very few females, for example at Kaya FM there is one female in the morning and then the rest of the day there are a few female newsreaders and then you have YFM and they have four females throughout pairing with boys. At some point they had one strong female, which made a big difference, when they had a female on her own, stading out on her own, but when they have four females I call that window dressing. I don’t see exactly what those females represent individually it’s not what I think females on air should represent.

aryan kaganof: Are you not merely Metro FM’s window dressing?

penny lebyane: No I refuse to be. I’ve been there four years but if I look at someone who started out with me at the same time the sexism is still there because the males have grown quicker than I have and the treatment that they get is totally different from me. The funny thing is that they all go along the same line; you know you have radio dj’s they all have compilation cd’s, there’s no individuality, they all sound the same, they’re all the bad boys, big dogs, small dogs, puppies, they all have these silly names that are all alike, all raw and hard, for me they are all the same cos it’s all about their egos. For the females the growth is not the same. Some might argue that I can deliver the same as they do but the management is all still guys.

aryan kaganof: How would you distinguish the role of Metro FM from Y FM, which is closely identified as the radio of kwaito?

penny lebyane: I had the opportunity of working for a community station which had a youth appeal before Y arrived so my argument would be different from a whole lot of people. I worked for Voice of Soweto which represented Soweto and when I say Soweto I mean exactly that, it had the heartbeat of Soweto. And it was early 1994 when young people were really excited about the new dispensation, people expressing themselves, and we came into the industry as a youth station, within three months we had 300 000 listeners in Soweto which is one of the biggest townships in the world by far and when kwaito kicked off we were there. So that’s way before Y FM arrived. All of my colleagues left Voice of Soweto to go to work for Y so obviously the energy, the passion and the excitement of it was transferred. Now when I compare Voice of Soweto, Y FM and I look at Metro FM where I am it’s a different ball game all together. Metro FM has a history, it’s been around for sixteen years, it’s everything to everybody, it wants to be the past and be the future. Y FM has targeted it straight; it says, new South Africa, we are in charge, we don’t give a damn about what you say, we’re all about what we are. So it’s two different situations but in terms of like helping the music grow they all have a bigger contribution to play. You have Y FM which came in and said, OK here’s this new music genre, sations like Metro are sceptical, because of the bureacracy and everything they said what’s this? what are they talking about? And YFM said hey this is new, it’s part of us, we’re all new here, so we’ll take a chance on kwaito along with these guys. And then for someone like me who is getting into the media, I don’t have experience, I’m gonna go out there and kick it no matter who says what and then I go work with a station where they still have a history of being part of the old order and trying to become part of the new order so it’s a little bit of a struggle for someone like me because for me I don’t want to say how did you do it in the past I want to say this is how I want to do it, and that’s what makes YFM different from the station that I work for. When they want to do it they do it. But where I work you have to go and file a report and it’s a bigger process.

aryan kaganof: To get on to kwaito specifically, would you agree that kwaito is really different from what happened before it?

penny lebyane: Yes, it is really different from what came before it and some people look at it and they say, because it’s so different like that, it should have been more concerned about what happened before; it’s actually a big part of what happened before but they just flipped it to be what it’s about now. Right now with kwaito they are going back and looking at what South African music was all about in the past, re-mixing songs, which is not what they did in the beginning when they just used to make the tracks as they did it but now that they have proved they can do this they are looking at what else existed before them in the history books of south african music and it’s a good thing because now it’s growing with more roots in it unlike before when it was just mushrooming and it was scaring everybody because for a whole lot of old people and South Africans who are very conservative it’s a scary thing to see something new coming out. It wa slike what is this? What is kwaito about? It is ironic in a way for a new country like ours where people should be open to new things that they are not. But these are very exciting times for the music.

aryan kaganof: What about the issue of negative images of women in kwaito?

penny lebyane: I have been inside the industry and it is even harder to change it from within. Because now you are part of this thing, you don’t agree with it, but then what do you do about it? I present the top twenty on Friday and I always say ok let’s count how many females we have on the top twenty this week. On a good week I have four. Out of twenty songs. I’d like to see that changing. I think the media as a whole, radio specifically where I work, has a bigger role to play, with more females on better positions, it’s not just about having twenty females but they have to have a significant slot on the stations in order to make a difference, and when I say females I’m not talking about little sidekicks, I’m not talking about little news readers, I’m talking about a female presenting ahard kicking radiio show, for example from 3pm to 6pm, because that’s when people tune in, if you have a female presenting a hard kicking kwaito show you will see more female artists coming up. Whenver females come into the industry they get involved with these issues of do me a favour,I’ll play your song if you do this or do that, you know? If you do this with me I’ll record you.

(Penny slaps her fist into the palm of her hand)

aryan kaganof: You mean sexual harassment?

penny lebyane: Of course! Of course! How many female video directors are there? Two or three.

aryan kaganof: Let’s look at kwaito specifically now. Is it a music form that had its roots in Soweto?

penny lebyane: I wouldn’t say in Soweto specifically. I think just townships basically. And what you’ve got to understand about South Africa is that each region has its own township that stands out for whatever region for example in Johannesburg you have Soweto on the South side and then you have Alexander on the North side and then you also have Tembisa on the far East side and then you have Katlehong. They each have a role to play. It probably carries heavy wieght when you say you’re from Soweto and you play kwaito but I think youth in Umlazi talk exactly the same language, they struggle with the same issues that Soweto youth do. Youth in Gugulethu, Langa, it’s exactly the same thing. It’s a case of how they express themselves. Obviously Soweto youth is about taking charge, Soweto youth is about expressing yourself and not holding back, Soweto youth is about putting your point across and telling it like it is. But youth is youth is youth, whether it’s in Pieterburg, whether it’s in London, whether it’s in New York, if they have an issue they want to bring it out.

aryan kaganof: But in Umlazi pretty much everyone is going to be speaking Zulu which is clearly not the case in Soweto. And one cannot compare the vibe in Joburg to Cape Town. Cape Town is still very old school in terms of how the transformation is taking place. Jozi is faster, more alive, there is more happening here in terms of urban black consciousness.

penny lebyane: Obviously there are more opportunities in Johannesburg. People go out more often here, they go to gigs, they see the artists and they get to have the touch and feel with the artists unlike if you are based in Cape Town you see the artists on television, you don’t have touch and feel. Because of the history of Johannesburg, of the mines, people have always come here to work and so people are used to mixing, hence the development of a mixed language here around Johannesburg. People have tsotsitaal, people have fanagalo. So that also makes people from Johannesburg different from people from other parts of the country because they all left those areas to come here to find work and hence things move faster here. Everything is here, recording studios are here, radio stations are here, life is quicker. But I believe that youth in Durban, youth in Cape Town have a fair chance as well of making it in the kwaito scene if given the opportunity. And actually half the people that are here, the kwaito artists, if you really sit them down and ask them where they are from, half of them are not from Joburg.

aryan kaganof: Let’s talk about the rampant materialism that is infecting kwaito.

penny lebyane: When kwaito started out and people said we’re doing it and we’re doing it our way and this is how we’re going to do it, people wanted instant stardom. It was like you do a song, tell it like it is, everybody talks about what you are saying and you get instant fame. And if it sells you make a lot of money, you’re on television, on radio, the newspapers. And the fame is always associated with money. But I don’t know if that’s the truth about kwaito, who is reallymaking the money? Is it the record companies? Is it the artists? But you see when they say in South Africa that an artist has sold 100 000 copies in three days it is not a case like in the UK where you know that 100 000 singles are in the hands of 100 000 consumers in our case it probably just means the number of units shifted from the record companies to the record bars, 50 000 can still come back unsold. So who is really making the money?

aryan kaganof: But for the first time in the country’s history a significant number of black artists own their own product and have their own record labels, artists like Arthur and M’du.

penny lebyane: Yes, they have minni, small labels, but still the biggest part of the pis still belongs to the bigg white owned record companies, when it comes to distribution, when it comes to the marketing, very few black artists really own their own material. I’m still waiting to see the time when the few guys who have their own labels, like Arthur, Oscar, M’du etc, come together and form their own distribution company. A black owned distribution network is the real future of kwaito, where the real power and money lie.

aryan kaganof: Do you feel part of the kwaito generation? Does that describe you?

penny lebyane: No. Not me.

aryan kaganof: Who are the kwaito generation?

penny lebyane: It is someone who is looking for an opportunity, they don’t really know what the opportunity is, but they have an idea of what the opportunity is and they know that they can get it quick. I think there is no longevity to it, I think people want to do it quick, short, take the money and run and I don’t really want to operate like that, which is why I don’t consider myself part of the kwaito generation. I think if people really cared about the growth of the music they would take more care to develop it. But what happens is they take these kids and just throw them into the industry and their lives become public property, it’s like survival of the fittest. What should happen is that the companies should nurture, develop and allow the form to grow. If kwaito is to properly represent a generation then it should represent what a generation is worrying about. But here we have these kwaito stars who have twenty children out of wedlcok while the AIDS crisis is confronting us. So kwaito seems like it’s just about the music, partying, getting drunk and driving BMWs, let’s not give a damn about our women. If the women are going in one direction and the men are going in another direction there is going to be a clach.I do respect what the music represents and I would like to see if getting better but I do not see myself as part of a kwaito generation. Kwaito is an opportunity of putting South Africa on the map. We can’t when we talk about South Africa keep going back to what Nelson Mandela did, what Miriam Makeba did, we’ve got to talk about what Penny’s doing right now, what Thandiswe’s doing right now. And there are groups like that, there’s Bongo Maffin, they represent what’s happening with the youth, they’ve grown out of kwaito into something bigger. There is growth to them, they are aware of issues of the country, of issues of the continent, of issues of globalisation and I’m not saying we’ve strictly got to have intelligent musicians but I am saying for a country like ours there is so much content, so many issues, to piggy back on and run with.

aryan kaganof: What do you think the future of kwaito will be?

penny lebyane: Gee. Wow. I think it’s probably going to take the same form as hip hop. You know what happened with hip hop, in the beginning you had black youth really expressing themselves and then white youth got interested and then now a white youth, Eminem, is in the forefront of it. I see white kids in Joburg doing better kwaito songs than black kids from the township who really know what the origin of kwaito was about. It’s an art form and artists have to start respecting themselves as such. But for a lot of black kids it’s just a quick way of making money. So the whites will study the details of it and come up with their own form of it. If our blacks don’t start treating kwaito like a business somebody else will wake up and start making real money out of it; you see we blacks don’t own kwaito, there is no sense of ownership, there is no unity about nit, no one can claim that they own it because it’s a people’s thing.

aryan kaganof: So just like Elvis Presley stole rock ‘n roll from black Americans and Eminem stole hip hop from his niggas there is going to be a white South African who will take charge of kwaito and he is going to call himself Ngamla.

penny lebyane: Yes. He’s going to really really make money. There are a lot of white kids in Joburg, especially in Randburg who really listen to kwaito and they really get the call because it is great music. Look at how the white kids identify with Mandoza, with Nkalakatha. Kwaito and rock will soon be played back to back, the youngsters now listen to all the genres, they are open for it. My little brother is eleven, he listens to Eminem, Semisane, Limp Biscuit, Usher, Justin Timberlake, so when I say to him that where I work we only play R&B he just laughs. Y FM has an opportunity to get away with a whole lot of stuff, they are a youth station, who says they must just play black hip hop, they could also introduce black youth to rock and at the same time there are white youths listening to them that are interested in kwaito.

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