Rocking The Daisies: A Benchmark For Inclusivity

Photo taken by Rocking The Daisies

“It is ROCKING The Daisies. Not HIP-HOPPING The Daisies.” A phrase that was repeatedly uttered in vehement defence of everything held sacred by the whitewashed supporters of Rocking The Daisies – namely flower crowns, indie rock and white privilege. It was a defence raised in response to ‪#‎HipHopTentRTD2016 – a growing social media movement that advocated for a hip hop tent to be included in this year’s festivities at Rocking The Daisies – a movement that rapidly obtained momentum as Steyn Entertainment and Pop Bottles Entertainment quietly began preparing to launch a stage that shall ultimately usher in a new era for Rocking The Daisies.

The irony in this public outcry against the movement is that Steyn Entertainment would have introduced a hip-hop tent even if there wasn’t an entire social media movement crying for its creation. Managing director of Steyn Entertainment, George Avakian, has always been a huge fan of hip hop which resulted in the RTD team and Steyn Entertainment “talking about the hip hop stage before the [Steyn Entertainment takeover] was finalised” and it happened to be the first change that Avakian brought to the table after Steyn Entertainment assumed control of Rocking The Daisies. The newly formed team just required some kind of catalyst for the idea to rapidly take a physical manifestation even though it had been in the pipeline prior to anyone even taking to Facebook to express their desires for such a stage.

It was in the weeks leading up to the first phase of ticket reservations that line-up requests began to flood the Rocking The Daisies event page with the usual smattering of outrageous requests for Billboard topping mainstream indie and alternative acts, but this year saw the requests become reminiscent of mimicking the line-up for this year’s edition of Coachella. At first it was just people requesting popular hip hop acts like Chance The Rapper and Drake – both of which had performed at Coachella in the past, but then 25 April came along and the catalyst for the social media that would eventually fuel the creation of the Two’s Up Stage (the official name for the hip hop tent) emerged. It started with Mini Radebe posting a rallying call for all hip hop fans to begin using the hashtag #HipHopTentRTD2016 as a means to get Rocking The Daisies to consider introducing the tent. This was after she had occasionally posted in the days before hinting at a vague desire for hip hop artists to perform at Rocking The Daisies on a single stage. The support came pouring in for Radebe’s vision with many fans just wanting a tent where hip hop music was being played as opposed to an actual stage with hip hop acts performing on it. It is here where Pop Bottles and Steyn Entertainment plans to surpass fan expectations. Pop Bottles has stated that “it isn’t going to be a tent as many fans expect. [They] are in the process of putting together a really unique and exciting production matching any of the other stages at Rocking The Daisies. The stage will include the biggest names in SA hip hop, all to be revealed over the next few weeks. [They] want to provide a space where hip hop music can shine. We aim to please, the Two’s Up Stage at Daisies is going to be awesome this year and hopefully for many years to come.”

It makes logical sense for Rocking The Daisies to introduce a hip hop tent when you consider the direction that many global indie festivals have been taking as more and more hip hop artists begin to feature on the line-ups. However, the biggest reason for this being a logical choice is quite simple. Hip-hop is the most listened to genre in the world. This is especially true amongst the youthful demographic to which such festivals usually cater, seeing as 41% of Spotify users in the USA fall into the age bracket of 18 to 29 years old. In 2015, Spotify created a musical map of the world (or at least all the parts of the world that has access to Spotify) and documented the listening of habits of 1 000 cities to create unique playlists based on each city’s listening habit which would be updated on a biweekly basis. Hip Hop was the genre that most frequently showed up in the vast majority of these playlists. Thus it is safe to say that hip-hop is the most popular genre in the world, but that can be contested when looking at 2015’s album sales date which indicates rock as being the most popular genre as 33% of all of last year’s album sales in the USA happened to come from the rock genre according to Nielsen’s 2015 Year-End Music Report. However, their data also happens to support the fact that Hip Hop is the most streamed and listened to genre with over 21% of on-demand streaming (via services like Tidal and Spotify) coming from the hip hop genre. Based on this data, doesn’t it make sense for festivals promoters to begin curating line-ups that integrate hip-hop into line-ups that predominately feature indie, pop and rock artists? Festival like Coachella, Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds seem to agree with this line of thinking if you consider some of their most recent headlining acts, so it makes perfect sense for this to become the norm for festivals.

However, one could argue that these statistics cannot be applied to a South African context due to the fact that we don’t have access to Spotify and that we can’t really comment on album sales as no-one is entirely certain of those statistics on a localised level – which is rather unfortunate. This is true, but we can use the Spotify data as a benchmark for determining the global consensus amongst the youth regarding the artistic value of hip hop and furthermore regarding it popularity. Let us consider that the dominant racial demographic of the aforementioned areas happens to be Caucasian yet their most listened to genre is hip-hop – a genre that is predominately associated with black culture so much so that people often accuse Caucasians of committing cultural appropriation when they listen to hip-hop. Race should not play a role in determining who listens to what, as one should not be able to appropriate music to match one’s own particular culture, but hip-hop does stand as an exception to this rule as it is an entire culture and mindset as opposed to just being a musical genre. It is a culture that is closely tied to black culture and more precisely black oppression as it was born in the 70s as a reaction to much of the racism and oppression that remained within the United States despite the “win” of the Civil Rights Movement in 1968 with the passing of the Civil Rights Act. It quickly became a voice for the disenfranchised youth who were still upset with the outcome of the Civil Rights Movement and used it to reflect the economic, political and social realities of their lives.

In the next 50 years, the genre would spread across the world becoming the voice for oppressed black communities all over the world, but there were certain places where hip-hop was used to voice the frustration of a majority group living under the racial oppression of a minority group. The most prominent place where this occurred was in South Africa where hip hop seeped into the townships and was quickly assimilated into black South African culture as the townships morphed into an entirely new beast that amalgamated traditional African sounds and African languages into the genre to create kwaito – a subgenre of hip hop that allowed many budding South African hip hop artists to express themselves in a fashion that existed out of the normative “drugs, gangs and money” lyrical themes that came to dominate American hip hop in the 80s and 90s. Thus, South Africa’s hip hop community was born and at first it remained underground and out of sight to mainstream media due to the restrictive music bans put in place by the National Party during Apartheid. Yet, despite these bans, hip hop became incredibly popular within the black communities of South Africa and thus, when Apartheid ended in 1994 – hip hop quickly became one of the most popular genres in the country due to the sheer weight of demographics behind it.

This is why the Spotify’s data can be easily be applied to South Africa for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is reasonable to assume that a vast majority of people of colour in South Africa listen to hip hop, based on the fact that hip hop is intrinsically tied to black communities, and more specifically disenfranchised black communities. This would imply that hip hop has an immense amount of popularity in South Africa as people of colour make up the majority of our population. Furthermore, if one looks at the charts of a commercial radio such as 5FM one can immediately notice that hip hop, and especially local hip-hop, features incredibly often on the charts. This has become a common occurrence with the introduction of the SABC’s 90% local quota. This points to the sheer popularity of the genre as Top 40 charts are usually based on which songs are the most requested at the station. The increased presence of hip hop artists on 5FM’s Top 40 charts confirms Avakian’s statement that “hip hop is the biggest genre in our country”. Although radio play isn’t the only measure of success for a genre, it seems to be the only way that hip hop artists can truly ascertain their success in South Africa’s music industry despite the fact that “[the] level of artistry has far exceeded the world standard, and the scene is a force with which to be reckoned”.

The sad reality is that hip hop is underrepresented in South Africa across multiple channels ranging from its media to its festival line-ups. Even music stores have a rather disappointing selection of South African hip hop, but this statement rings true for all genres of South African music as most artists without record deals hardly ever get their music distributed to Musica. South Africa’s major music blogs tend to pass a rather lazy eye over South Africa’s hip hop scene – in the rare case that they cover hip-hop at all. We, at South African Music Scene, admit to being guilty of hardly ever covering the South African hip hop scene, but it is something we hope to improve on in the near future. It seems strange that media outlets would ignore one of the biggest genres in the country. It begs the question – why do we steer away from covering this genre? I suppose it links to the idea that “hip hop naturally has a bad stereotype attached to it, because it is so real, it spoke of which was meant to not be spoken of, it portrayed what people were really feeling” and this may have been true thirty or forty years ago when covering this genre would have gone against social norms and conventions in South Africa. However, “those days have gone and the world has changed. Hip hop is currently the biggest genre in the industry right now”, so why is there still a lack of representation of South African hip hop?

This is perhaps because the South African live music circuit caters towards a very specific demographic that enjoys mainstream electronic beats, guitar riffs and up-tempo indie pop over the rapid-delivery of rap vocals and bass-heavy hip hop samples. The mainstream media outlets are intrinsically linked to this live music circuit as it fuels much of their coverage and introduces them to new artists to cover. Unfortunately, the whitewashed state of the live music circuit leans itself towards ignoring hip-hop as it tends to cater towards the whims and desires of the upper middle class. In my personal experience, I have rarely noticed events occurring in Cape Town’s prestigious live music venues that feature hip-hop artists with the exception of YOH’s themed events at The Assembly – which tend to blur the lines between hip-hop and indie while staying true to their links with the underground. It is hard to pinpoint a reason why events don’t include hip hop artists, but that could link to the fact that although there is a “[hip hop industry in Cape Town”, this industry is “still relatively under-exposed”. This is where Rocking The Daisies shall play a vital role. “Hip-hop is coming to Cape Town and Rocking the Daisies shall be bringing it to [Cape Town’s] doorstep,” as the line-up shall draw from multiple talent pools which shall ultimately result in Steyn Entertainment bringing “the best acts [they] can bring to [their] line-up”.

The introduction of the Two’s Up stage at Rocking the Daisies is a pivotal moment in the transformation of Cape Town’s music industry, and ultimately the national music industry, as it has the potential to set a precedent for inclusivity in the mainstream live music. The introduction of this stage is just one phase in the evolution of Rocking The Daisies as they intend to grow their music offering to best showcase South Africa’s local talent which shall ultimately grow the music industry. Avakian summed up his plan for Rocking The Daisies by stating that they aim “to build a world platform [for music] in the Mother City”. The question is whether the introduction of the stage will actually have an impact on the nature of the live music market and ultimately result in promoters restructuring their events to become more inclusive spaces. It is difficult to make these predictions in such a fickle and fluid industry as one can never be sure of what is actually going to occur. However, the fact that Rocking The Daisies is one of South Africa’s biggest festivals will make promoters pay attention to what the team is doing with the festivals. Rocking The Daisies is often considered to be a tastemaker for Cape Town’s live music habits as their line-up shapes the summer music habits of the Mother City. This will play a major role in determining whether or not the introduction of the hip hop stage will actually result in a widespread trend that reshapes the live music circuit. Steyn Entertainment is quite confident in their belief that “everyone will follow this trend” and that the hip hop stage will transcend from just being a single stage at the festival to being a musical trend that finds itself amalgamated into even the staunchest of rock line-ups. The fact of the matter is that “we are a multicultural nation” and “our music offering needs to reflect just that”. This is something that Rocking The Daisies is clearly trying to do – and not just with the hip hop tent. The main stage has currently taken an interesting form as there is a clear juxtaposition of mainstream indie and rock acts and slightly more eclectic artists that wouldn’t necessarily be found on past Rocking The Daisies’ line-ups such as AKA, BCUC, Mango Groove, 1st Project, Moonchild Sanelly and much more.

It is much-needed eclecticism and inclusivity as the live circuit of Cape Town has become so oversaturated with indie artists that it is at the point where new indie bands don’t even try to be creative with their music yet they get all the limelight. Inclusivity is not just limited to including more racial groups in the live circuit. It is also linked to ensuring that all genres are represented in our live music venues and that no particular genre is favoured. It can be argued that this occurs overseas with certain venues and festivals catering to specific genres, but that just cannot work in South Africa especially on a localised level such as in Cape Town. Our music scene is too small and too segregated for us to underrepresent any genre regardless of whether that genre is EDM, hip-hop, metal, punk or whatever other hare-brained musical project that someone invents. At the end of the day, it is up to the promoter to take the steps to make the scene more inclusive. It is here that Avakian practically sums up what is being done behind the scenes with regards to Rocking The Daisies. Local promoters can make the scene more inclusive “by taking the time out as promoters to listening to the music, following the culture, and supporting it whether or not they have booked the artist. Also, listen to your people. Every artist request, every Facebook comment, every tweet; we are watching, learning and growing.”

If you think about it, the introduction of the stage is actually reminiscent of the DIY punk ethos that was part of the early hip hop movement. It is a moment of rebellion against the norms of Cape Town’s musical environment – one that points to Steyn Entertainment not really caring about what occurs within the mainstream live circuit as “[they] are here to take over” both the local music scene and the global music scene. The team is instilled with such a ferocious sense of patriotism as they seem to display a deep appreciation for the “different cultures of our beautiful country”. It is in the midst of this patriotism that Steyn displays their intent for Rocking The Daisies to become this wonderful inclusive space where the racial lines that scar our country and divide our industry are erased – a space where “everybody comes together for the love of music”.

It is here, in the concluding paragraphs of an article that exceed the length of most semester essays, where we return to that terrible argument of “It is ROCKING The Daisies. Not HIP-HOPPING The Daisies”. It is a ridiculous argument as Rocking The Daisies has never claimed to be a “rock” festival. Yes, many of their international headliners on the main stage have been drawn from the realms of mainstream rock and indie, but that is mainly due to the sheer demand for these bands to tour South Africa and a festival is often the best way to get a band to do that. To imply that Rocking The Daisies should only cater towards rock fans is steeped in ignorance regarding the entire musical ethos surrounding the festival. The argument in itself ignores the fact that there is a multitude of stages that are dedicated to music that barely even resembles rock music. In fact, there are usually more electronic artists performing at Rocking The Daisies than there are rock and indie bands due to the fact that there are two electronic-themed stages. The people raising the argument seem to only be opposed to the introduction of hip hop and at the end of the day – most of the hip-hop will be performed on the Two’s Up stage so it is very easy to avoid the stage and not listen to any of the music. To that Avakian says the following: “if you opposing the hip hop tent because it isn’t your preferred genre of music, I want you to know that we have made an incredible effort in taking RTD as you know it to a whole new level. The quality of production will put every festival on the continent under pressure. Your favourite stages will get facelifts and the overall detail of the festival will be taken to new extremes.”

However, there is a small group of people opposed to the hip-hop tent across racial lines and that is an article for another day as I could easily turn this into a thesis regarding the problems surrounding race and music in South Africa. The short version is that racial lines have divided the scene for too long and any person arguing that a festival should not include a specific genre because they don’t want a certain ethnic group to attend the festival is an incredibly problematic individual that should not be allowed access to any festival or music event unless it is a Steve Hofmeyer concert. It is a sentiment that Avakian shares in the following statement: “if you are opposing the stage for any racial reason, then you are not welcome at [Rocking The] Daises. Life gets cluttered with unnecessary tension between people who are different to one another. Rocking The Daisies is where we all come together for the love of music, we fill our hearts with love and party all our problems away.”

That is something I can drink to. I will see you all on the festival grounds.


1 Comment

  1. John Bartmann

    August 29, 2016 at 10:57 am

    According to Google Trends, African countries dominate the search term ‘hip hop download’. Zim, Ghana, SA, Kenya, Nigeria in that order. It seems natural that one of the more multicultural cities on the continent should represent these musical tastes and if there’s any place that racial tension could be overcome, its a music festival or a sports game.

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