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Rolling Stone bets on SA music

2012-01-30 13:07

Johannesburg - Renowned jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela, songbird Zahara and zef rappers Die Antwoord have featured in Rolling Stone's take on music in its South African edition, which hopes to fill a conspicuously empty niche.

The American title launched its latest international edition in South Africa in November, tackling a crowded media market that has not yet cashed in on the country's rich musical heritage spanning rock to pop and jazz.

"Obviously Rolling Stone would be associated with rock but it is more an attitude," said editor Miles Keylock.

The monthly's first cover profiled Masekela, a 72-year-old jazz musician who campaigned against white-minority rule while living in exile. An ex-husband of late diva Miriam Makeba, his lifetime of sex, booze and cocaine perhaps warrant inclusion in the pantheon of rock.

The magazine also hopes to entice readers with exposés on local rock band Blk Jks, on its way to record in the Malian capital Bamako; rising Afro-pop star Zahara; and Afrikaans-language punk rocker Francois van Coke.

Lack of publicity

There's also a black-and-white photo essay on the heavy metal scene in Botswana, better known for its nature reserves than its leather-clad bikers, shot by South African photographer Frank Marshall.

Keylock is coy over sales figures, but said they "had a very amazing response in some metropolitan areas; they sold out on the first day".

The initial print run was about 30 000 copies, with a cover price of R34.95 - a healthy run for South Africa but a minnow compared to the parent publication, which puts out 1.45 million copies every two weeks.

Keylock, a former music critic at the country's respected Mail & Guardian weekly, plans to break even within six months.

"It's true, there is an uncertainty. This is not one more magazine but a different kind of journalism, a style, a way to speak with the readers," says Keylock.

American and British influences have swept South Africa since the 19th century, fusing into colourful mixtures of style in Africa's largest economy. But white-minority rule suppressed urban black culture, and artists looked to foreign countries for recognition.

"Of course, the newspapers had a jazz section, the Sowetan, the Star but there was no dedicated one," said veteran music producer Rashid Vally, 72.

Even jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim, also known as Dollar Brand, who enjoyed global success with his mellow tune Mannenberg in 1974, had to make peace with the relative lack of publicity back home.

"In-depth articles would appear only overseas, and here they would ask about when you're born and so on," said Vally, who produced the song.

'We need a national platform'

A poor reading culture and the global economic crisis saw many local South African titles close down as advertising dried up in recent years.

But that hasn't deterred international names like Forbes, Top Gear and Playboy from entering the South African market.

It's still unclear if Rolling Stone will make an impression on South African readers.

"There is a place, a niche," said American academic David Coplan, whose book In Township Tonight! is considered the authority on black South African music.

But he added: "Maybe there is nothing up to now because there is no market."

"Here in South Africa, we don't expect to read about music. Good jazz commentary is common in Paris or New York but unknown here," he said.

Johnny Clegg, known for bringing African rhythms to a global audience, said he hopes that will change.

"We need a national platform to expose and promote all forms of South African music," he said.

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