South Africa: The Censored meet their Censor – Music and Censorship during Apartheid in South Africa
Mr. Sipho Mabuse and Mr. Ray Phiri, musicians from South Africa, in a first face to face meeting with former censor, Ms. Cecile Pracher, manager of the record library at South African BroadcastingCorporation, SABC. The session is followed by open discussion.
Moderator: Mr. Ole Reitov, Editor, Danish Broadcasting Corporation.
Introduction by Mr. Ole Reitov: We start with South Africa – and why that? Many people say that there is no problem in South Africa anymore. The interesting thing about South Africa is that we have very strong personalities who have suffered for many years. But also people who want to move on. People also know that we can now see the long term effects of censorship.
The morning session is an attempt to try to understand how censorship affects people in their creativity and it is also an attempt to understand how you work within a system when you are censoring music.
I am very happy to invite three wonderful people to the podium here: Ray Phiri is a very distinguished musician who struggled for many years in South Africa. It took Paul Simon’s Graceland to make him world famous but those who knew his music and his group, Stimela, before that, knew that we here had a star of world fame.
I would also like to introduce another wonderful musician: Sipho Mabuse. His album, ‘Chant of the Marching’, was banned in 1992.
You should always start with presenting the women but I would actually like to present Cecile at the end here.
Cecile Pracher is a very special woman. She worked at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) for many years. She worked in the music library. When I got access to the archives of South African Broadcasting in August, Cecile was the lady who was hospitable to let me in and showed how music had been censored. We had long conversations on this.
We had hoped to have another guest here, Anton Goosen, the foremost Afrikaan singer of South Africa.
What exactly happened we don’t know, it seems like he missed his flight. So unfortunately Anton is not here, we only have his voice. Let’s start by listening to Anton: “We had a bomb at a big concert and in 1989 to 1990 the security police followed us. They knew what we were doing. They were listening to conversations between me and my girl friend on the phone sometimes interacting making their own little remarks. We were watched, but then after a while they realised that we were innocent, that we were only preaching cultural things. With Barbara Masekela1 returning to the country there was a spy in my own band. Not only one there were two of them. The drummer was ex-security police and his job was to get information from the Conservative Party’s diaries.
The other spy was the girlfriend – the guitarist’s girlfriend. She was working for National Intelligence. She is still working for National Intelligence, but for the new set. How can you trust people like that? There were bomb threats and other threats at concerts as well.
Ole Reitov: Ray, did you ever have spies in your band?
Ray Phiri: I’d say somebody who died when I had an accident in 1997. Later on we discovered that it was planned. He was the manager of the group and it was sad because I trusted him with all my life. He knew so much about where we were coming from and where we were getting to. After the accident the truth came out that he was part of it. In January 1995, Barbara Masekela was appointed South African Ambassador to France. Previously, she has served as Secretary for the Department of Arts and Culture, Director in the Office of the President of the African National Congress, and was a Member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC. In 1961, she joined the ANC, for which she served as chairperson of the U.S. branch. She spent 27 years in exile in Ghana, the United States, and in Zambia. In the United States, she was Assistant Professor at Livingstone College of Rutgers University from 1972 to 1982, where she taught English and Women’s and African Literature.
Ole Reitov: Were you ever so dangerous that it was needed to have spies within the band?
Ray Phiri: I guess all in all in any society that is ruled by fear you do get such elements whereby you end up not even trusting your spouse. I ended up having about three places to stay so I never knew where I was going to wake up the next day. It proved to be too expensive trying to run away so that no one catches up with you
Ole Reitov: Sipho, how does it affect the creativity of musicians when there is censorship?
Sipho Mabuse: It is obvious that censorship does affect all creative people in different ways. We obviously have experienced censorship in our respective countries differently from whatever sources they would come. I can only speak about how it affected us in South Africa (SA) as writers because censorship was based on ideological differences rather than creativity. So we as creative people were more affected by what our government of the day deemed to be dangerous to society. We had to find ways in which to circumvent the problem by writing songs in different ways.
Ole Reitov: Cecile, within the SABC there were specific rules of what was not allowed. Could you tell about what those rules were?
Cecile Pracher: The lyrics of each and every pop item had to be checked on grounds stemming from the Publication Board of SA by law. Our rules were more defined than those of the government. Things like for example swear words were unacceptable. Unacceptable sexual references were to be avoided, bad taste, any occult elements in the lyrics were unacceptable, lyrics propagating the usage of drugs, blasphemy, glorification of the devil, unfair promotion of a political party or movement and so it goes on and on. So it had a lot to do with interpretation as well.
Ole Reitov: In the Bible you need ten amendments. How many amendments did you need in SABC?
Cecile Pracher: At the time I was there between the 1980’s and 1990’s. It was the time of P.W. Botha and Apartheid was in full swing and the state of emergency was declared and everything became tighter and tighter. Things that would have been allowed five years earlier were frowned upon so therefore it was a very unnatural society to live in.
Ole Reitov: Ray, could you tell about the daily life as a touring artist in SA in those days? What kind of restrictions would you meet on tour?
Ray Phiri: Before that I would like to ask Cecile something. Did banning of songs include working with someone of other colour? I am still confused, because one of my songs was banned because I sang with a white person. Was that undesirable?
Cecile Pracher: I am not quite sure which song you are referring to. Not to my knowledge on those grounds, but I stand to be corrected.
Ray Phiri: It may have been earlier before you started working. It was a song called, “Where Did We Go Wrong”, which I sang with a lady called Kathy Pannington.
Ole Reitov: What you are saying, is that when things were banned you never got an explanation, is that correct?
Ray Phiri: Yes, that hurt a lot. You did not know whether you did something wrong or not and it stifled growth of a creative person. It simply took away your dignity as a human being whereby you did not even know if you were doing the right thing or not. Somebody just decided that what you sing is undesirable without letting you know why your song was being banned. I am still hurting inside because I just want to know what it is that makes censorship members decide what is desirable and what is not. So we can also learn to understand how we can help others not to go through what we went through.
Ole Reitov: Cecile, could you tell about how different political periods would influence the way you would have to censor in SABC.
Cecile Pracher: I would say it depended very much on what time we are referring to. But I think if we talk about between the 1970s and the 1990s the guidelines I gave you were to be interpreted by the heads of department of radio and TV in the broadcast environment. We did not have an open airwave in the sense that they were only two independent broadcasts and the rest belonged to the state broadcaster, which was the SABC. Therefore this committee consisted of all heads of department and lyrics were scrutinised beforehand by the manager in the record library, which in this case was me, before it was somebody else. Those lyrics would be passed onto meeting once a week. In the years between 1980 and 1990 there were generally about 15 lyrics per week. If you take into account that we only in those days had about 480 LPs or CDs that came in per year then it was quite a substantial amount of lyrics that had to be checked and had to be voted upon. The voting system was open and my impression was that in those days virtually anything that was perceived as damaging to the state, to the SABC or to the National Party was regarded as not acceptable and we would ban it.
Ole Reitov: Sipho, you are not only a musician, you are obviously also a consumer of music. How did that period affect you as a consumer of music, access of music – to understand the music not only of SA but the rest of the world?
Sipho Mabuse: Well, fortunately for me I was more in an advantage because I was always travelling. So as a consumer I was not affected that much by not having music accessible to me. But it made it a bit difficult because the freedom for one to be able to access that music was curtailed by the fact that one always had to smuggle the music into the country. Because if you didn’t smuggle the music there were no other ways that one could hear it. So in a way it made it difficult for many people at home to listen to music they felt they wanted to listen to. But at the same time we would have wanted to hear most of the music that was written by South African musicians whom we felt had an influence on the socio-political environment in SA. And because of the censorship we just did not have access to that type of music. So we did not know and we were not given reasons why that music was not available to us.
Ole Reitov: How did that influence you as an artist because when the market was restricted, did you have to think more commercially? For you personally how did this affect your creativity?
Sipho Mabuse: As creative people we were guided by principles and of course consciousness. One had to make decisions as to whether you live pretending that nothing is wrong or you let your voice be heard as part of what was going on in SA. You have to understand that SA was in a repressive stage at a particular time and more so that stage affected quite a number of people – not only musicians but the society as a whole including some white people who were opposed to the system of Apartheid. Somehow we had to find a way in which we could convey such messages in our songs and we would normally use street language to communicate. We would write songs in such a way that the officials could not detect what we meant in our songs. Because anything that would be seen as subversive would somehow be banned by the SABC which was the only form of communicating our music to the public. I remember writing a song called “Set Me Free”, the intention of this song was obvious but the contents meant something else and of course people in the townships understood exactly where we were because of the political state of that time.
Ole Reitov: Ray, you were talking about dignity before. Was it a constant feeling that someone is stepping on my dignity?
Ray Phiri: I would just like to say, life is a precious gift and anything that construes life, as not a precious gift is evil. The closest thing to religion happens to be music. When a child is born at the celebration people are singing. At the funeral we sing hymns so music plays a very important role in our lives and society’s norms also. Complete judged by its cultural output and if your life in terms of trying to educate or help society to find itself and you are denied that right, you suppress what you feel and what you see. Each and every song is based either on your personal experiences or what society is going through. They influence your way of thinking and writing. So immediately when you are not given the right to even express yourself then you start undermining yourself. It’s like somebody is tramping on your dignity, you are a non-person and you start doubting yourself, your confidence simply crumbles. But at some point in time heroes get born at that point which happens to be a no return point, the dignity corner where you go and look for some reflection of your people. As a people inside SA we needed a vision but we had no right to find that vision so it came back to loosing a little bit of your confidence and dignity dying a bit. You were lucky to go through that little gap that was there. I think that censorship in its whole entirety is evil. It takes away the spirit of being a human being. It doesn’t free you from the shackles of depression. You end up being so depressed up the point of no return where you don’t put value into your being a contributor to life.
Ole Reitov: Cecile, could you tell about the system that surrounded you as a white Afrikaaner. Ray was talking about music and religion. How did religion affect your way of thinking and giving you the possibility and right to censor?
Cecile Pracher: The Afrikaaner at the time was a Calvinistic religious follower and most of the way they were thinking derived from that point of departure. They unfortunately only looked after themselves and therefore everybody not towing the line as far as everything was concerned was not part of the government, its structures or its people, or for that matter they weren’t really the true South Africans. Therefore they had to be white and any other colour was subservient. At the time of the state of emergency everything was clouded and got more depressed. Rules were strictly applied and people were thrown into jail. I think it’s also the time where the struggle got tremendous momentum as the momentum grew and the opposite parties started talking to one another they clamped down on all laws. Regulations became harder and harder. In that surrounding the rules that we had to apply in the SABC as far as lyrics were concerned obviously went by the same token also stricter. If I read the lyrics now I sometimes find it rather weird and you can actually see where it comes from. It was a frightened society. It was frightened if you were part of the struggle and it was also obviously on the other side much worse I would imagine. I thought I would bring you Sipho’s record at the time, which we banned. Records weren’t banned by the SABC as a record with all the cuts. It was normally one, two or three cuts – but sometimes it was eight, nine or ten. But mostly it was about three or four cuts and we had to put on stickers onto the LP’s and in fact some of the LP’s were scratched so that those cuts weren’t played. With CD’s of course that opportunity was lost. I thought I’d show you the record of Sipho for interest sake. (Shows the audience the record). On the back the different cuts which were banned at the time: “Chant”, “Room of Horror” and “Refugee”.
Sipho Mabuse: What about Mandela’s song?
Cecile Pracher: I’m sorry; I missed that one (laughter)
Sipho Mabuse: There’s a song about Mandela here, because we called for release of Nelson Mandela and I’m surprised that they didn’t ban it, but I know they didn’t play it.
Cecile Pracher: To be honest, I think there was a time in the late 1980’s where the word Mandela meant that you had to look twice at the lyrics. Whether it was positive in their eyes or negative. It was mostly ’free Mandela’ and I think music is a wonderful way of carrying a message because the whole world literally every album that came out, had a song concerning Mandela. Therefore I thought looking back that music made their stance very powerful in that case. For interest sake when Tracy Chapman’s Crossroad album was released we banned two or three cuts on it at the time. The chairman of the record company wanted us to re-submit it. The answer from the chairman of the SABC Committee was as follows: “The two songs in question, “Freedom Now” and “Material World”, found to be undesirable because the committee was concerned that the songs would, for different reasons, offend certain sections of the community. You must realise that the SABC’s various media provides programme material for the full spectrum for the SA extremely diverse community… Because of the nature of this diversity the SABC in general and this committee in particular has to be sensitive which may even offend sections of this community… Like you we work towards new initiatives for freedom of expression and the creation of a just SA. In order to achieve this we still have to consider the sensitivities of a large section of the SABC’s total audience. If we don’t we may negate the very goal which we are trying to achieve”.
I told Ole Reitov – in a discussion we had – that I don’t think the committee sat there and was evil per definition within themselves, they saw it as a role, which they were playing, and a job they were doing.
Most of the people around the table actually believed in what they were doing and thought it was the right thing to do so you can’t shy away from that. But it was within the realms of SA that they did their job.
Ole Reitov: Ray, you wanted to say something?
Ray Phiri: What I don’t also understand is why did we have to submit lyrics with request to stage concerts. How do you determine how the performance is going to come out by simply writing the whole script of your show, how each song is going to be presented? Was their censorship bought also in the security police whereby they would decide that this song is undesirable? Or whom did they consult with? Because we were playing for a community… Hence the situation in 1984 when Johnny Clegg and myself ended up just has to negotiate with the police when they came and disrupted a concert.
Ole Reitov: Ray, we actually have a tape with Johnny Clegg telling about that incident. Johnny is touring in France right now so he couldn’t be here. (Johnny Clegg tape played to the conference audience): “We were at Orlando Stadium playing with Stimela and a bunch of other black bands. We were raising money for 500 kids under the age of 17 and as young as 13 who were in indefinite political detention. Raising money for them for clothes for Christmas. We had a “Free the Children” sticker that was banned by the government. The show was banned, Bishop Tutu was going to speak and there were 12,000 people at the stadium. The place was completely surrounded by army military jeeps and soldiers and the security police. So I was chosen with Ray Phiri and Morgan from the security guards for the show to go and negotiate.”
Ole Reitov: Ray, how did you do that?
Ray Phiri: Things were turning out a little bit ugly because by then the people knew that the concert was in aid for kids who were detained. And they came in to support this good cause. But before we could perform the police just moved in and teargassed everybody. They said that it was an illegal gathering and if we didn’t disperse in 5 minutes they would start shooting. That’s when we realized that the people’s lives were in danger. So we had to go and negotiate with them. That is when one of the top security guys said: “As long as you’re not going to play that “Pindamsala”.” He did not know that the title of the song was “Don’t Whisper in the Deep”. It was more like a national anthem, we were trying to bring awareness to people that they must stand up and speak their mind, stand up don’t be afraid, wake up. At the time it was the height of the struggle and most of us were ready to call a spade a spade. We were doing a lot of protest songs because we believed in them and then they closed us in with Johnny Clegg and we started negotiating. We said that if you stop the show now there is going to be chaos and riots. Can you please let each band perform for at least 10 minutes each? They agreed as long as we didn’t sing that “Pindamsala.”. When I started singing the song I sang “Don’t Whisper in the Deep” which was the same song. And I didn’t use this “Pindamsala” – the audience did, so I thought if they sing then they have to arrest everyone. And that was the end of the show. Everybody sang along and that was the end of the show. They started shooting tear gas and stuff like that. We asked the people not to panic, not to throw any stones or that kind. The power of the music prevailed because they listened to those people who were begging them not to retaliate. They all walked out of the stadium and the police got mad because the people didn’t retaliate. The police started shooting at innocent people with tear gas to provoke them. But eventually on that day music won.
Ole Reitov: We have a video with Johnny Clegg, so let’s see it – the song is “Asimbonanga”.
(The video is played to the conference audience).
Ole Reitov: Cecile, I remember you told me that when you heard Johnny singing this song in The Market Theatre in Johannesburg, which was the centre of many political opponents especially in the theatre world, you had a particular reflection on your work after this song.
Cecile Pracher: The song itself is an extremely moving song. At the time when it was released, I think in 1987, I was part of the (censor) committee. The political atmosphere had changed drastically in those days. To me it was almost like a cry from the heart from Johnny’s side, it could not be right in any circumstances to kill people just because they don’t believe the same that you do. And it could not be right to have such a censorship where this message could not be given to the people. It’s like blacking it out and I think that happened in SA on almost all grounds. There was no free flow of information. There was a very, very selected flow of what information people were allowed to hear, read and see. I think the music has changed a lot in the sense that Johnny Clegg could not be silenced. He was a very strong voice and he used it, as did others that were brave enough at the time. I think the value of the music didn’t depend on whether it was censored or not, it still got to the people. People still heard it and the voice of the people, as you know, became stronger and stronger and could not be put down by anybody. Hence Mandela was released in 1991; hence we don’t do censorship anymore at the SABC and haven’t done so for quite a number of years. No form of censorship as far as music or lyrics is allowed at the SABC.
Ole Reitov: Was that a point where you started doubting what you were doing or the motives behind it, on a personal level?
Cecile Pracher: Yes, it was not one particular song. It was a time when people started thinking differently. I don’t think the state machine worked that efficiently anymore. There were voices from within the community that they couldn’t put down effectively anymore because they became so loud and there were so many of them and so urgent. I don’t think the message could be suppressed like it was in the earlier days anymore. The Afrikaaner and myself we started looking for other possibilities of handling the situation – not being prescribed by or dictated to by people who think for you. Our frame of mind as an Afrikaaner was very much that it was a paternal society where freedom of thought was not a norm and I think that has changed a lot in the late 1980’s.
Sipho Mabuse: I think while our discussion here has centred mostly around the role of the SABC and the security police, it is just as important for us to reflect and get an inside on what the role of the recording industry itself was in the process of censorship. Because I do not believe that the whole industry can be absolved of the responsibility of censorship. While of course the SABC was catalyst, was the main culprit, to what extent did the recording industry allow us, the creative people, to express ourselves freely. So that whatever expressions were not going to affect the coffers. Now, did the censorship go as far as the SABC – were the record companies party to this? I think we need to reflect on that because we also have problems with the record companies. Fortunately for us we seem to be influential and we were able to record whatever we wanted to, but there were other musicians who were not as influential. They could not go in there and record their music because it would be seen as subversive. That also affected creativity as far as those musicians are concerned. I would like us to bring insight into those kinds of experiences. Maybe Ray could help us? Maybe you too Cecile, could give an input because maybe in your interaction with the record companies you would know exactly which companies would assume that certain music was not right for us to record. And you duly perform your duties as the censor. Because censorship in SA was not only between the creative people, the musicians and the SABC. It went as far as the government and the business, which is important, because if we don’t address that part we could still, end up with the same problem. The government may have got rid off censorship but what about business? What about the record companies? Are they going to say: “Well, we were not part of it. We don’t censor”.
Ray Phiri: That’s true; they played a role in being allies with the state broadcast system. Because if I am not mistaken, then in 1972 I was five years into my recording career. A song called “Highland Drifter” was banned and then the record company said: “We told you to stop writing in English. You’ve got to do more Zulu or Zutu languages”. So they were censoring me not to write in a much larger medium whereby I would be able to reach the four communities – because if you grew up in SA around this period, you would understand that there were four communities: Indian, coloured, black and white. The “Highland Drifter” single was banned in 1972 only to find that in the neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe, at that time called Rhodesia, it was on their Radio 1 chart and stayed there for 18 weeks at the no. 1 spot, which was undesirable in SA. They couldn’t understand this. We toured Zimbabwe with “The Beaters” before they became “Harare”. Most of their music was done as The Beaters. They were the first group influencing SA artists to start writing in English.
Sipho Mabuse (interrupts): Before you speak about the pieces maybe you need to explain who the Beaters were. He is actually talking about me…
Ray Phiri: The Beaters were the first original band that “Hotstix” Sipho Mabuse was leading. He cofounded that. So they had to change their name from The Beaters because now they were banned again from the airwaves. They changed their name to Harare.
Sipho Mabuse: They thought we were the Beatles…
Ray Phiri: The record industry promoted that. Again in the 1980’s they did the same thing when I was called aside. I was signed with one record company for 25 years and don’t look at me with amazement – I am an old man trapped in a young man’s body. Maybe some day I will grow… And so again I was called into a meeting and I was cautious not to write political songs. But I said: “Who gave you the right to tell me what to write and not to write?” From 1978 until 1982 we were frozen, had no contract or nothing. So I started writing under different names: Ray Zulu, Fana Phiri – I had a lot of different names around and most of those records became popular. Until I was found out, but I told them: “You don’t know what you have. If you knew what you had you would let me do what I do best”. Then I was banned from recording for the companies by my record company. So I was forced to produce only for one company. They were now allowing me to do those songs because they were making money. Censorship plays a very important role in the music industry even up to date. Most musicians who are writing original material are being told that “this doesn’t sell”, so the music industry is contributing a great deal to censoring and stifling creativity.
Ole Reitov: There was a question to you Cecile about the relations between SABC and the record industry. Could you tell about that?
Cecile Pracher: The effect of the SABC clamping down on information was directly resulting in the record companies taking a particular stance. They were in it for business – that’s very clear – and they were protecting their rights. They knew that most often if a song is not given air time it doesn’t have the same chance of being popular as the next one. So they forced a kind of censorship on their artists. I think what happened then was that the artists had their own censorship forced on themselves for bread and butter. If you rely on your income then you very often take the easier road. That had a major effect on SA’s music in the 1980’s and the 1970’s. If censorship wasn’t so completely successful, there would sooner have been a reaction from the people. That goes for music, but also much wider.
Sipho Mabuse: I think there’s one other issue that we perhaps need to clarify as far as censorship in SA. I think it should be clear that it was not really a question of black and white. It was a system which was fearful, which was scared. That would censor everything that sings to oppose its legitimacy. So I think when you see us here – Cecile, Ray and us; the two blacks and the one white woman – it is not really a true reflection of how censorship operated in SA. Of course the whites were in power but there were also white musicians who were affected by the censorship in SA. So I just wanted to say that it was never really a case of whites censoring black musicians.
Ole Reitov: There were also black censors at the SABC censoring black music. There is another thing I think we should talk about because you are talking about how the industry dealt with it and obviously SA musicians suffered from the fact that they were also not tuned into the world. I think that it was quite obvious to all of us when Paul Simon made Graceland. Let’s all have a look at that.
(Video of Paul Simon with Ray Phiri playing in Harare shown to the conference audience).
Ole Reitov: Before I leave the floor open for questions to the panel, could all three of you say something about how you look at the boycott today.
Ray Phiri: Looking back you can say that the cultural boycott helped to expose the evils of Apartheid to the international community. It also helped us to own our creativity and we became good at what we are doing. In a way it helped us focus more on the local content.
Sipho Mabuse: I think the cultural boycott did focus a lot on the political interest in our country. It allowed musicians at home to be more creative and to be more appreciated. But at the same time it made it difficult for our music to be heard. One would say it was necessary because without the cultural boycott the chain was somewhat broken down. We needed the cultural boycott so that it became part of the ongoing struggle.
Cecile Pracher: The cultural boycott was obviously very successful; it was part of the other boycotts against South Africans and the ruling government. Be it not for the outcry worldwide – and part of that being the cultural boycott – it might have taken longer to free Mandela and for him to become the president of our wonderful country. The cultural boycott obviously was successful, but I am sorry though for all the artists within SA who because of that could not fulfill what they wanted to do in the world out there. Because it went both ways, it was not only going into SA, but the SA artists didn’t have the same opportunities outside internationally. For that I am sorry, but it did have a wonderful influence in the whole struggle for freedom.
Moderator: Ole Reitov
Mr. Henrik Strube, musician, Denmark: In the late 1980’s I was participating in the UN Conference in Athens, “Artists against Apartheid”. At that time Paul Simon had just released his wonderful record, Graceland. I would like to hear Ray and Sipho’s opinion about this because at the symposium there were even strong voices claiming that Paul Simon in fact was violating the cultural boycott of SA in going in there and working with SA music and recording in this area. I was thinking a lot about that because on one hand maybe he was violating it and on the other hand, if he didn’t do that then we wouldn’t have had this wonderful record with listeners from all over the world and all this focus upon the problem in SA. What is your opinion about that?
Ray Phiri: I would like to answer that in this fashion: I think in a way the only person who knew what he was doing was Paul Simon. We became pawns in a thing much bigger than our situation. One, he went and found out from people like Quincy Jones and Harry Belafonte. When he got to SA he also got in touch with some of the internal political organizations. He got in touch with the UDF-guys (United Democratic Front). We would not have worked with him if we were not given the ’go-ahead’, because we also consulted inside the country. But we didn’t know that there was a much bigger picture than what we saw at that point in time. Also like any clever business person that looks through the definitions of the cultural boycott – it appeared that it didn’t cover recording with SA artists. So he used that loophole. He never worked in SA, he worked with SA artists outside, he exported them. So in that sense he just went for the loop hole hence the contention that he broke the boycott. He stood up and said, “I didn’t break the cultural boycott, it didn’t define that it covered working with SA artists”. The most important thing is that the world community knew about the SA situation and this way we used him more than he used us to get SA culture into the international community.
Ole Reitov: We now have a question from a distinguished piano-player who was in jail for some time and was tortured. Due to support from many of his colleagues he succeeded getting out of jail. Mr. Miguel Angel Estrella, Musician, composer, Director of Musique Espérance, Argentine/France: It is not a question that I want to raise but more a remark that I want to make because of the fact that we as musicians are often called to take sides for or against boycott. Personally I respect both points of view but I am more in favour of non-boycott. At the time of the cruel dictatorship of Videla in Argentina, Pinochet in Chile and others in Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia, I remember that the Philharmonic Orchestra of Radio France made a tour in South America and that the musicians asked me whether they should go there and play. I said to them: “You know, it is very necessary that you go there”. Just like I had advised Simone Signoret, Yves Montand and other great French comedians to go and present films at the Festival of French Cinema in Argentina. I also told them: ”If you just tell the audience for instance this: We know that for you life is not happy but we are here because of you”. That suffices; it is a message that the public understands very well. The same applies to you as musicians. When you go and play at the Theatre Colón you tell the audience: “We are here exclusively for you”. At the time of a dictatorship as cruel as that of Videla it was very difficult for foreign musicians to take such a stand because there were people, foreigners who disappeared like flies. So the fact is that at the end of its tour the orchestra returned with a huge quantity of documentation from mothers on behalf of grandmothers, from grandmothers on behalf of mothers and from all the human rights organizations of Argentina which have very much helped the campaign of people supporting the boycott and certainly the Argentine resistance abroad.
Translated by Rikke Dam Andersen.
Mr. Daniel Brown, Producer, Radio France International: I have a few questions for all three of the panelists. The first one concerns the financial ruin that many musicians in SA were faced with as a result of the censorship and, as you said, Sipho, crossed all borders, like Jennifer Ferguson for example – her initial albums. She is a former white parlamentarian with the ANC and she could hardly sell any of her albums as a result of the ban and that obviously goes without saying for you too. So just how harsh was it at the time for musicians financially and was it at all compensated by “under the table” sales of cassettes in town ships? Was there a kind of informal circuit created where the music managed to circulate countrywide or region-wide to overcome this ban and if so I imagine that these were pirate copies? Also another brief question to Ray: how much did Graceland launch the careers of the musicians involved? To Cecile: I was wondering if you could comment on the certain perversity of the Apartheid system. You had a very small example of the censors enjoying the censored music at home. I don’t understand in the Index Book (“Index on Censorship: The Book of Banned Music”) when you’re quoted saying: “Johnny Clegg was the first to cross-over, that cross-pollination was the greatest loss of our life”. What do you mean by that?
Sipho Mabuse: I would like to address the compensation question. I think the fate of white musicians because of Apartheid was more severe than it was for the black musicians because fortunately for most of the black musicians, we had a community that was very sympathetic. Of course the opposite was true for the white musicians because they were literally seen as white musicians and if they had to sell records they would have to sell mostly to the white communities. One would understand that the white communities in SA at that particular time were averse to any musician who would seem to be on the opposite side. So basically most of the white musicians suffered more than we did because our position was that if we sang songs that were alluding to the struggle, our community was always there behind us and we were always able to sell a significant number of records. For instance in the banning of Stimela’s “Don’t Whisper in the Deep” and “Chant of the Marching” that only propelled the interest from our communities because one has to understand the division that existed at the time. So we sympathised with Jennifer Ferguson and some of the musicians who suffered that fate.
Ray Phiri: Yes, a lot of careers of individuals have been propolted to greater heights. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is one. Baghiti Kumalo is one of the most respected bass players around the world , and one of the top ten bassists in New York. But he made the choice of going back home and try to develop other budding young artists rather than to stay out in the international community. What is much more important is, that we did our part in SA. We contributed and Graceland, whether we like it or not, will haunt those who used it as a way of benefiting them as individuals, monetarily or anything of that kind. But we won the war by simply going out there and winning more hearts!
Cecile Pracher: We did take the LP’s home, we did take the CD’s home, we did listen. To be quite honest I think it has a lot to do with the change of heart as well, because the message at long last came through. I am not so sure about the quote you were talking about, Daniel, but I think the end of the quote should have meant that Johnny Clegg doing the cross-over thing for us was a major gain to the music industry and to music in SA.
Ole Reitov: Also since this was not possible for so many years as SA music lost many years to develop its own, what we could term as world music, and lost a great big part of the market. When the world market was ready for world music SA could not take part in it and benefit financially from it so it’s definitely one of the long term effects. Last question is from Morten Kj