Knowledge of self and the market

“Hunger knows no standards and morals, it only obeys that which soothes the pangs”

This is a statement that was made by a DJ friend after he played his most thwarting set ever, well in my eyes at least. His words tugged at my conscience harder than an Impala trying to escape the deadly grip of a lion. The reason for this inner “tug of war” was that I found it difficult to comprehend how we, as artists in general, allow ourselves to get to a point where we proclaim love for the arts in the same vein that Khanyi proclaimed love for Mandla Mthembu. Would we also cry foul and abandon our chosen art as soon as they show signs of being quiescent on the money front? Many a times you find that the answer to this question is a resounding positive which is why I unflinchingly say, I’m all for artists getting paid but I have strong reservations when the “Randelas” come on the basis that the artist must substitute his/her standards to satisfy the almost insatiable need to get paid. I mean, many millionaires and billionaires alike would attest to the fact they primarily set out to build careers and the cream came as a byproduct of the initial goal they resolutely set out to attain.

Anyways, to get back to the dude who set off the fuse that got my train of thought in motion, you see, my DJ friend is incredibly talented and would put to shame most DJ’s I know when it comes to cutting and synching songs regardless of their variance in BPM. The reason why I’d go all Zolani Mkhiva on this guy any day is the fact that dude is a non-conformist, he does what he loves and wouldn’t care less what an onlooker thinks because he’s is that good.

He is one of those dudes who are about substance and soul so his sets are always laced with tracks from the so-called golden era of hip hop. And he keeps to his trademark sound regardless of the type of crowd he plays for, come winter or summer. His heart is in every set and you can feel the love in his aura as he plays, becoming one with the music. He has strong feelings for hip hop to a point that he even has the words “Hip Hop is dead” tattooed on his forearm and that’s not because he is paying homage to Nas’ 2006 rendition but rather because he feels hip hop has lost itself within itself.

Being the “die hard” DJ that he is he refuses to play any of the modern day bangers if they don’t qualify as bangers to his “old school” ear, this is even when the crowd is not responding to what he chooses to play. This was the case in a corporate event that he took up which led to the statement in the beginning of this article.

Weeks before the show I got to see the details and they made me uneasy, not because I doubted his talent but rather because I knew him well and could sass out the kind of a gig he had committed himself to. The venue and the lineup just screamed “hip hop crowd who might not really appreciate old school hip hop” at me and I didn’t mince my words when I raised my concern with the dude but he said I shouldn’t worry because there was no way he was saying no to the cash that was put on the table. And besides, he had just an hour to play. My problem was that that same hour could also decide his future as a DJ who gets paid for what he does and loves.

On the day the arena was filled with “Mohawk heads” clad in skinny chinos that were forced to sag, making it uncomfortable for some to even walk. This didn’t seem to bother my friend, he was too confident, especially after rehearsing his set for the past 3 weeks without fail. His turn came and he approached the decks with his head held higher than that of Goliath when David approached. What followed was disaster, 4 tracks in to his set the once full to capacity the dance floor was half empty and you could hear Juicy J affirming that “bands make her dance” from the parking lot where most of the crowd was assembling, forming a mini party. I was staring my fears right in the eyes but my friend didn’t see what was happening, he was so caught in the moment doing what he loved.  The promoters had to literally cut his set short to save the event. After the show I asked him if he still thought it was a good thing for him to have taken up the gig and his response came with the same money reason and I reclined.

Some would say that as a DJ or an artist you should be able to adjust and cater for the audience that you are given. I agree with that statement but then again there are many sub genres within genres and some people choose to be loyal towards whatever that defines them, like my DJ friend. His non-conformist nature makes him the best DJ I know to play the type of hip hop he plays in the way that he plays but his lack of ground rules (because of hunger, like he said) has limited his already narrow market. I say this because he took a job and did what he knows best but that made sure that the promoters who organized that gig would never invite him again. First impressions last, as they say… .

Many a time’s artists take up work because rent is almost due or the baby mama is on their case like a willing lawyer and the fee promised by promoters happens to be a way to make ends meet. But the long term vision gets distorted. It’s a really difficult concept to grasp that an artist would say no to play at a gig because he felt like that was not his kind of a market. Take the Lupe Fiasco “debacle” at the pre-inauguration party for instance. Lupe knew that he was meant to celebrate the success of a person he was/is not fond of (the organizers should have also known this fact and not even sent the invite but for whatever reason they invited him) but he took the gig either way. He got on stage and he remained true to himself but that true-ness to his truth could have just marked the end of Lupe on a commercial scale.

In a country where joblessness is so rife and hunger is the daily bread is it really easy to think of the bigger picture when an opportunity to make a quick buck presents itself? Is it easy to say “no, I’ll pass” or refer the gig to a fellow artist who has a style most suitable to the market at hand? The latter question wouldn’t even be a question if artists were operating as a unit, either an official organization or just street cliques that would comprise of different disciplines in whatever chosen art. Whether you agree with my sentiments or not the fact remains that artists need to entertain and we need to either learn all disciplines of entertainment, operate in a unit with fellow artists or risk losing out in the long term because we tried catering for a market that’s not ours.

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