The conversation on popular Johannesburg talk station Talk Radio 702 is-as it has been every day since New Year's Day-all about soccer. Today, alongside the ongoing debate about the World Cup prospects for Bafana Bafana (aka the South African national soccer team), the topic is the local fans' favorite instrument-the vuvuzela-and the impact it might have on the enjoyment of the thousands of international visitors expected for the June 11-July 11 FIFA World Cup.
The vuvuzela is the beloved plastic trumpet of South African soccer fans that, to those unfamiliar with its charms, sounds remarkably like a stricken elephant. While some of 702's callers insist it blends perfectly with the fans' singing, others denounce it. One simply demands: "Is this the musical legacy we want visitors to leave our country with?"
Vuvuzelas aside, that question has huge resonance for the local music business. As soon as South Africa was named as this year's World Cup host in 2004, "2010" became a byword for business opportunities among labels, artists, managers and publishers.
But since late 2009, the gloss has been wearing off. First, news began surfacing of slow match-ticket sales and sluggish international visitor numbers. Global audit and advisory firm Grant Thornton now puts the figure at 373,000, down from FIFA's original estimate of 500,000. The apparent nonappearance of the 150 million rand ($20 million) originally allocated by national government to the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) for 2010 projects led to local protests (Billboard, Jan. 23). And in March, the Creative Workers Union of South Africa lambasted FIFA and its producer, Los Angeles-based Control Room, for a lack of local artists at the star-studded June 10 Kick-Off Celebration Concert at Soweto's Orlando Stadium. The stark reality seems to be that finding music business traction amid the soccer isn't going to be easy.
The May addition of Freshlyground, Hugh Masekela, Mzansi Youth Choir and Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir to the Kick-Off Concert lineup already featuring local heroes BLK JKS, the Parlotones and Vusi Mahlasela placated many local protests, although CWUSA president Mabutho Sithole still isn't happy.
"We still want to know which South African artists will be in the prime-time slot at the show," he says. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for South African artists to make themselves known to the world-and we hope they are given the chance."
CWUSA is also a member of the Music Industry Federation of South Africa. It was through MIFSA that Sony Music Entertainment Africa managing director Keith Lister produced a national 2010 music strategy and proposed a program of 1,000 live performances during the tournament, to be funded with DAC money.
MIFSA says the DAC approved funding in principle but didn't follow through with the cash. Rumors abound about what happened to it but no one seems to be able to confirm it. Lister declined to comment, while the DAC didn't return requests for comment.
One thing is certain: The MIFSA program will not be happening at the World Cup, leaving those South African artists not involved in the official events to fend for themselves.
"You only have one time when so many international visitors are here," veteran South African pop musician Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse says. "For the DAC to simply say the money for those grass-roots live shows has disappeared is just not good enough."
But others remain optimistic that the glare of the global spotlight will still illuminate South Africa's burgeoning music scene. Opera singer Siphiwo Ntshebe will perform in front of a likely TV audience of close to 3 billion when he sings at the June 11 opening ceremony in Soccer City in Soweto, ahead of the launch of his debut, Sony-released popera album.
"This is what the World Cup is meant to do-give amazing South African talent the chance to launch an international career," says Lebohang Morake, co-executive creative producer of the opening and closing ceremonies, who also produced three tracks on Ntshebe's debut.
There are others too. Sevi Spanoudi, manager of Freshlyground-the Afropop combo that teamed with Shakira for the official World Cup song and will also appear at the Kick-Off Concert-calls the concert the biggest stage the band can ever perform on. She intends to use the gig to secure a U.S. booking agent ahead of an American push later this year.
Many advertisers and broadcasters are also looking to local acts to soundtrack their campaigns. Sony/ATV Music Publishing South Africa managing director Jay Savage says the company secured its biggest synch licensing fee from mobile operator Vodacom to use hip-hop artist JR's "Show Dem (Make the Circle Bigger)" (Feel Good Music/Electromode), featuring HHP, in a TV/radio campaign supporting Bafana Bafana.
"We are seeing more demand and increased usage of our songs in various areas like commercials," says Arnold Mabunda, chairman of publisher's association the National Organization for Reproduction Rights in Music in Southern Africa. "There seems to be a rush to find and feature South African music in radio and TV programs who, under normal circumstances, would not utilize music."
Mabunda also points to a likely increase in performance rights royalties for local musicians, with the South African Broadcasting Corp. pledging to play 100% South African and African music for three months beginning May 1 across all of its 18 stations. SABC's usual voluntary quotas stipulate between 45% and 70% local content, depending on the type of service.
But despite the influx of global superstars for the official events, the touring sector isn't anticipating any such boost. John Langford, COO of Cape Town-based Live Nation partner Big Concerts, says its only music show of note during the period is the FIFA-endorsed July 9 "Celebrate Africa: The Grand Finale" show at Johannesburg's Coca-Cola Dome, featuring Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli with special guest Bryan Adams. Langford says his company was approached by "over 40 artists, from small to superstar" asking for bookings during the World Cup period, but took a strategic decision to only take on "risk-free gigs."
"We think visitors and South Africans will spend their money on soccer, not shows," he says.
That leaves many acts hoping for slots at corporate hospitality shows and FIFA's free Fan Fests, which are local government-funded. But, while such gigs may help grass-roots bands boost their careers in South Africa, it's the official events that are the ultimate prize in terms of launching international careers.
Organizers are giving little else away about the lineup for the opening and closing ceremonies-although Freshlyground and Shakira will perform the official World Cup song "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" before the final July 11-but the ceremonies' music supervisor Motlokoe Phatudi-Mphahlele says music will take center stage at both.
"We have one chance to show how versatile African music and dance is, and we intend to make it spectacular," he says. "It's the lifeblood of this country and the lasting impression we want to leave the world with."
Whether it will drown out the sound of the vuvuzelas, however, remains to be seen.